The first thing I want to say about Sonic Mania is that this is what a Sonic game is supposed to be (for better or worse). The feeling of nostalgia overwhelmed me upon hearing that Sega decided to give the old hedgehog a try in the 2D world after many failed attempts in the realm of 3D. As an owner of the Sega Genesis, I made sure that I had every Sonic game that appeared on the console, and as a kid, I couldn’t go a day without yelling “SEGA” for some reason. But I digress, first and foremost, this game truly feels like what a Sonic game should be. A game made by fans, for the fans. Christian Whitehead, who is known for his ports of previous Sonic titles, has painstakingly added everything that made the 2D Sonic games great.
Sonic Mania oozes faithfulness to the glory days of Sonic (Sonic 1 through Sonic and Knuckles, in my opinion). Once the music for Green Hill Zone started up, I felt like I was back in my bedroom on the floor at 2am playing Sonic through my old tube TV again. The levels, or zones, remix ones from the 2D based Sonic games while adding a few new ones to make it feel like a new experience. All the zones vary with their own quirks and fit well to provide a cohesive experience. The story is basically the same as prior entries: Dr. Robotnik goes after a ruby to rule existence, so Sonic, Tails and Knuckles come in to put him back in his place.
There are 8 “remixed” levels from past Sonic games and 4 brand new levels as well as a secret, final 13th zone if you collect all of the Chaos Emeralds. I can say for certain that the remixed levels feel as fresh as new zones in the franchise. Some are fleshed out with more loops and elongated to really bring out the faithfulness to the original games in every way. The boss fight at Chemical Plant Zone was very cool and it completely surprised me, but I don’t want to ruin it because I think it was a nice touch and a welcomed change-up for the game’s direction with boss fights. The music really shines and it fits perfectly with each individual zone. Whether the system was docked or in handheld mode the game moved fast with top-notch visuals. The 2D sprites look amazing and the game does not suffer from any slowdown especially when it really speeds up.
The game has Special Stages that draw from those used in the Sonic CD game to obtain the Chaos Emeralds. Maybe it’s the Switch controller or my inexperience with the stage design, but I found these levels to be quite frustrating. I was only able to collect a couple of emeralds as I felt I couldn’t control the character from running into spikes. Then there are the Bonus Stages from Sonic 3 and S&K, which appear at check points when you collect 25 rings. I found these to be easier since the controls are a bit more responsive and tight than the old Genesis controllers. After beating the Bonus Stages you receive medallions to unlock extras the more you collect. One extra that stood out to me was the “No Save” mode which hearkens back to the days of shoving the cartridge in your Genesis and beating the game in one sitting…or leaving the system on to come back at a later time like I did.
It also provides standard Time Attack and Competition modes to blow through the zones by yourself or with a friend. I found the Time Attack mode fun and entertaining – especially when I found records of people beating the first zone in almost half a minute. *brain explodes*
There’s something very satisfying about zipping through Chemical Plant Zone without getting hit by an enemy that appears on-screen at the last second. However, therein lies what has sometimes plagued the Sonic games of old: that excruciatingly painful moment when you save up over a hundred rings and you run right into an enemy. It feels cheap and irritating to be playing so well through a level only to run into an enemy as if it couldn’t have been avoided. Platforming like Mario was never Sonic’s strong suit, and it hasn’t changed with Sonic Mania. However, the controls feel tighter and give the player a little more control over the blue hero. The game still suffers from those frustrating moments, but as a fan of Sonic I have always felt that it comes with the territory. What might be game breaking for some, may not be that big of a deal to others.
Overall, I found Sonic Mania to be an absolute must for any fan of Sonic. It comes with it’s moments of anger and frustration that make you want to throw your controller through a window, but the final product is so well-balanced that those feelings melt away rather quickly. If you enjoy the blue hedgehog and feel he was at his best in the 2D realm, this game was made just for you. With the incredible music and plenty of extras to obtain, this title has plenty of replay value. I hope this gives Sega incentive to keep Sonic in 2D and to move forward with expanding upon what has made Sonic the endearing and timeless mascot for their brand since the 90s.
+Incredible Remixed Music
+Fast Paced and Seamless Gameplay
+Perfect 2D Sprites
-Frustrating Issues from Prior Entries Still Remain