Sometimes I worry I've read so many video game press releases I've started to talk like them. A few years ago, for example, I remember saying to my husband, "I think we should leverage the success of our existing legacy brand to extend the franchise in an exciting new direction." It was only when he saw I was wearing a new nightie he realised I wanted another baby.
Similarly, I had three kids round for a playdate the other day. I put their leftover penne into a dish, chucked on some grated cheese, bunged it under the grill, and served it up to my husband as Reimagined Pasta Bake. ("What's this?" he said. "I'm afraid we won't be sharing any additional information at this time," I replied.)
The word "reimagined" has been bandied about a lot in relation to Sonic Mania. Due out next spring, this is Sega's latest attempt to remind us all how much we love that little blue hedgehog, and forget the last 25 years ever happened. It will see the series return to its 2D roots, again, having already popped back for a cup of tea with 2010's Sonic the Hedgehog 4.
(Look, about that review. Yes, 9/10 was a bit of a stretch. I apologise to anyone who wasted 1200 Microsoft Points at my suggestion, especially as that's worth about Ł300 today what with Brexit. Sometimes, even the most cynical of us can find ourselves blinded by nostalgia. It's a bit like when you bump into an ex-boyfriend after a few lagers, and it's all very jolly and affectionate, and it's not until later on when he's trying to put his hand up your jumper at a bus stop you remember how his chosen reading material for that romantic mini-break was FHM's 100 Sexiest Ladies of 1999, and all the times he wouldn't speak to you for three full hours if Arsenal lost. I imagine.)
The good news is that this new effort actually looks alright. That's according to Digital Foundry, and they should know, what with all that slaving they do over their virtual anvils, endlessly hammering video games into horseshoes of truth. Sonic Mania seems to be attempting to recreate not just the look but the feel of the old games; to capture all those tiny details and use them as building blocks for something satisfyingly new, but comfortingly familiar.
Which is all the rage these days, as you'll know if you've seen that Stranger Things. For those who haven't, it's a Netflix sci-fi series set in 1980s Indiana. It's an homage to the works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter. This is obvious in every detail, from the themes of childhood friendship and psychic powers to the spooky synth soundtrack and the title font. The show even stars eighties icons Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder, plus Gnasher from The Beano as Winona Ryder's hair.
It's masterfully done. The retro stylings and superb acting (by the kids - Ryder's performance is hammier than a pig's arse) combine to create a polished, entertaining, and moreish offering. I'd recommend it to anyone who fancies being transported back a few decades, to when all we had to worry about was an elitist Tory government systematically eradicating workers' rights in the face of little or no opposition from a Labour party too busy tearing itself apart. Good times.
Having said that, I am also disappointed in Stranger Things. I wish it had some new ideas, or would explore the old ones in different ways. Up close, it's like a mosaic comprised of a thousand cool old things. The effect is impressive, but when you step back, there is no bigger picture - just the words, "Hey guys, remember the eighties?!!", and a photo of some Opal Fruits.
I was once talking to a comedian about how he gets his ideas for jokes, and they explained it's like beachcombing - you go out on the sand and start sifting through. Sometimes you find jokes that are beautifully, perfectly formed, like shells. Sometimes you find the tip of something, and you have to dig and scrape away until you work out what the joke is. And sometimes you find bugger all. But the point is to go out every day, and keep digging, because there's always more to find.
I like the idea of Joke Beach, especially on the days when I'm scrabbling around for funny things myself, and can only find bits of blue rope and an old jazz mag. It makes me wonder if there's a Video Game Beach. I can't help imagining it as a bit of a bleak place, though. There's EA, digging that FIFA hole so deep they're set to hit Australia any day now. Sony is finally pulling The Last Guardian out of the sand with a JCB, while Microsoft chucks more Kinects on the bonfire. But every so often, of course, someone comes along and digs up a Pac-Man, or a Tomb Raider, or a Minecraft.
The worry is that these discoveries seem to get fewer and further between as the years go by, and the same holes are dug over again and again. Meanwhile, the old treasures get polished up so often the original sheen is rubbed away, and we forget why they were precious in the first place.
Which brings us back, 17 metaphors later, to Sonic Mania. The team working on this latest reboot faces a tough challenge. How do you capture the spirit of the old games without just copying them? How do you present new ideas while still pushing all those nostalgic buttons? How do you make a Sonic game that isn't ****?
I have no idea, which is why I type rubbish on the internet for a living instead of making games. But I wish them all the best with it, and I like the look of what I've seen so far. Probably a 9/10, I reckon.