Well, yesterday was "Hedgehog Day" - to us classic Sonic fans, anyway, who have thought of it as such ever since the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on that very day over a decade ago in 1994.
To celebrate, I played Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 back to back, straight through. I had a fantastic time. All I gotta say is: if Sega hopes to recapture the magic that those games had, it's gonna take Herculean effort.
About that.... Sega's own method of celebrating Hedgehog Day involved drip-feeding a few new bits of Project: Needlemouse to the salivating public.
Before I get to that, though, I should quickly mention what I thought of the last batch, which I neglected to comment on before. Back in January, they posted a second piece of Badnik concept art and an intriguing paragraph.
A Motobug. It's okay - again, I'm happy that the design is pretty faithful to the original, but I'm not a fan of the sunken eyes at all. It also, being a Badnik from Sonic 1, further reinforces the fear that Needlemouse won't be as creative and original as it should be.
But they also left us with this:
Speed is something that is not given; but rather earned through dedication. Speed is not found by simply pushing a boost button, but by building momentum. It is the reward for skill in the face of difficult challenges – this kind of speed is the most exhilarating, not only because it is fast, but because of the pure perfection such speed exemplifies. This is the truth of the original Sonic games – and this is the truth of Project Needlemouse.
Well, duh, right? The community's been saying this for years. It's kind of irritating to hear Sega quote it back to us as though they were making some sort of genius revelation. But it's nice to know that they've gotten the message.
At this point, my excitement meter would have shot up a few points. It looked like Sega was honestly trying hard. But I held off on airing my thoughts, because a new batch of goodies was so soon forthcoming.
Which brings us to today. This is what they've revealed:
That's right. A flower and a palmtree. A FLOWER AND A PALMTREE.
Note: What follows will be my emotional response. I am a rational person, and I understand that Sega of America isn't allowed to give away too much, and that mere concept art isn't indicative of the finished product. That said, I'm going with my gut reaction just for the sake of historical record.
I am extremely disappointed. Badniks were one thing - classic Sonic games weren't above reusing a Badnik design here or there.
But that flower and tree! Not just any flower and tree, either, but palpably the ones from Green Hill Zone. A spinning sunflower? Not even Palmtree Panic Zone, which is the closest classic Sonic ever got to a true Green Hill remake, had spinning sunflowers. And Sonic CD's zones were really similar to Sonic 1's on purpose!.
This is disappointing because it yet again reinforces the uncreativity and unoriginality that has plagued Project: Needlemouse's image since the first trailer that invoked the winged ring logo. They still have shown us nothing that proves they can be at least as creative as the Sonic fan community.
And there's no good reason. I mean, remember this?
Wow! Trees, growing crystals. And the sea showing behind some mountains, to make it feel more like a nearby islet. It's nothing totally revolutionary, but it's just enough of a cute twist to make it feel like something new and exciting.
This was precisely the type of thing I was hoping to see from the zone concept art on Hedgehog Day. The one thing I desperately did not want to see was anything from Green Hill Zone. Sega blew it completely.
They even make a lame excuse, claiming that sometimes it's better to "renovate than innovate":
...the levels themselves also have to exude a style that matches or improves upon what came before them. Often, it is not about attempting to revolutionize, but rather to stay true to the formulas for Sonic’s success that already exist.
I find that a rather weak way to apologise for not having anything new or exciting to show.
But that's not the worst of it. They also teased the music. It's awful. I know it's a pitifully short sample, but everything about it is wrong. I won't bother saying more about it, though, because Tweaker put it best at Sonic Retro.
You know, I frankly find it almost insulting to think that Sega thinks the classic fans will jump for joy at a stupid rotating flower. It shows an unhealthy focus on the details of the classic games, and not the underlying spirit that made them great. If all it took was a copy and paste from Green Hill Zone to make a good Sonic game, we'd have had one already. It's gonna take a lot more than pointing to an individual foreground element from an early game, saying, "Remember that? We got that!" to inspire our imagination. Remember, Sonic 3 had a tropical island zone - and then it blew it up. Now, that's the way to start a game!
All in all, it's been pretty disappointing. I'm still slightly optimistic, and waiting for Thursday when more news is supposed to come. But I'm getting the strong feeling that Sega ain't got the touch. I'm still pinning my hopes on the fangame community to supply my Sonic thrills.