Saturday, August 9, 2008

Were-Hog/Lament of the Casual Gamer

Running around, eating rings, and bouncing on badniks isn't enough anymore. Instead, to be successful in this day and age, a mascot has got to be packing heat, have a ton of differently-colored, look-alike adversaries, wield a humongous sword, or turn into a were-wolf... sorry, were-hog. Yes, I'm clearly pointing to Sonic the Hedgehog. I guess it's fairly clear that I fall into the category of people who just want to see the blue guy (and only the blue guy) run through some zones, spin through enemies, and hit Robotnik eight times to finish him off. Unfortunately, Sega/Sonic Team/whoever doesn't seem to see it that way.

Three new games and none of them are classic run & jumpers.

The best of the bunch is an RPG. Can the bare-bones Sonic storyline be fully fleshed out? Could it work? Sure, but I never played a Sonic game because of the story. In a nutshell, it's not the classic Sonic franchise. The next Wii release sees the hog slashing people down with a sword. Great. Maybe it'll be fun, but this isn't what Sonic is known for either. It's like taking Daytona USA and turning it into a fighting game. Lastly, there's Unleashed, which, though being touted as the return the series’ 2D roots, has half of the game devoted to 3D were-hog play, where Sonic looks like a long-armed bandicoot and beats the crap out of everything.

I'm sure the games will sell. After all, even Shadow the Hedgehog managed to end up as a Greatest Hit on the PS2. "But didn't that game suck? Didn't critics pan it hard? Didn't the fans complain about it to no end? Then how did it sell?" I hear you ask. It's pretty simple and, I hate to say this, but the same thing happens to me. Aside from the bizarre Sega attraction, I'm a pretty casual gamer. I don't read reviews all that much. I don't subscribe to any magazines or check gaming news sites regularly. I enjoy Guitar Hero. When asked what is good for a DS, my first thoughts were the Mario and Zelda games. Why? Aren't they usually good, flagship series for Nintendo? Is there even anything else that I could've named? Sonic is the same way. People see the hedgehog and think, "I know Sonic. Sonic's a good game."

Brand recognition has become more important than having a quality product. It's too bad that it's a self-defeating cycle. A poor game sells well, so the developers think that's what the consumer wants. When it comes time for a sequel, they make it similar to the first, and nothing gets better. Brand recognition carries the title again and the cycle repeats. It only seems to work in extremes for large gaming series - the kind that everyone has heard of it. The next Grand Theft Auto could be the worst game ever and it would still be a best seller. Another Jet Set Radio game? Even if it's the second coming, it won't sell.

There may be a point in there somewhere.

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