In February of 2014, Sega announced Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, which was to be the first game in a sub-franchise of the ever-popular blue blur, tying in with a toy line and a new cartoon. The game was to be made with the Crysis Engine, boast beautiful visuals, and provide a gameplay experience not unlike classic sixth console generation platformers. The game was developed by Big Red Button, which was comprised of experienced developers who worked on Uncharted, Jak and Daxter, and other beloved series.
Well, that could have gone better. The game was released with poor sales, critical panning, and scalding reception from fans.
This rough reception sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? Let’s rewind about eight years, to when the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 had just hit the market, and Sega was developing a Sonic game that would take full advantage of these new consoles. Sonic the Hedgehog (often referred to as Sonic Next-Gen or Sonic 2006) was marketed with an epic story, a day to night system, and a massive world to explore.
If the Sonic franchise is a classroom, then Sonic 2006 is the butt of all jokes, the student with minimal talent, a grating voice, and many bugs. People still mock that student to this day, even though he has long since left the classroom. At the very least, he was musically adept.
In a franchise as saturated as Sonic’s, with many different games spanning a variety of genres, Sonic 2006 has been the laughing stock of the franchise, with fans and detractors of the series alike never forgetting its massive faults, regardless of the quality, good or bad, of any game to come out since then. To a critic, this can seem like an unusual perception. To a fan who was disappointed with Sonic 2006, it’s as though the game’s poor quality is a residue that has splattered onto every Sonic game to come out since then. It is justified to find this unusual. In the mind of this critic, the quality of one product does not represent the quality of a franchise as a whole.
The Sonic franchise does not have the luxury of being seen this way, as it has far more games than most franchises, and has been a beloved part of many gamers’ lives. As such, it can be difficult to look at the series objectively. One’s emotions can easily get in the way. This way of viewing the series has lead fans to blind themselves from enjoying other games in the franchise.
Sonic 2006 and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric’s similarities are clear. They’re critically panned, hated by the fanbase, and are both made fun on a memetic level. So what are the differences in their failures? What separates Rise of Lyric from Sonic 2006 comes down to their development periods.
Rise of Lyric was developed by a third party company, Big Red Button, whereas Sonic 2006 was made by Sonic Team, Sega’s go-to developer for Sonic games. The rumors as to what went wrong during Big Red Button’s development of Rise of Lyric have been piling up since the game’s release. Supposedly, most of Big Red Button’s staff was fired during development, causing the game to suffer. The game was riddled with even worse glitches than Sonic 2006, including a means for finishing the game within a half-hour. Further, the Crysis Engine did not work well with the Wii U’s hardware, resulting in a significant difference between the game’s promotional trailers and the final product (Mind that the HD version of Sonic Unleashed, a game with Pixar level visuals, was released on consoles less powerful than the Wii U).
The nail on the coffin was that the game did not fulfill any of the promises that were made before its release. The proposed character development that Sonic was going to go through did not happen, several plot threads are alluded to and dropped, returning and new characters alike serve little to no purpose, and in the end, little is accomplished to justify this new Sonic universe’s existence. Not a good sign for Sega, let alone Big Red Button, who might have Rise of Lyric as their only game.
Sonic 2006’s poor release can be attributed to Sega wanting to rush the game out to store shelves in time for Christmas, therefore leading many game elements to be left on the cutting room floor. Quality control was almost nonexistent. The game’s disc didn’t even have hacker protection. It wasn’t the first game to suffer from a rushed release. Suffice to say, it won’t be the last.
Whether not Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric has the same negative impact on the series as Sonic 2006 has yet to be seen. But it shouldn't.
Sonic 2006 represented a problem with Sega’s treatment of their flagship franchise, and they would later go on to rectify these problems with later games. While opinions vary on games like Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic and the Black Knight, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Lost World, they were much more well-received than Sonic 2006. Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations are especially praised for appealing to Sonic fans both old and new, as well as being quality games in general. Rise of Lyric’s failure does not represent anything. It is a bad game developed by a third party company, and that is the extent of it.
It seems that the mood of the Sonic fanbase, as well as outsider opinion of the series, depends on the objective quality of Sonic's most recently released game. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric has left the fans disappointed, turning them somewhat bitter, and there is no doubt the game will be used as ammo against Sonic Team's next product. The fanbase should find solace in the positively received Sonic Boom cartoon series (Saturdays on Cartoon Network), and Sonic's more beloved recent games.
If any lesson should be taken from this, it's that even a poor product can lead to a positive outcome. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, like Sonic 2006 before it, may stand as a memetic failure in a franchise with many ups and downs, but it should be nothing more than that. Only time will tell if the fanbase will allow it.