The future potential of an official new tag team style 2D Sonic game.

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Eternity in an hour
The 2D classic formula has aged like wine in that it was amazing back when it was still new and is still an absolute treat to play to this day. 3&K is still my favorite 2D Sonic game, and there's definitely more hits in the gameplay style than there are misses. However, things can't remain stagnant forever. While I'm sure there are fans who would be content to just get Mania sequels with the same overall mechanics but with new stages and characters to play as, I feel like the series should be a bit more ambitious than that. So how does one improve on such an already refined formula without resorting to boost mechanics and the like which betray the earned speed and flow of the originals?

I feel like three games in particular provide a crucial hint on the matter: Chaotix, Sonic Advance 3, and Sonic 4 Episode II.

From here on I will be dividing this post into spoiler tabs, because this will get pretty lengthy and I don't want it to look like as much of an intimidating wall of text. Note that all of this is purely opinions regarding an overall core concept, and not a definitive explanation of what such a game would have to be like. The point is to get the potential of the idea across, not to make predictions or demands.

Chaotix (localized as Knuckles Chaotix) introduced the ever unpopular tether mechanic. The game follows a similar gameplay formula to previous titles, however two characters are bound together by a stretchy tether which can increase their mobile capabilities, or more often just get in the way and be annoying by impeding progress and being difficult to work with.

Sonic Advance 3 follows a similar philosophy of having two active characters at a time, however instead of being bound by a tether the characters are able to perform partner actions which are different depending on if you are on the ground or in the air. For example: With Tails as your partner, using his tag action while grounded results in him tossing you high up into the air. Using it while in the air will result in your character getting carried by him using his flight. Each of the playable characters (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, and Cream) has their own set of tag actions. Additionally, depending on who a character is partnered with, their passive moveset will change. For example, pairing anyone with Amy will cause them to be unable to spin while they jump, but will also grant them a hammer to attack with.

Sonic 4 Episode II introduced a similar sort of partner mechanic between Sonic and Tails in which their passive movesets are standard, but they have access to a few contextual partner abilities which can be activated to help clear through the levels. Flying in the air, rolling along the ground in a huge combined spindash, Tails pulling Sonic along underwater like a submarine, etc.

I feel as though a refined combination of elements from all three of these games could be the way forward for the Classic formula. I feel as though there's a lot of potential to a co-op focused game in which two characters can be used together to traverse through alternate pathways and use different strategies to fight bosses, with optional local and online multiplayer.

Having a button dedicated to turning off and on the tether could turn it from an overall burden into an optional skill based feature that enhances your potential mobility when used correctly. Additionally, a tag system similar to Sonic 4 Episode II, but with the variety of Sonic Advance 3 could be used to lock certain goodies and secrets behind pathways only accessible if you have a particular ability due to your pairing. For example, walls that could only be broken if you have Amy or Knuckles with you, platforms too high to reach unless you have Tails with you, etc. Sometimes these could be shortcuts through the level, other times they could lead to power ups, etc. They should always be optional however.

By making use of two buttons to perform tag actions, this could allow you to use the tag actions of both active characters in single player. For example, on a Playstation controller, it could be Square and Triangle are your two tag buttons. On an Xbox controller, X and Y. On Keyboard, maybe something like z and x, or a and s depending on your control setup. Obviously, inputs should be able to be rebinded to suit personal preferences. There should always be an option for the partner character to be AI or player controlled, with support for dropping in and out on the fly.

Some partners might not have a ground action, or water action, or etc. For example, having Sonic might allow you to perform the combined spindash move from Episode II, but nothing in the air or water. Likewise, Tails could have actions in the air and water, but not on the ground. To take advantage of all three, you'd have to pair Sonic with Tails and press their cooresponding tag action button. However, some pairs might not cover all three types. Perhaps Amy doesn't have an air action, and so pairing Sonic with Amy only covers ground and water. This would have to play into your strategy in deciding who to pair with who, and which one should you be in control of.

Having the ability to not bring a partner at all could allow you to play through stages solo with standard movesets. For example, perhaps Sonic plays like he does in Mania with the drop dash by default, but while paired with Knuckles he can homing attack or something. If you want to play through the game without a partner, this should be fully doable in single player. Additionally, I feel like there should be a toggle on character select to enable and disable passive moveset changes caused by your partner. The tag abilities are what is truly important, the rest is just extra stuff that I don't feel like should be as mandatory as it was in Advance 3 (In fact, I wouldn't even be against a moveset customization that allows you to modify the passive moveset of each character to suit your preferences, though that might be a nightmare to balance so it might be better off left on the cutting room floor).

For Multiplayer, I feel as though a variety of game modes should be available. Of course there should be Co-op, but I also feel like there's room for alternative modes such as 1v1 Race to the finish, 2v2 Race to the finish, 1v1 Battle, 2v2 Battle, Score attack, etc. Online leaderboards could spice things up a bit as well.

Overall, this is what I feel like is the direction to take the Classic formula in with the biggest potential moving forward. Not only would this be a (sort of, but not exactly) fresh new take on a new Classic formula game, but the specific details could be further tweaked in future installments not just for the sake of innovation and refinement, but also just in regards to what all the character abilities together are and do for the sake of keeping it feeling new. Hell, perhaps such a gameplay formula could even one day work in 3D.
 

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