How many times have you heard Sega declare "Our next Sonic game brings the speedy hedgehog back to his roots!" only to find yourself disappointed by muddy graphics and boring level design that punishes you for having the gall to run fast?
Don't think too hard about that question. You'll only make yourself depressed all over again.
So when I say Sonic Mania takes Sonic the Hedgehog back to his roots, I understand that's a phrase with a lot of power, and I don't wield it lightly. Feel free to hold me to it, though: Sonic Mania really does feel like it'd fit right in with the games released during Sonic's Genesis heyday.
I played Sonic Mania for the Nintendo Switch using one of the Joy-Cons (held sideways like an NES controller). I zipped through two level: Green Hill Zone and the all-new Studiopololis Zone. Playing both reminded me of Sonic in his youth, when his games were as much about exploration as they were about careening through loop-de-loops. I didn't take the time to dart down every serpentine tunnel and explore every hidden area, but when I did slip off the trodden path, I was rewarded with power-ups and rings.
I wasn't punished for reckless running, either. I didn't spill onto spikes, and if I ran into a sideways springboard, it put me on another path instead of hurtling me backwards or into a trap. It didn't take me long to get over the speed paranoia modern Sonic games have instilled in me, and soon I was tearing up the scenery.
And by "tearing up the scenery," I mean I was literally wrecking the joint. Studiopolis Zone is filled with screens and windows that are begging to be shattered by your sonic booms. Do it, Sonic. It's what you were born for. Also, breaking stuff in Sonic Mania is wicked-fun.
There are innumerable independent games inspired by Sonic's best years, and some, like Freedom Planet and the upcoming Freedom Planet 2, started life as Sonic fan games. While those spin-offs are great, it's very nice to see Sonic-inspired pixel art and clever level design come back to an actual Sonic game.
Get ready to roll around at the speed of sound sometime this spring. Sonic Mania is on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 as well as the Switch.