After Sonic Adventure in 1999, Sonic went quiet for a bit. Dreamcast received an abysmal Mario Party clone called Sonic Shuffle, which I have only ever played once. Even though I still own it. And here began the problem with Sega starting to put Sonic's name on different game genres, when previously he had only really gone platforming and racing.
At least handheld Sonic was superb. Neo Geo Pocket's 16-bit architecture may not have been able to replicate the Mega Drive's parallax backgrounds, but Sonic Pocket Adventure was like a megamix of Sonic and Sonic 2. It had come out in Japan the year before, but when Neo Geo Pocket hit the UK and then promptly died on its bum, it was easy enough to pick one up cheaply and enjoy one of Sonic's best side-scrollers.
It was a bittersweet 2001. On the one hand, Dreamcast was dead after just two incredible years on the market. But on the other hand, it went out with a bang. Sonic Adventure 2 may not have been the most consistently great game, featuring all kinds of strange mission levels to break up the 'proper' Sonic levels. But, boy, was it a looker. Textures were maxed out, frame-rate was super-smooth... and Sonic turned on the style once more.
Japan even had a special edition version of the game, to celebrate the hog turning 10 years old. It was a milestone, certainly, and everyone looked back and thought 'crikey, I'm getting on a bit'. But the crest of the wave started by Sonic a decade previously had now broken and was sucking backwards into the sea again. Sonic was in trouble and everyone knew it.
By 2002, Sonic games were exclusive to Nintendo machines. Worse still from a Sonic fan's point of view, they were superior, too. The extra grunt offered by Gamecube allowed for split-screen Sonic Adventure 2 gameplay, meaning Nintendo had not only claimed Sega's mascot for its own, it was also running him on superior hardware. Not fun for a long-term Sega fan.
Worse still, re-releases of Sonic Adventure 2 and (the next year) Sonic Adventure were being reviewed with significantly lower scores. Now the graphics weren't quite as exceptional, Sonic's gameplay was proving lackluster. At least Sonic was having a riot on GBA, with Sonic Pinball Party whiling away many hours during uni holidays, and Sonic Advance returning to the old 2D formula in some style.
2003 is not a memorable year for a Sonic fan. I remember buying Sonic Advance 2, constantly crashing into things because the screen was so far zoomed-in on the action you couldn't see what was ahead of you, and then doing pretty well off it on eBay a while later. Same goes for Sonic Advance 3.
However, at the end of the year, Sonic Heroes was released in Japan. And that signalled the start of a turnaround for Sonic's fortunes...
Finally turning legitimately multi-format, Sonic must've really enjoyed 2004. Not only was the Xbox version of Sonic Heroes beautifully crisp and smooth, the game stayed on the top of the UK sales charts for what seemed like an eternity. A lot of people talk about Sonic Heroes disparagingly, but honestly, it was the best Sonic game since the Mega Drive originals.
Of course, it made a big deal out of Sonic's 'friends' (and enemies in fairness), which did make Sonic fans wish he could just return to the spotlight on his own once in a while. The voice acting was cringe-worthy too. But at least the action was slick and enjoyable. Put it this way: It wasn't a complete embarrassment.
FFS. Well, at least my copy legitimately developed a disc-read error on the first night, allowing me to take it back for a refund the next day. "Do you want another copy?" "Nah, mate, you're alright."
Well, at least it couldn't get any worse...
Oh god. Well, let's just say it's very telling that Yuji Naka left Sonic Team in mid-2006 to start his new studio, Prope. Mercifully, I didn't pay 50 for Sonic The Hedgehog when it was released, although I did S-rank the demo. I actually avoided it until the Xbox 360 had installs, then bought it second-hand.
It remains the only time I have ever taken a game back to the shop and pleaded with the assistant for a refund simply because the game was so bad. And no, I haven't cropped the picture badly up there. The needle is off the scale. You can't defend the indefensible. What a disaster. By now, I was working at GamesRadar. At least there were other things to look forward to. Like PS3...
Firstly, after the UK PS3 release was delayed, it's sad to say 'Sonic 2006' also left its smeary mark on 2007 as well, appearing on PS3 as a launch title. Shudder. But 2007 will be remembered for happier reasons. Sonic & the Secret Rings (changed from its original title 'Sonic Wild Fire, which I liked) was a neat little game, full of cool music and absorbing visuals.
But it was also the year that Sonic and Mario first got together in the same game. There it was, finally after all those years of playground arguments. Sonic and Mario were best buddies. Sure, they were competing against each other, but Sonic was clearly just humouring the plumber. As though Mario stood a chance in the 100m dash against Sonic the Hedgehog who turned blue when he broke the sound barrier with his bare feet.
Also known as 'year of the were-hog'. It's a shame, really. The were-hog was only put in the game to make it longer, as the development cost for the Sonic levels (which were legitimately awesome) cost too much to sustain an entire game. But everybody remembers the were-hog. And everybody laughed at the were-hog. And subsequently, everybody laughed at Sonic.
Annoyingly (again), it was Nintendo who was showing everyone how it should be done. Sonic's stage, look and feel in Super Smash Bros. Brawl was sublime, looking exactly how Sonic should look in 3D. How was a Sonic fan supposed to condone the were-hog, when Nintendo itself clearly had the right idea. Could the answer really be to let Nintendo make a Sonic game? Entertaining such thoughts went against everything a Sonic fan believed in. Yet it sounded the most logical course of action.
It was a quiet year for Sonic in 2009. He did get a sequel to Secret Rings in the shape of Sonic & the Black Knight. A game that I played the first two levels of, got the point where Sonic says 'well, you can't be the good guy all the time' and turned it off in disgust. Sonic, I don't even know who you are any more.
Beside that, there was another Mario & Sonic... but the gaming world seemed to be leaving poor Sonic behind.