Plugged In

Sonic the Hedgehog gets facelift, TV series, new games for 2014

Plugged In

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Sonic Boom (Credit: Sega)

Sonic the Hedgehog has been running at a frenetic pace for 23 years, but over the past few, he’s lost some steam. Gamers have grown weary of the same old, same old style of play and familiar characters, not to mention the inconsistent quality. You just never know what the blue blur will bring to the table anymore.

Actually, now we do. In 2014, Sega’s hoping to re-energize its most iconic franchise by taking Sonic in a new direction.

Sonic and his friends are getting a new game and a new TV series, both entitled Sonic Boom. They’re also getting a facelift.

Sonic’s taller and now sports a scarf as well as athletic tape around his wrists and feet. His pal Knuckles has been given a dose of HGH, turning him into a hulking brute, while sidekick Tails has added aviator goggles and a toolbelt to his look. And his girlfriend Amy carries a big honkin’ hammer with her everywhere these days.

“We are at an exciting moment for Sonic,” said Marcella Churchill, senior director of marketing at Sega. “For a number of years, we’ve been asking ourselves, ‘Where do we take it from here?’

“Think of it as a familiar friend who has seen an effective personal trainer,” added Sandrine Nguyen, CEO of OuiDo, which is co-producing the TV series and assisted in the characters’ revamped appearances.

The new look will be reflected on both game systems and cable channels this year. The Sonic Boom series will air on The Cartoon Network, while the Sonic Boom games are headed to Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS. Sega did not give an estimated street date, but promised playable versions of both games at E3 in June.

The games will focus on collaboration, according to Big Red Button, the developer handling the Wii U version. And, from the brief teaser Sega showed at an introductory event in New York, the new take will emphasize action over the constant running that the series is known for.

The story will revolve around an “ancient enemy” bent on destroying the world. Sonic and friends will have chances to shine individually, said Bob Rafei, CEO of Big Red Button, though they'll also have to work together frequently.

Franchise antagonist Dr. Eggman will play a part in the game “as you’ve never seen him before,” says Rafei, but Sega’s not offering any details at present. The 3DS game, developed by Sanzaru, will have a different story.

Realizing the potential dangers that can accompany a major shift in flagship brands, Sega notes that the characters and events in the Sonic Boom universe exist separately from the Sonic games of the past and assured fans that the classic universe would continue as well.

The Sonic Boom TV series will mark Sonic’s fifth television venture. Executive producer Evan Baily said the program hopes to differentiate itself by focusing more on the characters than speed.

“We do not plan to feature the bad guy du jour,” he said. “We want to put the characters in situations where their personalities and relationships can take center stage and take us to unexpected places.”

Among those unexpected places? In one episode, Sonic fires Tails as his gadget guru, amid fears for his safety. (Dr. Eggman applies for the job.) In another, Knuckles becomes mayor. And Dr. Eggman, frustrated at constantly losing his battles with Sonic, fakes an injury and takes the Hedgehog to court.

The news that the games will be exclusive to Nintendo platform might be surprising given the disappointing sales figures of the Wii U, but Sonic Boom marks the final game in a three-title exclusivity deal between the two companies.

“Sonic Boom continues Nintendo’s commitment to being the destination for kids and family gaming,” said Steve Singer, VP of licensing for Nintendo of America.

Sonic Boom also represents a chance for Sega to reinvigorate Sonic in retail channels. The company has partnered with toy maker Tomy to create a new line of products based on the redesigned characters.

Those are expected to hit store shelves at roughly the same time period as the game and TV show.

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