Sonic Team: Do you see a team tailored to Mario? I didn't think so!
Who gave birth to Sonic the Hedgehog? If you said Yuji Naka, you'd be right. Naka-san is the head of one of the most prestigious development houses. Having been with Sega for longer that some gamers have been alive, the man is responsible in one way or another for some of the most playable and original games to come on a Sega (or any other) console. Sonic Team is more than the little blue mascot it has taken its name for.
One of the oldest development teams for Sega, listing the accomplishments of Naka-san and his team could fill pages of text. We do however, wish to point out some of the highlights, and give some contextual perspective to where Sonic came from and where he is going. But here's a bit of trivia, the Sonic Team as we know it today didn't come about until 1999, before that time Naka and his were just another R&D department for Sega, well you can't call the team that created Sonic ?another R&D team.? But the point is, Sonic team is a culmination of various members on various Sega projects, all who have lent their skill and imagination to the world of Sonic, and boy, are we glad they did!
Various members of Sonic Team first started with a little series titled ?Phantasy Star?. Some of the old school gamers (as in real old school) may actually remember these little RPG gems. You get bonus points if you remember that the first game wasn't on the Genesis, but on the Master System. But neither of these really lit a fire in the hearts of gamers. Some plumber was getting all of the attention.
When Sonic the Hedgehog debuted in 1991, it became one of the fastest selling video games ever, outselling that ?other? game in a matter of weeks.
Sonic Team almost reads like a history of Sega itself. Almost every major Sonic title came from these walls. We don't have the bandwidth to go into each game that sonic has graced, but let us just remember that the blue hedgehog has graced over 75 games altogether. Not too bad for a character that is only 10 years old. With appearances on every platform that Sega has released, Sonic holds the record for most platform appearances. Do you realize that by the year Sonic the Hedgehog 3 game out on the Geni, Sonic had already sold 50 million copies! Pretty impressive for a character that was barely 4 years old at the time!
Along with taking head programming credits on the Sonic and the Phantasy Star series' (which is enjoying a nice renaissance today, thank you) Naka-san is head of the team responsible for giving the world one of the best Saturn games. NiGHTS into Dreams may not be a household name now, but if you were a hardcore gamer in the mid 90's, you knew NiGHTS
NiGHTS played out like a Japanimation [ed. Note: strike that word from your vocabulary] version of the movie Dreamscape. Pick your character, go to sleep, get your dreams taken, fight to get them back, get points. If that isn't original gameplay, I don't know what is. How many other games involve dreams? How many of those games have dreams as the central and driving force in the game? Sonic Team is always bringing new ideas to the forefront of gaming, and NiGHTS is an excellent example of the inventiveness of Sega's star development team.
After the Saturn, Sonic Team would focus on bringing the Sega mascot to the Dreamcast, and what a glorious return it was to be. One of the best Sonic games turned out to be one of the best Dreamcast games as well. A true 3D game with blazing speed and gorgeous graphics. Sonic team once again brought gameplay to the forefront of videogames.
Keeping with the ?gameplay? theme, Chu-Chu Rocket brought about the world's first ?online action party puzzle? game. Easily addictive, simple to play, yet hard to master, something that Sonic Team has almost made a trademark (an example of that is on the Game Boy Advance ? but we will get to that later). Sonic Team seems to have a golden touch when it comes to playable titles.
Then there came this weird party game with a monkey. Samba de Amigo baffled everybody in the game industry who previewed it. Those same people are still playing it today. At E3, if game journalists brought a Dreamcast, most likely they brought Samba de Amigo with them. One of the pre-eminent party games that didn't involve a mascot hopping around a board, this game actually became the party game for adults. Granted the maracas were an expensive peripheral to pick up, but if you are one of the lucky gamers who got them, then you know just how fun shaking your ass at 1 am with your friends can be.
So where is Sonic Team headed? With Sonic Adventure 2 and Phantasy Star Online v2 being the last games being released on Dreamcast (though rumors are everywhere about a possible NiGHTS 2 for the DC gamers) by this stellar development house, the natural question is what can gamers look forward to, and where. It appears as if Nintendo has gained the favor of Sonic Team, with no less than 3 Game Boy Advance games being released by the end of the year. This summer we can look forward to Chu-Chu Rocket and Advanced Columns. Later on in the year, Sonic will be making his way onto Nintendo's 32-bit handheld system in what looks like one of the best games for the system yet.
But Chu-Chu Rocket has been released on Nintendo's handheld, making it the first third party game to be released under Sega's new platform agnostic direction. Crazy Taxi doesn't count (being released on the PS2) because it was a joint release with Acclaim. Chu Chu Rocket on Game Boy Advance holds the same game as was released on the Dreamcast, and has the same graphical quality. Essentially, confirming that Chu Chu Rocket was a 32-bit game on the Dreamcast. Why would Sega release a game that didn't perform to the possibilities of the 128-bit Dreamcast? Because Sonic Team is more concerned with gameplay that graphics. A trait that has shown itself again and again.
We have confirmation that Sonic Team will be bringing Phantasy Star Online to Gamecube, and rumors of Sonic Adventure 3 on Nintendo's next-generation system permeate the net these days. No official word has come down, but Naka-san himself has said that Nintendo's Gamecube is the system that his team is working on. However, other rumors state that Sega wants the next Hedgehog installment on the Dreamcast. Many gamers have wanted a new installment of Nights for some time. Will that be one of the games Sonic Team has in development? We can sit here all day and speculate what Sonic Team will provide the gamers of tomorrow. Until we hear anything, we do have a plethora of wonderful games already available.
Sonic Team does have Gamecube content in the pipeline now, but no titles have been revealed. With the history of this development house, it is sure to be something that could actually help sell systems, or make gamers (and rival developers) scratch their head in both wonderment and envy. Does this mean that we might see some maraca peripherals for Gamecube? Time will tell. August specifically, when that month brings us Spaceworld, Nintendo's annual show of all things, well Nintendo. Since Sonic Team is going to be developing for Gamecube, and Sega has recently announced that it's Gamecube strategy will be ?clarified? there, we should expect to see some major announcements regarding Sonic Team. Until then, be sure to pick up a copy of Sonic Adventure 2 (Akash is ready to explode in anticipation) and enjoy the heck out of the best gaming console out there.