In my To Launch or Not To Launch Editorial I mentioned the importance of franchise titles in the success of a system. Franchise titles are able to carry over the fan base from one system to another. They also provide certain recognition for that system. When you think of a franchise title, you think of that system and you know that the only place you can get that title is on that system. They help to make a system's library unique and special. If you're a fan of that franchise, you have to buy that system to play it.
Nintendo utilized franchise titles to an extreme on their N64. Mario and Pilotwings were Super Nintendo hits and became N64 launch titles. Starfox, Mario Kart, Yoshi and other's were soon to follow. The consumer's desire to continue playing these franchise series was largely responsible for the success of the N64 in the United States. It was the same thing for the Playstation but on a somewhat different level. They had no in-house to speak of but they were able to get exclusive rights to many titles that were big 3rd party franchises on earlier systems like the Final Fantasy and Castlevania series. They also received exclusive or partially exclusive rights to new franchise titles like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil.
While Sega's in-house development was just as strong as ever for the Saturn, they forgot about all the titles that made the Genesis popular in the United States. The biggest franchise title of the Genesis era was Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic was fast and young and looked like he could kick a certain fat plumber's butt. That's what he was designed for, to be a contrasting answer for Mario. Sonic became synonymous with Sega as his visage appeared on everything from Saturday morning television to T-shirts. Sonic was the perfect mascot for Sega as he epitomized the image they wanted to portray. But he was forgotten about on the Saturn and it really hurt Sega in the US. To my recollection Sonic received 3 games on the Saturn. Yes, 3 games so you're probably wondering why I'm saying that Sonic was ignored on the Saturn? The three games were Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Jam and Sonic R. And none of them truly carried on the spirit of the Sonic franchise.
Sonic 3D Blast was a port of one of the final games made for the Genesis. It was a 16-bit game that was supposed to represent the new generation of Sonic on the Saturn. Needless to say, fans of the series were not pleased. The game suffered from poor control and the isometric view never captured the spirit of the popular Sonic gameplay. Gone was the blistering speed and pure reflex action, replaced by boring, slow exploration and puzzle solving. A game that might have been something special on the weaker Genesis, but simply wasn't up to speed with what was capable on the Saturn or Playstation.
Sonic Jam, the most entertaining of the three, was a compilation of all the Sonic games that appeared on the Genesis. It was wonderful trip down memory lane and reminded all of us of the tremendous amount of fun Sonic could provide. The wonderful 2D graphics and catchy tunes created a place for Sonic in most players' hearts. I even made up stupid lyrics to go with the main theme of the game. "Sonic, Sonic he's our cool blue friend. Sonic, yeah Sonic the Hedgehog!" Well, I never claimed to be a great lyricist but you understand my point. Sonic was addictive and fun and something special that you could only get from Sega.
Sonic R was a mascot racing game that was a decent game but it was not what fans of the series wanted. All that Sonic R did was prove that a fully 3D Sonic adventure game could have been made on the Saturn. Sonic R was a beautiful looking game that suffered from difficult controls and impossible multi-player modes. Fans were simply left wondering why Sega had pretty much abandoned them and their speedy blue mascot.
And it wasn't just that they abandoned the Sonic action game fans, but they abandoned the series that provided their mascot and image in the US. Sonic was never that big in Japan and the Virtua Fighter series is what propels Sega's success in that market. But in the US it was always Sonic behind everything. Nintendo knew the importance of a mascot to the image of the system and its success. Mario 64 was the first game released on N64 and it was being developed for years before its release so they could insure that it was top notch. And that game was the reason for the record setting launch of the N64 in the US. Sony knew the power of the mascot as well. They brought Naughty Dog in for the sole purpose of creating a cool, hip mascot franchise that could stand up to both Sonic and Mario. Crash Bandicoot once again allowed Sony to steal Sega's image by being the cool mascot in contrast to Nintendo's Mario. Sega was left out of the mascot wars and it damaged their reputation in the US.
In approximately a year and a half the Dreamcast will be released in the North America. Sega of America has already stated that Sonic will be a big part of the Dreamcast's image. Sonic Team, the geniuses behind the series on the Genesis, is already hard at work on the new Dreamcast Sonic 3D adventure. The power of the Dreamcast allows limitless possibilities for a Sonic translation to 3D. I can already see the hi-res. 3D levels zooming by as Sonic plows through them at mind-blowing speeds. Things are definitely looking up for our little blue friend and for Sega's image in the US. Let's hope that Sega doesn't forget the other franchise titles that have gained numerous fans over the years like Streets of Rage, Shinobi, Phantasy Star and Ecco the Dolphin. There are also the new franchises that appeared on the Saturn and deserve a turn on the Dreamcast. Nights, Panzer Dragoon and many others have earned a spot in the Dreamcast line - up and will only help to increase the system's success as fans of those games line up for a chance to play their next incarnation. Things are looking up, as Sega of America seems to be finally remembering their roots. And the blue blur is leading the way out of the past and into the future.