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Sonic is Dead (In a Good Way This Time), by Ethan K. Poole

For this year’s April Fool’s Day, video game developers at Sega posted a trailer for a new entry in their flagship franchise: Sonic the Hedgehog. The trailer referenced the many criticisms the series has received over the course of its history and promised that they found a new direction for the franchise. The clips of the platforming games that made the series famous quickly cut to visual-novel style gameplay, revealing that this was an ad for a murder mystery set in the Sonic universe. An image of Sonic’s friends discovering his slumped corpse punctuated this point.

The title of this hypothetical project was, hilariously, The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Now, companies “announcing” strange and out-of-left-field projects on April Fools is nothing new, and this might have just become another funny but forgettable prank. However, there was one strange thing about this joke: they actually released the game.

The franchise has struggled for years, though. For decades, every new main series game faced intense scrutiny, and for good reason. Nearly half of them were either unplayable at launch due to glitches or were massive disappointments to fans. A handful were both. Even the ones that people loved failed to build up enough momentum to bring the series back to its glory days. Sega took a serious look at the problem and decided that it had found a solution: kill the hedgehog.

Now, the Sonic franchise is no stranger to spin-offs, featuring many sports titles, racing games, and even a third-person shooter. They have consistently been better and more warmly received than their mainline counterparts — and have been consistently more fun to actually play. Even still, this game is strange. Promising a bold new direction for the series and then murdering your protagonist (and completely jumping genre in the process) certainly makes for a powerful statement, but it was an unexpected move to say the least.

Now just to be clear, real game or not, this is still an April Fool’s Day joke. The Sonic franchise isn’t actually going to change following this game’s release, and, spoiler warning, Sonic wasn’t even actually murdered. He’s fine. What this game shows, though, is that Sega is willing to take risks with Sonic and is willing to actually publish games that pull the intellectual property (IP) in interesting new directions. The developers are willing to experiment, and that is an incredible sign.

For a long time, if you looked at most major IP holders, you’d find a pervasive fear of experimentation. Superhero films, AAA video game series, Disney princess movies, and even Sonic the Hedgehog found themselves trapped inside their formulas, too scared to try anything new. They were slowly being drained of creativity, and their fan bases were dwindling in response.

Recently, though, a few notable successes (like Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a few others) have inspired studios to start taking bigger risks, branching out into new ways of storytelling and placing an emphasis on fully exploring their artistic potential. This has led to both creative teams and their corporate bosses taking a closer look at their pre-existing IPs to discover what new stories they could tell with them.

This is an incredible phenomenon, and it has the potential to create some of the best stories made in ages. That might be a little hyperbolic when it comes to The Murder the Sonic of Hedgehog itself, but it is still one of the most fun Sonic games I’ve played in a while. It has a whimsical charm, a few moments of heightened drama and stakes, and a clear love for the rest of the characters and series that make the game a joy to play. It’s completely free, too. At only around 3 hours from start to finish, I was smiling for almost the whole time.

Art is at its best when the people making it are able to take risks and experiment wildly. That type of creativity breeds a joy and a passion that even the most thoroughly focus-tested of ideas can’t match. The studio execs in charge of greenlighting projects from their most marketable IPs, however, have historically favored the latter. Getting funding for an experimental shot at a new IP is hard enough, but pushing the bounds of a billion-dollar franchise is often seen as too great of a marketing risk.

Hopefully, though, the success of those creative projects that do get made continues to inspire new, even stranger ideas. Maybe one day we’ll live in a world where trying to catch the killer of one of gaming’s most iconic mascots isn’t quite as shocking, and companies taking big swings becomes commonplace. In the meantime, I wholeheartedly recommend giving The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog a shot.

I mean, come on, they killed Sonic.

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