I have to admit that I was quite nervous as I was waiting for my turn on Sonic Mania at EGX. While I have largely written off the Sonic franchise for the past decade, it was impossible for me to ignore the promise of Sonic Mania when it was first announced earlier this year.
Without planning it, I had become cautiously optimistic. After all, Sega and Headcannon were promising a return to the gameplay of the original Master System/Mega Drive era of Sonic games, albeit with a new twist to the formula. But I also knew that Sonic was a franchise that had repeatedly let me (and itself) down, something I was becoming more keenly aware of as I stood in line to wait for my chance to play it.
The EGX demo contained two levels – a slightly remixed version of act one of the Green Hill Zone and a brand new level called Studiopolis.
The Green Hill Zone level featured in the demo was slightly different from the one I played in the original Sonic The Hedgehog in 1991. How different I wouldn’t be able to tell you. It’s been a long time since I have played that particular level, so I imagine many of the changes that have been made probably passed me by.
What I can tell you is that it was an accurate reconstruction of the Sonic gameplay. It feels very much like the Sonic games I grew up with. And while the visuals are reminiscent of the classic 8 and 16-bit games, they’ve definitely been improved, with extra animations and effects that make sure the game doesn’t look dated.
There have also been some improvements made to gameplay. A drop dash mechanic has been introduced that allows players to maintain momentum when hitting the ground, something that has never been possible in a 2D Sonic game before. The different shield power-ups that were first introduced in Sonic The Hedgehog 3 have also found their way into the Green Hill Zone.
While trying to wring as much out of my demo as possible I did some exploration. While a lot of the Green Hill Zone seemed familiar to me, I found plenty of alternate paths and secret areas. Unfortunately, my memory fails me when I try to think whether any of these paths are new or not, but the number of secrets I stumbled across was impressive.
What was definitely new was the boss battle. In the original Sonic The Hedgehog the first boss battle was at the end of Green Hill Zone act three. Upon reaching the end of act one in the EGX demo, I was confronted with a brand new boss. It was a fairly simple encounter, probably owing to the fact that this is more than likely the first level of Sonic Mania, but it was a welcome surprise.
The Studiopolis Zone level, meanwhile, is brand new for Sonic Mania. It’s extremely reminiscent of the Casino Zone levels from Sonic The Hedgehog 2. There were an intimidating number of hidden paths through the level, as well as a number of hidden areas. The zone contained new enemies, new traversal mechanics and new effects, all while still retaining the feel that this was definitely a Sonic game.
Judging from what was shown at EGX, Sonic Mania appears to be about to end the disasterous run of terrible Sonic games. A lot will probably be written about the nostalgia effect of Sonic Mania, and while that is certainly a factor, the two levels I played of the game are good in their own right. Sonic Mania feels like the 32-bit sequel we never got and fans of classic Sonic adventures have every right to be excited.
Sonic Mania is scheduled to launch in Spring 2017 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.