Well, if you're a Sonic the Hedgehog fan, you're probably aware that Sega has finally unveiled Project: Needlemouse, announcing it to be "Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1".
What follows is an extremely critical and negative piece on what they've revealed. If you're excited and happy with Sega right now, and don't want any buzzkill, I urge you to consider not reading any further.
Firstly, before anyone starts slinging around the "What can we tell from 3 seconds of video?" canard, I'll tell you - a hell of a lot. The classic Sonic community can tell by a lone screenshot whether one palette slot is off by a shade, or whether the HUD is moved by a single pixel. They even make purposeful "tech hoax" screenshots in order to hone these skills. No one is better equipped to drain bucketloads of info from a short video clip.
And what a clip! Let's break it down.
First, we see some clips of the classic games, in a sort of timeline, to build up the suspense. Finally we reach 2010 and see a polygon Sonic (in the modern style) jumping on the heads of some polygon Badniks.
(Motora/Motobug, who we know to be in the game already, and Halogen/Batbot from Carnival Night (Sonic 3). Another rehash Badnik? I'm not really surprised at this point. The thing that bothers me is that Badniks in the old days were (mostly) tied to their Zone. Halogen was part of Carnival Night. Seeing it anywhere else is like seeing Knuckles with Tails' tails. Come on, Sega, not even all fangames cut and paste like this!)
Then we finally see some footage of the game in action. Ironically, the clips of the classic games were shown behind a crappy filter, so that when footage of Needlemouse is finally shown, it'll "pop". What a dirty trick. If they had any confidence at all in their product, they would have shown an honest, direct comparison. A true Sonic 4 should impress, back to back with the classics or not.
What does the footage show?
A Green Hill rip-off. Closer to Green Hill than any main Sonic game has yet dared. Sonic 2 and Sonic CD at least bothered to change the ground pattern.
And a corkscrew - lifted straight from Emerald Hill (and the many Sonics to have rehashed it since).
And... that's all. Yep, they finally show the game in action, and they show absolutely nothing new. Say it with me, now - ABSOLUTELY NOTHING NEW. Way to build excitement, Sega - don't show anything we can get excited over!
My first reaction to the footage, honest-to-goodness, was gales of uncontrollable hysterical laughter. If I didn't know Sega so well, I would have thought it was a joke.
I thought it was hilarious. I don't think that's the reaction Sega wanted.
Don't get me wrong, the game looks alright. It's not a hideous mess by any means. It's just about good enough to be a handheld title, or an iPhone game. A little trip through classic Sonic elements, like a next generation Sonic Pocket Adventure.
But they're calling this Sonic 4. And as Sonic 4, it's a disgrace.
It's a disgrace that they're putting "Modern Sonic" in it, for one. Now, I know some are going to jump on my back for this, saying that I'm harping on a detail. But since when was the look of the main character (the only character, in this case), and the entire art style of the game just a detail!? Yes, the gameplay is more important, but that by no means makes the art style unimportant. Who wants to play the Sonic 4 they've been waiting for for 16 years, starring the smirking fool Sonic that haunts their Sonic Heroes fueled nightmares?
But it's not so much that the modern style is bad. It's more the message Sega sends by using it at all. This was their promise to return to the classics. This was Sonic 4. This was their chance. But they still decide to use the brand-consistent Olympic Games Sonic, so as not to confuse the kiddies. What a kick in the nuts for us classic fans. "Sorry guys. We pretended we were making a game just for you, but that was just to build hype. You didn't expect us to actually care enough to follow through?"
Hell, I would have taken a brand new re-design. Floppy-spined Sonic has been stalking us for over a decade now. It's time he was retired. But no - instead we get a game that elevates Modern Sonic as a direct continuation of the classics. Why don't you just reach into our heads and take our memories of classic Sonic, too?
Actually, fuck "classic" Sonic. He doesn't need a differentiating adjective. He is Sonic. This look-almost-alike they've been using is nothing but a poser.
But you know what bothers me the most about all this? Sega can make a bad game if they want - more power to them, I don't have to play it. It's the fan reaction. The unreasonably beleaguered fans, who have put up with Sega's beatings since 2001. They're starting to just give up and take it.
I - and many others - credit the 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog games with sparking my creativity. Sonic taught us to dream big and never give up.
But I'm not seeing that from the fanbase anymore. It's like after eating Sega's shit for 10 years they're starting to get used to the flavour. Goddamnit, STAND UP FOR YOURSELVES! Stop acting like the victim in an abusive relationship. "I probably won't ever get anything better." "My expectations were too high..." "It must be me. Maybe I don't deserve any better."
It's not us, it's them. All this talk of the fanbase and their "ridiculously high expectations" is crazy talk. You can make it sound reasonable - you can rationalise all you want - but in the end, all I hear is excuses. People making excuses for being less than stellar.
Maybe it's because I'm American. Cowboys, Astronauts, Bruce Willis. You have to dare to be awesome. Second best isn't good enough. There is no fucking excuse to be less than stellar. This is Sonic 4, and it's barely a cut above Sonic Rivals. Don't you dare pin that on me and my expectations. That's irrational faith, born of years of disappointment, talking.
Don't you think that after waiting 16 years we deserve something that looks better than the hoax screenshots that floated around?
I'd hate to be so desperate for a Sonic game that I'd be willing to compromise my standards. I'm not an addict, jonesing for a classic fix so bad that I'll praise Sega up and down for including a corkscrew. This isn't our only chance for a Sonic 4, it's just one more in a long line of failures and WE DON'T HAVE TO TAKE IT. We've been sending the message that we're willing to take Sega's table scraps for too long.
It's highly offensive that Sega thinks that showing what they have so far shown in any way would excite us. Sadly, though, many are in a euphoric tizzy right now, so I guess Sega was right. I thought more highly of most fans.
But I'm not blown away by borrowing classic elements. Sonic Advance 2 had corkscrews. Where's the creativity?
Perhaps it's in later levels. Yeah, right. Any team so uncreative that they would green-light a rip-off first zone is really able to be trusted to pull out all the stops for a second. Where did the Shigeru Miyamoto philosophy of making the first 30 minutes of a game the most exciting part?
And even if the whole game is an unimaginative failure, the blindered Sega-phants will just keep hoping for Episode 2. Or the 2011 Sonic. It's always next time, next time. ("Maybe God will cure my next cancer!")
It's been explicity stated by Sega that this isn't part of the main Sonic brand (there will be a "real" game in 2011, supposedly), which is greatly outraging on two counts. First, if they're not risking their main brand, why are thay playing it so safe? Second, this reveals exactly what Sega thinks of the old Sonic games. They're not worth being major releases. They're dippier, second class citisens. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - the continuation of the main series - isn't going to be a triple-A blow-your-pants-off title, but a low-budget downloadable release. What a big, officially sanctioned crap all over the classic games.
Meh. I'm getting too worked up. I wouldn't be so offended, except for the title. If they called this Sonic Genesis 2, then I'd be happier =P.
Well, I hope Sega finds some way to pull off a win and prove me totally wrong. I honestly do. But we'd all be as blue as Sonic if we held our breath for it.
Wake me when Sonic really makes his return.