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Dork Age / Sonic the Hedgehog

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  • Sonic the Hedgehog has been unfortunate enough to go through three dork ages. The first one was between 1995 to 1997. The cancellation of Sonic X-treme meant that there would not be a main series Sonic on the Sega Saturn, which only provided fans with a Compilation Re-release, a port of a slow isometric game and a racing spin-off. Other than that, Sonic was relegated mostly to various spin-offs on the Game Gear. While the early '90s had Sonic more recognizable than Mickey Mouse, Sonic Team reportedly received letters asking who Sonic was shortly after the release of 1996's NIGHTS Into Dreams. This Dork Age finally ended with the release of Sonic Adventure in 1998.
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  • The second (and perhaps the most well-known) is the one from 2005 to 2007 with the releases of Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), and Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis. Shadow's game was a spin-off meant to please Shadow's fans and conclude his amnesia arc, but Sega didn't stop there; they also tried to aim for the Grand Theft Auto crowd using Shadow's Byronic Hero characterization to justify some pretty bizarre choices (namely, lots of guns and some mild swearing) with So Bad, It's Good results, plus the game's slippery controls and repetitive mission-based gameplay. Sonic '06 was hyped to be the Blue Blur's big comeback and a "re-imagining" of the series for the seventh-generation consoles; instead it turned out to be a rushed mess with Sonic receiving a much-maligned romance subplot involving a human princess, which had less overall importance compared to the plots given to his co-stars. Sonic Genesis was a Game Boy Advance port of the original game, and ended up as another rushed mess that was just salt in the wound after '06. Lastly, Sonic Riders, Sonic Rivals, and Sonic and the Secret Rings were released around this time, and though not as reviled as '06, they were either seen as So Okay, It's Average at best and/or panned for their controls, with the rest of the era being filled by Compilation Rereleases such as Sonic Gems Collection and Sonic Mega Collection.
  • After this, the fanbase became even more fractured than before, with differing opinions on when the Dork Age even started and when (if at all) it ended.
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  • The third Dork Age began some time after the release of Sonic Generations and may or may not have ended by now; marked by a slew of releases of surprisingly middling quality after it was believed Sonic Team had finally gotten back on track. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II became a contested followup within a sequel series that was controversial to begin with, and its sales and reviews were so middling that it caused plans for future episodes to the saga to be quietly dismissed. Following that was Sonic Lost World, which brought upon a myriad of changes from the past titles — most notoriously the gameplay and level design, the artstyle, and the narrative/characterization in the story — that weren't accepted by several and were considered heavily flawed by those who did give it a chance; and was widely perceived as the first real stumble. Lost World also established the beginning of an unpopular and unsuccessful partnership forged between Sega and Nintendo, which restricted a trilogy of Sonic games as exclusive to the Wii U console, which turned out to be a commercial disappointment. Then came the infamous Sonic Boom spinoff games (Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal), which, already riding off the controversy of being licensed games to a new brand of Sonic, fans criticized as unnecessary and at risk of further fracturing the fanbase. With both games criticized as repetitive and dull in their design, and Rise of Lyric in particular turning out to be yet another rushed mess of a game (with many likening Rise of Lyric to the aforementioned Sonic '06); the Boom games proved themselves as a new low point for the series as both critical and commercial failures. Unsurprisingly, they were credited to Sega undergoing restructuring and dozens of employee layoffs shortly after their release, and Sega later apologizing for betraying the trust of their consumers.

    While the Boom games would mark the absolute nadir of the third Dork Age, attempts to move on from it haven't been smooth sailing. Sonic Team's attempt at getting into the mobile gaming space with Sonic Runners started out promising (if still not without problems) with its soft launch... only for the game to go offline barely a year later thanks to the well-received "official" worldwide launch of the game, which took the game's existing issues and turned them Up to Eleven while adding more issues onto the pile. A third Sonic Boom game, Fire and Ice, sank without a trace; despite being delayed by Sega for over a year for quality control reasons and commended as a superior effort over the past Boom games by the few who decided to pick it up. The legal pileup caused by Ken Penders's lawsuits and Archie's shifted focus to other properties resulted in Sega and Archie abruptly cancelling the latter's famed comic series about the mascot. Despite the comic having run for 24 years up to that point, the cancellation was announced with minimal fanfare and after a startlingly long period of radio silence from both parties after release of issues came to an unannounced (and permanent) hiatus. Sonic Team's long-awaited followup to Lost World, multiplatform debut for the generation, and tie-in game for the series' 25th anniversary, Sonic Forces, only continued the streak of lukewarm reception. Despite garnering interest for returning to the Boost gameplay, gunning for a more serious story and tone (in contrast to past titles), and premise (Dr. Eggman having succeeded in taking over the world); the gameplay and level design was panned as a lackluster step back from previous Boost titles and its story was considered a disappointment, with the game largely considered unambitious outside of its "Custom Hero" playstyle (which ever since its reveal has remained a major topic of great debate between fans).

    The third Dork Age, however, isn't without its few diamonds in the rough. Despite the poor reception of the tie-in games, the Sonic Boom animated series has generally been considered a genuinely enjoyable show, and has largely shaken off the stigma caused by the tie-in games. The end of the Archie Sonic comic was shortly followed by Sega announcing they had given IDW Publishing the rights to make a new comic about the series set for 2018, emphasizing the series as a fresh start from the Archie continuity. Sega taking a chance on getting the fans to make an official Sonic game resulted in their other 25th anniversary project in Sonic Mania, a successor to the Genesis Sonic games developed by high-profile members from the community that was praised by reviewers and fans alike as not only a proper follow up to the Genesis Sonic titles, but as one of the best Sonic games in years. The brightest spot from this Dork Age, though, was a proper feature-length film adaptation that, despite initial indifference and lack of confidence from fans, turned out to be surprisingly well-received and overtook Pokémon Detective Pikachu as the highest-grossing video game-based movie in the United States, introducing Sonic to generations of new fans and potentially reinventing the franchise going forward.

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