"#Sonic Mania" is shaping up to be the return to greatness that this series desperately needed. After a slew of titles that range from mediocre to just downright awful, "Mania" embraces the classic titles that gave Mario a run for his money back in the nineties. Note: this preview is based on the Xbox One port.

Knuckleheads

Available at the Sega booth were two levels: a reimagining of Green Hill Zone from the first game and a Wild West themed zone called Mirage Saloon. Also featured were three playable characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Miles "Tails" Prower, and Knuckles the Echidna.

For the sake of this preview, I played Green Hill Zone with the blue blur and the Mirage Saloon level with Knuckles.

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The characters control just as well as they did back in 1995. Sonic can run fast and spindash with the best of them, while Knuckles can still glide and climb walls. This old hog has also learned some new tricks. With the right timing, Sonic can perform a special dash move upon landing.

The level design is very reminiscent of "#Sonic Cd" with obstacles that punish neglectful players while rewarding those who pay attention. The levels also have many different forks in the road and alternate paths which will definitely encourage multiple playthroughs and speedrunners.

Speed bumps

However, for all the praise I have for the level design, I also have some minor gripes. One problem that the original game's levels had were hazards that had a tendency to pop up without adequate warning. It's not as prevalent here, but It can be very frustrating to be speeding on cloud nine only to be bombarded by a spring or enemy that seems to come right out of the blue (no pun intended.) But these are hardly deal breakers for veteran "Sonic" fans.

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Genesis does

Headcannon Studios did a fantastic job on capturing the look and feel of the Genesis games while making some more modern touches such as a widescreen aspect ratio and a rock solid framerate. Quite simply, "Mania's" presentation is a feast for the eyes and ears.

The characters and environments are colorful and playful, and Lee Trope's soundtrack evokes "Sonic CD" in all the best ways. If someone had told me that this was the follow up to "Sonic & Knuckles," I'd believe them. It's very much the spiritual successor that "Sonic 4" attempted but failed to deliver.

Release date

"Mania" is scheduled for a worldwide release on August 15, 2017, for PlayStation 4, the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC.