Sonic has been around for ages, but most regard his best moments as the original Sega Genesis titles. The last decade or so has seen countless forgettable Sonic games that sampled elements from the franchises legendary roots but have ultimately forgotten why Sonic was once battling Mario for center stage and what made fans have faith in the quality seal of a Sonic game. Now, with a ton of hype, comes the long awaited Sonic Mania.
PagodaWest Games and Headcannon have finally returned Sonic to its 16-bit glory. Sonic Mania is a traditional 2D platformer that looks and feels like a vintage Sonic game. There are 8 remixed zones that are taken from the first three Sonic titles on the Genesis as well as Sonic and Knuckles. On top of that, five new stages have been specially designed for this game.
There are plenty of new incorporations in Sonic Mania, but the mix of nostalgia, great level design, and modern implements all allow a much needed second wind to be breathed into this classic mascot.
Sonic Mania can be bought on the PSN store for 19.99.
Sonic Mania allows players to go through the adventure using any of the three original protagonists (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles). The game has no dialogue to speak of, but it begins with Eggman getting on with some dastardly plans to send out his minions to obtain a power created by an energy signal.
The plot isn't important, but there are awesome animations between stages (and sometimes within) that make the game feel like a classic 90s cartoon. Eggman can often be found somewhere in the level,–he's riding a train and laughing it up as Sonic flies by in the eighth zone–and the animations are very well done. The crisp colors add to the fluid animations, and the cutscenes do add some continuity and amusing interludes that make the game feel more complete.
Finally, a new Sonic game feels like the original games. That is not to say it doesn't evolve or add the franchise, but Sonic Mania keeps the original recipe that made Sonic great in the first place and just sprinkles in new ingredients. Fans have never really asked for anything more, and while it's been too long since a truly great Sonic game, I am happy to tell you that Sonic Mania indeed fills in that void and that Sonic will be spin-dashing back into the heart of gaming.
The game is 2D, fast paced, simple to play but very hard to beat, and it kept everything we loved–and admittedly a few things we disliked–about Sonic while bringing the series back to its roots. It does this with very strong level design, versatile platforming/boss fights, the right amount of difficulty, and fusing elements from many different Sonic games.
Sonic Mania nails it when it comes to great level design. Every level is drastically different from the others, and the difficulty gradually increases as the game wears on. Green Hill Zone is a relaxed warm up, but after that, each level has some very unique obstacles that mean that players can't just shoot through the game without discovering and overcoming the fine intricacies of each stage.
Every zone features two acts, and there is a lot of disparity, even between the first and second half of a zone. For example, Chemical Plant Zone stage one will feel a lot like a level you have seen before, but stage two features a ton of brand new elements such as needles that inject the water with chemicals that cause Sonic to hyper jump and DNA strands that launch Sonic to new platforms.
I found the new changes to be more interesting than the nostalgia twinged areas, and I loved that each stage felt like a new set of rules to play with. The level design is very innovative, and the fine mix of nostalgia, new elements, and ever changing platforming designs are the backbone to Sonic Mania's greatness.
The level design is not the only thing that is constantly changing in Sonic Mania. Each zone features a sub boss and a full boss; they require some clever tactics to beat. There is no cookie cutter, just mindlessly hit the boss except on a couple occasions. Boss fights require cunning and being able to find a vulnerability in a foe using your abilities and whatever the boss or level may give you to work with.
One boss was actually a puzzle stage from the classic Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. another required you to suck Eggman up while avoiding bombs and spin dash into balled enemies to catapult them into the boss. They are creative and definitely kept me searching for extra lives in case I could not discover their weakness in time.
Bosses could be hard and frustrating, and there were a few that didn't stand out, but overall, the bosses were unique and required different tactics to defeat. It kept the game fresh, and it didn't cheat the players out of having to use their brains in substitute for mindless dodging and hitting.
The Genesis Sonic games were all challenging, especially the original, and I found Sonic Mania delivered that same punch. Players will definitely die and fail throughout this game, but it never feels like there is something you cannot overcome. The levels reward exploration and experimenting with their design, and, as expected, there are multiple ways to finish each stage.
Higher parts of the level may bear more rewards; falling onto lower stages of the level will still allow players to complete the stage, but there may be fewer treasures to grab and potentially dangerous spots better off avoided.
The game also does manage to keep a gradual difficulty incline. The first few stages have a few tough parts like falling into the water in Chemical Zone or falling to the bottom of the ship in the Sky Fortress, but players won't really have the heat under them until the second half of the game. I died in many ways throughout this game. Time ran out on me a few times, the level design caused me to make a poor maneuver, and bosses managed to destroy me before I could find out their pattern. Nevertheless, each failure came with a lesson learned and a newfound insight on how to succeed. Even when I died multiple times, I kept wanting to re-try and fully believed in my ability to overcome the present challenge.
Remember those 3D special stages on the Genesis? Well, they are back and retain their 16-bit appearance. They come in two forms.
The first special stage is found at checkpoints if you have more than 25 coins. These levels have different colored spheres, and Sonic runs around trying to collect the blue ones. Touch a red spheres and the stage immediately ends. Players will have to use the d-pad for this since there are only sharp turns, and these stages are very difficult. The time can run out, Sonic moves progressively faster throughout the stage, and white balls bounce Sonic around like a ping pong ball.
I didn't hate these levels, but I found them a little frustrating and wish they would have gone with a more exciting and less arduous choice for a special stage. Luckily they are completely optional, but beating them offers coins that can unlock special abilities and secrets in the menu screen.
The second stage is played for the legendary chaos emeralds. Taken from Sonic CD, Sonic runs around a track chasing a UFO. Coins add time to the stage while spheres increase your speed. I found these stages to be more fun, and I liked that each stage looked completely different and had different obstacles such as pits, ramps, and spiked balls.
I have yet to beat all the stages and get all the chaos emeralds: the special rings that grant entrance to these stages can be cryptic, and the levels themselves are quite challenging.
Overall the special stages are a nice throwback, but I found them more frustrating than any other element of the game, especially since it can be hard to navigate with the controls and primitive 3D graphics.
visuals and sound
The in game graphics are just fantastic. They look like legitimate Sega Genesis graphics, keeping the same textures and color patterns found in the older Sonic games while adding in a ton of details and polish that older consoles didn't have the ability to create.
Zones like Green Hill and Oil Ocean will immediately be familiar and send you twenty years back, but at the same time, these remixed levels look more gorgeous than ever. The level textures are more filled in, and the backgrounds are just stunning. Tiny details litter each and every moment; the background brings each level to life and constantly changes alongside Sonic. They often incorporate moving elements such as waterfalls and factories. I loved seeing flashing Eggman TV broadcasts or burning oil fields as I zipped by.
The level diversity means the colors are constantly changing, and the vibrant landscapes nearly pop out of the screen. The developers took careful attention to make sure that the game looked like a classic Genesis game while also being the most beautiful 2D entry (if not overall entry) in the entire franchise.
The soundtrack is at least equally as amazing as the visuals. Yes, the game features some classic tunes from the old Sonic games, and yes, they are also remixed for this game, but every level has a completely different sound, and every tune is catchy. Many of the tunes feel like they belong in a classic 90s game, and I am glad that the best of all the Sonic soundtracks was collected and somehow improved upon. Seriously, this game has a totally awesome soundtrack that never lets up for a second.
Classic sounds like the coins being collected, dashing, and breathing in bubbles underwater all return as well, but the music steals the show when it comes to pure aesthetics of the game.
I am going to start by echoing that Sonic Mania lives up to the hype, and it's easily worth $19.99. It's a fantastic Sonic game that doesn't just take us back to the Genesis golden era but also paves the way for Sonic to dash out of life support and back into the hearts and minds of gamers.
Sonic Mania has some of the best level design I have played in a modern platformer, and the many paths to level completion add a ton of replay value. There are a lot of stages and multiple characters to choose as well as a couple new game modes like time attack and competition, so Sonic Mania will easily offer you many hours of gameplay.
I loved that the game went back to the series roots, but it's ultimately the new additions to the levels and the developer's willingness to take risks with the new level and boss designs that make this game great. Nostalgia ebbs and flows throughout the game, but it usually feels like a new experience with many welcomed surprises.
The special stages were a bit of a letdown next to the stellar gameplay, but with patience, players will definitely improve, and finding the chaos emeralds was never meant to be an easy task. Players that like to use the analog sticks will find the blue sphere stages especially frustrating due to the tediously tight control scheme.
I had a ton of fun with Sonic Mania, and I already want to go back and beat it for the third time. It's simply addicting, and it reminds me why I fell in love with video games in the first place. This game isn't perfect, but it's easily the best Sonic game in recent history, and it fares well with the best Sonic games of all time. Our favorite blue hedgehog is finally back.
|+ Awesome level design||– Blue sphere stages|
|+ Bosses are not cookie cutter||– A few bland bosses|
|+ Best Sonic soundtrack ever|
|+ Many reasons to replay|