Specials: Sonic runs a marathon...
Coming off of such a spectacular showing in 1994, Sonic titles began to wane. As far as the Genesis was concerned not a single Sonic title was released in 1995. Instead, Sonic Team was busy working on their Sega Saturn titles such as Nights into Dreams and Burning Rangers. There was a Sonic 4 in the works, but half way through the project got ported over to the 32X (another hardware attachment in the vein of the Sega CD) and the focus of the game switched from Sonic and Tails to Knuckles and his new group the Chaotix (who would later be seen in Sonic Heroes for the GameCube, Xbox, and PS2)
For once in Sonic history, the Game Gear got treated better than the Genesis. In November of 1995, Sega released not one but two Sonic titles and one Tails spin-off for the Game Gear. The two Sonic titles were a little off in that they swept hedgehog off of his feet and placed him in two very un-Sonic situations. The first game was Sonic Drift 2, a sequel to the Japanese kart racer that had hit the Game Gear a year before. Here, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Robotnik, Knack and Mecha Sonic all race specialized cars around Sonic related tracks in order to win a chaos emerald. It's the standard kart racer complete with powerups and speed boosts all around the track. The other new Sonic game for the Game Gear was Sonic Labyrinth. In a very lame prologue, Sonic wakes up one morning and puts on the wrong pair of shoes which causes him to lose all of his speed. The majority of the game focuses on Sonic spin dashing around a series of 3/4ths perspective mazes. The game was interesting, but it definately wasn't one of the hedgehog's finest hours, and as such, it wasn't a very big seller.
The death of the 16-bit generation left a terrible scar on the Sonic franchise. The lackluster showing in 1995 only got worse in 1996. It seems that SEGA had pinned most of its hopes on Sonic X-treme for the Sega Saturn. That was mistake number one. Unfortunately, Sonic X-treme faced several technical issues and was terminated by November of the same year.
Besides some PC ports of Sonic CD, the only true Sonic games coming out in '96 were Sonic the Fighters, an arcade fighting game that got horrible distribution stateside since it featured a lovable mascot getting into fistfights, and Sonic 3D Blast, which was released on both the Sega Saturn and the Genesis.
Created by Traveler's Tales, Sonic 3D Blast featured the same ugly perspective of Sonic Labyrinth with roughly the same sense of speed. The game had players find and fight a given number of robots in each area of every stage, then transport the little Flicky birds that popped out to a special goal ring located somewhere in the stage. If Sonic took a hit while delivering the Flickys, the birds would scatter and Sonic would have to find them and bring them back. The game differed graphically between the systems, and the soundtrack was different as well. The only big difference between the Genesis Sonic 3D Blast and the Sega Saturn version was the special stages. The Genesis version featured rather slow 3D stages where Sonic would run down a long plank collecting rings while avoiding spikes. It played like a poor man's Sonic the Hedgehog 2 bonus stage. The Saturn version of the game featured true Sonic the Hedgehog 2 bonus stages with big graphical improvements. Everything in the bonus stages was now polygonal, giving a true 3D look to what the Genesis could only attempt through creative drawing.
The Game Gear got another 2D platformer called Sonic Blast, though it had little to do with its ?3D? brethren. The game played out like Sonic and Knuckles with rendered characters. The trouble is, the game was a little too far advanced for its own hardware, and it came off looking very rough around the edges. Still it was the best thing diehard Sonic fans had going for them in 1996.
Sonic was finally making the full transition over to the 32-bit world. The only Genesis Sonic title released that year was a compilation of Sonic 1 and 2. On the Saturn front, gamers got a much meatier compilation known as Sonic Jam, which featured Sonic 1, 2, 3, and Sonic and Knuckles complete with all of the lock-on extras for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and 3. The game also featured a cool 3D world for players to explore. In the world players could visit areas to see different Sonic videos, read up on character profiles, and listen to the sounds of the Sonics of yesterday.
In November, Sega released another Traveler's Tales-developed Sonic game titled Sonic R. This was the franchise's second racing game released in the U.S., and unlike the Sonic Drift series, Sonic R let Sonic actually do the running for himself. It was an interesting take on racing games, having characters perform in a foot race with rather complex (for their time) level designs. Each track featured chaos emeralds. When all were collected, the player would unlock Super Sonic, the best of all racers. Sonic R featured all of the fan favorite characters from Tales and Knuckles to Amy Rose and Robotnik. The game also starred some unfamiliar hidden characters like Puppet Tails and Mecha Knuckles. The game was released to mixed reviews, but in it's defense while the speed wasn't terribly great, it was definitely an entertaining diversion.
Besides a PC port of Sonic R, and the heavily mutilated Sonic Jam that showed up on the black-and-white portable Tiger Game.com (technically the first time a Sonic game showed up on a non-SEGA system), not much happened to Sonic in 1998. This was due to the large transition SEGA was making to move everything to the Dreamcast after the Sega Saturn inevitably died an early death. R.I.P. Sega Saturn, we hardly knew ye.
After the weak showing the year before, Sonic Team was finally about to release their biggest project yet. Launching alongside a new cartoon show and the Sega Dreamcast, Sonic Adventure was the first truly 3D Sonic game and changed the franchise as we knew it in America. First, they had given the hedgehog and all of his crew an entirely new look with those crazy colored eyes and new character designs. Secondly, it was the first time Dr. Robotnik was called by his original Japanese name, Eggman. The name has stuck ever since. The game featured several one act stages that were all connected through a giant three-part hub, each with a different overall theme. It also let players see the same set of events from six different perspectives, each with its own style of play. Sonic's stages were speed based, Tails' were usually flight based, Knuckles', which were arguably some of the weakest stages, were search based, and Amy Roses' stages? no one really knows what those were about. Then there were the new newcomers: Big the Cat, and E-102 Gamma. Big's fishing stages were probably the most detached from the overall plot, making users search for the cat's little frog friend by running around small stages and fishing. E-102 Gamma's were some of the better stages featuring some serious run and gun action. Sonic Adventure wasn't without its faults, though. Critics complained about the glitchy camera system that often got caught behind walls or in the floor. Also, the game spent only a small amount of time on each character instead of completely focusing on Sonic, which is where the fun really was.
On the portable scene, Sonic didn't miss a beat. Since there were no SEGA portables out at the time, Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure was released on the Neo Geo Pocket. The game was like an amusing remix of Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Unfortunately the Neo Geo Pocket didn't last very long, and few people got a chance to play this neat little portable diversion.
If 1998 wasn't a good year, 2000 wasn't much better. The only Sonic game to be released stateside was the weak Sonic Shuffle. Plain and simple, Shuffle attempted to be the next Mario Party. Heck, the game was even developed by the same team that made the original Mario Party. In the game, players take one of eight Sonic characters (most from Sonic Adventure) around a Sonic-related board, and after every turn they must play one of many mini-games. Unfortunately the game was just too darn complex for most people, and it didn't sell well at all.