Fandom's a funny thing, isn't it? When a new SegaWorld opened up on the slightly tatty seafront at the foot of Brighton's Madeira Drive a good few years back, I was at the peak of my obsession with the company who'd brought blue sky joy to so many. And so I decided to head down to the opening in the Sega T-shirt I'd made myself to show my support, and at least one person appreciated the effort; someone in a slightly tatty Sonic the Hedgehog costume, who gave me a big, bright blue lollipop that had been reserved for winners of the colouring-in competition they were running that day. I was 21. I still have that lollipop, and I'm still proud of what I did.
There was a Sonic the Hedgehog game that came out a short while ago, you might have noticed. It was also a mighty fine Sonic the Hedgehog game, too, restoring a little swagger and glory to the series thanks to the efforts of Christian Whitehead and his team with the outstanding Sonic Mania.
Why are Sonic's eyes green in Sonic Adventure, the franchise's first serious crack at a fully 3D polygonal platformer? It turns out there's a lovely little story behind that. Ristar creator Yuji Uekawa was the man tasked with revamping Sega's mascot for his debut on Dreamcast. Some of his decisions were practical: shrinking Sonic's enormous, swept-back skull and elongating his limbs, for instance, so that he doesn't look like a fuzzy joystick when viewed from the rear. Others were a touch more poetic. "He is always seeing these green pastures around him, like in Green Hill Zone," Uekawa explains in an interview conducted for Sega's 25th anniversary artbook. "I thought it would be nice to reflect that in his eyes."
To my surprise and delight, one of 2017's very best video games is made by none other than Sonic Team. Yup, that Sonic Team - the developer formerly known as Sega AM8, the one behind behind Sega's iconic mascot and the very same studio that's been by the hedgehog's side through the good times and the bad.
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.
Digital Foundry writing about a Sonic game? That's right - with the announcement of Sonic Mania this past weekend, we really wanted to take a look at it. On the surface, Sonic Mania looks like another attempt at bringing Sonic back to his 2D roots but this project has a secret weapon that stand to make a big difference. It's one thing to adopt the same perspective of the Mega Drive classics, as we've seen in Sonic the Hedgehog 4, but it's another thing entirely to capture the gameplay, style, and attitude of classic Sonic. That's the key to a successful Sonic revival and all the signs suggest that this is what Sonic Mania is set to deliver.
The new title is a collaboration between Sega, Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, and PagodaWest games. If you aren't familiar with these names, we wouldn't blame you, but they tie back into the re-emergence of classic Sonic games on multiple platforms, including Sonic CD and the first two 16-bit adventures. It's not the fact that these ports exist that makes them so important in this situation, rather, it's the way in which they were achieved.
It all stems from Christian's long history with the series that is rooted in an almost decade-old fan game he created known as Retro-Sonic. Often known by his handle The Taxman, Christian started off working in Multimedia Fusion before writing and re-writing new code designed to closely simulate Sonic the Hedgehog. This experience ultimately led to a proper, self-developed toolset which helped him study and recreate the original Sonic CD using a brand new custom designed engine dubbed the Retro Engine.