There's an old Extra Credits Q&A that after Unleashed, they stated an opinion that Sonic Team should be completely rehauled. I disagree with that since there's a lot of really talented artists and musicians(when they have the proper budget that is); but If you had the possibility to train/replace a part of current Sonic Team's members that handle the main 3D Sonic titles, which area would it be?
Well, that’s the thing. If what I’ve heard is true, then after Sonic 2006, Sonic Team was pretty significantly restructured. A few of the “figureheads” are still there, but they don’t really handle the nitty-gritty game design stuff anymore, they’re mainly there to check boxes and say, “Yes, I approve of this.”
Supposedly, a significant portion of the Sonic Unleashed team were fresh-out-of-college hires. If you really stop and examine Sonic Unleashed close enough, you can see a lot of very subtle changes to the “Sonic formula” that, up to that point, had been “legacy stuff”.
For example: There are no item boxes in Sonic Unleashed. I mean, I guess there are in the Wii version, but I’m not going to count that, because the Wii version is a kinda-bad, watered-down port of the HD game. But in the HD game, there are no power-ups. Think about that. There are no little TVs or bubbles with 10 ring icons, no speed shoes, no invincibility, and not even any shields. Instead, 10 rings are re-represented as big giant rings with “10” written in them. 1ups come in the form of little symbols floating freely in space.
It’s like if Super Mario Bros. got rid of question blocks. That’s a recognizable, legacy power-up delivery method, and by the very nature of it “being Mario”, they are inclined to keep using it in every Mario game. Starting with Unleashed, somebody at Sonic Team said, “let’s change what ‘being Sonic’ is.” That’s not something that happens when you have the same old bunch of dudes making the same game franchise for two decades. And there’s a bunch of other little smart things in Sonic Unleashed, too.
Take the intro, for instance: you are instantly introduced to the important characters, their roles, relationships with one another, and their ambitions. Even if you’ve never seen Sonic the Hedgehog before, the Sonic Unleashed intro FMV conveys:
Boom. That’s all of the most important information you need to know to set up literally the entire Sonic franchise, and it’s conveyed in about six minutes of FMV without feeling cramped or stilted. Compare that to the introduction sequence to other Sonic games: most of them assume you’re already familiar with these characters and what’s going on. But that’s not how storytelling works! Even in sequels, you have to introduce your characters in a way to inform new viewers without boring returning fans. Instead, Sonic Adventure 2 simply says “C’mon. You know who Sonic the Hedgehog is, right? RIGHT?”
Sonic Unleashed was a very smart game in places, and was very indicative of a “new” Sonic Team. It’s just Sega tried to pad it out for time, so anything that was legitimately cool about the game was tucked behind a fifty-foot wall of tedium that a lot of people had trouble getting over. They eventually stopped doing that, and games like Sonic Generations are better for it.
This “new” Sonic Team still seems to be learning how to best progress forward, and I definitely wouldn’t want to mess that up, because I think the Sonic franchise is finally getting back on track. It’s not the same track from the Sega Genesis days, but maybe it doesn’t have to be.