Gamers had never seen anything like Sonic the Hedgehog when it debuted on the Sega Genesis in 1991. Platformers before Sonic were relatively sedate affairs requiring lots of jumping and collecting, and Sonic had those things while adding a crucial new element: pure maniacal speed. That speed-factor made for a very unique and thrilling experience that Sega built upon through a series of now-classic side-scrolling 2D games (launching a franchise that has branched out into TV and maybe yet movies).
When 3D gaming became all the rage in the late ’90s, with the release of new platforms like Dreamcast, N64 and the original PlayStation, Sonic was forced to adapt and the results were rather mixed. Sonic on Dreamcast had its charms but never quite lived up to the frenzied fun of the original 2D Sonic games. Now Sonic is getting a new update for the Nintendo Switch and Sega is going forward by looking backward.
In the new trailer for Sonic Mania, Nintendo lays out what the updated Sonic is all about: returning gamers to the old-school experience of 2D gaming while adding new and exciting wrinkles. The trailer teases the new elements – new zones, new graphics – while promising all the familiar elements that will appeal to retro gamers, whether they be older folks who played the games back in the day (like Sonic fan Tim Miller of Deadpool fame) or younger folks who just love the old games.
The trailer assures gamers that Sonic Mania will contain everything that made the original Sonic great: fast action, challenging levels, multiple playable characters (Tails and Knuckles are back of course) and eye-blowing graphics. Sonic games are about pure giddy thrill more than the joy of collecting or uncovering secrets, though of course those elements are present as well. And there’s pinball, which is crucial.
Updating Sonic for Nintendo Switch by going all the way back to the very 2D roots of the game is arguably the only move Sega and Nintendo could have made. In all honesty, the 3D incarnations of Sonic just never were as fun and engaging as the old school games. Sometimes a simple formula is best and by trying to update that formula via 3D, Sega may have gotten too far away from what made the Sonic games so fun in the first place.
The great thing about retro gaming is that it embraces simplicity while still taking advantage of new technology. The popularity of NES Classic Edition shows that there’s a huge and enthusiastic market for such relatively pure, uncomplicated gaming experiences. Taking Sonic back to that purity is great news for fans of the series who frankly never got into the upgraded Sonic of the Dreamcast era and later.