My wonderful co-worker Zak Lyons gave us 10 reasons why Sonic might never make a comeback. Respectfully, I disagree. Sonic absolutely can make a comeback, and with Sonic Mania it looks like everything is finally coming together. We have so many reasons to be both hopeful, and skeptical, but the bottom line is if Sonic is EVER going to salvage his reputation, and end this cycle of frequent, dumpster fire-quality games, it HAS to be in spring 2017 with Sonic Mania. This is the blue blur’s last shot.
The Sonic brand has proven to be resilient, withstanding a decade worth of mostly bad games, but since Sonic Generations, SEGA has started to do some serious harm to the franchise on top of the damage that began with Sonic ’06. SEGA decided to isolate the franchise onto Nintendo’s struggling Wii U console, and churn out bad game after bad game. Not only did SEGA further the popular (and mostly true) belief of casual observers that the new games suck, the brand itself was starting to become irrelevant. Who cares about bad franchise exclusively on a system that was/is a distant third to the Xbox and PlayStation consoles?
Aside from a couple of small bright spots (Generations and Colors, for example), the time period from the 15th to 25th anniversary has been a complete disaster. However, Sonic Mania has the rare opportunity to hit the reset button in a way that every other game in the last ten years hasn’t been able to do, not even Sonic 4.
Although Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was championed as a return to classic gameplay like Sonic Mania, it really wasn’t. It featured a completely foreign aesthetic and gameplay style. The different (read: poor) physics dramatically changed the pace of the gameplay, and the homing attack destroyed the element of precision and timing for enemy battles. It was just another failed reboot, like so many of the games that came before and after it since ’06.
Sonic Mania looks different. For the first time since the Genesis golden age, we’re seeing a new game that actually looks like the classics. If what Aaron Webber (Sonic’s PR and social media manager) said during the 25th anniversary party is to be believed, the physics are being done right this time. Loyal and knowledgeable fans know this is a huge deal.
Also, like Super Mario’s classic games, the 16-bit era titles hold up incredibly well. Go ahead and fire any of the ports up. As long as you liked the games back then, you’re still going to like them now. It’s the 3D games like Sonic Adventure that haven’t aged as well.
As long as the final product matches the expectations, a new game with Sonic that looks like the best games in the series and plays like them too, the hype will be real. The only problem is whether or not SEGA is capable of executing that properly without screwing up. It’s a very valid reason to be doubtful in this Sonic Mania comeback. One reason to be optimistic on that front is that SEGA has assembled a modern day 2D platforming dream team of sorts to develop Sonic Mania, featuring Christian Whitehead.
Whitehead, in case this is the first you’re hearing of him, is an indie developer known for creating excellent ports of the original games for modern consoles. He has very intimate knowledge of what a Sonic game should feel like and apart from literally reassembling the original team, something that is just not realistic at all, Whitehead being involved is probably the next best thing. Hell, it could even be better.
It took decades, but SEGA has finally got to the root of what most fans of the Genesis games have wanted all along. Nothing fancy or revolutionary, just another 16-bit style game for their home consoles. Why did it take this long? Only SEGA knows for sure. It could be that 3D games have wider appeal and make more money. Or it could be that they just didn’t have the people on staff that could make a proper 2D game again. Whatever the reason, it’s finally happening now, and old-school fans have some solid reasons to be excited.
Stay skeptical all the way until release day Sonic fans, but also don’t beat yourself up for being hopeful either. There’s a reason why you’re excited. This is the best and most realistic shot of the Sonic Cycle being broken we’ve ever seen. If it comes together, it will be glorious, and the dream of having a steady stream of great games come in like the other 2D platforming star Mario could become reality. There’s a reason that blue hedgehog became an icon in the first place, and it started with the amazing Genesis games.
If Sonic Mania fails though, the results could be catastrophic. What else is left after going back to the source material? If even that doesn’t restore Sonic’s reputation, then nothing ever will. There can be no cycle without hope. So either way, the Sonic Cycle ends with Sonic Mania. For fans, hopefully SEGA is able to triumph over it, rather than finally be defeated by it.