I’m sure some of you are already completely tired of hearing people telling you how good Sonic Mania is. Despite all its faults and recycled content from Mega Drive Sonic games, it still ends up being the best game in the franchise. It’s a sort of The Best of Sonic, if you will. It’s essentially a game the fans, and people at large, have been waiting for since Sonic 3 and Knuckles came out.
There have been pretty good 2D Sonic games since then. Sonic Advance games were overall enjoyable games to play, although their stage design and some of the physics were off. Sonic Rush games on the other hand nothing but the speed, and this was evident in rather lacklustre stage design again with the speed Boost gimmick being the main culprit. Nevertheless, still pretty good time. Just not as good as the Mega Drive games. That’s where we always go back, because those three (or four, depends how you want to count) games were in many ways the pinnacle of the series in the eyes of fans, sales and cultural impact. Sonic made its name on the Mega Drive.
Sadly, the Sonic titles are one of the worst sufferers of creators wanting something new and grand, something that doesn’t meet the expectations of the paying consumer. Sonic Adventure had a heavy emphasize on the story, something that peaked with Sonic ’06. I’ll tell you how to weed out the bad Sonic games from the good ones; the bad ones put the story to the front of things. Sonic‘s gameplay is hard, if not impossible, to transfer to 3D. They’ve been trying to do it for some two decades now, and even Sonic Generations, a game that was hailed as the first good Sonic game in a long time, felt off with everything done in 3D. Sonic 4 was just terrible.
The franchise really is a case study of creators losing sight what made their product wanted and revered. One could even go far enough to say that Sonic Team and Sega as a whole can’t do classic Sonic anymore, and have had no intention of replicating the Mega Drive games in any fashion. Sonic Generations could’ve been one, but physics clearly weren’t replicated accurately.
It’s not much of a surprise to see Sega hiring fans to create a 25th anniversary game then. Fans, who have showcased themselves as capable in replicated the mould that made the Sonic franchise what it used to be. To say that the fans knew better than Sega would not be exaggeration. However, Sega did screw up the game by not giving it a proper physical release, and even the limited edition package comes with a digital download code only. I’m guessing they’re banking on Sonic Forces, which will probably end up lesser of the two games. The simple fact that its colour palette is dry and consists of black, red and beige is a harsh contrast to Sonic Mania‘s bright blue red and yellow.
Sonic the Hedgehog as a brand suffers from Sega overusing nostalgia mixed with whatever hell they’re trying to do in their latest games. Much like how Super Mario can exist in two different iterations at the same time, modern 3D Sonic could exist with classic 2D games. The biggest misstep of Sonic Mania is that it adhered to old stages, albeit remixing them with new areas and secrets. Sega’s no stranger to this, as their obsession of pushing out the Western teams at the end of Mega Drive’s era.
Nintendo is a stark contrast to this. While Nintendo has given some of their most significant IPs to outside companies to work with, like Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime, their attitude towards them and their fans is cold at best. Metroid Other M supposedly removed the Prime series from the canon, though why that should matter isn’t the point. The point is that Sakamoto himself didn’t deem the Prime series good enough. Other M and the upcoming Metroid II remake are the worst entries in the series and all that is on Sakamoto.
Nintendo is also infamous for their Cease and Desist letters to fans, like with the Another Metroid 2 Remake. Nintendo has had hard time celebrating their fans works or even allowed legally sound fan-products to be made. While they are required to protect their intellectual properties, this has never been good PR for them. Of course, you don’t want to have the same situation Paramount/CBS had with Star Trek Axanar, though it’s no secret Axanar challenged the official Trek stuff, and the team behind Axanar essentially broke the rules by making money off of their piece. There’s always the question why wouldn’t you want to make something original and new if you’re able to design and code a whole new game.
Sonic Mania is essentially the New Super Mario Bros. of the franchise. Much like with 2D Mario, classic Sonic is something people have been wanting for ages. However, whether or not this is just a one-hit-wonder or if Sega sees some sense and continues on developing and releasing more of these classic games is still open. However, they should learn from the failures of NSMB series and improve upon the concept and allow the games to stand up more and give them full fledged release status. Nostalgia is a delicate thing, and as said, Sega’s been overusing it already. Pushing the stage designs and sprite graphics to Saturn level next while still keeping with the style of Sonic Mania might be a natural step. Sonic Mania, as an anniversary game, does things right and manages to squeeze in twists that you’d never see in an equivalent Nintendo game.
Sega could do right with the rest of their franchises and seek out the right people to work on them in a similar manner. There are development houses that would love to give, for example, Streets of Rage a similar best-of treatment. The iron is now red hot, it’s time for Sega to hammer it.