That's no good

AGE OF THE GEEK COLUMN:It's not easy being a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog sometimes.

Once upon a time, Sonic rivaled Mario as the world's most recognizable gaming icon. The Blue Blur raced onto the 16-bit scene in 1991 and didn't look back. By the time his last main series game on the Sega Genesis was released in 1994, Sonic had become a worldwide icon with two cartoons, a comic book series that would span decades, and even a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The first of only three video game characters to ever have the honor.

Sadly, Sonic's early days would prove to be his best days. As the video game industry transitioned from the 16-bit era into the 32-bit era, Sonic started to fall behind. Internal struggles at Sega resulted in the Sega Saturn going through its entire console lifecycle without a proper offering from their flagship franchise. It wouldn't be until 1999's Sega Dreamcast that Sonic would truly make the jump from 2-D to 3-D.

Sonic's Dreamcast adventures were short lived though and Sonic has been running on a rough road ever since. The commercial failure of the Dreamcast ended Sega's position as an industry leader and the magic behind their mascot seemed to fade with them. The next decade of Sonic games would range from "unimpressive" to "impressively broken" as Sega's continual mishandling of the once great franchise became an industry wide joke.

For the entirety of the 21st Century it seems like Sega has taken two steps forward and one step back, or occasionally one step forward and two steps back. For every Sonic game that is moderately good, Sega makes two more that fall flat on their face. It's been a long and frustrating cycle for the fan base as every time it seems like Sega figures out what to do with Sonic, they turn around and immediately mess it up.

Which brings us to "Sonic Mania," by far the most eagerly anticipated and well received Sonic game of the last twenty years. Developed by fan-turned-pro Christian Whitehead and a team largely made up of other enthusiasts among the Sonic modding community, "Sonic Mania" is a game literally made by the fans for the fans.

Faithfully recreating everything that made the original series of games so popular to begin with, "Sonic Mania" released this month to virtually universal acclaim. It's rare that an anticipated video game lives up to its hype, but "Sonic Mania" delivered.

And then Sega turned around and immediately messed it up.

Three days before the game's release date it was announced that the PC version of "Sonic Mania" would be delayed for two weeks for some last minute "bug fixes." The console versions of the game were deployed on time and on schedule, resulting in two weeks of unabashed joy as the fandom celebrated the game's launch.

Last Tuesday the PC version arrived so that the final segment of the fan base could get in on the action. And that's when things went wrong. Within minutes of the game's release users discovered what is likely the true reason for the two week delay. Sega had apparently decided at the last minute to install Denuvo, a controversial digital rights management (DRM) tool, in the PC release.

In theory, Denuvo is designed to stop digital pirates from pirating video games. The software hides in the background of your computer and regularly "phones home" to make sure that the game being played is legitimate.

In practice, Denuvo is often cracked by pirates in a matter of weeks, if not days, leaving pirates with a superior product than the paying users, who are stuck with a game chained down by a program that can impact performance and restrict access on a whim. As long as Denuvo remains present in a game, it's a ticking bomb that could deny users the ability to play at any time. Because of the way it operates, it can even trigger false positives on anti-virus software. Needless to say, it's not popular among the gaming community.

To make matters worse, the implementation of Denuvo on "Sonic Mania" was not only done in secret, with Sega failing to properly disclose its use on the store page, but it was done incorrectly. On the day of launch, users found out that the game was completely unplayable while not connected to the internet, a restriction that Sega claims was not intended and had to hastily patch out. It's one thing to do something that nobody wants you to do, but it takes a staggering level of incompetence to do something nobody wants you to do and still not do it right.

One can only be astounded at Sega's ability to take an otherwise flawless launch of a much anticipated and well received product and needlessly shoot themselves in the foot while crossing the finish line.

I'm sure there's somebody at Sega that thinks implementing a second layer of DRM, outside of what Steam already provides, will be better for their bottom line than not having it. I'd love to see their math as they weigh the sales of people willing to buy a game once it becomes too difficult to pirate against the loss of sales from angry gamers and loss of general goodwill among their paying fans.

I have a feeling those scales probably aren't balanced in Sega's favor.

"Sonic Mania" is a great game. You should get it on a console.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and is gaming like it's 1995.