I arrived at Kings Cross tube station on Friday afternoon for the start of what promised to be the ultimate year for Summer of Sonic – and it sure as hell didn’t disappoint. My write-up of the show follows the jump!
Post hotel check-in, the first thing I did was head over to the unofficial pre-party that had been organised by Jennytablina & Ben_Rio – the venue had been suitably set up for the occasion, with a projector & a Wii that over the course of the evening hosted multi-player battles of Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & SA2:Battle. They were even serving two cocktails (pictured) for the occasion – one for Sonic & one for Shadow. I tried both, and hilariously they matched the characters – the Sonic shot tasted decent and was refreshing; the Shadow one was nasty and left somewhat of a bitter after-taste. All in all, great fun, but only the starters for the main course to come the next day.
The line for the main event the next day stretched quite a considerable distance again, just like last year – the final number of attendees was over 1 and a quarter thousand people, up again on last year. Once we got inside (past a bouncer who looked suspiciously like Retro’s own nineko), we got our wrists bands for re-entry (which would come in very handy) and goody bags for the day, containing a FCBD issue of Archie, a t-shirt, and some other bits and pieces. Also inside was a schedule for the day, complete with a poster on the reverse side, giving us an idea of what we’d be in for. I took the opportunity of being one of the first to come in by diving onto one of the demo pods running Sonic Generations right away, after the enormous line last year for the Colours demo – as it turned out, this was largely unnecessary, the lines were fairly short the entire day. While some of this can be pinned on the fact a demo of Classic’s game play in GHZ was released on XBL & PSN 2 days previous, there were not just one but six demo pods running the game this year, lessons having been learnt from last time – as a result I can’t recall hearing a single complaint about it the entire day. Good work, lads! The game itself has been talked about to death thanks to our Boom coverage so instead I’ll just say that I played both modes and enjoyed both – Classic’s physics are a little different (most notibly he feels a little heavier), but it never felt bad different – I tried a few Dimps-esque tricks as Classic and they wouldn’t work, and a few Classic physics tricks that did. I’m looking forward to the release of this even more so now.
Following the opening welcome by Dreadknux & AAUK, with a note that there would be a special surprise at the end, and to be sure to stay around for it, the first item on the schedule was a Q&A with Naka & Iizuka, with Svend fielding questions submitted by fans previously to the two Sonic Team members through a translator. Some interesting information was gleaned from this panel (Naka’s lack of knowledge in any depth about the Western localisation story, for example), but the highlight question had to be when the two were asked about Carnival Night Zone’s infamous Barrel obstacle. The question was asked, the translator began relaying it, and Iizuka’s (who replied first) reaction was utterly priceless, the crowd laughing with him, not needing to even speak Japanese to realise whereabouts in the question the translator had got. The answer was even better – Iizuka explained that as the level designer for Sonic 3, the one responsible would have been Yasuhara, but then Naka followed up with his answer to the question, saying that as it was him who was the actual programmer for the game, the final implementation for the item would have been his responsibility – and he apologised for it, to cheers from the crowd! This Q&A alone was worth coming to the show for, but it was far from over yet.
Next up was the Wrecks Factor, the annual singing contest – we missed a lot of this as we were taking a break in the cafeteria, but got back in in time to see the closing entry, which was an enthusiastic performance of what I guess was the booby prize track of the day – the Do The Mario song from the DiC Mario cartoon. To the guy’s credit, he went full into it – shades of the Sonic Underground performance from last year for effort, there! Straight after this was the Variety Showcase, where some singing of original songs & some stand-up was performed, followed by a new collection of Sonic Shorts (#7, which sadly doesn’t appear to be on the web yet), and then an animated video of a scene from Fleetway’s Sonic the Comic (which I highly recommend watching if you liked StC even a little), of which the voice cast included Retro’s very own jackskellinghog and Cinossu, the latter of whom also provided the two music pieces for the video. Super’s appearance got a huge cheer from the crowd, and I had the fortune to be at the Sonic the Comic table while it was shown – Nigel Kitching & Nigel Dobbyn both stood up to watch the whole thing and from all accounts were really pleased with it – neither knew it was being shown, and I know at least one of them has requested a copy of the original video. I also picked up one of the Fleetway x Archie prints while I was there, signed by all 4 comic staff.
Following this was the Cosplay contest, which we didn’t see as we’d gone to get lunch – but was apparently won by someone dressed up as Silver. This I thought was, with no offence to her, a disappointment – I’d have gone for the guy dressed up as AoStH’s Wes Weasley, myself! The Comics Q&A was in full swing as we joined the back of the line for the Iizuka & Naka signings – Nigel Dobbyn, Ian Flynn, Nigel Kitching & Tracey Yardly all fielded questions up on stage about the 2 comic continuities, possibly the only time 2 major players from the comics both sides of the pond have ever shared a panel together. Following this, it was the 3rd appearance of Never Mind the Buzz Bombers, featuring on each team a SoS staffer (Svend & T-Bird), one of the two Archie guests, and 2 members of the audience, in a “hats vs glasses” loose theme. Rumours of a spontaneous singing of part of the Sonic Underground theme by the audience following one question cannot be confirmed or denied by this writer. In the end, Svend won the game & the overall score, thanks mainly to Tracy Yardley scoring more during the guest round than Ian Flynn did, something the latter will no doubt never live down! I later heard that during this, Jennytablina (who’d been wearing a t-shirt of Rainbow Dash being ridden by Sonic – one of two separate Rainbow Dash t-shirts I saw, I’ll note: several bronies about that day) had been asked by Naka who the character was. She said “Rainbow Dash” – and apparently Naka turned to Iizuka and asked him if he knew who Rainbow Dash was…!
Julien-K were just beginning their setup & warm-up as we finally reached the Naka & Iizuka table – they’d been there for just over 2 hours without a break, and the staff announced that the signings would be stopping in 5 minutes just as we reached the table, an extraordinary piece of luck. I got my Sonic 3 EU manual signed by both, with a quick “ありがと” to each of them as we passed through – after seeing how long the photos with them were taking, and remembering the same complaint about the Jun line from last year, we all powered through as quickly as we could. Immediately following this we went outside for another break – and it was while this was going on that a certain Retro member spotted a certain Japanese games developer also outside, who on being asked “Photo? Sonic Retro?” replied with “Ah! Sonic Retro!” The fact Iizuka knows us enough to recognise us from just that says it all, I think – and we went back inside a short time later chuffed as anything about this little coup we’d managed to score!
Julien-K were on their last song when we got back inside, and retreated off stage to the crowd chanting for His Machine – apparently they’d not played either song they’d done for the franchise, a bit of a poor showing really when you consider what the people at the event wanted them to play. They did a signing session shortly afterwards but (no surprises) the queue wasn’t anywhere as long as the one for Naka & Iizuka had been. Whilst that was going on, the two had taken to the stage again for a second round of Q&A, this time joined by Jun Senoue. The first question of which was about a fairly well-known piece of concept art for the original game (pictured right). A copy of the art was passed onto the stage, and Naka said it was the first time he’d seen it for 20 years, explaining that most of the designs had been abandoned when they’d moved the game away from a Mario-style princess rescue (in this instance, of Madonna), and only Robotnik & Sonic himself had survived from the shot. Before passing it back into the crowd, he took the picture of it, signed it, then sent it back again – and a couple of minutes later, Retro’s Jen dashed up to the rest of the main Retro group – it turns out the picture was hers! They’d printed out a copy or two of the art and laminated it before coming down to the show on the offchance it was required during the Q&A, as she’d submitted the question, but no-one expected what happened, which she was delighted with.
At this point, we were beginning to approach the end of the day, and the Sonic (not quite an) Hour Live team presented the raffle winners, and Naka, Iizuka & Jun took to the stage one more time – as they did so, a cake was brought out, and a mic was set up on the front of the stage. Svend explained that just like at Boom and the Japanese community event, everyone at the hall was going to be in Sonic Generations via a recording of all of us wishing Sonic a happy birthday, so we all dutifully yelled for the microphone and from what we were told, the recording came out great. However, before the final Music Performance, there was one more thing remaining that Svend had in store – calling up Retro member PsychoSk8r & his girlfriend Carly on-stage, Svend and Rory handed them each a mic and retreated to either side of the stage – as Psy proposed to her, and she said yes! As Svend said immediately afterwards, “Sonic marriage – now I think we’ve done everything!” Though unknown to him, there was one more thing in store: the next day was Svend’s birthday, so T-Bird and Rory got the crowd – in their best Robotnik accents, in honour of Mike Pollock having been present on the event floor as an attendee the entire day unannounced – to sing Happy Birthday to Svend as well.
Finally, while Nik headed off backstage for an interview with Naka & Iizuka (a post on which is coming soon separately to this one), the Music Performance started, with tunes from the series over the last 2 decades being played & fans joining in with the vocal tracks. As we approached the end of it, Jun Senoue took to the stage, playing the Splash Hill mixes from Sonic 4 on his keyboard before moving over to his guitar for a live cover of the Green Hill & City Escape mixes from Sonic Generations, before ending on Live and Learn & then in English thanking the crowd for coming by and that he hoped to return again.
And that was the end of what was frankly an amazing day. We bade farewell to some Retro members who had to leave right away, with the rest of us going to the after party/Svend’s Birthday Bash, the event being judged a massive success by everybody. My thanks, personally and on behalf of all of Retro, to Kevin, Svend, and all the staff & crew behind Summer of Sonic: not just this year, but all 4 shows. You’ve all done a fantastic job, and should be justifiably proud of what you’ve accomplished.