As many of you are no doubt aware, SEGA made two major announcements during its Sonic anniversary bash that gave a lot of insight into the near future of the Blue Blur. Sonic Mania appears – for all intents and purposes – to be the sequel to Sonic & Knuckles that many have been asking SEGA to make for years, which also 'remixes' stages and areas from other 16-bit era entries. Additionally, there's a new 3D Sonic - confirmed for NX - that appears to be following in the footsteps of Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, two of the most well-received 3D games in recent times. It's telling that SEGA has apparently chosen to go with a very back-to-basics approach to the new Sonic games, and it makes sense in many ways.
Ever since his glory days in the Genesis era, Sonic has been consistently bouncing between peaks and valleys. The constant experimentation with the 3D games has shown that the developers have struggled to find that magic formula to transition the 2D action to an additional plane, which has understandably led to mixed results. Some ideas have been better than others, but you know that something isn't right when the company delists certain games for fear of damaging the brand. Sonic Colors and Generations seemed to be steps in the right direction, but then the company backtracked a bit with the arguably middling Sonic Lost World and, well, that other Wii U game.
As for the 2D games, they seem to have fared better than their 3D equivalents, yet haven't quite hit the heights of their predecessors. Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush managed to provide speedy platforming experiences that did an excellent job of modernizing elements of the old games, but they also inevitably absorbed some of the more divisive elements of the 3D games. The physics were changed, new gameplay elements like boost gauges and powerups were added, and they became less focused on what made the originals so popular.
Especially in light of the most recent Sonic games, it seems that SEGA finally got the idea to go back to try and recreate some of the past successes. The original Sonic games are seldom listed as the worst games in the series, and for good reason, so Sonic Mania (produced in in collaboration with 'indies') directly mimics the classic 2D gameplay style; sadly that title isn't currently pegged for any Nintendo systems. Sonic Colors and Generations were two of the most well-received 3D Sonic games, and SEGA was keen to emphasize that it's the same Sonic Team that produced those titles working on the new 'Project Sonic' entry.
Initially, it comes off as a desperate attempt to put Sonic back in the limelight, but it really makes sense once one thinks about what SEGA's trying to attempt. The games that inspired these upcoming Sonic games represented peaks for the series; so if they aren't broken, why fix them? If the 2D games are constantly being compared to the original games, why not make a game that just focuses on that style of gameplay? If Colors and Generations were better received than many of the 3D games that came before and after them, why not try to improve on what they started? Sonic Team already has the beginnings of a winning formula for the 'hog, they just need to focus on refining it.
Of course, that's not to say that blatantly relying on nostalgia is the sole way forward. Inevitably, this could lead to stagnation, but SEGA doesn't necessarily need to reinvent the wheel each time. Look at how Nintendo has carefully evolved Mario over the years. Incremental changes were instituted over time that gradually changed the way the games were played, but the spirit of them was never lost. Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario 64 are quite different games in terms of style, but they both stem from the same platforming foundation. If Sonic Team can stick with a gameplay style they feel has potential, it can be shaped and tempered over multiple subsequent releases.
It'll be interesting to see how these new Sonic projects end up being received. At the risk of falling into the infamous "Sonic Cycle" it seems that Sonic Team finally understands what fans want, and is actively working to deliver on that. Only time will tell if this works out for them in the end, but if nothing else, at least Sonic's future looks a little less depressing than it did before the new games were announced.