by Nolan Leahy
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of Sonic Mania. The game is also available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
For 26 years, Sonic has been one of the most iconic mascots in the gaming industry, to the point where both young and old gamers can easily recognize him. Despite his recognition, he’s had a bumpy road ever since his youthful 90s with his push into the 3D environment. The Sonic Adventure games were fairly decent. Sonic Generations provided a nice partial remake to some of his 2D levels while providing some mediocre 3D levels. Sonic The Hedgehog (2006) was…well…yeah. Sega took one of their biggest gambles with the creation of Sonic Mania by giving the creator keys directly to the most die-hard fans. Despite this risk, it’s one of the biggest payoffs within the past decade.
The beauty and the beats
Sonic Mania’s art flourishes and provides well-detailed environments throughout each zone. Green Hill Zone provides an additional path on the lower portion of the level with additional water effects, and the totem poles are larger and more detailed within the background. Studiopolis Zone offers fantastic visual effects for when Sonic reaches particular areas in the zone, leaving the player awed in its visual finesse. Animations of the bosses and Eggman (Robotnik) offer personality traits that don’t require dialogue to explain, and the transitions between zones offer more of a connection and fill in the gaps better than some of the 90s installments.
In addition to the art, the music is also ridiculously good. After hearing the tracks loop several times, it’s difficult not to hum the melody. There definitely isn’t a single awful track within the game, and listening to these tracks feels magical as the game takes you on a reinvented 90s trip.
Wait, that wasn’t there before…
Sonic Mania’s gameplay offers far more than it shows on the surface. When giving it a simple glance, it can be easy to dismiss it as a general remake of classic levels with a bit of artistic polish and a few new levels. That’s not the case with this game. Sonic Mania not only brings back the classic zones from Sonic’s original trilogy, but also redefines them completely in their mechanics, layout, and difficulty. Levels are much longer on average in comparison to their older counterparts. Many levels can be passed within roughly six minutes, but some are so long that reaching the ten-minute time limit serves as a real danger. Classic Sonic veterans will be shocked to see the changes that Christian Whitehead has made to the remastered levels. For instance, grabbing the Fire Shield power-up in Green Hill Zone will allow for the spiked, rotating bridges to be burned down completely. At times, the Electric Shield serves as more of a tool to get from point A to point B that feels more necessary, but in a good way. In the case of the Electric Shield, the player doesn’t necessarily have to worry about losing the Electric Shield in order to track across the level because the obstacle is either optional or right in front of the source of the Electric Shield.
Sonic’s speed in this game is absolutely thrilling. Experiencing him roll and run through the designed tracks is satisfying and provides tension when he’s rolling upside down with no lower ground to land on. Think of it like a roller coaster without seat belts, or anything to protect the rider other than hoping he stays in the seat. The possibility of losing traction is absolutely frightening because of the grave that sits below, teleporting Sonic back to the last checkpoint.
Next are the bosses. If these weren’t well designed, then the game would be absolute trash. Thankfully, the boss fights are some of the best moments in Sonic Mania. The bosses offer excellent variety and many of them are completely new. As mentioned above, the animations provided within the fights and cutscenes offer personality to these enemies. In addition, they offer a reasonable challenge to newcomers of the franchise as well as veterans. The order that these bosses are introduced can be surprising to older fans at times, and offer one specific comical element for the veterans.
There are a few moments where dying can be unavoidable due to Sonic’s speed and the player can be unintentionally trapped from an off-screen threat. In terms of bugs, the game froze once when transitioning between two separate stages, resulting in having to start the entire zone over again. Fortunately, this bug didn’t occur again and doesn’t seem like a common issue.
Replay, and extras galore
After beating Sonic Mania, there’s actually plenty of content here to keep the player coming back more than a few times. Extras can be unlocked either through general gameplay or by completing the special stages at each checkpoint for the mere cost of 25 rings. General extras include other Sonic abilities found in other games like Sonic The Hedgehog 3 or Sonic CD. Other extras like this are only playable in the No-Save Slot of the main game though, which can be a downside for those wanting to save a different type of game. The special stages are the same as Sonic The Hedgehog 3’s or Sonic and Knuckles with the Blue Sphere challenges. These stages require massive replay dedication in order to receive the gold medals at the end of each and every stage. Silver medals are awarded for completion, but the gold medals are awarded for perfect runs. These medals unlock extra game modes that give another pleasant distraction if the side-scrolling gets stale. In addition to these special stages, there’s also a different kind of special stage for the Chaos Emeralds, and it’s by far the most difficult in comparison to all of the 2D Sonic games’ special stages that have come before.
Lastly, the two-player split-screen is fantastic, and completely blows away the original Sonic’s multiplayer. There’s a race mode similar to Sonic The Hedgehog 2’s, but with Sonic Mania, there’s far more levels to choose from. Players can play as Sonic, Knuckles, or Tails, and dash through the levels extracted from the base game. These races offer a fun, competitive edge, and being able to change the power-ups into teleporters can make it more interesting if the skill gap between players is too varied. In addition, one of the extra game modes offers a two-player option, but spoiling it here would ruin the surprise. Regardless, playing it with another person offers an intense gameplay experience that serves as a nice break from the traditional gameplay.
'Sonic Mania' is by far the best Sonic game ever made. This game has very few flaws within its design and is unquestionably fun. The bosses add more complexities and sometimes offer more of a challenge than hopping onto the cockpit of Robotnik’s machines. The gameplay is the fastest it has ever been in a classic style Sonic game. The levels offer a variety of paths between characters that give worth to multiple playthroughs. For a humble asking price of $20, it’s a game that’s worth every penny. It’s difficult not to be held in awe by the art, tunes, and design that gloriously cascade every level, which only lead to giddy anticipation to the bosses that define each one.
Art and Music
Gameplay and Mechanics
Extra Content and Multiplayer