Sonic Mania released for Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox One on August 15th, 2017, with PC due to release on August 29th, 2017
Sonic the Hedgehog is my favorite game franchise to this date. Despite his recent blunders, the Blue Blur still resonates with me and a lot of other fans as a fantastic series full of speed and badnik-smashing attitude. The Sonic series on the Genesis/Megadrive console are regarded as classics in the platforming genre rivaled to Nintendo’s mustachioed plumber. Over the years many have tried to replicate the speed and fun of the Sonic trilogy with games such as Freedom Planet by GalaxyTrail and tons of amazing Sonic fan-games that have circulated around the internet. After the pitch for a remastered version of Sonic 3 & Knuckles failed, all hope was lost to bring the entire Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy to a modern light. That is, until Sonic’s official 25th birthday stream from Sega. Fans cried with joy when they saw the trailer for Sonic Mania, a Sonic game developed by Sonic fans Taxman and Stealth. Sonic Mania is a true love-letter of the 2D Sonic games, developed by the mania, for the mania.
The first thing I have to talk about with Sonic Mania is the graphics, because they are absolutely gorgeous. The pixel art emulates the style of the 2D Sonic games to a T. Sonic and his other playable friends have an upgraded look to their sprites with way more frames of animation available than in the classic games. Actions such as going through loops and jumping on springs look and feel way more fluid with the added frames. It makes it even better that the game itself is 60 fps across the board with little to no frame drops. The levels themselves are stunning, with a lot of densely-packed detail in the backgrounds. Sonic Mania includes incredibly well-animated in-game story cut scenes as seen in Sonic 3, although they’re not as plentiful as I had hoped. They also included these transition animations that travel from zone-to-zone. However, surprisingly there are no transitions to some of the new stages and the screen just fades to the next scene. It’s a bit shocking when it happens, but it doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the game.
Sonic Mania’s game play is your standard 2D Sonic adventure. Scroll from left to right and occasionally jump on badniks and power-up monitors. The controls are incredibly tight just like the original games and they make for some satisfying platforming. Sonic has a new move called the drop-dash. Pressing and holding the jump button during a jump will charge a spin-dash and Sonic will release the spin-dash immediately when he touches the floor. This helps greatly when you want to instantly gain speed from platforming. Elemental shields from Sonic 3 also make a return. These include the lightning, fire, and bubble shield. Sonic can utilize the same shield benefits from Sonic 3 (such as the fire dash for the fire shield), however, they do contain new environmental abilities. For instance, the fire shield is able to burn the wooden bridges in Green Hill Zone to give you access to hidden rewards. This isn’t just some small polish thing as an afterthought, though. It is carefully crafted into the game’s level design.
The levels are what make 2D Sonic games so interesting, and the level designers really impress here. Some of the classic stages from past games make a return with an entire new feel to them. One of the acts from each classic stage keeps their respected layout while the other tends to introduce new and interesting level mechanics. For instance, Green Hill Zone’s act two introduces a zip-line mechanic. Sometimes these classic levels may incorporate mechanics from other levels in other Sonic games, so if your favorite level didn’t make the cut then you might be in luck. These new mechanics do help breathe new life into these levels. The new levels are also really fun. They’re built with the same design principals as the classic levels and perfectly fit in with the old levels. At the end of each act you have to fight a boss like in Sonic 3. The bosses are cleverly designed and it feels satisfying to take them out. The team designed the bosses so you can’t just wail on them like you could in the old games. The bosses may actually be my favorite part of the game.
Some people say the best thing about Sonic games is the music. While I don’t agree with that… exact sentiment, the music cannot be ignored. I was very surprised to hear that Tee Lopes was working on the music for Sonic Mania. For those that don’t know, Tee Lopes is a composer that often made remixes of Sonic music on Youtube, and I’m a big fan of his work. The music he made for Sonic Mania is awesome. The classic tracks sound as close to the originals as possible, while the new tracks are really catchy and fit each level perfectly. The soundtrack for this game is just incredible and I wish there was a way to purchase it on iTunes or something so I can listen to it whenever. The sound effects are amazing, too. Most of the sound effects are recreated exactly how they were in the genesis games, and if you listen closely there are even some callbacks to other genesis games in the sound effects.
This game contains a plethora of content. Sonic Mania is boasting 12 stages with two acts and two bosses each, three different characters to play as, seven chaos emeralds to collect and 32 blue sphere levels to master. Completing these blue sphere stages will award you either a silver or a gold coin depending on how well you do. These coins will unlock extra modes you can play around with. Completionists will definitely get their fill here, as the PS4 and Xbox versions of the game have achievements. However, I played the Nintendo Switch version which doesn’t have achievements. If I had one gripe with the game (and this is very minor for me) it would be that there is no built-in achievement system for the one console without achievements. This game is a complete package well worth the asking price.
Sonic Mania is a game that takes the franchise back to its roots. Something that the series has tried to do in the past, yet falls flat on its face each time. I’m looking at you Sonic 4… However, this game has taken everything we have loved about the classic Sonic games, spiced things up and gave it a fresh coat of paint without deviating too far from the originals. It has a ton of content that will make fans happy and cry with nostalgic tears. If you are even remotely interested in Sonic and his early days, then this game should not be looked over. It is absolutely worth every penny of its price.