The Sonic Franchise Is The Poster Child For Toxic Nostalgia
Sonic fans: why you mad bro? With every new release of a piece of Sonic media it seems like the fandom of the blue flash is up in arms, screaming at some poor designer or software programmer who just wants to do their job and then go home to their family and/or cats. For affecting change and sheer willpower, they’re second only to BTS fans. What is it exactly that makes the legions of cerulean hedgehog stans so mad all the time? The series is uniquely positioned in history to be at the intersection of a venn diagram creating the perfect conditions to foster an absolutely toxic nostalgia.
In the early 90’s Sega set out to make an answer to Nintendo’s beloved Mario franchise, they wanted a side scrolling character that could serve as the company’s mascot. And so, presumably after a coke addled binge native to the times, the designers settled upon a blue hedgehog named Sonic. Sonic has one prerogative. He should, nay, must go fast.
The first Sonic game was a hit. To this day it’s considered one of the best video games of all time. Which is part of the problem. Back then, gamers didn’t have the plethora of games we have today. Say what you will about the current state of the world but at least we have a sh*tload of kick ass video games. In 1991, fans fell in love with the Green Hill Zone and the speedy, addictive gameplay of Sonic The Hedgehog. The release came during the nascent stages of gaming as a cultural force, exposing a generation to the heart pounding excitement which is Gaming with a capital G. It was an almost universally praised high watermark that the series would never again meet.
Flash forward 30-ish years to the release of the Sonic The Hedgehog trailer, a slew of Sonic games with very mixed receptions littering the intervening years. When the first images of the decidedly creepy design for Sonic came out, fans absolutely freaked. The reaction was so strong that the studio delayed the movie and totally overhauled its star’s design, digging Sonic out of the uncanny valley and planting him squarely in the cartoonish adorability fans know and love. The movie was a hit. Did the toxic fandom of the blue blur care that the animators were suffering extreme crunch to accommodate their desires? Nay. They only cared that their chilly dog loving hero had the big, soulful eyes they knew from childhood.
The most recent Sonic game, Sonic Frontiers, is shaping up to be a similar debacle. Fans are pissed about the gameplay that’s been shown. Instead of a satisfying, physics based game, it looks like the “open-zone” game is just Sonic moving around on auto-pilot. There are calls to delay the game, Sega is responding that basically fans just don’t understand it. Good luck with that approach, Sega. You’re going to need it.
The game is slated to release ‘Holiday of 2022’, but with every game company in the world feeling a vise-like grip around their genitals whenever they think of Cyberpunk 2077, that’s far from certain. No major studio team can afford to put out a game that flops. As some gaming industry insiders have noted however: the criticisms fans have about initial gameplay are too baked into the game to really change. But that’s probably what some spittle covered studio exec yelled into their phone when the first criticism of the movie’s character design flooded Twitter.
Sonic’s original fandom is now in their 30’s and 40’s, a generation of Millennials and Gen Xers who were told throughout their whole childhoods that they could thrive if they just worked hard enough. Now they’re struggling to make rent in an apartment they’ll never own, watching idiot gods like Jeff Bezos race to the stars. No wonder they’re pissed about a video game. Speaking out and having a corporation actually take action is the new American dream. It ain’t working so hot with Amazon, but hey, Sega actually gives a hoot. In addition, Sonic fans are fast approaching the “back in my day” threshold. It happens to every generation. This one just has more pictures and emulators to show proof of the old days.
The fandom is also unreasonably horny. The rise of furries coincided with a resurgence of Gotta Go Fast Freakiness that illuminated a beacon of American sexuality that had been hidden for too long. There’s nothing wrong with making a whole Reddit devoted to pregnant, heavy breasted Sonics. But with that kind of lust for a character comes a deep, animal desire to mark out one’s territory. And as any good Jedi knows, that kind of attachment can lead to the dark side.
Will any Sonic game ever meet the high standards of the fans? Ever searching for an elusive, golden ring which lies just out of reach? The ultimate prize that could be all yours if the movie was just a little bit brighter, if the game was just a little bit better, if you could go just a little faster.