It is safe to say that in the 25+ years that Sonic has been around he’s been a lot of places and done a lot of things. Sega just can’t resist the appeal of placing the iconic blue hedgehog in any setting possible whether that setting be the Olympics, being turned into a “Werehog,” or even starring alongside a very strangely proportioned Knuckles in a certain TV show. So when Sonic Mania was announced it came as a great surprise to fans of the series from the golden years of the original Mega Drive titles. Not only is this a game that captures the exact feel of the classic games, but is essentially made by the fans, as Christian Whitehead spearheads development in this title that could best be described as a tribute to Sonic’s glory days.
For those unfamiliar with the classic Sonic formula it is quite simple. Being a side scrolling platformer you get to choose between playing as Sonic, Tails or Knuckles and then from there you must traverse the Zone making your way through act 1 & 2 by dodging badniks, collecting rings, speeding through checkpoints and beating the evil Dr Eggman at the end of the zone.
It’s simple, but also simply brilliant. A formula that will fill any gamer with a strong sense of nostalgia as they first take control and begin to run through Green Hill Zone, the series first ever stage.
As mentioned above, the first zone in Sonic Mania is the famous Green Hill Zone which might have some readers concerned and asking themselves “is this just a compilation title of Zones we’ve already played?” and the answer is no. At first the stage list might not sound too appealing as Sonic Mania boasts four entirely new Zones and eight returning classic ones picked from Sonic 1-3, CD & Knuckles, but the point that must be emphasized is that these classic stages are totally unique and offer a beautiful mixture of nostalgia and innovation. The classic themes, tricky badniks and old set pieces are present in the classic zones, but the stages themselves are entirely different from the counterparts remixed to offer a new and fresh experience which is particularly true of act 2 of the classic zones as these tend to add totally new mechanics and spins on what you might expect from places like Chemical Plant Zone.
This then leads on to what the new Zones are like and whether or not they can stand tall next to the fan favourites that made it into Mania and in short for the most part they do. One of the most impressive achievements pulled off by the team is how well these zones gel with the classics particularly the original music created by Tee Lopes who also remixed the classic themes. Every song is catchy and will leave you humming a tune the next day. The themes of the zones are excellent and look like they’ve been lifted straight out of a Mega Drive classic. As I said for the most part these levels do meet the standard, but I must say that whilst very enjoyable Mirage Saloon Zone felt a bit shorter than the standard in the game. By no means is it an awful level, but in general it just seemed to be over before it even began.
Of course one thing that is needed to complete any Sonic stage is a face off against a mechanical entity typically piloted by Dr Eggman. Not every fight is against Eggman — some are against the Hard Boiled Heavies, creations of the evil Dr. Whether it is fighting Eggman, a Hard Boiled Heavy or just an AI machine one thing is for certain Sonic Mania brings to the table some of the greatest boss design the series has ever seen. Every act ends with a boss and each one is totally unique and keeps you guessing to what the next act might throw at you.
Not wanting to spoil the surprise for anyone as it is great to see them without being spoiled; Sega did reveal the boss for Act 2 of Green Hill Zone. That boss being a remixed version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s final boss the Death Egg Robot. This isn’t simply a carbon copy of the battle that took place years ago though, it’s a fresh take on a classic as the giant mecha chases Sonic across the screen launching bombs or extending its deadly arms to take out the speedy hedgehog. Honestly this moment made me feel like a child again and I haven’t been so excited over a video game for quite some time. This fight really is Sonic Mania in a nutshell as the game offers you classic moments in a new way.
No Sonic game would be complete without the addition of Chaos Emeralds and Sonic Mania is no exception to this rule. Hidden throughout all the Zones are giant rings that will teleport Sonic to a 3D stage where he must chase down a UFO and reclaim the precious emerald. Sonic must collect blue spheres to increase his speed and pick up those vital rings to increase the time limit. These are actually my favourite specials stages in any 2D Sonic game as they balance difficulty fairly well without ever crossing into feeling a bit unfair like Sonic 2’s blind corners.
These aren’t the only special stages in Mania: when you go past a checkpoint with 25+ rings you can jump into a portal that takes the player to the much loved classic mini game blue sphere. The aim of the game here is to collect the blue spheres and dodge the red ones; it sounds simple, but as time goes on and the stage get more difficult and it can become a real challenge. For those who don’t know what collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds does I won’t spoilt it, although I find it hard to imagine that someone doesn’t know. As for completing the Blue Sphere levels these unlock bonus modes and moves for you to enjoy. Like Sonics’ shield from Sonic 3 or even a ‘& Knuckles’ mode that lets you have Knuckles as a sidekick even when you play as Knuckles…which was very interesting.
Are there any bad points to Sonic Mania? Yes, as no game is perfect; however the games issues never really cross into being a major buzzkill, they are present. As mentioned above Mirage Saloon does stick out as being a bit short and under developed. Another issue I had was to do with what seemed to be an underutilized feature, Knuckles can access a few areas no one else can, gets a different start for Green Hill Act 1 and a couple of other surprises along the way. Ultimately it felt like an idea that never got fully implemented as Tails gets no areas exclusive to playing as him and Knuckles doesn’t exactly get a lot, it just felt like a missed opportunity to me. Then finally there is one boss that at first was awesome, but on repeat plays becomes somewhat tedious. Again nothing major, but it’d be nice to be able to skip it.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of Sonic Mania for this Sonic Mania review.