Yesterday's news that Sega's next Sonic title would be a cross-media extravaganza complete with re-imagined characters, CGI cartoon series and Nintendo-exclusive video game outings sent the web into overdrive, with the reaction from fans ranging from delighted to highly skeptical. While some feel that Sonic Boom is a brave new direction for the blue hedgehog, there are just as many series veterans who have been here before — Sega makes big promises but offers little actual reward at the end. The dull pain of Sonic Lost World is still there.
However, developer Big Red Button has been speaking The Guardian about the game — which is coming to both the Wii U and 3DS — and is adamant that this title represents a turnaround for Sega's famous mascot.
The studio's creative director Bob Rafei — who once worked at Uncharted developer Naughty Dog — is keen to stress that although Sonic Boom looks different, it's actually inspired by some of Sonic's most beloved titles:
Sonic 2 had a ‘team’ vibe between Sonic and Tails and we wanted to recapture that plus kick things up a notch by adding Amy and Knuckles to the equation. In Sonic Adventure, the game’s structure offered exploration and discovery that opened up more as the player progressed. We believe this is a great approach and modelled Sonic Boom after it. We also love what Sonic Team did with Sonic Generations, giving the player 2D and 3D variations of the same level. Our take was to integrate 2D and 3D seamlessly within the level in a way that made sense, keeping things fresh for the player.
One of the most interesting features of the game is a tethering system which bonds players together and removes the need for a split-screen view. Constantly connected by an energy beam, players can't leave each other behind, but this mechanic has other uses — such as stretching the beam to create a catapult effect. This might seem like an innovative new concept, but it actually proves that Big Red Button has been casting a keen eye over the history of the Sonic series — a similar feature was used in Knuckles' Chaotix on the ill-fated Sega 32X.
Of course, no matter how similar Sonic Boom is to classic titles from the franchise, it's going to be tricky for hardcore fans to accept the new character designs — easily the most talked-about element of yesterday's reveal. Rafei explains why Sonic and his chums look the way they do:
The objective was to make the characters instantly recognisable as being from Sonic Boom. We explored various costume options and quickly found the limits of what works and what doesn’t. Since we wanted to push the characterisation of Sonic and friends to fit our narrative, I thought it more appropriate to make them a touch older by adjusting their head, hand and feet proportions. The athletic tape hints at a team that is ready for any action – it is about practicality rather than vanity. Given they have very clean graphic lines, it was important not to clutter their silhouettes, so any little addition had to be carefully considered. They are designed for an epic action adventure.
Big Red Button is working closely with French animation studio OuiDo, which is handling the accompanying Sonic Boom CGI TV series, while Sonic Team in Japan is overseeing all elements of the project.
Here's Rafei again:
Game and TV animation are different animals so we looked for opportunities to cross-pollinate ideas. Characters that were developed for the game crossed over to the show and vice versa. Guidelines we developed with Sonic Team for bosses, as example, were carried over to the show in effort to have consistency.
Given the lack of games which truly exploit the Wii U GamePad, it's encouraging to hear Rafei explain how Sonic Boom aims to make the most out of the innovative controller, as well as his studio's plans for the 3DS version:
The GamePad display has given us a great solution for local co-op play. We tried different solutions for our co-op camera, including single split-screen display, but ultimately this wasn't able to service our game vision. The GamePad also has a look-around mode where the player can scan the environment looking for clues and hints to secrets in the game. As for 3DS, there are some crossover plans between it and the Wii U involving special unlocks for Sonic fans who have both versions.
Sonic Boom may have divided gamers, but we're still hopeful that the Wii U and 3DS games will be outings that can be compared to Sonic's best adventures. The blue blur has starred in some truly dire titles recently and certainly deserves a fresh start. Hopefully, we'll see a title on Wii U which is good enough to sell systems and (ironically) come to the aid Sega's former enemy, Nintendo. There are still enough Sonic fans out there to make this happen — just keep those fingers crossed.