Sonic Mania is a side scrolling platformer much in the vein of the originals. After many years of taking Sonic to different gameplay styles, some cases are better and others worse for it, Sonic finally truly returns to what endeared it to fans in the beginning.
Release date: August 14, 2017
Approximate Size: 108.81 MB
Genre: Side-scrolling platform
Developed by Headcannon, PagodaWest Games
Published by SEGA of America, Inc.
Reviewed on Xbox One; also available on Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Sonic Mania returns to its classic routes with its story taking place after Sonic & Knuckles. Dr. Eggman is still at his old antics as he once again steals the illustrious Chaos Emeralds. Depending on which character you choose, it’s up to Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles to stop Dr. Eggman and defeat his minions: The Hard-Boiled Heavies. It’s a simple premise and takes about thirty seconds to explain before you start actually playing but it’s exactly the way Sonic’s story should be presented. This is what we’ve wanted. Gone is the complex story and back is the satisfying gameplay.
Sonic Mania has twelve stages, or zones, four of which are completely original and eight that are recreated originals. Each zone is broken into two acts with a boss battle in each level. This will not be a heavy story experience like, say, Alan Wake and this might disappoint that audience who have come to accept Sonic in all his broad spectrum of games. To others, this will be a relief.
For me, Sonic has never been about the story and has always been about the gameplay. Sonic Mania reaffirms that belief because I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun playing a Sonic game and that is a testament to the love and craftsmanship put into this game by Christian Whitehead and company. I am grateful and more than pleased with the story that is present and I feel as if they have found that perfect formula Sonic once had but had seemingly disappeared.
Sonic and his friends are back and the gameplay is a return to its 16-bit glory. It’s all about speed as you dash through the levels collecting rings, beating enemies, hitting checkpoints, and finding secrets. Sonic has a new ability where he can dash once he hits the floor and it’s a welcomed new addition to the series core formula but I found myself not truly relying on it. I imagine it’ll be easier for new fans of the series to get accustomed to using the ability but for returning veterans, well, I see them sticking to the tried and true method.
Besides playing with Sonic, you can also play with Tails or Knuckles. Yes, the ability to play as Sonic with Tails as an aid is back. Other than that, ditching Sonic has its advantages. Tails can fly above to reach places Sonic can’t and it makes certain levels, like The Chemical Plant, a lot easier. Knuckles has the ability to glide and climb walls. This gives him the advantage Tails has at reaching newer heights but at a slower speed and his glide ability is easier to control than Tails’ flight. With simple tweaks to the abilities they all have at their disposal and different abilities all together, this makes each character distinctive and changes the way you go through a level. This is further on display by the fact that even depending on who you choose, a level will play out differently than if you would’ve gone with Sonic.
The stages are peppered with enemies and populated with coins and secrets as you speed through them. Power ups are back and there are various paths to take to reach the end. The secret levels are classics as well as you have to chase an alien carrying a Chaos Emerald or collect all the blue spheres without touching a red one. It’s familiar and still requires the same amount of skill it did before. When you reach the end of a stage, you encounter a boss battle. The boss battles are all unique and extremely fun. This is the theme and defining factor of this game: Fun.
In this mode you go through the stage as quickly as possible. You then receive a score and this will be placed on the online leaderboards. This is the closet this game has to online multiplayer and that may upset some people as we live in an era where it seems like every game needs an online mode of some kind. In all honesty, not every game needs an online mode and the lack of one in Sonic Mania is not a negative in anyway.
Competitive local multiplayer is back as you and a friend run through the stages in split screen in an attempt to outscore each other. However, the experience is now more fulfilling as other factors are taken into consideration when the game evaluates both players to determine a winner. It isn’t just time anymore but now it’s also coins collected, powerups, and enemies defeated. It makes for a more complete experience and makes the bragging rights that much sweeter.
Puyo-Puyo is a Tetris like franchise that also happens to be owned by Sega, it is also one of those broad spectrum of games Sonic and friends found themselves in throughout its diverse catalogue. It’s a nice nostalgic ride and a nice little nod to the franchise’s history that this little mini game is included. It’s a fun experience and different from the other modes present. If you’ve never played it or it wasn’t something you’d ever pay for, I recommend you give it a shot. It may be a pleasant surprise.
Sonic Mania offers more gameplay and modes, as well as unlockables, at the budget price of twenty dollars than some of the AAA games do at sixty. The game is also 1/100th the size of those said games and, depending on the game, a thousand times more fun. If any of those AAA games did plan on having as much content as this game does, you better believe it would be paid DLC.
Sonic Mania is a beautiful game that gives the appearance that it came from an era long ago. When the game boots up, it’s like you’ve accessed an indie game with its stylistic menu and responsive fluidity. The only exception being when you hear the icon SEGA sound. Once you start Mania Mode, it’s like you’ve been transported back to the early 90s when SEGA battled Nintendo for supremacy with their now iconic mascots.
It looks the same as it did when you were growing up, almost too similar, to the point that if someone watched you play one of the original remixed stages they may believe your either playing the classic on a modern television or that you’re playing an HD remastered of those games. This may be my only gripe with the game, besides framerate issues, is that it doesn’t have more than four new, unique, stages to the game.
Even though it looks a lot like the old games in the series and even though it shares many assets and stages from them, this is the most beautiful game in Sonic’s 2D series.
The music in the game is upbeat and motivating, it has that classic arcadish beat with some modern flair. The powerups all make the same classic sound effects they did in prior games and all of the animations your character makes also retains the same sounds they did in the past as well. Hitting enemies is still satisfying and doing your classic spin attack really pulls on those nostalgic strings.
Each stage has its own music and atmosphere, its own design and tempo, and it all comes together in perfect harmony. Gone is the poor voice acting and the overcomplicated music and sound effects. This is what going back to what brought you to the dance looks like and this game does it better than before.
Sonic Mania is a fun, satisfying, return to form for the series. There is almost the sense of poetic justice that Sonic returns to perfection by returning to its roots. We can say what we want about the series as a whole but we cannot complain that the series hasn’t evolved or at least attempted to evolve. In its twenty-five years, Sonic has released a game in various genres. Yes, some of those games have been bad and some have been good but at least they’ve tried and I’m sure they will continue to do so. With that being said, Sonic Mania reminds everyone that even though they may have not focused on 2D side scrolling platforming doesn’t mean they aren’t still the kings of that genre.
That doesn’t mean this is a perfect game, it’s not, but it is a great start to build upon, a strong foundation that will eventually elevate the series back to its former glory and beyond. In terms of graphics, sound, presentation and gameplay there isn’t much to complain about. I wish they would have gone a little more original with more newer stages or maybe a new playable character. I did have some slowdown, some stuttering, a few framerate issues to the point that the game almost wasn’t playable but not so often to taint my enjoyment of the game.
This is arguably the best Sonic has ever been and I would definitely recommend it to everyone, especially at its asking price. It’s nice to have Sonic back and I look forward to what’s next from the developers behind this game, fingers crossed for a sequel one day.