Do you remember that song? That was the song which started every Sonic The Hedgehog game, back on the Mega Drive wasn't it? Remember that? Do you? Do you remember it? Do you recall it - with your mind?
"Rollin', rollin', rollin'... Sonic da Hedgehog is rollin'... rollin' into a ball in the shower and sob-sob-sob-sob-sobbin'... Fartin' and sobbing'! Yeah yeah yeah! He's a big, blue, flatulent baby! Fart fart fart! And now he's got the runs - yeah!"
It was the best song ever written, back from the days when Sonic was a contender. You know: before he became the gaming equivalent of a try-hard middle aged man attempting to hang onto his fading youth. Your dyed hair isn't fooling anyone, Sonic. That blue doesn't look natural. There's something about the way the light catches it. Also, stop trying to learn the electric guitar, because you never got to be in a band when you were at college. It's just desperate.
You can't really blame Sega for taking the Sonic franchise in the direction they did. I mean, at the time all the old 2D franchises were becoming 3D. How many of those worked though? Pretty much only Mario and Zelda, because... Nintendo.
3D essentially throttled Earthworm Jim, Lemmings, Toejam and Earl, and Ecco The Dolphin to death (and if you've ever tries to strangle a worm or a dolphin you'll know that's no easy task). It's fair to say, it would've killed Sonic too had there not been so much residual goodwill built up across his Mega Drive games.
What it is entirely fair to resent Sega for is sticking to its guns, and failing to learn the lesson - despite countless godawful 3D Sonic games - that the character simply didn't work when it wasn't a side-on platform game.
For reasons I've never understood, the two Sonic Adventures games are generally liked, despite being terrible and weird, but since then only Rod "The Sod" Iddyotte would argue that any of Sonic's games have been a top tier experience.
In recent years, there have been signs that Sega - in the form it exists today - at last understands Sonic's place in the gaming landscape. A self-depreciating Twitter account was the first step... and now Sonic Mania; a brand new 2D Sonic game which honours the franchise's origins, without simply filling its pockets with segs. If Sonic is middle-aged in gaming terms, then he's finally decided to rub up against that, and, by crikey, he suddenly seems so much more dignified for it.
Part remix, part entirely new, Sonic Mania reminds us why Sonic has been so impossible to get right in 3D: he was conceived as a 2D character, and here - in his natural environment - he excels. Whereas Mario is essentially a blank canvas, open to reinvention, putting Sonic in a 3D world worked about as well as, I dunno, James Bond in Balamory.
Everything is stripped back to basics - no dialogue or convoluted story, no uncomfortable cut-scenes where Sonic slides his bristly tongue inside a human princess's mouth, no desperate attempts to make the character edgy and relevant.
LOVE THAT STUFF
All of the stuff people loved from those early games are here - simultaneous two-player mode with Tails, the bonus stages (including a brand new retro-3D UFO chase), and sprites; gorgeous, old school, sprites. There are elements drawn from across all of Sonic's Mega Drive titles, along with a ton of Easter eggs and additional modes.
It's a fast, frenetic, platform game which at points feels like a remix of the original Sonic The Hedgehog, and at other points feels like a sequel that we never got. Refusing to bow to platform game convention, when it comes to brand new ideas, instead of the usual generic platform stages we get areas like Press Garden - a mix of printing press and neo-classical greenhouse.
Yes, there are points where it's maddeningly frustrating, Sonic's speed sometimes feeling as much a hindrance as a bonus, and enemies seemingly appearing out of nowhere. But it was always thus with Sonic, and is - frankly - what always set the series apart from its peers.
However, while what's new is great... I could've done without it being quite so slavishly devoted to Sonic's heritage. Though the stages which reprise those seen in earlier games have been given a twist or two, there's no question that they pale next to the new levels. Concepts which were a bad idea the first time round appear here basically untouched, and the only points I got bored were when I was playing through all-too-familiar areas.
That's an issue given that there has been no shortage of ways to play the original Sonic, Sonic 2, Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic CD in recent years. Consequently, it feels less like a full-blown sequel, and more like a remastered greatest hits album, with re-recorded songs and bonus tracks.
And that's a shame, because - really - given that this is more or less the Sonic game I've been asking for, and that this is very much a love letter to Sonic's fans. reprising so much of the past, rather than give us a full sequel, does let down the overall experience.
That said, it's a minor quibble really; the new stuff is SO good, so packed with invention and reinvention, and there's never a dull moment in any of the brand new stages - and the numerous boss sections occasionally border on genius.
You can taste the authenticity, and the only thing which suggests this wasn't originally released in, say, 1997 is the heady waft of the nostalgic callbacks to Sega's history.
Ultimately, I'm left wanting more of the same, and that's probably a good thing.