Nobody would argue that the first Sonic the Hedgehog titles were the best to ever be created, while the later 3D titles haven't fared anywhere near as well. To please fans of both types of games, SEGA announced that they would be publishing two Sonic the Hedgehog titles next year, beginning with Sonic Mania. Presented in a "nostalgic pixel-style art" and keeping the "core classic gameplay" that fans adore, this title is re-imagining some of the fans' favourite zones from Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD and Sonic The Hedgehog 3, as well as creating new zones and acts. This year at EGX, SEGA brought along two levels for players to try out.
The tough choice was between the iconic Green Hill Zone Act 1 and a brand new zone: Studiopolis. Instead of throwing out the old, we decided to usher it in and start there. There is more than a touch of familiarity here as the zone's famous theme music begins, although this has been given a slightly more edgy sound. Initially it appears that few changes have been made to the level itself until you start to move off the beaten track. There are now far more potential paths through this act, or at least more than I can remember, including secret areas that are home to giant golden rings that lead to special stages. While Sonic The Hedgehog did feature these rings, they only appeared at the end of this act, but in Sonic Mania there's a new surprise for players there.
Once you reach the end of the zone, you are no longer faced with the rotating signpost. Instead, you are faced with a simple boss fight. Two rotating grey metal spheres, each with more than a passing resemblance to Dr Robotnik, are chained together. When they become angry, they turn orange and reveal a more spiky exterior. The aim is to hit the spheres while they are grey. After a few hits, the boss is defeated and the rotating signpost is dropped into the area. At this point, the sign will bounce around the area, occasionally dropping televisions for Sonic to smash, until it eventually comes to rest. The result is a strange game of keepy-uppy in a bid to earn more points -- for every time that Sonic spins the sign in mid-air, he gets 100 points. Eventually the sign comes to rest and Sonic gives us his thumbs up verdict.
Of course, we didn't completely ignore the new either. Studipolis is a brand new zone that is a cross between a bright city metropolis and a film studio. Whereas players can meander through the Green Hill Zone at a relatively slow pace if they so choose, Studiopolis lends itself to much faster speeds with plenty of springs to propel Sonic in all directions, including high into the air. He can bounce off pinball bumpers and punch balls, raise himself higher on director's chairs with extendable legs, and beam himself across levels via satellite if he enters the back of a Hornet television detector van.
As well as new ways of getting around the level, there are also new enemies such as a hanging microphone that will emit an electrical charge if you get too close. The majority of the enemies are hidden where you least expect them, seeing as Studiopolis has many hidden secrets. Not all televsions are visible and there are many Easter Egg references to former Sonic games and other SEGA titles that eager fans will want to discover. Upon reaching the end, we didn't face a boss this time -- just the lonely rotating signpost. However, if you enter the area quickly enough then you will hit a spring that propels you up into the air to collect as many rings as possible before you come back down with a bump. Once again, Sonic gave us his seal of approval as our time with the game came to a close.
Sonic Mania definitely harkens back to the traditional days of Sonic The Hedgehog and the classic 2D platforming games. While speed run enthusiasts can carry on as normal, the real rewards are for players who are willing to explore and take their time while trying to find some of the many secrets that the levels hold. You can decide which playstyle will suit you ready for the game's release on Xbox One in spring 2017.
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