Let’s kick this off by putting it out there that I absolutely adored Sonic Mania. When I reviewed it last week I gave it the highest score Twinfinite has to offer: 5/5 – Exemplary. I felt that Sonic Mania perfectly executed all of its goals. It restored the reputation of Sonic the Hedgehog games, accurately brought back the Genesis-style gameplay, and it was loaded with content for its $20 price point. The level design of both its new and returning zones were excellent, but I have to admit, between Sonic Mania and soon with Sonic Forces, I’m starting to get fatigued with the remastered zones.
While Sonic Generations wasn’t the first Sonic game to bring back zones, it was the first to fully embrace it as a selling point. At the time of it’s release, the Sonic brand was on a road to recovery, but the games that preceded were uneven in terms of quality. Generations was one of the first non-handheld Sonic games in a while to more or less be universally accepted as at least a good game. A large part of it was that was because of the returning zones. 2D Sonic was more or less regulated to handheld duty at that time, so seeing the gameplay style return in a marquee game, plus getting able to see old zones for the first time with updated graphics was a huge treat to old school fans. Plus it was super neat to see Modern Sonic run through classic zones like Chemical Plant as well. Overall it was just very well-executed and its praise was warranted.
However, it’s starting to feel like SEGA is going to the classic zone well a little too much now. After Sonic Forces we’ll have seen Green Hill Zone remastered a total of three times, and there’s a decent chance that we’ll be able to say the same with Chemical Plant Zone if rumors are to be believed. These zones are iconic sure, but if they are continued to be used in game after game, they are going to start to lose their luster and just become a generic rite of passage.
Someone after reading that I assume will make the argument that Super Mario games reuse assets all the time, why can’t Sonic? The difference is while the scenery and aesthetic are memorable in Mario, that’s pretty much all it is (Kirby as well to an extent). People fondly remember running around a desert world, a fire world, but because they are reused so constantly in many of the games, they no longer stand out, it’s just pretty scenery, and that’s fine. That isn’t what makes Mario games so great. However, zone personality is way more important for Sonic. They are directly tied to unique mechanics and music that trigger fond memories. That IS an important part of what makes Sonic games great, and if that was sullied, unlike Mario titles, it would be bad for the franchise.
The focus should instead be on creating new memories, new zones that are just as fantastic as the old. Sonic Mania did that. Although the balance was heavily weighted toward classic games, the four new zones that were added in Sonic Mania are all classics, at least in my eyes, with a nod to Press Garden Zone and Studiopolis in particular. Now that SEGA knows there is a market for Genesis-style games, whoever is assigned to the inevitable Sonic Mania 2 (or whatever it is called) should have a long leash to experiment with brand new mechanic and zone ideas.
All of that said, we’re not suggesting that future Sonic games don’t remaster anything anymore. Instead, mix it up. There are SO many memorable zones to pick from. Starlight Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog, Ice Cap from Sonic 3, Aquatic Ruin from Sonic 2, there is no shortage. There’s no reason to feel like Green Hill Zone needs to be in every game now. People like other ones just as much if not more so.
As long as the balance between old and new is kept more even, and new zones are mixed into a diverse mix of reused ones, SEGA has a self-sustaining formula that they can use to make great Sonic games for years to come.