Just for a moment, try not to look at Sonic's legs and Knuckles' shoulders. Aw, heck, okay, have a good, long look (and probably a bemused laugh) and then we'll start again when you're ready. Back again? Good. There is a very good reason why Sonic and his three closest friends look so different.
What you're seeing is what Sega is describing as "a new branch" of the Sonic universe. Not strictly canon, this Wii U and 3DS exclusive instead acts as a playable prequel to the new Sonic Boom CG animation series from OuiDo Entertainment, which is coming soon to Cartoon Network. So it's not so much a spin-off from the TV series, as a companion to it, which means you'll be able to explore the same world you see in the 11-minute-long TV episodes on whatever Nintendo machine you own.
The two versions will be different games in terms of levels and enemies, much like Sonic Lost World, but - perhaps surprisingly - Sonic Team is not in the developer's chair for either. Instead, Sega has outsourced the game to two American developers (Big Red Button for Wii U and Sanzaru Games for 3DS) with the aim of creating a more western-feeling experience. So much so, in fact, that the game is not even pencilled in for a release in Japan. This one's all ours.
We're looking, then, at a genuinely different take on the long-established Sonic universe. Presumably one in which Knuckles has hit the protein shakes a bit too hard. Look at those shoulders, they are the envy of the NFL. There are also natty scarves. Along with Link's Hyrule Warriors' neckwarmer, are we seeing the emergence of a strange new fashion? Stranger still is the decision to wrap the cast in sports tape, as though they've been over-training for the Olympics. Come to think of it, that could well be what's happened: all those Mario & Sonic games have taken their toll.
The positives far outweigh the fans' fear of change. If this really is a new Sonic universe, anything can happen. Just look at the various bizarro Spider-Man universes for proof of that. Hopefully, we won't see anyone kissing human princesses, or turning into werewolves, but rather a game that focuses on Sonic and his friends' strengths and the ways in which they can work as a team as they take on the world.
It's a strong team, too. Forget Rouge the Bat, Knack the Weasel and Cream the Rabbit (depressingly, every one of those is a real Sonic character), the roll call here is pure old-school Sonic. For those unfamiliar with the crew, that yellow fellow is Miles Prower, aka Tails the Fox, who has been following Sonic around with his cheery disposition and helicopter-like flying move since 1992 (crikey, we're getting old).
Next there's Amy, the pink hedgehog with the Piko Piko hammer, who fell in love with Sonic at first sight in Sonic CD a year later in 1993. Then there's Knuckles the Echidna, who made his debut as an antagonist in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 in 1994, meaning even this relative newbie has now been gruffly punching rocks for two entire decades. Finally, there's the Fastest Thing Alive, Sonic himself, heading up the team.
Well, perhaps not quite finally. Sonic wouldn't be Sonic without his old nemesis, Dr Robotnik, who appears in the trailer for the toon, though not the one for the game. That his robo minion is seen in both suggests he'll put in an appearance. Strangely, these days even he is referring to himself as "Dr Eggman", which destroys the last sliver of hope of him ever regaining his old name. Sigh. "Robotnik" sounded way cooler.