You can imagine the scene. A high-powered SEGA meeting, somewhere in a Tokyo high-rise. The brass is gathered, and PR and marketing representatives for each territory shuffle notes and try not to look each other in the eye. They're here for the internal announcement of a new Sonic title. Hopes are not particularly high.
Once a time for joy, celebration and the printing of money, recent years have seen the shadow of Sonic, and indeed the shadow of Shadow, cast long and dark across the minds and memories of SEGA fans worldwide. 3D has been the slow and painful poison which has laid low one of gaming's greats, relegating him to a supporting role in the games of his greatest rival. He has, rather sadly, become something of a joke.
So the presentation begins. The lights dim. The SEGA chorus rings out across the boardroom. And then something wonderful happens. Blue. So blue. 2D. Wonderful, crisp, high-definition, two-dimensional. No swords. No WereHog. No creepy supporting cast. Just Sonic, looking better than he ever has - amongst beautifully rendered green slopes, checkerboard hills and sky the colour of happiness.
A gradual rumble builds, becoming a cheer. Sonic is back.
Of course, it probably wasn't like that, and some of those experiments we dissed earlier have been quite successful. But Sonic 4 looks to be exactly what people have been asking for - a back-to-basics, pure platformer about speed, excitement and finding the perfect path.
The stages we see played, from the opening Splash Hill Zone, are classic Sonic, borrowing heavily from the Green Hills of the original. Each is a multi-level start to finish race, with different routes offering different levels of efficiency and toughness. We're told that generally taking the high road is the fastest, most dangerous option, ably demonstrated by the various finish times achieved by our SEGA demonstrator. Most levels will feature three or more basic layers, with multiple opportunities to switch track, either by accident or design according to your skills.
The Sonic hallmarks are fiercely evident in the opening stages - there are plenty of loops, bumpers, boosters and spikes, as well as the odd corkscrew section. Later, during Splash Hill Zones two and three, new mechanics are introduced through vines and zip-lines. Vines break the pace a little, forcing Sonic to swing back and forth to gain a little momentum, while zip lines are fast and direct, winging the blue blur across level sections in a straight line.
Both of these can be targeted with the new air dash move, which helpfully highlights its current target with a bold flashing reticule. These targets can also be enemies or bumpers, allowing Sonic to maintain momentum without sacrificing accuracy - vital for efficiently traversing large sections of levels.