Thumbing through last month’s issue of British magazine GamesTM, I came across an interview with Sonic Team developer Tetsu Katano, who was promoting the hedgehog’s latest outing in Sonic and the Black Knight. The interview consisted of standard promotional dialogue, although the interviewer brilliantly asked Katano which, if forced, of the annoying Sonic side characters he’d reluctantly kill off. Unfortunately his answer of “Big the Cat” was to the following question of which one he most cherished. What caught my attention, however, was that the interviewer innocently dropped that Sonic had recently been voted as the UK’s most popular video game character? Excuse me, what now?
What was actually being referred to was a massive poll of “over 500 UK gamers” ahead of last year’s London Games Festival – and, according to the press release, ahead of Sonic’s appearance at it. Hmmm. So, the spiky icon garnered 24% of the votes ahead of Mario and Lara Croft, while patent absentees from the top ten included Master Chief, Samus Aran and Solid Snake. Also, Street Fighter’s Blanka came in tenth. Maybe this wasn’t the most valid of polls, but it was still surprising to see Sonic top it.
How invalid was it, though? A quick bit of sales research suggests that for three of the recent Sonic games, the European sales appear to be the driving force for the franchise. Sonic and the Secret Rings sold over 2 million copies worldwide despite an uninspiring Metacritic average of 69, and from my own experience the game was an abomination of all things that should be Sonic, not to mention impossible to control and player-unfriendly. My compatriots appear to disagree, however, since the majority of its sales came from the UK. The game had a good run in the British sales charts post-launch, managing to hang tough in the British top ten for several weeks. Sonic Unleashed, while representing a step in the right direction with some of its gameplay, is similarly awful and frustrating. Yet its combined sales across all platforms are approaching the 2m mark, with Europe (and the UK by proxy) picking up a significant chunk of the slack. I’ve not played Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, but its Metacritic scores of 67/70 (Wii/DS) compare oddly against its worldwide explosion of 11m sales. Yes, it’s Mario and Sonic, but 11 million? What’s disturbing as a European is that 6m of those sales came from our continent, and even more disturbing as a Brit is that at least 2m came from our island alone. There’s little doubt in my mind that despite it butchering Arthurian legend with animé sorceresses, rebellious spikeballs and talking swords, Sonic and the Black Knight will overcome its Metacritic score of 55 to achieve excellent sales in the UK. So, do we really love Sonic in the UK, and if so, why the hell do we?
When the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis across the ocean) was battling the Super Nintendo in the 90s, I can remember the top floor of world-famous London toy store Hamleys being decked almost entirely in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 merchandise. At the time, the UK was firmly Sega country, and despite Sega floundering out of the console market, that love for Sega and Sonic appears not to have died. Indeed, Katano’s response to the poll’s mention was “We’re definitely aware of those reports and I really appreciate the support of UK gamers”. Okay, so he’s hardly going to say the opposite, but we know that Sega knows they’re popular in Europe because of the re-release of the Mega Drive as a handheld console later on this month. That too will fly off shelves, but deservedly so, unlike Sonic and the Black Knight. Is Sonic the monster that cannot die, and are the British responsible for that?
Everyone, especially the Japanese, knows that despite his commercial resurgence alongside Mario, the blue hedgehog is all but dead. The kind thing to do would be to put down the weary spiny hero and let him finally rest in peace, but Sega have no need to because of British fools keeping him alive by buying his recent sub-par outings. The rest of the world has caught on, why can’t we? So, I plead to the UK, stop buying Sonic games, otherwise Sega are never going to bloody learn, are they?
So, who should be the UK’s most popular video game character? Well, despite it going against what I’ve previously said in this column, I think it should be one Professor Layton. Firstly, he’s actually English, so that gives him a head start. Secondly, his first name is Hershel, which is simply brilliant. Thirdly, despite the fact that he comes across as a doormat in a top hat, he’s a kind, gentle, and effervescently polite fellow. Also, when he starts talking about how a gentleman should treat a lady, you know that the good prof is one heck of a player. In short, my mandate is that every Brit who has been buying Sonic games should stop, return them and go pick up Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Doing that will make the world a better place, and might even help Sega to finally put a tainted hero to sleep. Or, even better, to revitalise him with a game that’s actually good. Could you imagine?
Actually, I’m not sure if I can anymore.