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Preview: Sonic Mania

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Sonic and I have a very rocky relationship. A Sega kid growing up, you can bet I was Team Sonic all the way when the daily playground argument of Sonic vs Mario came up. Those golden days are gone — or so I thought — and the rivalry is now very one-sided. This is now my third Sonic preview, and after the disappointment from both Sonic Boom and Sonic: Lost World, I thought the franchise could no longer offer me anything of worth. Lucky for me, the third time’s the charm.

After playing Sonic Mania it’s now clear that the future of Sonic is firmly in the past. So much so it feels obvious and I can’t quite understand why Sega has been trying to reinvent the wheel for so long. Quite truly, progress for the sake of progress get us nowhere. All those years of playing and enjoying Sonic came back immediately with Mania. Even in a completely new stage, I felt like I knew what I was doing and had no trouble falling back into old habits. Within moments of picking up the Switch’s Joy-Con, I was using muscle memory that had gone unused for 20 years. This is an intensely powerful shot of nostalgia, evoking truly incredible feelings.

Not everything is exactly as it was, and that’s perfect — after all, if you just want to play old Sonic games there are plenty of ways to already do that. Of the two stages on offer, one is a recreation of the classic Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1, complete with a few new areas inspired by Sonic 2 and power-ups from Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles. At the end of the act there is even a new yet very familiar boss to take on (no spoilers). The second stage, Studiopolis Zone, is completely new; though it feels a little like Carnival Night Zone from Sonic 3, it’s still fresh and unique.

Along with new and reworked levels, Mania introduces the new Drop Dash mechanic, allowing Sonic to dash from a jump. It’s a little strange at first but feels completely natural in no time at all. For Sonic enthusiasts keen on speed running stages and blasting through levels as quickly as possible in subsequent playthroughs, the Drop Dash will be a powerful new skill.

The only time I was actually surprised while playing was after gaining the invincibility power up and hearing a new jingle. Up until that point, I found myself incredibly comfortable to the point I was anticipating almost everything before it happened — yes, including sound effects. Hearing something new snapped me out of my daze and reinforced the fact that I was playing a new Sonic title game rather than a simple classic but it’s important to note how that line is already so blurred.

Sonic Mania feels like Sonic and Knuckles’ DLC that was somehow lost for 20 years. As a long-time fan I couldn’t be happier with how faithful Sonic Mania is to the series’ roots. Sonic Mania is expected in autumn 2017 on Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, PS4 and Xbox One.