REVIEW: Sonic Mania

For 25 years, Sonic the Hedgehog has been one of the most popular characters in gaming, only second to Mario. There have been so many sequel and spin-off games that have come from this series over a number of different platforms, it’s hard to keep up with them all. Somewhere along the way, Sonic games began to lose what made the series special. Many criticized the move the 3d gameplay, but even returns to 2d side scrollers lost the feeling of the originals. Meanwhile, fans have been making their own unofficial Sonic games and some of them have been quite good. So Sega enlisted some of those fans, lead by Christian Whitehead, to help make the latest installment, Sonic Mania. Was it the right move? Sega sent over a copy to check out so let’s find out (Video Review at the end).

Sonic games began light on story and got a lot more story driven over the years. Fortunately this one is like the earlier games in the series and follow a basic premise.This one does have a bit more to what is going on that effects how the levels develop. Eggman digs up a Chaos Emerald and with it, begins to warp reality. This actually affects several of the levels during gameplay. After that, it’s basically Eggman is up to no good, run fast, grab rings, defeat Eggman. What more do you need to motivate you? That’s all I needed and I was off and running… literally.

Visually, the game is quite a surprise. When it was announced, I was shocked that Sega went with 16-bit styled graphics, which pixelation and all. You could actually think you are playing on a Genesis (or Mega Drive for those outside of the states) with the way it looks. The visuals are a bit more enhanced than what was possible on Sega’s 16-bit console. There’s a bit of lighting effects that are visible on the character models and the animations are more fluid. In the options, there are scanlines that can be enabled for those that want to have it look like it would on an old CRT TV.

In the sound department, Sonic Mania does not disappoint. It sounds like they pulled the effects directly from the original games. Nothing sounds like it shouldn’t be there or is missing. Hearing that sound of all your rings going everywhere when you get hit is just as devastating (and sometimes frustrating) as ever. The music is fantastic. Many of the classic tunes have been remixed to perfection by Tee Lopes of PagodaWest Games, who has previously worked on an unofficial HD remaster of Sonic 2.

Hands down, this is the best playing Sonic game in a very long time. It plays like Sonic 3 or Sonic CD does and that is a great thing. The physics are just as they should be, unlike in Sonic 4 where Sonic felt very floaty. Here he moves where and when you want and how you expect him to. This makes this hands down the best new Sonic game to come out since the Genesis/Sega CD era.

You can choose between playing as Sonic with Tails following behind, as Sonic solo, as Tails, or as Knuckles. Each has their own special attributes that may be an advantage in some stages versus others. Sonic obviously is faster than the others, while Tails has the ability to fly using his tail. Knuckles can glide for short distances and climb walls. Because of his ability to climb, stages will have some slight differences when playing as Knuckles to take advantage of his extra skills. As you play through some of the stages, you will encounter pieces that Sonic will stick to and an electrified force field that will cause him to walk on the ceiling when a magnetic field is turned on. This adds to some pretty crazy and fun moments running through stages.

There are other modes and level types you will come across as you play through the game. There’s a Time Attack mode where you will try to run through each stage and score the quickest time possible and a versus mode is also there that is reminiscent of the one in Sonic 2. Finding the large coins will take you to a Sonic 3 style 3d mode where you will chase the UFO to unlock Chaos Emeralds. There is also another 3d mode that you access when you hit various checkpoints. You will see sparks above it. Jumping into them will take you to a mode exactly like the one from Sonic 3 where you have to get all the blue bubbles and earn a 25th anniversary coin. Boss battles get creative at times, like one at the end of one of the Chemical Plant zones. I’ll leave it as a surprise for you.

As I said, Sonic Mania is the best Sonic game in a very long time. Sega made the right call on this one by letting fans take the helm. Other companies need to take notice and give this practice a try (looking at you Nintendo and Capcom). It’s not a long game, but the value is there for $19.99. Several modes, a variety of stages, lots of new effects, variations depending on the character you are playing as, and a great soundtrack is more than enough to justify a purchase. I was not only surprised at how well it was made, but how enjoyable of an experience it is to play. We finally got the Sonic game we wanted… no; deserve! Highly recommended.

Sonic Mania is available digitally on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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