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We Need More Wild Swings Like The Murder Of Sonic The Hedgehog

Who would have thought one of the most refreshing video games of the year would be released as an April Fools' Day prank? That's pretty much what happened when Sega announced the unthinkable: Sonic the Hedgehog had been murdered, and it was up to Tails and the player to figure out who carried out the dastardly deed. Presented by SEGA and Sonic Social team, "The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog" is visual novel-style, point-and-click adventure game that sees Tails interrogating the vibrant supporting cast of the "Sonic" franchise, often with comedic results. It's also a game that takes a ton of risks with an established franchise — and manages to triumph because of it. In fact, well over a million players have downloaded it in the week since its surprise release.

The "Sonic" franchise has certainly been open to experimentation before. Just look at "Shadow the Hedgehog" (an action shooter with a dark and brooding storyline) or last year's "Sonic Frontiers" (a semi-open world sci-fi fantasy adventure inspired by "Breath of the Wild"). SEGA has taken some interesting chances with its beloved mascot character over the years, but rarely have these risks been as successful as the free-to-play "Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog." "Shadow the Hedgehog" is typically seen as a bit too serious for its own good, while "Frontiers" is something of an ambitious mess, with even that game's defenders tending to wish there was just a bit more polish to the whole endeavor. 

Still, if there's one thing that games like "The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog" prove, it's that companies like SEGA could stand to take a few more wild swings every now and then.

Why The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog works

Even putting aside its attention-grabbing title and bonkers premise — Princess Amy's murder mystery-themed birthday party has taken a dark turn! — "The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog" is racking up 10/10 reviews from Steam users because it's a well-made game. Unlike some of the failed experiments with the "Sonic" forumula (like, "what if Sonic was a werewolf?"), this game was obviously crafted by a team that had a clear vision and a specific take on the property. So much love has gone into making this game, with the devs demonstrating an encyclopedic knowledge of Sonic's massive supporting cast. The dialogue is funny and the character interactions feel genuine. More than anything else, it just feels like something new. It seems almost impossible that a Sonic game like this could be made more than three decades into the character's life. 

If anything, "The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog" could have benefited from straying even further from core "Sonic" mechanics. While critics and fans have greatly enjoyed the title's visual novel elements, some have been less enthused by the traditional platforming mini games scattered throughout. The suddenly difficulty spike in these sequences has been the source of a good bit of frustration and detracts from the cozy feel of the rest of the game, leading some players to wish that the whole thing was a point-and-click affair. If SEGA allows for more experimentation with its beloved IP in the future, hopefully the devs will go all-in and leave recognizable gameplay loops behind.

What other devs could learn from The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog

Video game developers are typically extremely hesitant to stray too far outside of a proven formula. For instance, Lucasfilm is so protective of the "Star Wars" brand that the "Star Wars Jedi" series almost relaunched without featuring Jedi. Meanwhile, "Detective Pikachu" essentially plopped the titular Pokémon into a "Professor Layton"-style mystery game and subsequently became a cult classic title and a multi-million-dollar feature film. These kinds of gambles really can pay off sometimes — but publishers need to be prepared to take a leap of faith.

If the popularity of "The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog" proves anything, it's that audiences are willing to tag along for a wacky premise as long as it's made with love and with quality in mind. This is a lesson that more companies could stand to learn.

So give us a first-person shooter with Donkey Kong blasting bananas out of a cannon. Give us a slice-of-life dating sim with Wario and Waluigi trying to find their soulmates. An "Assassin's Creed" Abstergo Industries management sim. A "Grand Theft Auto" real-time strategy title. The possibilities are endless, and fans are always on the lookout for the next big thing. "The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog" could be the beginning of a new wave of developers taking chances with their most precious IP, as long as the industry takes the right cues from its success. Here's hoping.