Sonic the Hedgehog finally has a new game, with the newly released Sonic Frontiers returning the rodent to the third dimension. Still, Sonic is perhaps more well-known for his classic sidescrolling adventures, which have remained his most iconic and beloved games. These sorts of titles can easily be brought into the modern day, but it doesn’t have to involve nostalgia.
Sonic Mania was a hit game five years ago, but it was still very steeped in the looks and mechanics of the Sega Genesis era. A few Sonic games from the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, however, showed that Sonic can be modern and 2D at the same time. Here’s a look back at these underrated games, and how they could and should influence his further adventures.
Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush Ditched Nostalgia but Kept the Quality
Released in 2001, Sonic Advance was something of a watershed moment for the series. It was an all-new Sonic game that not only released on a console created by Sega’s former rival Nintendo but was actually exclusive to said hardware. Though the series had mainly shifted into the third dimension by that point, the hardware of the Game Boy Advance provided something more in line with the previous decade. Sonic Advance was thus a sidescrolling platformer in the vein of the original games on the Genesis, with its first level, Neo Green Hill Zone, evoking the franchise’s original stage.
Though the gameplay remixed the Genesis era designs, they were based on the 3D Sonic Adventure titles. This trend continued in its two sequels, which were veritable oases in the desert of the increasingly diminishing quality of the 3D games. The same went for 2005’s Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS, which had 2.5D graphics in a sidescrolling game. Though the boss battles and special stages were in 3D, the rest felt like classic Sonic modernized. The sequel, Sonic Rush Adventure, brought in the greater focus on storytelling from the console 3D entries, truly bridging the gap in what had by then become a far less-than-beloved series. The achievements of these handheld Sonic games are largely overlooked, but they paint a picture of the franchise’s potential.
As mentioned, none of the Sonic Advance or Sonic Rush titles were pixilated in the style evocative of old-school Sonic games. Their gameplay was the main connective tissue with the classic series, and the presentation wasn’t an obvious throwback in the vein of Sonic Mania. Taking this direction with new sidescrollers would be a great way to regain some quality and respect for the franchise. The somewhat dubious reputation that Sonic games have acquired is solely due to the quality of the 3D games, which have many times tried to experiment with Sonic’s tried and true formula.
Doing so does sometimes reap rewards, as the new Sonic Frontiers is already considered the best 3D entry in Sega’s premiere series in years. A good idea would be for Sega to continue to experiment with and refine the 3D Sonic formula, all while still producing new sidescrollers that provide guaranteed familiarity and — hopefully — quality. After all, there’s yet to be a sequel to the nostalgia-driven Sonic Mania, and such a title would mainly appeal to older fans anyway. Going the Advance/Rush route would utilize the classic mechanics that fans love while still attracting younger players, keeping Sonic alive and accessible to all.
The best way to begin this balance of mechanics in the series would be to re-release the Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush as a compilation. This would more than likely be exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, but future sidescrollers could be released across different platforms. By making those games’ mechanics the face of 2D Sonic going forward, Sega can finally have the best of both worlds and put out great titles for the franchise on a regular basis.