Sonic Boom, the eighteenth Sonic the Hedgehog title to hit home systems, is already rumored to be downright awful.
Maybe that’s a surprise to you. Maybe it isn’t.
Sonic the Hedgehog has been on a downward trajectory for over a decade. His games have languished on store shelves, garnered less coverage on the web and seem to have produced more and more apathy among reviewers with every release.
So the question must be asked, “When did Sega’s mascot go from gaming gold to digital poison?” Let’s find out using the Internet’s two largest aggregators for video-game reviews: Game Rankings and Metacritic.
No, these are not scientific sources for an objective assessment. Neither existed when Sonic was in his prime in the early and middle 1990s. Nevertheless, they provide a gist of critical opinion about games new and old…and they’re the best sources we have.
When Sonic the Hedgehog titles were still considered good
With that out of the way, let’s look at the numbers.
Sega has published approximately two dozen major Sonic games from 1991 to 2015 (this doesn’t include anthologies, handheld adaptations, or his non-platformers). Three-fourths of these have been for dedicated gaming consoles, while the remaining fourth has been for handhelds.
The first nine major Sonic titles were developed exclusively for Sega hardware, starting with Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991 and ending with Sonic Adventure 2 in 2001. Seven of those nine titles have combined averages of 80% or higher, a rating considered very good by Game Rankings and Metacritic standards. Knuckles’ Chaotix, an exclusive platformer for the short-lived 32X and Sonic 3D Blast, an isometric action game, are the only two to rank below the 80% mark.
Sonic Heroes inaugurates a downward trend. Released in 2003, Heroes was Sega’s first multi-system Sonic title. Averages vary depending on platform, but Heroes has a max average of 73% on Metacritic and 75% on Game Rankings – “C” territory.
Heroes marks the point in which Sonic’s console titles ceased to be in B-rated territory. Only four of Sonic’s ten console releases from 2003 to ’15 average 70% or higher, and only one of those approached the 80% mark: 2011’s Sonic Generations, which reached 77% on Metacritic and 79% on Game Rankings.
It’s not all bad, though.
Sega published six Sonic titles exclusively for handheld and mobile systems between 2001 and now. Those titles include Sonic Advance 1-3 for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance, Sonic Rush and Rush Adventure for the Nintendo DS, the downloadable Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and the just-released Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for the 3DS.
The good news here is that a majority of these releases, often overlooked by console gamers, rank very well: five out of the seven Sonic handheld titles average 80% or above. Sonic Advance 2 holds an 85% rating on Game Rankings, the highest since Sonic Adventure 2.
When Sonic the Hedgehog lost his mojo
Sonic 4 and Sonic Boom are the only titles to rank poorly: Depending on platform, Sonic 4 ranges from between “F” and “C” grades. Sonic Boom: Sharred Crysal scores below 50% on both Game Rankings and Metacritic.
Sega’s blue hedgehog is not the only gaming icon to jump the proverbial shark. Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot, Crystal Dynamics’ Gex, Capcom’s Mega Man, and Insomniac’s Spyro the Dragon are all examples of once-great characters that endure a long decline.
The trouble with Sonic the Hedgehog is that the character has already become a damaged brand. More than a decade’s worth of mediocrity has stained a once-pristine reputation. The best thing may be to give the spiky-haired hero a long break. With all that he’s accomplished, he deserves it.