A new Sonic the Hedgehog alternate reality game has begun to poke its head out of the snow and nobody really knows what it's leading to — except for the fact that someone at Sega really wants people to watch one particular electronic music video on YouTube.
Folks, if that was enough to turn your entire day upside down, you have permission to tap out now. It's only going to get more baffling from here on out.
Wait, what's an ARG?
If you're not hip to the latest lingo in gaming, let's go over what an ARG is. It stands for "alternate reality game," and it usually involves game developers hiding absurdly obfuscated clues within trailers, posters and other marketing materials that fans are meant to decode.
For example, in the time leading up to the reveal of Sombra, Overwatch's 23rd hero, Blizzard sprinkled secrets throughout trailers that, when decoded, appeared as though Sombra herself was communicating with players. At one point, ARG participants were tasked with hacking into the email accounts of fictional employees of a corrupt energy company.
So, essentially, ARGs are highly complicated puzzles that game developers like to use to keep the most hardcore fans busy or to drum up hype for an upcoming project. If you're an ARG purist, you'd argue that participation in an ARG should actually cause it to progress forward — in other words, that solving its clues will actually reveal some sort of solution. However, ARGs like the one around Sombra have simply been mini games that run parallel to the company's marketing plans, a sort of bonus activity for hardcore fans.
Which brings us, unfortunately, back to Sonic the Hedgehog.
Fans are uncovering the beginning of a new Sonic ARG
In a post on /r/GameDetectives, a Reddit community dedicated entirely to uncovering and solving ARGs, Poksonkirmar assembled a bunch of disparate clues that seem to be hinting at something larger — but nobody knows what that something is quite yet.
The first clue is a tweet from Aaron Webber, the guy who runs the official Sonic the Hedgehog Twitter account. In the tweet, which is a seemingly innocuous picture of a Sonic notebook, there's a small string of random letters and numbers scrawled on a piece of paper off to the side. Below these numbers is another bit of handwritten text that says, "Follow the clues."
"I believe this is a cipher of some sort, but I don't know what to do with it or who to go to so I figured I'd take a shot here," Poksonkirmar wrote on /r/GameDetectives. "Can someone figure out what this is supposed to say?"
One Tumblr user, kththeartist, claimed to have already cracked the case, saying that the string of letters and numbers could be rearranged to form the end of a URL that links to a YouTube video for a song called "Everything" by the electronic music artist WRLD — because, sure, why not?
That might seem like a total shot in the dark, but it's not the only piece of evidence that links to the exact same song. In a tweet from the official Sonic the Hedgehog account celebrating the fact that it reached 2 million followers, there are song lyrics hidden at the bottom of the image that say, "You say that summer's getting closer/ We don't feel like we are getting older." (You have to play with the image's contrast quite a bit to see the text.)
Sure enough, when you Google those lyrics, they are from that very same song: "Everything," by WRLD.
So, why does Sonic the Hedgehog want everyone to listen to "Everything"? Nobody knows. Maybe Aaron Webber just has a really roundabout way of recommending his favorite bands. Right now the folks in /r/GameDetectives are still feeling their way around, trying to find little bits of exposed thread to tug on.
In a previous set of Sonic the Hedgehog ARG clues, fans had to add numbers together to generate calendar dates. That's what they're trying to do now, but it doesn't seem to have led to anything particularly useful yet. Either way, the Sonic team seems to be encouraging fans to keep at it. At the end of a commercial that appeared on Adult Swim, a brief bit of text flashes at the end echoing Aaron Webber's message: "Follow the clues."
What could all these hints be leading to?
Did your ears perk up at the mention of a previous Sonic the Hedgehog ARG? Yeah. That happened. It wasn't a full-blown ARG so much as a series of well-hidden teases in several social media posts that eventually led to the reveal of Sonic Mania, an old-school-style Sonic game set to release sometime in 2017.
Once the whole thing was over, the Sonic YouTube channel summarized all the clues and their solutions in a tongue-in-cheek video:
So, if these new hints are anything like those old ones, it's likely that we're on the cusp of learning a firm release date for Sonic Mania. There's also the chance that Sega is gearing up for the reveal of more gameplay footage for Sonic Forces, a more modern take on the Sonic franchise that's set to come out around the holidays.
With the Electronic Entertainment Expo just around the corner in June, either scenario — or both — is likely. If any more big bombshells drop in the confounding world of this Sonic ARG, we'll let you know.
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