When Sonic lost his speed

"Sonic Wallpaper" | Art by Nerkin. Used with permission.
Remember when Sonic wasn’t a sword-wielding, werewolf-hybrid trapped in the midst of a human-meets-hedgehog love triangle? I do.

But before I shake a cane at all post-2D Sonic games, let me make one thing clear: I’ve found some form of enjoyment in almost every Sonic title—even those hard-to-love critical failures. But as a fan who has followed SEGA’s speedy mascot since her kindergarten days, it pains me to see him moving so slowly at the ripe age of 24—a time when most franchises should be planning for their victorious silver jubilee.

What happened? At what point did Sonic lose his way?

In his transition to the 3D realm, Sonic was thrust into plot-driven narratives garnished with RPG elements and populated by characters who brought new mechanics—fishing, treasure hunting, gunning, and the like—to Sonic’s previously simple world.

But in my opinion, what’s led to series’ downfall is not its plotting or even its new gameplay styles, but rather its neglect of what made Sonic great to begin with—his speed.

Speed has long been Sonic’s selling point. It’s what marketed him in 1991 and made him a worthy rival of Nintendo’s Mario. No other game had the supersonic velocity that came with this sneaker-wearing hedgehog.

In reality, it’s “fitting in” that causes us to disappear, making us lonely in a crowd of “clones.”

Most every Sonic game incorporates speed, but only the truly successful installments handle it with the attention it deserves. A majority of post-2000 Sonic games diminish the power of Sonic’s speed by implementing out-of-character mechanics like gun/sword fighting and melee combat. Even in those games that feature “speed zones,” the supersonic antics are often diminished by crippling camera angles, broken controls, glitches, or just downright uninspired tracks. Worse still, some games lower Sonic’s top speed altogether.

Why did SEGA pull Sonic away from what made him so great to begin with? My personal theory is that, with Sonic’s transition to 3D, SEGA feared his simplistic, high-speed formula would not be enough to draw in the next generation of gamers. In trying to mimic the trends of contemporary games—like dark, edgy shooters or epic, high fantasy narratives—SEGA actually weakened Sonic’s value and uniqueness in the eyes of consumers. The drive to “fit in” had the opposite effect and caused Sonic’s previously influential presence in the gaming market to vanish.

You might say that Sonic’s greatest foe isn’t the mustached Dr. Eggman. It’s peer pressure.

It’s not just hedgehogs that fall for that trap, either. Humans do too.

I’ve come to possess certain strengths and talents—some that I’ve honed over time, and others that I consider natural gifts from God. When I place my focus on areas in which my abilities fully manifest themselves, I’m able to make a bigger impact on others and the world at large.

But sometimes my focus gets divided; I want to be something I’m not—sometimes not even something that’s bad in and of itself, but that handicaps my specific skill sets none-the-less—and I cave to peer pressure. For example, I might invest in a more monetarily successful college degree like law or medicine, when my real talents are in the area of communication or the arts. Or perhaps my greatest skill is writing, but I focus on volunteer work to the point where I have little time left for drafting articles.

I sometimes lose focus for a number of reasons—boredom, fear of failure, fear of success, discouragement, a drive for attention—but all of these can be summed up within peer pressure itself, or a desire to achieve what the world considers success. When I try to fit into places that don’t match my strengths, I weaken myself. Not only that, but I cause myself to “disappear” rather than stand out, as I might have originally intended.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with branching out from our greatest strengths, so long as we maintain them. In the video game realm, many characters, most notably Mario, have done this successfully. Sonic failed in that he never anchored himself to his roots in the midst of his spinoffs. For every Mario Golf and Mario Party, there is a traditional, Mario platformer. Mario knows his strengths, which makes him confident enough to branch out into uncharted territory while his mainstay series continues. Sonic, however, forgot his greatest skills while trying to fit in with a new generation of gaming and gamers.

Sonic’s greatest foe isn’t the mustached Dr. Eggman. It’s peer pressure.

In the song “Believe in Myself,” which first debuted in Sonic Adventure, Sonic’s sidekick, Tails, talks about his desire to “match” Sonic’s standard of heroics:

When all alone in my bed, I just go about yearnin’
I wanna be cool, I also wanna be like him

As the song goes on, Tails realizes that his goal (to be like his hero, Sonic) is impossible, and that his natural abilities won’t allow him to be exactly like the hero he admires:

But that’s not somethin’ I can do so easily
This is not simply my way, my style

As the song reaches its final chorus, Tails has a revelation; namely, that he has unique skills—skills that his idol not only doesn’t have, but also never will. In focusing on his natural talents and ceasing to be identical to his hero, Tails finally finds solace:

Certain things I can do, and there’s things that only I can do
No one’s alone

Having unique abilities doesn’t isolate us; contrarily, it makes us stand out. In reality, it’s “fitting in” that causes us to disappear, making us lonely in a crowd of “clones.”

When Sonic finally takes his own sidekick’s advice and has the courage to “believe in himself” and the natural skills that have carried his franchise’s success, I believe he’ll once more find his way to the open arms of gamers and the shelves of retail stores alike.

And when he does, I’ll be ready to welcome him back, controller in hand.

Casey Covel

Casey Covel

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
An INTJ and self-proclaimed connoisseur of chocolate, tea, and sushi, Casey spends her free time cosplaying, writing, gaming, philosophizing, editing articles for Geeks Under Grace, squinting at strange words, and watching Corgi videos on the internet.
Casey Covel