Because of his attitude. Sonic, at his conception in 1991, was a cartoon character with an attitude. It was incredible, because cartoons for mature audiences were a brand new thing. The Simpsons had only been around for a few years when Sonic came, and it would be many years before the massive wave of adult-oriented cartoons, such as Family Guy, would hit the scene. Sonic had so much attitude that if you didn’t move him for a minute or so, he would jump off the screen and give you a game over. He wasn’t going to wait for you to make a sandwich! Play the game, now!
But Sonic wasn’t too adult. He was never doing anything grotesque or sexual. So he was able to appeal to kids also.
It was cool that Sonic had an attitude. He broke the status quo. Videogame heroes were never interesting before. Simply having a personality was really special for a videogame character at the time. Sonic’s main competitor, Mario, had no personality at all. Mario was totally emotionless. You’d see Mario smiling (which is a boring “personality” anyway) on the box art of his games, but Mario never expressed any emotions in the game itself. Sonic, on the other hand, would tap his toes and look into your soul if you idled. It was innovative, and radical and inspiring, that Sonic had an attitude. Everyone wants to be a rock & roller at heart, and through Sonic we actually did get to be one.
Sonic hit his peak with Sonic 3 & Knuckles. There have been good Sonic games since then, but they would never match the perfection of that last title.
Here are some things that happened:
- More adult-oriented cartoons started to get made. Sonic having an attitude no longer stood out, because there would come to be plenty of media featuring cartoon characters that appealed to adults.
- Sega never made a successful game console again, so there were merely lame Sonic games on platforms like the Sega Saturn.
- Sonic Adventure (the next time a Sonic game became relevant, in 1998) and its sequel were good games, but they removed what made Sonic cool (his attitude) and added a more dramatic, Dragon Ball Z-ish, storyline.
- I mean, seriously. Shadow the Hedgehog is actually a robot designed to be the ultimate lifeform, who has fallen in love with a human, who happened to be Dr. Eggman’s niece, and Shadow is seeking revenge against all other humans because Maria was killed during a raid on a space station. SMH
Sonic games started to become more kid-friendly after Sonic Adventure 2. They were always kid-friendly, but targeted kids more, beginning with the Sonic Adventure games. Sega tried to bring back the Dragon Ball Z storylines with the outrageously terrible Sonic 2006. But the Sonic Adventure games weren’t even what made Sonic cool in the first place. Eventually Sega made Sonic 4, a sequel to the much beloved Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Yet fans were still disappointed because Sonic 4 just did the same old schtick, and it could not have the cultural and historical (yes, the 1990s are considered historical now… it was 20 years ago) charm that the earliest Sonic games did.
The fact of the matter is, Sonic’s first few games showed that cartoon characters can appeal to kids and adults. After that was proven, Sonic got swept under the rug by other videogame and cultural icons following in his footsteps.
Today, Sonic games are clearly focused more towards kids. And I think that’s a good direction, as it shows that Sega has embraced that the games are about a bipedal blue hedgehog who, along with his two-tailed fox friend, fights against an ovoid mad scientist named Eggman. It’s the sort of nonsense that only a kid (or an adult with a kid inside them) can get into. Sonic is still snarky, but doesn’t have the same attitude that made him cool.
Even if they did bring Sonic’s attitude back in full-force, it wouldn’t make him cool or popular again. Our culture has changed. The games that kids and adults both like, these days, are all first-person shooters. It would no longer be considered innovative for a videogame character to have an attitude. The culture has changed, and while we all loved Sonic and his games when he was new, it’s just not what we’re into anymore. And that’s why Sonic used to be cool and why he never will be again.
Our common culture today prevents him from being cool for the same reasons he was cool in the ’90s.