Pre-E3 2006: Sonic The Hedgehog Fast, intense, and spunky, Sonic hits the next-gen running. May 4, 2006 - At SEGA's pre-E3 event in late April, IGN grabbed its first look at the newest version of Sonic the Hedgehog. It was a good thing too, since Sonic is a tough nut to crack and an easy one to break -- especially following his re-emergence from the rather somber Saturn days to the initially exciting Dreamcast Sonic Adventures revitalization and the mind-numbingly odd Shadow the Hedgehog (a dark version of Sonic with guns). Think about it for a second, after his stunning debut as a 2D furry mascot with an attitude in the Genesis days, Sonic has wavered to and fro in the 3D landscape, an environment that's not his natural habitat, per se. That's why, when we watched the first live, in-game footage of the new Sonic, we knew that SEGA was listening to its critics. According to SEGA, the key to re-introducing Sonic on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is focusing on the impact of his speed and sense of control from the early Genesis days (and the wild aerial jumps introduced in Sonic Adventures). In its 15-year anniversary, SEGA's new Sonic is one in which crisp high-res visuals, 60 frame-per-second gameplay, and an evolution of the hedgehog's general form. Sonic is no longer the stubby, kid-like bullet with blue spiky fur. While retaining his general appearance -- smirky smile, giant blue head spikes, and classic white and red outfit, replete with white gloves -- SEGA has grown Sonic into an adult by means of a few simple techniques. The team has basically stretched his legs and arms to relatively human proportions. Thus, Sonic still looks just like always did but now he's about 5'10". In fact, all of the characters we saw, Dr. Robotnik (Eggman) and Sonic's new nemesis, a white hedgehog, retained relatively human-sized heights. The effect is a little alarming at first. Sonic looks like a skinny dude in a mascot suit now, or at least when he's standing still. Once he starts running, it's all different. Even so, you'll need to take second and third glance to get accustomed to his new look. The hedgehog's new game follows a simple narrative premise. In a pristine kingdom holding a royal family, a certain Princess Elise retains a chaos emerald... and a deep secret. In an inevitable turn of events, Dr. Robotnik learns of the emerald and kidnaps the princess and thus the emerald. Sonic is compelled to retrieve her and the precious stone, of course, but the new rival, basically a cream-colored furry that looks remarkably like Sonic, appears in a following cutscene. Looking down from a towering hill into a village, the mystery animal proclaims, "I've finally found it, the Iblis Trigger." The Iblis Trigger, we're told, is Sonic and this new rival is going to cause him great pain due to vaguely revealed supernatural powers. You'll also be able to play as the new character as a twist. It's all a little cryptic at this point, honestly, but Sonic,no doubt, has to rescue the princess, fight this new punk hedgehog, defeat Eggman (like always), and set the record straight on who the bad-assiest hedgehog in town really is. We all know it, but in a world of superhero hedgehogs and all-powerful emeralds and techno-savvy fat men, well, things just work a little bit differently. You just have to go with the flow. Sonic's new game is split into two types of gameplay: action and town stages. The action stages are gorgeously laid out sections of creative track, 3D aerial sections, loops, jumps, racing sections, and platforms floating in space, in which Sonic must ping-pong through, race as fast as possible, and defeat simplistic enemy AI to reach a final goal ring. If you've played any of Sonic games at all, you'll notice the camera is closer and lower to the ground, helping to create a better sense of speed. The paths feature split sections, meaning that you can pick entirely unique branches, each with their own surprises. Luckily our hero appears to move with quick arcade-like controls and simple mechanics. He can walk and run freely, burst into a sprint, slide-stop, spin-attack enemies in air, and perform switch-stance skateboarding-like slides along invisible aerial paths. He can run onto walls Shinobi-style, grab onto nearby eagles for transportation, and quickly alternate from one action to another without a hitch. The action stages are a mix of familiar Sonic Adventure-style 3D platforms, mixed with new designs, aerial maneuverings, and Sonic moves, and they all take place while running at full speed. You'll still find speed bumpers, zip sections, breaking boxes, rings to collect, double air jumps, and danger zones. The other type of stage is the town stage, which SEGA hid from us so we would come by its booth at E3. Sneaky! The town stages are apparently open and free-roaming too, giving Sonic the ability to mingle with other characters and explore and do things that heroic blue hedgehogs normally do (I wonder if there are chili dog vendors in this new town..?). This all leads us to E3. Sonic the Hedgehog (temporary name) looks fast, colorful, and like good arcade-style fun. We're hoping the town stages make an excellent complement to the action levels. We'll soon find out!