Sonic Mania – the lost Saturn launch title?
We are celebrating 25 years since the Saturn was released on an unexpecting Japanese audience. Sega did not have a Sonic game ready for launch and we would never see a proper Sonic title on the Saturn. The lack of Sonic on the Saturn is one reason for its failure but the release of Sonic Mania in 2017 gave us a taste of what could have been. It feels like the game that should have been released back in 1995.
The Saturn would eventually be overshadowed by the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation’s own mascots. Super Mario 64 wowed audiences and Crash Bandicoot stole Sonic’s crown as the cool dude with attitude. We can ponder on the what if had Sonic appeared on the Saturn but one thing is clear. Mania has dragged Sonic back to his best and Retro Faith discusses why we need a sequel to Sonic’s retro outing.
Anytime there is a new announcement about our Blue Blur we all take a collective deep breath. The recent Sonic movie debacle is a classic example of a fan base tearing itself apart, shaking fists at Sega and accepting the inevitability that it will probably be rubbish. There is no disguising that Sonic has had a rough ride the last 15 years or so. Afterall, there has only been a handful of decent games released since 2001’s Sonic Adventure 2.
Colours, Generations and Rush are series highlights that helped Sonic limp along. But critics and fans were losing their patience with Sega’s treatment of its most important franchise. Releases such as Boom, Lost Worlds and Sonic 4 Part II put the series at an all time low. Boom especially had driven Sonic to new depths with poor, broken gameplay. By 2014 we were ready to give up, only Racing Transformed kept us going.
Moving into 2015 the future looked bleak for the World’s fastest hedgehog. Sega were running the risk of alienating a diehard fan base and looked for inspiration. In the background to the onslaught of awful titles Christian Whitehead was commissioned to remake several older titles for modern devices. The original Sonic, Sonic 2 and Sonic CD remakes were well received and Sega decided Whitehead’s Retro Engine would be used to create a new game.
Development began later in 2015 and the new game announced at San Diego Comic Con 2016. An event celebrating 25 years of Sonic seemed the perfect occasion to lift the dark cloud hanging over the series. We were blown away by the trailer for Sonic Mania. Critics and fans alike were suddenly rumbled into excitement. It would be the first proper 2D Sonic game since 2004’s Advance 3 and it looked amazing.
For the next year we hung on every snippet of info and teaser video that trickled through. Finally, in August 2017, Sonic Mania released to universal acclaim. The critics loved it, the fans celebrated, it felt like 1994 all over again. Sega’s decision to relinquish control to a third party developer had paid off. The fans had what they had been screaming out for. A proper 2D Sonic title that took all the best bits from the Mega Drive classics and ramped it up for the modern era.
Everything about Mania works so well. The graphics are lush and vibrant, characters are animated beautifully, the music sounds like it is blasting from a 90’s console. Your nostalgia gland is yanked while being pumped full of new memories. You are thrown back to the mid 90’s while being greeted with fresh ideas for today. We had our Sonic back, no more gimmicky broken gameplay or horrific character design. For the first time, in a long time, Sega fans around the world could be proud.
When we got our hands on Mania in the Retro Faith office the first remark we made was how it feels like it is 20 years too late. When you play through Mania you cannot help feel this should have been a launch title for the Saturn. Imagine back in 1994 if Mania was previewed in CVG or Gamesmaster magazine. For a moment, forget all the Sonic games after Sonic & Knuckles and put Mania next in the series. It would have been perfect.
The game would probably have been a little different, maybe lacking the remade classic levels. It may not have been quite as big but could have included the Encore mode and all the special and bonus stages. The mix of mostly sprites with a splattering of polygons would have worked well on the Saturn hardware. Critics may have bemoaned the series not moving into 3D but the fans would have been happy. And we know it would have sold well as Sonic was a dominant force in the industry at the time.
But we cannot rewrite history though and we must be satisfied that we finally have the sequel we always wanted. It was right for Sega to bring Sonic into the 3D age with Adventure but just look at how successful 2D Mario games have been over the last 20 years. It is frustrating that Sega have not adapted Sonic to exist in two worlds like Mario has all this time. Better late than never though and Sega seem to be figuring out how to finally handle their hot property.
What we now need is a commitment from Sega to allow Whitehead and his team go again with the Retro Engine. The critical acclaim and commercial success of Mania has shown that this type of Sonic game works in today’s industry and will get fans back on side. Sega has never been in such a good position since the Dreamcast days and now is the time to start setting standards for their main franchises.