By Marcus Yeatman-Crouch
It’s been a rough ten years for Sonic, the legendary SEGA mascot who once went head-to-head with Super Mario. Looking at him now of course, in the wake of a Hollywood film, you’d think Sonic was back on the rise. That may be true, but the more recent news of the mascot’s English language voice actor Roger Craig Smith leaving the role highlights that the 2010’s were a decade of change for the iconic hedgehog.
If you were to ask what the most memorable Sonic game of the past decade was, most people would probably say Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. That’s indicative of just how badly the actual games starring Sonic failed – even the two Sonic Boom games, meant to revive the franchise in the middle of the decade, flopped so hard they turned out as the worst rated and lowest selling games in the franchise’s entire history (they also introduced us to long-limbed Sonic characters, which are truly horrific). The concept of Sonic games challenging Mario seems a long-faded memory, as the Italian plumber has only continued to ascend while the speedy hedgehog has faltered. We’ve even had Sonic vs Mario at the Olympic Games, where Mario more often than not beats Sonic anyway, almost exemplifying the dominance of Nintendo in the mascot competition.
In all those games across the 2010’s, Roger Craig Smith was a mainstay, voicing the English language version of Sonic through underperformance after underperformance. It’s not all on him, of course, and his longevity in the role hints that the voice acting was far from the worst aspect of each Sonic game. Really, the decline of Sonic started the decade before, when SEGA made the bold move to release Sonic ‘06, a buggy mess that departed from the classic platforming of previous games and left fans fuming. The Wii generation saw games like Sonic Unleashed and Sonic and the Black Knight fail terribly, so Smith’s good job as the voice of the mascot could only do so much to ease in another 10 years of bad games.
It’s no surprise that the main gaming success of Sonic came, firstly, from cameos and co-star appearances in the aforementioned Smash Bros and Mario & Sonic games, in which Sonic fights other popular characters, or where he and Mario compete in the Olympics with characters from their respective series. The personality and coolness of Sonic, sustained by Smith’s voice acting, has remained an unrivalled foil against the silent and generally kind of big-headed attitude of Mario (just me who thinks that?), so that even while his solo games fail, Sonic as a character remains in the spotlight. Secondly, SEGA took some steps back and remade the successful titles of the character’s youth, hoping to sate gamers that had been missing a truly engrossing Sonic game for years. This combines with the inclusion of Sonic games on the SEGA Genesis Mini, as the mascot’s parent company dug up the past to use nostalgia as its latest weapon in the fight against irrelevancy.
Perhaps in a sign that SEGA had heard the critics, they released the title Sonic Mania in 2017, which returned the hedgehog to his 2D side-scrolling origins and was specifically intended to pay homage to the original games on Sonic’s 25th anniversary. It was the best reviewed Sonic game in 15 years, and earned a lot of praise for how it made the pixel art and animations better than the original games. So, near the end of the decade SEGA managed to give the fans what the wanted in a game, but it remains to be seen if they can win the critics over with a genuinely new Sonic game that doesn’t fixate on the old format.
And of course, there’s the movie. The trailer was met with horrified reactions at the blue, toothed, rat-like creature that could coincidentally run as fast as Sonic, but fortunately production studio Paramount resolved to make this weird animal look more like the sleek character we know from the games. In the end, the Sonic movie actually turned out good; a commercial and cultural success that saw Sonic re-enter pop culture as more than just a meme or a lost relative of Ugandan Knuckles (we’re not talking about him). Unfortunately, Roger Craig Smith was not the voice of the cinematic Sonic, but without his contributions to the franchise throughout the last decade it has to be said the mascot would not have been the same. He recently confirmed his exit was his own decision, and so perhaps with the success of the movie and Smith’s willing retirement from the voice role we can see Sonic entering a new generation.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is already confirmed for 2022, but we all know the franchise thrives off video games. SEGA and Sonic need a good ten years now – it took some changes to get back on the stage, but now the spotlight is on them some decent, high speed platformers must follow.