Sonic Team

Note: This was originally published in March as part of the Campus Village Chronicles.
Being an important game developer for twenty years, Sonic Team is one of the most influential game creators in the industry. Sonic Team has been an internal division of SEGA for most of its existence. Although Sonic Team made many important games, it is best known for its Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.
Sonic the Hedgehog, the first game in the series, was made before Sonic Team adopted that name. From 1988 to 1991, the developer now known as Sonic Team was known as Sega AM8, but changed their name due to the popularity of its Sonic the Hedgehog1.When Sonic the Hedgehog was released for the Genesis, or Mega Drive as it was known in Japan, Mario was the most recognizable video game character in the industry. As such, the Super Mario series set the standard for platform games, which are games that involve much
jumping such as Mario, Sonic, Mega Man, and many other popular games. While the Mario series encouraged players to move slowly, as evident by warp pipes and power-ups such as the flower that prove vital, Sonic the Hedgehog encouraged players to race through the levels. Not only did the game want to be played quickly, but Sonic himself did as well. Leaving Sonic alone for a few moments, players are rewarded with Sonic tapping his foot and looking annoyed.
The game was designed to take advantage of console’s capabilities, with colorful backgrounds full of animation and high quality sounds, often times with multiple sounds playing simultaneously2. Comparing almost any screen of Sonic the Hedgehog to a screen of its competition, Super Mario World, shows much more movement and color in Sonic the Hedgehog. The music is still remixed today.
The Sonic series continues to be popular, although its popularity has been declining. While the 2D series, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog CD, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic & Knuckles are commonly considered some of the best games ever made, Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 were released to mixed opinions. Most people were unhappy with Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Sonic and the Secret Rings has just been released for the Wii. It has received good reviews, but it is too soon to tell how successful it will be.
In addition to the Sonic the Hedgehog series, Sonic Team has made other important contributions to the video game industry as well. NiGHTS into Dreams was a popular Sega Saturn game. I spoke with a used game salesman at a convention last month, and he informed me that NiGHTS into Dreams, commonly referred to as NiGHTS, is still the most frequently requested Sega Saturn game. NiGHTS is, for the most part, a platformer, but much of the game is played while the character is flying rather than walking or running, which was quite original and still something not seen often. The levels were very imaginative and visually pleasing. Also, NiGHTS contained an A-life, or artificial life, system, which was the precursor to the A-life Chao system of Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2.
ChuChu Rocket! for the Sega Dreamcast was an addicting, fast paced puzzle game created by Sonic Team. It was the first online game for a console to gain popularity. In the game, both ChuChus (mice) and KapuKapus (cats) run in a straight line, turning right when they hit a wall. When a KapuKapu comes into contact with a ChuChu, the ChuChu is eaten. ChuChus are safe once they reach a rocket. Arrows can be placed on the board which will cause the ChuChus and KapuKapus to run in the direction the arrows are pointing. In arcade mode, the goal is to have as a high a score possible. One point is earned for each ChuChu that reaches a rocket. If a KapuKapu reaches the rocket, the score lowers a certain amount. Only three arrows can be placed at a time, with the earliest place arrow being removed when a new arrow is placed. In puzzle mode, the goal is to have all ChuChus reach the rocket without any KapuKapus touching the rockets or the ChuChus. Each level has a different limit as to how many arrows can be placed, although all of them can be placed at the same time. ChuChu Rocket! was rereleased on Game Boy Advance, and there is a Flash version on the Web as well.
The Dreamcast also featured a Sonic Team game called Samba de Amigo, a music game. In this game, players plugged maracas into the Dreamcast and had to shake them with the song. It is currently one of the more sought after Dreamcast games, with the maracas being very hard to come by. Another popular game series created by Sonic Team is Phantasy Star. Sonic Team is responsible for Phantasy Star, Phantasy Star Online, and Phantasy Star Universe. While Phantasy Star was an RPG made in the late 1980s, Phantasy Star Online, or PSO, was a massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing game, first designed for the Dreamcast. PSO was one of the first console MMOs. Unlike many other MMOs, PSO allowed players to play their characters both online and offline without distinguishing between an online character and an offline character. Phantasy Star Universe was recently released for all major consoles and is the successor of Phantasy Star Online.
The last games I plan on discussing are Feel the Magic: XY/XX and The Rub Rabbits! Feel the Magic: XY/XX, or Feel the Magic as it is commonly referred to, was a launch title for the Nintendo DS. The game consists solely of minigames that contain elements such as blowing in the microphone, rubbing the screen, tracing or drawing lines, and tapping. The storyline is simple: while trying to woo a particular girl, another man tries to impress her and eventually kidnaps her. You must save her and impress her to win her heart. The game has very simple yet stylish graphics that have a very 70s feel to them. The input features and gameplay are what make this game so important. The DS was the first widely used video game device to have a touchscreen and microphone built in to the unit. While minigames such as Yacht, which have the player blow into the microphone to blow a yacht out to sea in order to save the girl, might seem ridiculous, they are actually very fun and proved to many the ingenuity of Nintendo’s new console. Feel the Magic paved the way for future DS games, showing just what kind of unorthodox gameplay methods were available. While less important than Feel the Magic: XY/XX, The Rub Rabbits! is its sequel. It features very similar gameplay, although its minigames are different. In my opinion it is just as fun as the first game.
Sonic Team was founded by Yuji Naka1. In May of 2006, Naka left Sonic Team to establish another game development studio, PROPE1. PROPE has not yet released any games1. Naoto Oshima, the character designer of Sonic the Hedgehog and his enemy, Doctor Eggman, left Sonic Team to form the studio Artoon1,3. Artoon has created multiple games, none of which have gained much popularity.
Hopefully the importance of Sonic Team to the video game industry is now evident. Its games aren’t just fun. Many of them have been revolutionary, changing the way games are played. No matter what Sonic Team creates in the future, its game are sure to be amazing.
1 Sonic Team,
2 Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit),
3 Naoto Oshima,