Siding with the Genesis over the SNES back in the early 90s, I’m well acquainted with the blue blur at his 2D best. In fact, titles like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic CD remain favorites of mine to this day. There’s a lot of franchise nostalgia as well. Plopping down $70 for Sonic & Knuckles to see its “lock-on technology” breathe new life into my classic carts is an expensive, but vivid memory. So in many ways, Sonic Mania seems tailor-made for gamers like me, being “the ultimate celebration of past and future”. It’s a bold claim, but one that’s refreshingly lived up to.
Out of the gate, Sonic Mania made me smile. Its Sonic cd-esque animated intro got me pumped for fun, and the game delivers. More than anything, Sonic Mania feels like the classics I grew up with. To me, that really is the key thing. Not HD visuals, although Mania has them. Not other improvements that come with 20 plus years of tech. The feeling…. Sonic’s inertia, the way he jumps and runs, etc. With just one exception (the crushing physics being curiously altered for unknown reasons) Mania feels like an extension of the franchise’s peak. Like a standalone 2D Sonic entry for the Saturn has suddenly been discovered.
No need to unlock them, we’re given access to the speedy, blast processing trio of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles right from the start. You can’t change characters within a game, but numerous save files ensure you’ll have fun with them all. I’m especially grateful for Knuckles, whose climbing lets me explore for extra twists on the classic zones. All three are great though, adding strong replay value. With multiple routes, chaos emeralds, time attack (with leaderboards), extras, and secrets, Mania has plenty that’ll keep me coming back.
In addition to existing levels being tweaked, there are some brand new ones. These feel like they could have existed in prior games (lost levels). That’s how much the classic Sonic formula has been nailed. Press Gardens is one I find particularly impressive, with an aesthetic package that grows my grin. Would I like even more new zones? Naturally. But I’ll hold out for the sequel – based on Mania’s critical acclaim, I’m hopeful there will be one.
Come to find out, there are now two bosses per zone, one after each act. I’m not sure more were actually needed, but I do think that some of these encounters will prove memorable. I won’t spoil any, but one especially made me smile as a nod to another SEGA series. The worst thing about the bosses would have to be their inconsistency. Some are challenging and long encounters, while others are so easy things end before they really begin.
Mania’s competitive two player mode is something I want to briefly mention. I know not everyone was a fan of Sonic 2’s choppy multiplayer mode, but I have some real fun memories racing against friends. In Mania, the framerate improvements make for a smooth experience. Cue my smile once again.
Another element that deserves some talk are the special stages. Once again harkening to Sonic CD, chasing down a ufo for an elusive chaos emerald is fun. However, these stages are not easy to find – you’ll likely catch the majority on replay. Blue sphere bonus stages are here as well, but not nearly as enjoyable. I wasn’t crazy about them back in the day, and I like them even less now. I would’ve preferred bonus stages modeled after Sonic 2.
No Sonic game would be complete it seems without some bottomless pits or unseen enemies. Sonic’s speed means you’ll occasionally run into these. Yes, these are “classic” Sonic elements, but it doesn’t mean they’re fair. Thankfully these are limited, so as not to be overly annoying. One thing that is more annoying is using the home button – it often doesn’t let me exit the game, and sometimes has no response whatsoever. Hopefully, it’ll be quickly patched.
If I was to sum up Sonic Mania in one sentence, I’d echo PN’s feature writer Alex Schramke in saying that it’s “a labor of love and that shows on the gameplay.” I was hopeful for Sonic Mania. I watched footage and saw how good the game looked in motion. I whistled along while listening to remixed songs from its soundtrack. I read our preview in issue #35 of PNM. At the end of the day, actually playing it, the game lived up to my expectations.
Apologies if this review has too many nostalgic celebrations – it happens sometimes. Speaking of nostalgia, some might knock Sonic Mania a bit for playing off nostalgia the way it does, but does it really matter when it’s done this well? At least for the moment, Sonic is back! Congrats to Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games all who played a part in the blue blurs return to form.