Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog is no stranger to trying genres outside of traditional platforming, from early efforts like the pinball-based Sonic Spinball all the way to the recent open world of Sonic Frontiers. Most unusual, however, was the free April Fools Day 2023 release of a point-and-click visual novel, The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog, which Sega jokingly presented as a response to fan feedback. Despite its nature as a self-parody, however, it’s clear that the project had a lot of heart put into it, resulting in a very enjoyable experience regardless.

To quote the game’s Steam page: “It's Amy Rose's birthday, and she's hosting a murder mystery party on the Mirage Express! When Sonic the Hedgehog becomes the game's victim, everyone is off to get to the bottom of things. However, something feels a bit off - is this really an innocent game or is something more sinister afoot?”

Amy is excited to get the murder mystery underway.

For such a silly game, The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog has pretty good writing. The Sonic the Hedgehog cast have personalities consistent with what fans have come to expect and make it clear that despite their disparate personalities, they can pull through for each other when it counts. Players take control of a new character that they can name and who otherwise acts as an effective vessel for showing what the cast looks like to a “normal” person not used to their antics. It’s also clear that the writers put actual thought into the mystery, unfolding it in such a way that players can easily follow along but having enough complexity to keep things interesting and letting the player feel a sense of accomplishment for figuring it out at the right moment. Although the story gets more serious towards the end, there’s always an element of comedy that keeps things lighthearted without going too far. The only real issue I had with it was that the very end of the game offhandedly spoils Sonic Frontiers.

Though the story is primarily delivered in the form of a visual novel, the game incorporates point-and-click elements into its gameplay loop to keep players engaged as they go through the same investigation process in each car of the train. Clicking highlighted objects provides the player with valuable clues and evidence while talking to characters lets them gather alibis in preparation for the interrogation. Interrogations have the most interesting gameplay shift, as they cleverly incorporate the series’ platforming elements through a “THINK” segment representing the player character trying to “think like Sonic” to work through their train of thought when presenting evidence. These THINK segments, where Sonic runs through an isometric auto-running level gathering rings, escalate in difficulty as the mystery intensifies, gradually introducing new mechanics without overwhelming the player. Failing this segment by not collecting enough rings in time isn’t a game over, as players can simply try again until they finally pass.

The THINK segments cleverly incorporate classic Sonic platforming.

Interestingly, the options menu contains accessibility features specifically for the THINK segments, letting those who aren’t as skilled adjust the difficulty to one that’s more comfortable for them. While I didn’t need to touch any of these settings, I appreciate that they considered those with different skill levels so that anyone can enjoy the game.

Beautiful visuals help tie the game together, with great backgrounds and sprite artwork that perfectly capture both the setting of the Sonic world and the personalities of the characters. The THINK segments have great pixel art as well, with a neat detail that the backgrounds change based on the car the player is currently in. On top of that, the accompanying music throughout the game captures the mood of a scene very nicely while the THINK music not only sounds great, but feels in line with music players may have heard in other Sonic games.

The artwork nails the Sonic style and it great to look at.

Whether you’re looking for something new in a Sonic the Hedgehog game or just want to relax with a good mystery, and maybe have a few laughs, The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog delivers. Best of all, it’s free and clocks in at only two to three hours, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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