Throughout the last 13 years, the Sonic games have seen very mixed success. It began in 2006, with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog. This game was envisioned as the next generation Sonic experience, but would go down in infamy as the worst-rated main series title in the series. From there, SEGA tried desperately to regain the franchise's magic. Sadly, the company released a number of blunders. A few of these mishaps include the two storybook titles, Sonic Lost World, and most recently Sonic Forces. One Sonic game recently released to critical acclaim, however.
Sonic Mania released in 2017, and became one of the highest-rated titles in the series. It faithfully captured the Genesis era, serving as a nostalgia trip while introducing a few new zones. Mania's success and Forces' negative reception has encouraged the thought among fans that Sonic should just stick with 2D titles. This thought process is a mistake to fall under. Many fans forget that Sonic has had some fantastic 3D games. Sonic does work well outside 2D, but SEGA needs to look back and see why these specific titles are well appreciated.
The Great 3D Sonic Titles
With Sonic Forces further souring fans, it can be easy to forget that some of the most notable Sonic games are 3D. The first Sonic 3D game, Sonic Adventure, nicely put the character in the 3D realm similar to what Super Mario 64 did for Mario. Sonic Adventure is outdated in some respects, but still holds up well. However, it's the sequel that took the formula and made it better. Sonic Adventure 2 plays great, capturing a sense of speed while also feeling like a platforming adventure. Sonic Colors was a return to form after Sonic 06, recapturing the fast gameplay with no glitches to be found. Sonic Generations some consider to be the best 3D title. It did what Sonic 06 aspired to: feel like a next generation Sonic experience. So, as we see, there are a number of notable Sonic games in the 3D realm. Now, let's look at what makes these games good.
What Makes 3D Sonic Good
One of the main detractors of Sonic Forces is that the levels were too short. One can beat most of those levels in under two minutes. With Sonic Lost World, the gameplay felt slow in comparison to other titles. These are big problems. Sonic Adventure, and especially its sequel, have substantial levels. Sonic Adventure 2 combines adventure platforming with speed in a fantastic manner. Meanwhile, Sonic Generations can be incredibly fast like Forces, but the levels are never over in a flash. There needs to be satisfying speed in a Sonic game, but the levels should also have substance.
A problem with the modern Sonic 3D games post-Sonic and the Black Knight is that the stories are not that serious. There seems to be a self-awareness to the writing in the modern games, like the characters are internally winking at the audience. The early 3D Sonic games had captivating plotlines that both children and older players could appreciate. One only needs to watch the scene from Sonic Adventure 2 where Sonic is about to seemingly die, so he tells Tails, "I'm counting on you!" Nothing like this has been replicated in the newer games.
How SEGA Should Approach 3D Sonic
If SEGA wants to make more 3D Sonic titles, one of the first things it should do is look at Sonic Unleashed. This may seem odd to say, because Sonic unleashed is actually one of the lower rated games in the series. However, this is due to the grating Werehog night stages. The daytime stages were actually some of the franchise's best. They perfectly combined speed and platforming. Also, while the Wisp abilities were fun enough in Sonic Colors, the next 3D game should not rely on them once again.
While the next Sonic game doesn't need a "dark" storyline, it should be dramatic, and without a sense of irony. The boss battles in Sonic Adventure 2 always had an aura of intensity to them not only because of the gameplay, but also because of the build-up beforehand. The early 3D Sonic titles were unique in comparison to Mario because of its cast of developed characters. SEGA shouldn't distance itself from these characters, but rather use them to create a compelling story.
Don't Give Up On 3D Sonic
While SEGA has made a bunch of mediocre 3D Sonic titles (the sooner we forget about Sonic Boom the better), the company has made stellar games as well. Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Colors, and Sonic Generations were well liked for their emphasis on quality gameplay. There needs to be a combination of speed and platforming. Nintendo knows Super Mario 64 worked, and brought that style back for Super Mario Odyssey. Likewise, SEGA needs to look at its most acclaimed 3D installments and amplify what has worked. Some fans will always be skeptical, but if SEGA can start making great 3D games again, then even the most jaded fans will be won over.