Sonic Colours boasts an idea so joyously liberating we had to eject the disc to check it was a Sonic game. A new powerup - one of eight form-morphing 'Wisps' - transforms Sonic into a rocket.
A remote shake then launches him upwards some 200 metres, whereupon he skydives down. Up in the heavens is a hidden world of shortcuts and ring hordes, deliciously kerchingching-chinging as he plummets through them.
In traditional Sonic the top of the screen denoted the end of the game world - he was a creature of the ground, after all.
With a few gallons of rocket fuel, however, the space above becomes rich with potential. Mr Press-Right-To-Win is finally leaving the beaten track.
BRAVE NEW WORLDS
Space is proving fertile ground for Sega's imagination. Must be something in the non-air. Like the Mario Galaxy team before them, they see the inky expanse as an opportunity to do what they want. Giant burgers? Sure. Fruit machines lighting up the cosmos in radiant neon? Go on then.
How about vast aquariums that can be skimmed across like Jesus on Sunny Delight? Why not!? Sega's vague theme park setting (Eggman is using it as a disguise to harvest alien life forms) acts as a handy catch-all, allowing level design to reach beyond tired fire/ice/desert tropes. Dessert, on the other hand...
Going hands-on with near finished code reveals a game packed with ideas. Take the aquatic Ocean Park. Boosting sees Sonic zip over watery expanses. Choose instead to sink and an entirely new level awaits, a labyrinthine maze patrolled by those iconic robot piranhas.
Hedgehogs weren't designed for extended periods underwater - they wreck wetsuits, for one - and Sonic's subaquatic jaunt is the struggle you'd expect. His feet sluggishly pull through the brine as he tries to gobble the next air bubble - a stressful slog that takes us back to panicked dives in the first Sonic's Labyrinth Zone. The ominous air countdown still freaks us out.
The pace slows even further with the Blue Wisp. This powerup turns Sonic into a block of blue granite (very 'Kirby downward special in Smash Bros') that changes level design when it crashes to the floor. Smashing dematerialises special blue blocks and solidifies their ghostly pale counterparts.
In action it works a lot like Galaxy 2's Flipswap Galaxy, with a flick of the wrist rewriting platform formations. The ability is a necessity for climbing certain stretches of level, but is mainly used for gaining access to coin stashes and hidden red stars - think New Super Mario Bros' star medals.
These medals in turn open up parts of Colours' co-op mode. This mode, set in a striking virtual reality world (and fully detailed in the box above), is the first true co-op mode since Tails helicoptered us to safety back in Sonic 2.
Yes, there was once a time we could spot Tails without involuntarily vomiting. Alas, it's too late for the hateful fox, but is it too late for co-op?
Our quick session reveals a similar vibe to New Super Mario Bros Wii - two people trying to survive a level together, but not without the option to cause distress to the other player with head stomps.
Interestingly, co-op reveals some of Sonic's 2D platforming inadequacies. It's common knowledge that the hedgehog sucks at slow speeds and here he feels especially lumpen. Jumps linger a little too long, causing no end of hassle when it comes to precision platforming.
We found ourselves using his butt stomp-like downwards dash to hammer him into platforms rather than leave his fate in momentum's shaky hands. In the slower, platform-focused co-op mode the problem feels particularly pronounced; when it's woven into the single-player game's into-the-screen dashing it can be more easily overlooked.