Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog has suffered through some rough times for most of his existence. While enjoying success on the Sega Genesis and Game Gear, the franchise began a downward slide during the Dreamcast era after rushing to meet deadlines and staff attrition caught up with the company behind it. Game Informer's Brian Shea chronicles all the ways that Sonic went wrong from the canceled Saturn-exclusive Sonic X-Treme to Sonic Adventure 2 being developed by a staff of just eleven people to unrelenting holiday shopping dates to get 2006's disappointing Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 out the door on time.
Despite this fragmentation and turnover, Iizuka asserts that the real problem with Sonic 2006 was the deadlines. "We missed out on that really important time to polish and tune and manipulate the map and make sure that the world really felt good and the gameplay felt good," he says. "Because it didn't have that, it didn't turn out as good as the development team wanted."
The lack of polish is evident. Sonic 2006 is full of visual and audio glitches, environmental clipping, and imprecise gameplay. The title has become synonymous with the struggles the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise had faced in recent years. Sonic 2006 was meant to be a return to the series' roots, but it ended up damning the franchise in the eyes of many. The series had taken obvious turns away from what made it great in the first place.
It sounds like Sega may have finally learned a lesson after years of middling sequels. The company delayed its latest Sonic Boom title for a year to allow the developers time to turn it into a polished product, and the upcoming Sonic Mania finally reaches back to the Genesis-era design that made the franchise popular in the first place. Instead of hearing "oh, we'll fix it next time" from a Sonic Team spokesperson and then nothing happens to follow up on that halfhearted enthusiasm, we're actually seeing some behavioral changes behind the scenes with the delays and design decisions and even choice of staffing. Let's hope that Sega finally has this whole Sonic the Hedgehog thing figured out.