Hello everyone and welcome. Looking back to when I first started this column, it’s probably a good thing that I named the series Shattered Perceptions and not my original pitched name of Faithless Looting, because as an umbrella term it works out for me constantly. This week I would like to take a look at the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise for the point-of-view of someone who loved the series, but agrees with the majority of people who believe the franchise as a whole died a decade ago. Because recently a new game—Sonic Mania—has come out, and in one quick shattered perceptions and recaptured some of the greatness.

I toiled for the better part of a day last week and into the eleventh hour trying to figure out how I could tie Magic: the Gathering and Sonic Mania together to make this seem at all appropriate for my column. The closest I got was my theory that original Zendikar block was a loose retelling of Sonic 3: Chandra being Sonic, Jace as our Tails, and Sarkhan guarding the Eye of Ugin as a stand-in for Knuckles and the Master Emerald. It worked in a strange way, seeing as Nicol Bolas was masterminding everything and recently he gotten into the business of mechanizing people. But what was I going to do, build a Nicol Bolas deck? That felt like too much of a stretch in an already turbulent week when I could just buck trends and gush about video games.

A Brief History

For some history for the younger members of the collective audience who may not have played a Sonic the Hedgehog game before 1999, Sonic debuted as the title character of the side scrolling platformer Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991 on the Sega Genesis. From there he went toe-to-toe with Nintendo’s well-known mascot, Mario, and won over a fanbase with his wicked speed, dope attitude, and sweet gameplay. The Golden Age, as I see it, was mostly during this 2D side scrolling period, with the first two main series entries into the 3D gaming world, Sonic Adventure 1 & 2, being solid games that kept the torch burning into 2001. From there the wheels quickly fell off the wagon as the franchise seemingly lost its direction and purpose.

I suppose it speaks to how popular Sonic once was, but looking back, it’s profound how the franchise’s fall became almost a pillar of gaming culture in such a way that the bug-ridden Sonic the Hedgehog (i.e. “Sonic ‘06”) left a decade-long stain that was referenced constantly. Some blame needs to be put on the move to 3D, but I believe buggy, unfinished games being made that felt more like rush jobs to meet a deadline than a true labor of love would have resulted in a failure in any genre.

Personally, one of the reasons that Sonic doesn’t work in 3D is that often the third person perspective takes a quality away from Sonic games that is ever-present in the 2D installments: secret paths. Now, before you jump in and point out that in Sonic Adventure 2 or Sonic Colors there exist alternative paths through a level; I am not saying that they don’t exist, but that the 2D perspective allows the player to be far more aware of the routes available to them. This idea dates all the way back to the first level, Green Hill Zone, where land masses and floating platforms could be seen by eagle-eyed players who had not gotten enough momentum to reach them as they rushed through the level for the first time. Because of the third person perspective, secrets can pass you by so quickly that you may not have even noticed a crack or discoloration of a set piece to tip you off.

Of course, missing this one feature doesn’t make for a bad Sonic game. I loved both of the Adventure games, got through most of Sonic Heroes with the Heroic and Dark teams and liked what little of Sonic Colors I played. But as time has gone on gimmicks and an overall sense that Sonic is only good when maximum speed is achieved left me uninterested in the Blue Blur. To that last point, play through Sonic 1-3 & CD and you may notice that there is a lot of platforming in those games and that motion was more important than straight speed.

Caught up in Mania

So with all the history in mind and no restriction on spoilers, what did I think of Sonic Mania? Well, the introduction probably gave it away: I loved this game! During the opening I felt a wave of excitement akin to booting up the original games in 1994. And to the point of nostalgia, I know some people have shown some distaste as two-thirds of the Zones are from past games. But with the inclusion of new and old mechanics being introduced during the second Acts, I frankly never got sick of the trip down memory lane. Besides, any game that can make Chemical Plant Zone bearable deserves a gold medal in my opinion.

Additionally, it’s challenging without being punishing. For example, I was stuck on the Oil Ocean Zone Act 2 boss for over three days across nearly a dozen game-over screens, yet I never felt like giving up. I simply kept improving bit by bit until I had mastered the two acts enough to go into the final battle with a few more lives and solid strategy for victory. From there I breezed through the next few zones with a sense of accomplishment and at the time of writing this article am stuck on the final zone.

In the meantime, I have started both a Tails and Knuckles playthrough, but have not progressed nearly as far I have with Sonic thus far. Each character plays differently, like any Genesis-era Sonic fan could tell you, adding a great deal of replayability. You are able to explore different paths not normally accessible, find secrets, and play the mini-games to your heart’s content. I enjoyed replaying the new levels again with each character and got to discover aspects I missed the first time through.

The True Love

All my gushing aside—someone else out on the internet has probably said similar things. What did I really love about Sonic Mania?

Short answer: it was a complete game that felt like it was made with passion.

Long answer: after a decade of watching Sonic get dumped on in the wake of games like Sonic ‘06 and Sonic Boom—which were obviously incomplete and riddled with game breaking bugs that needed to get patched up—we finally got a game that felt like a labor of love and a return to form. The controls were good, the easter eggs like Fang and Metal Sonic were enjoyable, boss fights feel unique, the music and animations were top notch, and the game wasn’t bogged down with distracting gimmicks.

Since the series started waning with Sonic Heroes, it has not been easy to be a Sonic the Hedgehog fan. For every hidden gem like Sonic Battle for the Gameboy Advanced there have been a half dozen entries into the series that brought The Blue Blur’s stock down. Where Mario innovates platforming with tight controls and exploration of 3D gaming, I would contend that Sonic found his niche in momentum platforming. The real challenge to game designers should not be to mimic the competition but to refine the established gameplay in both 2D and 3D platformers. For 90’s kids or just lovers of platforming games, this was the kind of game a lot of us have been waiting for. I don’t know if it’s a great game or simply a great Sonic game, but it sure felt like a rush to play.

Sonic Mania could have been a little longer with how expansive games are in today’s market. And there are mechanics of Sonic games from the past I wish had made an appearance, like snowboarding of some kind and the rail grinding of Sonic Adventure 2, even if it simply was sections that played like the cart levels of Donkey Kong Country games. But maybe they save that for Sonic Mania 2, because people, there will be a Sonic Mania 2. No question.

I could go on and on about video game design or my nostalgia for the 1990’s, but I would be bordering on just misquoting Egoraptor of Game Grumps and embarrassing myself. So I think it’s time to call it a night and wish all my readers ado. Track me down on Twitter if you’ve played the game, as I would love to hear about your experiences. Until next time, thank you for your time and have a good week.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the story of Magic and the EDH community in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.

Pet Deck – Shattergang Eldrazi

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