Sonic Mania is exactly what it needs to be, a celebration of the 16-bit games that made Sonic an icon of gaming history. There’s no doubt that Sonic’s best adventures were the original 2D side-scrollers of the Mega Drive era and Sonic Mania serves as a modern collection of the very best of those titles. The smooth gameplay accompanied by bright and colourful environments made these titles a joy to play back in the day, and Sonic Mania is a welcome invite back to that classic gameplay of ‘90s Sonic titles.
Green Hill Zone is back yet again
The game’s story –much like the Mega Drive titles– takes a shallow approach. Sonic and Tails encounter Dr. Eggman’s new Egg-Robo team, known as the ‘Hard-Boiled Heavies’, who have located a mysterious gem (which isn’t a Chaos Emerald?) that is capable of sending Sonic and Tails back to the past. A simple enough premise that makes Sonic’s return to the previous games’ stages make sense. The story immediately relinquishes itself to the backseat, allowing for the gameplay to take centre stage. Sonic Mania from a gameplay standpoint plays like all the Mega Drive titles, sharing particular aspects from each release. Sonic controls just like he did in the ‘90s, able to reach crazy speeds and thwart his enemies with his jump or trusty spin dash. Bonus stages from Sonic 3 return, with the reward for their completion being extra features such as sound test and debug modes. Special stages akin to those featured in Sonic CD are also available, with these stages being where players can obtain the Chaos Emeralds.
The Hard-Boiled Heavies are a fresh new foe
The core essence of the Sonic games is on display in Sonic Mania, with boss battles also making a return in the form of new and remixed bosses. The boss battles in Sonic Mania span from “creativity at its finest” to “why does this exist?” The game’s good bosses are creative and well thought out, prompting the player to think and plan out how to attack. These bosses are extremely satisfying and I look forward to coming up against them again in inevitable further playthroughs. Some bosses however lack direction, making it difficult for players to figure out what exactly they are meant to do, which leads to just spamming and dealing damage in the hopes that you can hold on to a single ring long enough to kill the boss. These boss fights feel dirty and unfair and in some instances they dampened how I felt about the level as I reached its conclusion. Most of the bosses on display are great fun to fight, but these select few are sure to anger even a skilful Sonic player.
Sonic Mania (despite not being titled Sonic 4) is a sequel to Sonic 3, with so much fan service and love behind it. Sonic Mania was assembled by series fans, for series fans, with popular Sonic modders and hackers such as Christian Whitehead spearheading the Mania development team. Sonic Mania is a heartfelt love letter to the Sonic franchise, encompassing all the elements of what made Sonic great, while also inventing and adding new elements to further strengthen the Sonic formula. The amount of fan service in this game is remarkable, for example, nestled in Chemical Plant’s boss battle is a Sonic vs Eggman match of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine that is absolutely insane, and I love it. Even forgotten Sonic characters like Bean the Dynamite, Fang the Sniper and Bark the Polar Bear make cameo appearances in the new Mirage Saloon stage. Overall, these little call-backs to Sonic’s past may not be noticed to the majority, but their inclusion indicates just how much the developers care about the history of Sonic as a character.
The soundtrack of Sonic Mania is also handled with great care. The remixed renditions of old levels such as Green Hill Zone and Hydrocity Zone stick true to the sounds of the original, while providing a bit more audio detail, something the wasn’t capable on the Sega Mega Drive sound chip. The new stages’ music also aligns with the style of old Sonic music, meaning that the soundtrack is overall very consistent and enjoyable to listen to. Sonic Mania is living proof that in order to move forward, you must look back.
Best Boss Battle Ever!
Sonic Mania is living proof that in order to move forward, you must look back
Sonic Mania’s best feature is arguably the fact that the games new levels shine brighter than the remixes of old. Unlike Sonic Generations, which decided to simply redesign levels based on previous locations in Sonic history, Sonic Mania provides new areas to explore. There are twelve zones in total, with eight being remixes of classic zones and four being brand new. The new zones such as Studiopolis and Press Garden do not at all feel out of place in comparison to Sonic’s previous locations and I’d argue that an uninitiated Sonic gamer would have trouble being able to differentiate what stages were brand new or remixes of classics. The classic zones however aren’t exactly as you remember them, as they have been given tweaks that pretty much make them brand new levels. They are large, more diverse and littered with traps both new and old, which is sure to provide an interesting new approach to the classic levels. For example, running through Green Hill Zone or Chemical Plant Zone is something that every Sonic fan has done countless times, well aware of where all the loops and shortcuts are to reach the end flag. Sonic Mania shakes the classic level design up and it’s both jarring and exciting upon the realisation that the levels are quite different. Sonic Mania teases fans of their knowledge of prior level design, opting to reinvent the classics, rather than just keep them exactly the same. It is the care and attention to detail which makes Sonic Mania arguably the best Sonic game to date.
Sonic Mania’s new Press Garden Zone is one of the games best
The main game, known as Mania Mode, isn’t the only content to enjoy, with the game also having Competitive and Time Attack modes, which serve as extra content to keep you entertained long after the 3-4hr Mania Mode. Competition mode is a two-player mode in which players can race through the games levels against a friend via local play, a mode that originally featured in Sonic 2. Racing against a friend in a Sonic game is surprisingly rather fun and the options of choosing what power ups are available in a race makes for an entertaining additional mode. Time Attack mode is exactly what you think, you gotta go fast (I had to say it eventually) and reach the goal in the fastest possible time, another great way to get more playtime out of Sonic Mania’s slew of enjoyable levels. The game provides plenty of incentives to keep coming back, however I can’t hide the fact that I wish the games Mania Mode was a couple of hours longer.
Sonic Mania is a Sonic best-of, that not only contains some of the most memorable levels in the franchise’s history, but new levels that are strong enough to stand on their own. Most of the bosses are refreshing and fun, although some are a tad frustrating and the modes available provided plenty of replay value and incentive to playthrough the game numerous times.
Sonic is in the strongest position he has been in since the Mega Drive era, with Sonic Mania setting the framework and expectations for future 2D Sonic titles. I’m a firm believer that Sonic Mania is the beginning of Sonic’s 16-bit resurgence and regardless of how you feel about the 3D Sonic games, nothing can deny the fact that Sonic is back.
Reviewed on PS4