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Sonic Mania: Balancing the professional and fanatical

Having been released just over a week ago on all major platforms, the love for 16-bit Sonic The Hedgehog games is once again sweeping audiences thanks to the inherent brilliance of Sonic Mania’s ability to balance faithfulness and innovation. “It’s what Sonic the Hedgehog 4 should have been”, and other such claims continue to echo throughout the game’s many rounds of praise. But what’s just as impressive as the game itself, is Sega’s ability to trust the fans, so much so that the 90s platforming throwback has raced to the top of digital charts.

Sonic from Sonic The Hedgehog games

For those who don’t know, the utterly brilliant Sonic Mania wasn’t actually developed in-house by Sega’s Sonic Team development studio, but rather a makeshift set-up of self-confessed fans. Headed up by independent programmer Christian Whitehead – the guy responsible for most of Sonic The Hedgehog’s mobile ports, Mania is largely the brainchild of Headcannon and PagodaWest Games, two teams that know a thing or two about platformers, nostalgia, and how to best combine the two.

It’s so delightful to see Sonic Mania succeed to such a degree (the game has shot to #1 in the UK game charts) because the people behind the love letter game are essentially us. However, it is worth mentioning that Sega should also be commended, for their willingness and bravery to let external teams handle such a beloved and previously tainted licence. Fans had been devoid of a classic sonic side-scrolling experience such as this since 1995, so the recent outpouring of love should come as no surprise.

In today’s modern gaming climate, it’s easy to paint the fandom for video game characters and IPs in a bad or dare I say regressive light, often acquiring the blame for such instances as EA’s Mass Effect 3 ending debacle. Sonic Mania shines as an example of what happens when the meeting of both professional and fanatical minds come together with just the right amount of influence, channelling this unabashed passion for a licence into something not just creative, but an experience that everyone can enjoy.

If you’ve yet to pick up Sonic Mania yet, I’d highly recommend it. Not only is it yet another example here in 2017 that nostalgia-driven franchises have a place amongst the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn or Breath of the Wild, but it also serves to prove that if handled correctly, fans of video games can positively add to them, and maybe prove to the industry suits that this is a risk worth taking.

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