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PSX 2016 – Sonic Mania Preview – Back to Form (PS4)

Sonic the Hedgehog has had a rocky life. Serving as the first big mascot that SEGA brought out in the 1990’s, the franchise has stagnated ever since video games transitioned into the third dimension. While games like Sonic Generations breathed some life back into the aging franchise, it has been five long years since something of that caliber has come to home consoles. Sonic Mania is the latest entry to attempt to jumpstart the franchise to relevance again, and was running on the PlayStation 4 at Sony’s PSX 2016 event. We went hands-on with the game, and have our preview ready for you.

A New Zone

For the PSX demo, we played through the Studiopolis Zone, which is a completely new stage that is obviously influenced by the series’ casino-themed levels from before. One thing that immediately stuck out in playing this level is that it was intricately designed, and densely-packed with secrets galore. Every other corridor held a hidden item box, or so it seemed. Meanwhile, entire sections of the level were missed by going down one path, which just begs additional playthroughs, in much the same manner as the older games. A few sections of the level slowed the pace down, however, requiring backtracking to figure out exactly where we needed to go. Levels will likely be tweaked between now and the game’s 2017 release, and thankfully the rest of the level was decidedly impressive.

It wouldn’t be a Sonic game without a sense of “Blast Processing-enhanced speed,” and Sonic Mania certainly complies with such a requirement. I managed to obtain enough speed that the camera lagged behind, in the trademark way of the series. Yet, I remained in control of Sonic’s movements, who could stop fairly quickly provided that he wasn’t performing a spin attack. Speaking of controls, Sonic Mania controls as a dead ringer to the old games, as well. My old tactic of spin dashing into uncharted territory worked fairly well, and kept me from a few would-be early deaths with zero rings.

The graphics in Sonic Mania are reminiscent of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, mixed with Sonic CD and running at a consistently high frame rate. Unfortunately, I forgot to check and see how many and what type of “leaning over a ledge” animations Sonic had, which is no doubt a very important detail to the hardcore Sonic fans among you, no? It’s only important to me? Oh well. Where was I? Oh, right, the graphics. They were intensely colorful, using every hue imaginable to show off a level themed like a casino city. Enemies included a few floating and flying robots, as well as an electric microphone which would shock you if you came too closely.

The Nostalgia Is Strong With This One

Sonic Mania’s audio sounded like it was ripped straight out of Sonic CD. Synths, kickdrums, and more classic sounds were alive and kicking, while of course the chime that plays each time Sonic collected a ring was not touched. Spin dashes, jumping, getting hit…each a sound effect that whisked me back to the ‘90s, playing Sonic 2 on our SEGA Genesis while it rained outside. Nostalgia is a powerful force, and after seeing, hearing, and playing Sonic Mania, I am hesitatingly optimistic that this is the entry Sonic deserves.

It seems SEGA may finally be listening to fans and adhering to the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Tight controls, outrageous but controllable speed, and lush, sprite-based graphics are what made Sonic games of old so enjoyable. Sonic Mania appears to deliver these attributes in spades. We’ll see if Christian Whitehead and the rest of the development crew at Headcannon and PagodaWest Games can deliver the goods when the game launches in early 2017. Keep your PSLS tab pinned for continuing coverage of PSX 2016!