Sonic Mania review: Blue blur looking sharper than ever
Sonic Mania (PS4/XO/Sw/PC) ★★★★★ Age: 3+
Beloved Sega mascot Sonic has somehow survived 25 years of mistreatment at the hands of his owners. Mania restores the blue blur to his sharpest form by ignoring the decades of rehashing and accretions that acted as a drag on his signature speed.
It took a small team of Sonic fanatics outside Sega to realise this new vision, remixing and rebuilding the 1991 MegaDrive original. It's something more than a homage and less than a complete original, but it feels totally authentic and true to the Sonic spirit of breakneck 2D platforming.
Two-thirds of the content revisits familiar locations such as Green Hill Zone - albeit subtly updated and improved. The remainder introduces new (and even better) levels that make you wonder why the creators didn't go for broke with a completely new game.
All of this comes with a caveat. For all the glory of its colourful 16-bit art and inventive design, Sonic Mania remains an acquired taste. Frustratingly difficult because your blinding speed means you can't see what's coming, SM requires oceans of patience.
Nostalgia takes it only so far. You have to be a little bit of a masochist to enjoy this retro revival.
Madden NFL 18
(XO/PS4) ★★★★ Age: 3+
Meet the new Madden, same as the old Madden - almost. The annual grind of updates produces the usual tweaks and polishes for the venerable (and undeniable) NFL king - but the 2018 version is notable to most gamers only for its clone of FIFA's story mode.
This failure-to-fame yarn known as Longshot is a tad hokey and you spend more time watching cut-scenes than playing ball to affect the narrative. But it features strong central performances - including Dan Marino, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, and Mahershala Ali, from House of Cards - and could develop into a strong pillar next year.
Otherwise, it's practically as you were for Madden 17, bar a trio of new skill levels (arcade, simulation and competitive) and welcome new multiplayer options inside the Madden Ultimate Team mode.
The Escapists 2
(PS4/XO/PC) ★★★ Age: 16+
Recreating the tedium of prison life is either fantastically clever or really stupid. The jury's still out for me after several hours of Escapists 2, which challenges the player to slip out unnoticed from a series of jails.
Mostly, this involves observing the guards' routines and stealing tools and weapons, all the while hatching your elaborate plan. Unfortunately, it also means conforming to the daily prison grind of roll call, meals and menial jobs.
This sequel introduces bigger prisons, a wider range of crafting and multiplayer. But it feels just as constricting as the original in terms of the joyless realism of jail life.