August 14, 2017
Sonic Mania is the ultimate celebration of all things Sonic, a glorious riot of vibrant 16-bit colours and lovingly drawn pixel art that pays homage to the best bits of every Sonic the Hedgehog game released on the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis during the 90s. As a Sonic fan, this is utterly essential stuff then, although you might get an overriding sense of deja vu while playing it. A lot of Sonic Mania is stuff you've played before, see. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.
Starting off with perennial classic Sonic stage Green Hill Zone (I've lost count of the number of times I've played this level and variations thereof), Sonic Mania then takes you on a grand tour of the blue spiky one's greatest hits. A few of the game's 12 Zones comprise two acts, the first being an original Sonic stage remixed ever-so-slightly with a sub-boss at the end, the second act a completely new version of the stage with different music.
Certain Zones like Studiopolis, Mirage Saloon and Titanic Monarch are entirely fresh, and each have their own characteristics that make them feel right at home amid the other eight levels from Sonic's illustrious past. Although these stages also have their own unique devices and neat twists, they could have conceivably been cherry-picked from any past Sonic game, and they're among the best levels in Sonic Mania.
Sonic Mania plays every bit like a retro Sonic title too, while its presentation instantly transports you back to the bygone Mega Drive/Genesis era. From the moment the game starts up with that iconic 'SEGAAA!' sting and takes you to a colourful animated title screen, you're in no doubt whatsoever that Sonic Mania is quite clearly a labour of love. As such it's an exuberant, energetic blast from beginning to end, proof positive that this is Sonic at his very best: a far cry from his patchy 3D output.
Granted, a lot of the content here has been recycled from the first Sonic the Hedgehog and sequels Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic CD and Sonic & Knuckles, but there's more than enough new stuff to surprise at every turn. Studiopolis (bonus points for spotting the Streets of Rage reference) recalls the fun of Casino Night Zone, albeit with fruit machines swapped out for lottery balls and other weird TV and movie-themed gadgetry, while the Press Garden Zone is a lush, vibrant stage, outdoing Sonic 2's Aquatic Ruin or S&K's Mushroom Hill for otherworldly beauty.
While the blue bubble-collecting Bonus Stages from Sonic & Knuckles - accessed through Star Post checkpoints with enough rings – prove tiresome over time, the UFO chasing Special Stages from Sonic CD are enjoyable, if a little on the difficult side. Nabbing the first chaos emerald is easy, but bagging the others means finding shortcuts, building up your Mach meter and collecting rings to keep the time limit at bay. These bonus sections provide a welcome distraction, but arguably aren't as fun as Sonic 2's 'running down a chute' bonus stages or Sonic 3's gumball machines.
Still, like the rest of Sonic Mania, these special stages offer a shot of nostalgia, which - stating the obvious alert - really is what the game as a whole it all about. Sonic Mania hits the bullseye where this is concerned, and if you grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog (like I did), then you'll find it hard not to adore every little bit of this. Visually, Mania is the perfect homage to Sonic's 16-bit roots, but it's the soundtrack that'll make you misty-eyed.
In terms of gameplay, the retro 2D formula hasn't been toyed with too much either, save for the addition of a new downward spin dash. It's to the original games' credit that Sonic Mania is still enormous fun to this day, and a more challenging proposition than you might remember. Extra lives are hard to come by, and each Act has a range of clever obstacles and smart mechanics to get to grips with. Sonic Mania has a consistent capacity to surprise and keep you on your toes. It's so good.
The game's trophy list reflects Sonic Mania's sense of fun while encouraging you to go back and revisit the game again and again to get every last drop out of it. Collecting all seven chaos emeralds, viewing the different endings and earning gold medals on all of the thirty-odd Bonus Stages will take some doing, but chances are you'll want to do everything that's on offer here and unlock all of the secret extras and such.
While a lot of Sonic Mania you may have seen before, there are more than enough inventive twists, new bosses and interesting mechanics here to make for a fresh, yet gloriously retro take on everyone's favourite supersonic hedgehog. Bonuses and extras like Time Attack and the split-screen Competition Mode flesh things out and add to the already ample longevity, but it's the irresistible nostalgia factor that will keep you coming back for more. So much more than a straight up nostalgia trip, Sonic Mania is a reminder of a time when Sonic the Hedgehog was untouchable, and as such, it's simply superb.
I'll admit it, I got a little bit weepy hearing the old Sonic soundtracks again. The old tunes remain as brilliantly catchy as ever, while the remixes are equally fantastic takes on said tunes. Wonderful.
Sonic, Tails and Knuckles as you remember them, but at a slightly higher fidelity, slightly more animated, slightly better-looking. Sonic Mania perfectly walks the line between its original retro source material and remaster. It's pretty, that's for sure.
Ever played a Sonic the Hedgehog game? Then you've played Sonic Mania. The difference here is that it's a more challenging affair (or my reflexes have dulled with age) and there's a new downward dash. Otherwise, this is happily familiar.
A sizeable Sonic game with 12 main Zones, multiple endings, Bonus Stages, Special Stages, 2-player Competition Mode, Time Attack with leaderboards, and extras to unlock, you certainly won't feel shortchanged. The downside? Only some of Sonic Mania is completely new.
There are some smart tasks to tackle here, and a few that should prove a bit of a grind. Earning every gold medal on all 32 Bonus Stages is going to be a tall order, and obtaining all seven chaos emeralds isn't a walk in the park either. You'll have to work hard for all the trophies, and criminally, there's no Platinum. Bah!
A beautifully crafted love letter to Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Mania is everything a Sonic game should be and more. I'd be deliriously happy if SEGA carried on making them like they used to; if it carried on making more games like Sonic Mania.