Ordinarily we'd argue that a Grade A videogame icon like Sonic the Hedgehog should be above such a thing as a 'reinvention' - or however you want to term the practise of saying, "forget about the last few entries in this franchise, they were rubbish." But the on-rails tedium of the likes of Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic Riders on the old flavour Xbox suggest that perhaps, in his 15th year, the nippy bush-sniffer may just be in need of a quick wash-'n'-brush-up.
When we heard Sonic Team sounding off about bringing Sonic back to basics - and especially emphasising the feeling of speed that they're hoping to squeeze out of 360 - we were reassured and excited in equal measures. With a large scrum of desperate videogame journos crowding in on the joypad, all wanting to have their negative expectations confounded, it wasn't easy to get extensive hands-on time when we visited Sega's London offices this month. But we did, and our moment as the next gen hedgehog was quite a sensation. They promised an entirely new feeling of speed, and it didn't disappoint - now Sonic can even race along walls intuitively, and you're always in control. Too often Sonic games of late have only given the impression of speed by adding control-free animated sections, but on the 360 you really do feel you're the fastest thing on two legs. That's one worry tentatively laid to rest.
There are a couple of potential problems, though. One is the uncomfortable silence that greeted the full details of the plot. We've got used to human beings forcing their way into Morbius, but... a Princess? WHO GETS KIDNAPPED BY ROBOTNIK? On the unoriginality meter, that one's right at the top, just above wiping your arse after you've had a big dump. There's no excuse for it, frankly.
And number two, if we thought that the 'back to basics' ethos would save us from another plague of uncharismatic new characters, then we've been fools. You get Tails and co of course, but the game's action will mainly be divided between Sonic and (cough) 'hedgehog of the future' Silver, who can juggle around with scenery, Psi-Ops-style. This does open up some interesting possibilities, but he does seem a charmless nerk.
We love the noises Sonic Team are making - "something to make the 15th anniversary title special... we don't want the fans to feel this isn't as good a game as the original Sonic..." - but this isn't so much a full scale reinvention as a continuation of the muddy waters of forgettable new characters and reality based plotting. Instead of what we really want from Sonic: fun.
A mixed bag at this stage, it has to be said. There's some genuinely pleasing moments dotted throughout next gen Sonic and it looks lovely, but our sincere hopes of a return to form keep getting dashed by new innovations that miss the point of the original Sonic this is supposed to be commemorating - even more characterless new faces and some diabolical plotting. We're not writing it off just yet, though, and are shoring up our hopes with rumours of kick-ass multiplayer. Don't let us down, ol' blue.