[Long Read] The death of the mediocre media tie-in or: How I learned to stop hating and love the Sonic Boom(b)

Sega Sales

Yesterday Sega released their quarterly report. In that report they mention lifetime sales figures for their currently available videogames. On the top of the list we find Alien: Isolation, which sold more than two million copies. Alien: Isolation is a survival horror game and, movie tie-in to the well-known Alien series. It has received favorable reviews. The PC version scores 81 percent on metacritic (a website which aggregates videogame scores).

Alien Isolation box

Second on the list is Football Manager 2015 for PC. It sold 810.000 copies. So far, so good. Because that game also received favorable reviews. It scores 80 percent on metacritic.

Football_Manager_2015_from_Sega

Third game on the list is Sonic BOOM, and that, my friends, is what the Internet is talking about today.

There are two Sonic BOOM games. They are both tie-ins to the new Sonic BOOM television animation show. Both games also feature Sega’s well know mascot: Sonic the Hedgehog. One game was made exclusively for Nintendo WiiU. One exclusively for Nintendo 3DS. Both games came out November 11th and both games were panned by critics. The WiiU game has a metascore of 32 percent. The 3DS game a metascore of 47 percent. User scores for the WiiU game are similar to critic scores. The 3DS game was generally looked at more fondly by users than critics (63 percent metascore). Both games combined sold 620.000 copies.

Sonic BOOM WiiU boxSonic BOOM 3DS box

620.000 copies sold is not a whole lot when compared to, for instance, the latest Call of Duty game (which sold almost 20 million copies across all different platforms), but apparently it is too much for the Internet which cried out murder, because other (arguably better) third party games for Nintendo platforms have been struggling to sell even half that number.

Sonic’s Sticky Situation

Honestly, I don’t get all the hate for Sonic BOOM. Also where does all of that hate come from? When the game was shown at 2014’s E3 people were generally excited about it. Some weren’t too happy with the new character designs (especially Knuckles’ design was heavily criticized), but people seemed to be willing to let that slide.

sonic-boom

Destructoid even named Sonic BOOM for WiiU the best platform game of the show, as well as best game playable on a Nintendo system.

Destructiod Big Red ButtonPeople were ecstatic. We were finally going to be able to play a different kind of Sonic game, a good Sonic  game, instead of a mediocre one, and this was all thanks to the veteran developers working at Big Red Button Entertainment, veteran developers mostly coming from Naughty Dog. Yes, the new Sonic game was being made by people who had worked on the Crash Bandicoot games for the original PlayStation. Also the 3DS game was being made by Sanzaru, by the people who had only recently rebooted the Sly Cooper series on PlayStation. With such talent working on these two games, what could possibly go wrong?

Sonic BOOM WiiU gameplay

Sonic BOOM: Rise of Lyric (WiiU)

Sonic BOOM 3DS gameplay

Sonic BOOM: Shattered Crystal (3DS)

A lot of things apparently. Internal struggles? Maybe. There isn’t a lot of information on the interwebs about what went wrong, but the consensus seems to be that Sega happened. With their strict deadlines and rules they crippled the project from the get go. By insisting that the game be released before the Winter Holidays, both games had to be rushed, and instead of two great new games in the Sonic Series we got two mediocre ones, that were  treated harshly by the critics.

Destructoid, who had named the WiiU game the best platform game of the show, gave it a 5 out of 10 upon release, which seems to be a fair score (especially for a website called Destructoid). I may have given the game a 6 because I actually enjoyed playing it. A lot of other websites, however, really panned the game. Mostly they panned the game for things it didn’t even try to do. It was never the intention of the makers to make it as fast paced as the other Sonic games. That was clear from the very beginning of the project, but a lot of critics seemed to be looking for arguments to be harsh, and they found them in the things that weren’t there.

Afterwards, people on the Internet internalized this general criticism. Not many actually played the WiiU game (of those 620.000 copies sold, how many were sold on WiiU?), but they all shared the same opinion. It was a bad game. A terrible game. The worst game that came out in 2014!

Though I didn’t play every game that came out in 2014, I feel safe to say that Sonic BOOM for WiiU was not the worst game of last year.

Was it the best Sonic game?

No.

Was it a great game?

Not really.

Was it actually a Sonic game to begin with?

Sheesh, stop asking yourself such difficult questions, man.

No, the real reason why Sonic BOOM on WiiU isn’t the worst game that came out in 2014 was because it worked. Meaning: I didn’t encounter a single game breaking bug. Maybe other people have had problems, but for me the game wasn’t more buggy than Watch_Dogs or Batman Arkham Origins on WiiU.  Admittedly, Sonic BOOM did show some lag and screen tearing, but the struggles that game showed weren’t nearly as bad as the ones shown by the other two games I mentioned in this paragraph.

Sticking with Sonic

The real reason why Sonic BOOM was treated so harshly was because what looked like a promising Sonic game turned out to be just another media tie-in game. Something we have come to hate dearly since the days of E.T. – which remains the worst game ever made because it really is a broken mess – and, though released many years later, Superman 64.

ET2600-JD superman 64 - screenshot

For many critics it must have been painful to see a once beloved videogame character showing up in a genre that they have learned to hate so much over the years, making them forget that the game wasn’t terrible, but only mediocre.

The reason for this general “BOOM bashing” may also be related to the fact that there haven’t been as many mediocre media tie-in games on consoles as there used to be. Sonic BOOM is somewhat of a remnant, an anachronism. Many companies known for these types of games, like Midway and especially THQ, have seized to exist. And other companies have largely turned to mobile for media tie-in games… which are oftentimes even worse than what we used to get on consoles.

With no other games to compare Sonic BOOM to (apart from that other great videogame character that showed up in his own media tie-in game based on his television animation show, i.e. Pac-Man and the ghostly “somethings”), critics may have also lost somewhat of their perspective on what makes a media tie-in mediocre and what makes one awful.

Pac-Man cover

In any case, I’m happy that Sonic BOOM did moderately well sales wise, because I’d rather see publishers create B-games for consoles than turning their back on consoles all together and making a run for the mobile market (which, sadly enough, seems to be Sega’s next move).

That doesn’t mean I would want publishers to make easy cash ins for well-known franchises on consoles all the time. On the contrary, I am upset that Sega did not give Big Red Button Entertainment the opportunity to make Sonic BOOM more than the mediocre game it is today. But it does mean that I wouldn’t mind them releasing the sporadic B-game on consoles.

Why B-games on consoles? Because AAA today has really become a hit or miss business, with one miss possibly making a whole company flounder. Therefore I’d prefer a situation in which a B-game can be somewhat successful and take the fall for a AAA miss, making it so that publishers can make some more calculated risks when developing new games instead of relying on a few successful IP’s that oftentimes get turned into annualized franchises (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, etc.).

I am not saying I love Sonic BOOM. I’m only saying that I enjoyed playing it, and that I don’t understand all the hate it gets. I honestly think the industry would be better off with more mediocre B-games on consoles (something I couldn’t imagine myself saying a decade ago), and that for that I’m happy that Sonic BOOM sold moderately well.

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[Blip] May the 4th be with you!

Happy Star Wars day everybody!

I haven’t had the time to write any blog posts recently, but I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to wish you all the best on this wonderful day.

Game related: Valve, Microsoft and Sony are having Star Wars related sales on their respective platforms (Steam, Xbox Marketplace and PlayStation Store). Nintendo isn’t joining the festivities… for now.

Recommendation: if you’ve never had the privilege of playing the Knights of The Old Republic series now’s probably not a bad time to grab both games on Steam. They’re €2,99 per title. Or… you could wait until they show up during the unavoidable Steam Summer Sale in a month or two, but then you wouldn’t be able to start playing them on this festive day!

Blog update: I went to the Antwerp Convention on April 26th and plan to write a (game related) post about it, but for now you’ll have to do with this photo I took of an army of life sized motor controlled R2’s ready to take over the city and afterward the entire world! Well… Not really. One of them does play the Mos Eisley Cantina song when you push one of his buttons though. So there’s that.

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Cheerio!

M.C.J.F.