When Sega announced Project Needlemouse late last year it was said that the game would be developed via a collaboration between different in-house studios worldwide. It turns out however that this wasn’t actually the case, and that a separate company outside Sega is handling the game. Osaka-based Dimps corporation is essentially doing all the coding and modelling work on Sonic 4, with a so far un-named studio inside Sega handling all the character and art design work.
Now this isn’t the first time that Sega have developed a Sonic game with outside assistance. They did the very same thing way back in the early nineties when creating the Master System and Game Gear series of Sonic games. The first game was developed by Ancient Corp - a company managed by renowned Sega musician and sound designer Yūzō Koshiro - whilst the remaining later instalments were done by Aspect Co, Ltd, another external company with ties to Sega. So it’s not quite so unusual as you might have first thought, to have a lead franchise handled and developed externally.
Going back to Sonic 4, you might like to know that Dimps, were actually the company responsible for making all three Sonic Advance games for Sega on Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance handheld system. These titles were the closest thing in terms of gameplay and polish to the original Megadrive/Genesis Sonic The Hedgehog games, featuring classic loop-de-loops, interesting level designs requiring you to both explore and build up momentum for the faster sections, as well as having new take on the classic bosses found in the original games. However after the first Sonic Advance game, Dimps began the age-old trick of expanding the gameplay for the other characters, whilst making the level layouts more convoluted and confusing.
Sonic Adv2 and most certainly Adv3 were slower games than the first one, having greater emphasis on pure platforming and exploration rather than speed. However the addition of extra characters, and making the stages longer and more complicated affairs in order to fit their different playstyles just didn’t work very well. Sonic Adv3 especially felt overly complicated in this respect, and didn’t feature the same level of ebb and flow seen in the first two arguably polished instalments.
In regards to these criticisms, we hope that Dimps actually look towards the type of design used in not only the first Sonic Advance, but also to those found in the original four Megadrive/Genesis titles that set the benchmark for all future Sonic games to follow. However we also have a lot of hope too, considering that the they single-handily managed to produce a fairly faithful 2D instalment for the first time some seven years ago, there’s no reason to not expect them to do it again for Sonic 4, especially considering Dimps as accompany, is quite similar today as it was back then, unlike Sega who shed most of it’s highly regarded game designers and visionaries back in 2004 a year after they were purchased by Sammy Corp.
It’s with this particular statement, that Sega aren’t really the same Sega we know and love anymore – except for maybe AM2 – that perhaps having an external development team, with experience in producing more traditional Sonic The Hedgehog type games, is a far better bet than having Sonic Team produced the whole thing themselves, considering that their output has been less than stellar since the demise of the Dreamcast.
Overall, the news comes as a welcoming surprise, not only bringing back some of the excitement I felt after Sega announced the game, but also re-establishing some of my faith lost soon after seeing that teaser trailer shown off on the same day. Arguably, having Dimps involved is a good sign that Sega themselves is taking on the responsibility of making sure we have a game that is both as good as it can be, whilst also being faithful to the games it is supposed to succeed.
Dimps might have made some missteps with Sonic Advance 3, but like so many of us growing up, they can also learn from their mistakes and move forward with a greater understanding of what works well, and what doesn’t.
Sonic The Hedgehog 4 will be released sometime this summer for XB Live Arcade, PSN, and Nintendo’s WiiWare online shop. We’ll be following this one closely here at IQGamer with more in-depth coverage to come.