As I’m sure every SEGA Nerd is aware, last weekend (August 6th, 2016) saw the return of Summer of Sonic (after a two-year hiatus) for Sonic’s 25th Anniversary year.
I’ve attended almost all the Summer of Sonic events in the past – unfortunately I missed the last couple they held and the last one I attended was in 2012, I think… I actually lose track of the years.
But needless to say, I’ve seen the event grow from its original place of origin, online, into a small, but absolutely amazing, physical event some eight years ago, with Summer of Sonic ’08 and SOS 2016’s organisers, Svend Jocelyne and Adam Tuff (along with their excellent team, including SOS co-founder Kevin Eva) setup possibly the biggest and most impressive Summer of Sonic event to date…
Get in line
Approximately 1,000+ Sonic fans made their ways into a lovely sunny London for the event, where I found myself once again joining the back of a queue full of people dressed in Sonic merch: t-shirts, dresses and (of course) pretty incredible hand-made costumes.
I feel I should take this opportunity to give a shout out to Dennis Stachel, who came from Germany to the event and managed to spot me taking photographs as he was in the queue. Unfortunately, after saying “Hi”, I thought it best to go to the back of the line, leaving Dennis ahead of me and I never managed to catch up with him properly once I got inside.
But that goes to show just how big the event was. Even though we were in one (reasonably sized) room, there were so many people around that it became very easy to lose people in the crowd. Anyway, I hope you had a good day, Dennis!
A ‘rewarding’ experience
After about an hour in the queue, I was finally making my way through the doors of the convention hall, attached to an IBIS hotel – I overheard someone in the queue make a joke about calling it the ‘IBLIS’ hotel (that’s a Sonic ‘06 reference, in case you didn’t know), so decided to quickly mock up this photo.
Anyway, once inside, we were asked to produce our tickets. Now, if you didn’t know this was the first Summer of Sonic that was a paid-for event (all previous events were free) and it was funded by Kickstarter donations. As is the norm with Kickstarter projects, different levels of funding rewarded people with different extras.
It was here, as they scanned our tickets, that we were directed to a stand where they were able to systematically hand out our rewards. I was unfortunately rather late in contributing to the Kickstarter and therefore was only able to pick up a t-shirt and single ticket (all the top-tier rewards had long gone). There were VIP passes, giving exclusive access to certain areas of the event and also limited edition Summer of Sonic 2016 coins.
Welcome to the show
From the lobby, we made our way into the open space of the convention room. I don’t think this was necessarily the biggest room SOS has had, but it felt like the most spacious. Previous events have always been held in locations with ‘oddities’ to them – such as one that was an old brewery, one that had about four-tiers to the floor and another that was a theatre, complete with giant stage.
SOS 2016’s room was one flat, open space, giving more of a sense of freedom to the event and allowing for the hundreds of Sonic fans to happily gather around the main ‘Sonic’ stage for live performances and events.
Lining the outskirts of the room, guests could find the main attractions of the day, such as: the ‘& Knuckles’ stage (little Sonic 3 lock-on joke there for the stage names), Sonic Merchandise stand, artists’ corner, Sonic Dash Extreme arcade, Hardlight Studio’s table with autographed Dash posters, the Sonic Mania queue, Sonic Boom line, main Sonic stage, VIP autograph area and the retro gaming zone brought to the event by JoyPadBar.
I was lucky enough to just about make it into the convention in time for the event countdown video – if you look really hard, you might recognise someone…
– NOTE: VIDEO STILL TO COME –
Getting my game on
Straight after the opening video, I made my way to the Sonic Mania queue, where you can read my hands-on impressions here.
I then went to the Sonic Boom line, again read my hands-on impressions here.
I also got some play time on the new Sonic Dash Extreme arcade machine – an updated version of the popular mobile game, Sonic Dash, redesigned for the arcade. My full impressions of this game is on its way, but to explain the game, it looks and plays a lot the mobile game, but instead of swiping at your screen, you had a giant plastic D-Pad, letting you move left and right (pressing left and right), with up giving you a speed dash and down letting you roll into enemies and under obstacles.
I’m not the biggest fan of Sonic Dash, but I do appreciate it for being a well-made endless runner game and the arcade replicates that experience on the big screen really well.
Cosplays and Q&As
Throughout the day, live events and shows were being held on the ‘Sonic’ ‘& Knuckles’ stages, including a question and answers session with industry icons, such as Sonic Team head, Takashi Iizuka; Sonic’s creator, Yuji Naka; and voice of Robotnik, Mike Pollock.
Mike Pollock interview
Mike Pollock told the story of how he became Robotnik’s voice and his time working with SEGA and on the games he was involved in and how he changed Robotnik’s voice to match the tone of certain games.
Yuji Naka & Takashi Iizuka Q&A
The Q&A with Iizuka and Naka was pretty enlightening and funny – my highlight was when Naka pulled out his phone and started filming the crowd, making a joke, because most of the crowd was filming him.
Later on was a regular event at every Summer of Sonic: The Cosplay Contest. Now, there were a lot of people at the show dressed in cosplay and those who wanted to be in the contest were judged and their numbers whittled down in preparation for the live final.
As you can see from the gallery below, the quality of costume was really high. As far as I could tell, they were all hand-made. I did manage to speak to some of the cosplayers on the day (more photos of the cosplayers off-stage in the gallery at the end of the post) and I was deeply impressed with the effort they all went through for the day. I was standing in line behind the girl cosplaying Rouge the Bat (didn’t actually speak to her, unfortunately) and saw her wings – they were definitely hand0made, but once on the costume, they looked totally legit.
Rocking it out, Sonic style
It wouldn’t be a Summer of Sonic without some form of live Sonic-themed music. Previous years’ have seen the likes of Bentley Jones (Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, plus various Sonic remixes), TJ Davis (Sonic R) and legendary gaming composer, Richard Jacques (Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic R, SEGA Superstars Tennis, Sonic Chronicles, Sonic & the Black Knight, Sonic Generations, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and the Sonic Boom franchise… plus tons of other SEGA titles) take to the stage.
This year saw the return of Jun Senoue and Johnny Gioeli of Crush 40, with a special ‘Jam with Jun’ session around the middle of the convention – where guitarist, Jun, performed live versions of Sonic tracks to video footage of the games/levels they belonged to.
Jam with Jun
– NOTE: VIDEO STILL TO COME –
Crush 40 live performance
As a show finale, the Crush 40 duo both took to the stage to perform a fantastic live show – playing some of their original tracks the band wrote for Sonic titles and some remixes.
At one point, two of the cosplayers I had previously spoken to during the day, sisters Linzie and Rachel, were invited on stage by Johnny to sing with the band. I’m sure there were a lot of jealous fans in the crowd, but it was a pretty cool thing and the girls sang pretty darn well.
– NOTE: VIDEO STILL TO COME –
One last run?
Yet again, the team at Summer of Sonic managed to pull out all the stops to create a brilliant day for Sonic fans. While some Sonic fans get a bad reputation online, the day is always full of friendly faces and people coming together for one cause: Sonic the Hedgehog.
It shows just how committed the Sonic community is to their favourite character, as hundreds of us crowd into, what is essentially, a fan-run convention. But it also shows how appreciated this event is by the creators behind various Sonic mediums, who are happy to give up their time and attend this fan-run convention.
Getting official support from the likes of SEGA Europe, Sonic Team’s head (Iizuka), Sonic’s creator (Naka) and other various VIPs from the world of Sonic, such as character voices (Pollock), performers (Crush 40) and official artists of the Sonic comics (Richard Elson, Nigel Dobbyn, Tyson Hesse, Duncan Gutteridge and Richard Burton), plus Sonic the Comic Editor (Deborah Tate), is a true testament to how big and important the event has become.
Although on a more sombre note, there has been a question hanging over this year’s Summer of Sonic: will it be the last one?
The organisers had missed out running the event the previous two years, due to various constraints, but decided to bring it back, quite aptly, for Sonic’s 25th anniversary year. But the show’s official title on Kickstarter was “The Summer of Sonic 2016: one last run”.
So is this the final SOS we’ve seen? At the event I overheard one of the organisers talking about wanting to do it again – but whether that will actually happen, it’s another thing.
Still, with the popularity of event and the passion the fans show for Sonic, I think hope that we will see another event at some point… maybe not next year, but possibly for Sonic’s 30th…?