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Late Friday night, Sega showed off trailers for two new Sonic games to celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary during the San Diego Comic-Con. One was Sonic Mania, a 2D, retro-looking side-scroller with a mix of updated levels from old games and original stages. The other is codenamed Project Sonic 2017. We don’t know much about it, but it looks like a sequel to 2011’s Sonic Generations, which blended the series’ modern 3D gameplay with classic 2D elements. Sonic Mania is set for an early 2017 launch for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, while Project Sonic 2017 won’t release until holiday 2017.
These are two big announcements for a franchise that has been more hit than miss for decades. Project Sonic 2017 feels like it should be the bigger deal. It’s positioning itself as the next “real” Sonic game, which you can see in its slick, fancy announcement trailer.
Sonic Mania is a retro game that looks like the series’ earliest installments on the Genesis and Sega CD. It even reuses some levels from those games, albeit with some tweaks and updates.
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Sometimes, nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. It makes things that were old appear better than they really were, like my collection fanny packs. But when it comes to Sonic, I feel confident saying that the Blue Blur’s best adventures happened before he ventured into the world of 3D. It’s something I think Sega even knows, as even many of the modern, 3D Sonic games constantly use 2D elements. Just look at this level from the “modern” part of Sonic Generations.
Even when it isn’t 2D, the 3D sections are so linear that it definitely doesn’t convey the freedom that platformers like Super Mario 64 or Ratchet and Clank achieve.
Sega even tried the whole “make a new, 2D Sonic game” thing before with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (Parts 1 and 2), which proved to be uninspired, boring messes with ugly graphics.
So, why does Sonic Mania excite me? Because it actually looks like Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Not the one we got, but the one I always dreamed of. Slick, 2D graphics, levels that focus just as much on platforming as on speed (if not more), a killer soundtrack, and that classic Sonic design.
It reminds me of Mega Man 9, the best example I can think of when it comes to revitalizing a classic franchise. Mega Man 9 didn’t try to update the classic sidescroller with 3D graphics. Instead, it went out of its way to recapture the look of the original games. Sonic Mania looks like its achieving the same thing. And, just like with Mega Man 9, just seeing it in motion feels me with joy. Sega has to rely on cheap tricks like homing attacks and on-rails sections to keep Sonic from falling to his death. Of course, he still does anyway.
Project Sonic 2017 could still be an amazing game. Like I said, Sonic Generations was one of the better entries in the series we’ve had in some time. But Sonic has always felt clunkier in 3D. They make him so fast that he becomes unwieldy, which make precise platforming difficult.
Rigtht now, Sonic Mania isn’t just my preferred future sonic game. It’s one of my most anticipated releases for 2017.
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