Yesterday I fell deep into a hole of watching YouTube videos of several Sonic the Hedgehog games. Because I’m the type of person who makes something his entire personality for a day if I spend enough time poring over it, I also opened up a Spotify playlist of all the series’ vocal tracks to further push me into a Sonic-driven haze for the rest of the day. And it got me thinking, the Sonic franchise has gone plenty different directions over the years, from kart racing to turn-based RPGs. With a soundtrack this bangin’, how has the franchise never ventured into the new territory of a rhythm game?
Rhythm games and mascot platforms actually have a fair amount of history already. Nintendo paid tribute to the Super Mario series with a whole Dance Dance Revolution spin-off dedicated to its characters and music. And Donkey Kong has had two different takes on rhythm genre with both the traditional Donkey Konga and its bongo drum peripherals, and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, which used the drums to let you navigate side scrolling levels. Sega’s hardly a stranger to the genre either, with franchises like Space Channel 5 and Hatsune Miku as part of its catalog. So why is Sonic getting no love in the genre despite the wealth of music to pull from?
Sonic and friends are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, and Sega has already said it has some projects in the works. One of them is probably the leaked Sonic Colors remaster, and perhaps a new mainline game is also being prepped for sometime in 2021. But I would love it if Sega and Sonic Team had a real, off-the-wall surprise in its line-up, and a rhythm game seems like such a no-brainer for a series for which music has been such an integral part of its personality.
But Sonic isn’t just about the bops and the headbanging goodness. It’s about running. It’s about speed. Man’s gotta go fast, and a handful of his friends also happen to go fast. It would probably make less sense for Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles to go the Persona rhythm games route of dancing to their theme songs (although that’s not unwelcome in and of itself). So instead, what if Sonic and co. were to be put through rhythm-driven levels akin to something like Rayman Legends’ music levels.
These stages used the Legends’ sidescrolling format like the rest of the game, but made obstacles and challenges that would require the player to be in-sync with the music to proceed. And they were some of my favorite sections as well, and the thought of a Sonic project taking this idea and, er, running with it, has already got my mind racing thinking of the possibilities.
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Imagine a Sonic rhythm game that also acts as a tribute to the series’ musical legacy as a whole. Such as a level that is a 2D recreation of Sonic Adventure 2’s City Escape level, with enemies and obstacle courses strategically placed in-time with the stage’s banger of a backing track. A well-timed stream of homing attacks when the chorus kicks in and Sonic’s beating up some robots alongside the energetic vocals sounds like a new way to elevate an iconic sequence and song.
Meanwhile, if you wanted a level to paint a picture of Sonic’s brooding counterpart, even the black sheep of the series (or, one of them) Shadow the Hedgehog taps into some of the heaviest stuff Crush 40, one of the Sonic franchise’s longest-running contributors in terms of character themes, has to offer. I can already see Shadow running through a rhythm-driven Westopolis level, powering through foes to the rhythm of the heavy riffs and edgy lyrics. He can leave the gun behind, though.
Or, if that all sounds like more work than anyone over at Sega cares to do, I’m down for a more traditional rhythm game experience. I’ll press buttons as the rhythm is laid out for me like anything else, and maybe have Sonic and friends dance in the background. Even as I’m writing this, I’m listening to that same vocal tracks playlist, and despite the long list of issues the Sonic franchise has had in terms of game quality, the series’ soundtracks rarely miss. The music of Sonic the Hedgehog has felt inseparable from its stylish gameplay, but I’d love to see them finally deliberately intertwined. And yeah, I’ll always have them saved in a playlist, but I’d love to see them become more than the backdrop for Sonic to do some sick flips or something tucked away in an in-game music player.