Just like admitting that your idol has gone off the rails, many find it difficult to accept that Sega aren’t what they used to be. When gamings ‘other half’ decided it was going to step away from the console market, we all hoped that Sega would continue to innovate without being dragged down by hardware development. Now don’t get me wrong, Sega have published some great releases in recent years, such as the Yakuza series, Valkyria Chronicles and Alien Isolation. However in contrast with the good, Sega have also lost the respect of players with releases such as the recent Sonic Boom series, which is about as broken as Donald Trump’s general thought process. However today we aren’t here to show off Sega’s past mistakes, we are here to have a look at their plan to bring back Sonic in his 16 bit form with the announcement of their new title Sonic Mania.
It seems that Sega planned the announcement of their new retro inspired title to almost be a gift of sorts to gamers. The new titles opening video grabs you buy the heartstrings with an old school ‘SEGAAA’ intro from the
Megadrive release Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and uses clips of previous Sonic games to lead into it’s reveal. Something important to note about their execution of this video is that they only used clips from the 16 bit games up to the Sonic Adventure series and Sonic Heroes, which shows that they really want to put any recent mutations of the blue blur aside for now. Then in an attempt to strap you to a Delorean at 88MpH, Sega ‘proudly presents’ Sonic Mania, the answer to all our problems, the silver bullet that will kill the werehog once and for all (here’s hoping that doesn’t happen again).
There is no denying that nostalgia sells and it is definitely clear that companies in the business now realise this. With the likes of Nintendo releasing the official plug n play NES system and developers seeing interest arise in retro inspired games, like the Castlevaniainspired Bloodstained, we can expect this to be more common in the industry. The main question that I want to ask however is will Sega redeem their good name by going back to their roots? Unfortunately the answer to this is unclear, however a good starting place is to look at what we know from the announcement trailer.
An important point to make about Sonic Mania is that Sega have a number of other developers on board. Christian Whitehead, Headcannon and PagodaWest Games are the three third party devs that are onboard for this 16 bit stylised project. The first one man band, Christian Whitehead, is a man who has worked on ports of original Sonic games for the likes of iOS and Android. Also known as ‘The Taxman’, Whitehead initially started his career by creating his own version of the classic game simply titled ‘Retro Sonic’, which was build using his own engine. Sega eventually hired Whitehead after he pitched his own version of Sonic CD, running on the iOS platform. The second developer, Headcannon aka Stealth, also came from a similar back ground to The Taxman, originally creating his own Sonic level editor ROM hacks. Stealth eventually moved away from the ROM hacking scene and created ‘Headcannon’, which is now it’s own company. The last of our developers, PagodaWest, is an indie developer for mobile who has won awards for games like Magnet Major. It’s clear that Sega is letting Sonic Team take a back seat this time and let the fans decide how Sonic Mania will blossom, since two of the fore mentioned devs have a long history of making what the fans want in terms of Sonic content.
From looking at the gameplay shown in the trailer, the graphics appear to be closer to the likes of Sonic CD, which would suggest that there will be more advanced sprite, frame rate and background animation to what an actual Megadrive could output. The trailer also claims to have added new features, such as the new ‘drop dash’ move, which should add some spice to the classic Sonic gameplay. At the moment the game reminds me of what Sonic could have been like if Sega created a 2D game for Saturn, instead of focusing on getting the system to do 3D. Everything else in the trailer suggests that this will be very much another classic Sonic game, however will this feel new or will it feel like another port or mod? Again this is something that will probably be apparent when we see or play more of Sonic Mania. I can’t help but feel however that Sega could have took this opportunity to create a game that doesn’t need to use its previous success as a shield, whilst capturing the original nostalgia of the character.
There has been an idea in my head for years that seems to be more possible now than ever. If you think back the likes of Sonic CDand it’s animated intro scene, that is what I like to think the original developers wanted the games to actually look like. Titles such as Rayman Legends and the upcoming indie game Cuphead have proven that games can have graphics that look just like a hand drawn cartoon. Can you imagine that this was the route that Sega had taken with Sonic Mania? Sure, it would have cost more money and time but I believe that something like this could have revitalised Sonic and shown the world that Sega could go back and make the game they wanted to back in 1991, given they had the future technology. It might be just a theory, however doing something like this could have generated the nostalgia needed for the game to be a success, while avoiding treading on old ground. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to play a new version of the old 16 bit games as much as the next fanboy, however I wouldn’t like to see this project become another half hearted attempt at bringing back a beloved franchise.
So this brings us to the question of the day: Will Sega return to glory with Sonic Mania? Well it’s probably too early to tell, however any step away from the new formulae of Sonic can only be a good thing. Sega have hopefully acknowledged by now that games like Sonic Generations and Colours had elements that related back to the old Sonic games, hence why they were given good reviews. From here, we can only hope that Sega start being the innovative company they once were and break free from their much apparent identity crisis.