I agree with you 100%.
Sonic Mania is a clear statement from a group of people who know what Sonic is. However you choose to define the franchise, it’s clear that Sonic Mania is just as authentic as any of the original 2D games — that’s a big statement, but it’s absolutely true in this case.
So, it proves that Sonic can be done right; you can even introduce new gameplay ideas without utterly killing (or fundamentally compromising) the “Sonic DNA”.
As for Sonic Forces, I played it (briefly) at E3 and I did enjoy what I played. It felt tighter and more polished than any 3D Sonic game from recent memory.
However, the fact that they’ve still shoehorned in modern and classic Sonic baffles me (along with the two totally different gameplay designs associated with these aesthetic choices). And then, the user-created character levels are different again in terms of gameplay design.
The whole thing feels — for lack of a better word — schizophrenic. There’s a fundamental lack of focus going on, and there isn’t a clear and simple set of design goals that I can see. It still feels like a stab in the dark: “let’s try all this stuff” rather than focusing on defining (and then designing around) the core Sonic DNA.
We’ll see how it turns out. I genuinely hope that Sonic Forces is a great experience, but I have the feeling it might be “good” yet still compromised in some major respects.
As it stands right now, Whitehead and his team are Sonic Team, in my view.