Zipping around Green Hill Zone as the Sega’s flagship hedgehog on my Genesis ranks among my fondest gaming memories. As the quintessential Genesis kid, I bought into Sega’s marketing of Sonic as the embodiment of everything radical about the 90’s as I tried (and failed) to adopt that signature ‘tude into my own life. Thankfully, his games backed that up that advertising hype with well-designed platforming fueled by the hedgehog’s impressive sense of speed.
As Sonic sped into the 3D era, his quality and appeal began a steady decline. The 3D-style gameplay introduced in Sonic Adventure never grabbed me the way the side-scrollers did. The rapid introduction of insipid side characters and increasingly convoluted plotlines made me pine for the days when Sonic was just a cool dude protecting his forest from a maniacal scientist. I, like many like-minded Sonic fans, were mystified as to why Sega couldn’t just stick to the winning formula that put Sonic on the map in the first place.
But then Sega finally listened. Last summer, the publisher announced Sonic Mania, a game that can be aptly described as “that exact thing you old fogeys used to like but a bit better”. The retro-style throwback is an amalgamation of the best parts of Sonic’s Genesis heyday, and a well-crafted one at that. I got my hands on Sonic Mania during E3, playing through Act 1 of the reimagined Green Hill Zone. Sonic Mania scratched all the right itches: tight, identical controls and physics of the original (something Sonic 4 lacked), a hum-worthy soundtrack of remade tunes, and a nostalgic presentation. It really does play like the titles I obsessed over as a kid. But as I landed the final blow on Robotnik’s Death Egg robot at the demo’s conclusion, I couldn’t shake the sense that these memories felt too familiar. Probably because they more or less are those memories, just remixed with better music.
I appreciate Sega greenlighting such a fan-focused passion project, but I can only imagine how much more excited I would be if they pitched the same concept but with entirely fresh content. New stages, never-before-seen enemies, additional power-ups, an original story – all wrapped up in a classic 16-bit package. As much as I enjoy Chemical Plant Zone, I’ve spun up and down its pipes enough to last a lifetime. Take that classic gameplay and apply it to something new, and Sega could have the comeback the hedgehog desperately needs.
That’s not to say Sonic Mania won’t be a blast on its own merits. I knew I was going to purchase it the moment it was announced, and playing it for myself solidified that decision. Thus far it’s a fun and accurate throwback to a simpler period in my life. I smiled gleefully throughout the entire demo. However, it's impossible for me to ignore the overwhelming amount of creative potential that was left on the table. I guess I’ll have to wait until the game’s launch on August 15 to see if nostalgia alone is enough to resurrect my ailing childhood hero.