Saturday, December 09, 2006

"Always Recycle... to the Extreme!!!"

Ha, Poochie has a fanny pack. I just noticed this. See, Simpsons never quits.

Poochie. Do I really have to explain who he is? More than anything, he represents a concerted and cynical attempt to attract an audience while attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator. During his creation, absent was deference to creativity, originality, artistic integrity or a respect for the audience. Instead, he is nothing more than an attempt to reign in cash, a committee-created trademark to appeal to as wide a base as possible. He is everything that thought-provoking, intelligent fictional creations are not: he is “extreme” in the negative, mid-90s sense, wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket while carrying with him a surfboard and a devil-may-care attitude.

In the Simpsons episode bearing his name, Poochie is scorned and eventually rejected as the trite marketing gimmick he was. If only the real world’s inhabitants were as clever as the citizens of Springfield. Starting today, I begin a semi-regular feature profiling those intellectual properties that I feel are more Poochie than… fuck, I dunno, Great Gatsby?

Today’s instalment: Sonic the Hedgehog

He's cool 'cause his shoes have lots of detail, and his eyes are angry

In the early 90s, Mario was the dominant video game character. So popular was he that, in fact, more children could recognize him than Mickey Mouse (which I can’t back up with proof, but you know it’s true). Sega, seeking to claim dominance in the video game wars, decided that they needed a mascot more popular than Nintendo’s humble plumber.

Let us consider Mario for a moment. Despite his popularity, his design is incredibly “lame”, vis a vis the Poochie mould. The reason for this is the technical limitations in place at the time of his creation. Think back to Donkey Kong, Mario’s first appearance. Graphics weren’t exactly life-like, and many of Mario’s signature visual trademarks are a result of this: He was given overalls to better indicate his moving arms, while the moustache was a way to cover up what would have been a ridiculous looking mouth. Finally, his cap was added because the hair would have just looked too blocky in 1981.

Only a homo would design this

Can you imagine a major video game mascot being created today who was fat and had a moustache? No fucking way. But Nintendo stuck to their guns and today Mario is one of the best-loved video game characters around.

In 1991, Sega was not as constrained, visually, in their creation of a character. The 16-bit era brought with it better graphics, and basically anything imaginable could have been designed. After a few false starts, Sega settled on Sonic the Hedgehog.

Oooh, he had attitude. And he was cool. You know why he was cool? Because the song in his ads said so through the refrain, “going fast is cool/going slow is not”. He was spiky, and blue, and ran fast and had “attitude”, because he wagged his finger while looking angry. He wasn’t some lame ethnic plumber who walked around really slowly; he fought robots and shit.

This is literally one of the characters Sega considered before settling on Sonic

The original 3.5 Sonic games are considered pretty decent. Classics, even (although gameplay never changed that significantly between the original and the 16-bit opus, Sonic and Knuckles). No self-respecting video game player, however, places any amount of importance on today’s Sonic games. Quite simply, really fast moving characters don’t translate well to 3D, and Sega hasn’t figured this out yet.

With the jump to the next-next-generation systems, Sonic is able to talk. And when he does, he sounds like an ass. Kids, do you really want your favourite character to be all badass and attitudey? He just comes off as really mean and stand-offish. Were you a woman, you would not want to enter into a relationship with this guy. Compare this to Mario or even Link, those two ciphers who – though they hardly speak a word – are characters I feel more comfortable spending my afternoons with.

For his irritating “cool” attitude, the fact that his games have sucked since 1994, the way he was deliberately created to be a corporate mascot and the fact that Nintendo, in their own, low-key and accidental way made a traditionally “lame” character 25 years ago who represents to this very day the pinnacle of video gaming, I say that Sonic the Hedgehog is a piece of crap in the same vein as Poochie.

Sonic the Hedgehog gets 3 Poochies out of 5.


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