23 years later, it's finally here - a proper new 2D Sonic.
I think we've all got some idea of the story by now - an Aussie coder by the name of Christian Whitehead started out messing around trying to recreate Sonic 3, then Sonic CD, then got picked up by Sega to actually do it (the PS3 and iOS versions), and now with some other known Sonic game modders Sega have put out a new Sonic game. Well, it's not all new, strictly speaking; half of the zones are 'classic' ones where the first half is a sort of greatest hits of that zone plus others similar. Green Hill Zone steps out into Emerald and Mushroom Hill Zones, for example. Then for Act 2 they build further and include those one-shot gimmicks that give levels individual character and help make Sonic what it is.
On topic of what makes Sonic Sonic, the way he handles feels very much like the classic games. Sonic still pushes off gradually from a standing start, he still has that slightly momentous in-air handling, and most importantly the way he interacts with slopes is kept intact. Sonic is best when it's bursty speed followed by the game asking for precision and then doling out rewards (and level position) based on how you keep him under control. It's not uncommon to see three branching paths from a high speed jump, or to be catapulted vertically past a ring box which you totally could have reached if you'd taken it a little slower or positioned yourself a little better. There are still sudden deaths, but they're not as common as you think; the big killer for me has been being crushed, as the collision detection is still very much on the Mega Drive version's side of exacting. Special mention to the blocks in Chemical Plant Zone which remain a pixel too narrow for Sonic to fit standing; got me once there.
In terms of special stages, you have two: first there's Blue Sphere available from checkpoints, which provide medals that unlock stuff ingame (the first one I got gave me Sonic CD's standing start). These play the same as on Megadrive but twice as smooth. The second are kind of like the Mega CD version's UFO chase but this time you only chase one UFO and it's all polygons! Fun but they don't allow much room for error as you're against the clock.
Talk of polygons brings me onto the game's look overall. At first glance it looks like it could be done on Saturn but I think it's a bit too much for it; there are a few too many polygons on the backgrounds, Sonic has a little too much animation, there are a few too many rings flying around when you get hit and the special stages are just a little too detailed to work on the Saturn at 60. The DC could do all of that easily though, and everything has this solid look to it that you'd expect from the Dreamcast. Performance-wise, apart from a few dropped frames manifesting as slowdown in the special stages on Switch, it runs fine. The game runs in a proper internal 240p resolution so although there's plenty of sprite rotation it doesn't suffer from the "pixels of different sizes" effect you get in a lot of neo-retro games. Further testament to the care and attention given to the game by Taxman and his cohort.
Moving on to the audio, the sound effects are correct! Music is handled by an enthusiast remixer and the sound he's gone for feels to me like what an arranged version of a Sonic game would sound like (or a Saturn version) in the mid-90s; all bright synths mixed in with original tracks and the odd bit of sampled guitar. It fits in perfectly; no Jun Senoue and his shit slap bass fetish or that guy from Orgy here.
I'm just a few zones in but this is basically what I've been waiting for. The last Sonic game I got any enjoyment from was Sonic Adventure (and that could easily be put down to the old "defend your purchase" mindset) and nothing since has really hit for me - not Colours, and not Generations, though Rush came close (probably because of the soundtrack). This does though.