Last year saw the release of the retro inspired Sonic Mania. It took fan favourite levels from the classic games and remixed them giving them a totally new experience, and also added some new zones as well. Sonic Mania was quite the landmark game for Sega and the blue hedgehog. It managed to do something that no Sonic game had for a long time: universal praise. Titles like Unleashed, Colours, and Generations in recent years had received pretty good scores, but Mania went far beyond this and would even be considered as a must have by a fair few people.
Skip forward a year and we now have the release of Sonic Mania Plus. A low priced add on to the original game that adds new playable characters, Encore mode, and 4 player split screen. I just want to say before I start that I will be focusing this review on the $5 DLC. Some sites have been reviewing the entire Sonic Mania Plus package and including the original game and Plus in their final score, but this review and score is solely based the DLC. You can read my review for the original Sonic Mania here.
A major critique of the Sonic franchise is how many new animal buddies they’d add with each game and that fault becomes clear with the Plus DLC. They add in retro characters Ray the flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo. Characters who soon became swept under the carpet for the likes of Big the Cat and Rouge the Bat. I’m a massive Sonic fan and even I forgot about Ray!
The DLC allows you to play as these two in any of the games modes and from my time with them they are pretty good additions. Anyone who has played a classic Sonic game should know that for the most part the characters don’t vary too much. Mighty’s unique traits are that if he jumps into spikes he is immune to them and if he taps jump in the air he will smack down on to the ground and destroy nearby badniks and knock item boxes out of trees. Then Ray can glide through the air. It differs from Knuckles, though. Ray must dive and rise, picking up a good rhythm to keep momentum going and unlike Knuckles he can take damage whilst gliding.
They don’t revolutionize the way the game is played, but I did have a real good time gliding around as Ray and found both of their unique traits certainly did come in handy from time to time. It is also worth mentioning that their sprites and animations were great and the team did a good job of injecting character into these long forgotten hedgehog buddies.
Next up is the encore mode. A mode that remixes the stages again as well as introduces a new gameplay mechanic. First of all the new gameplay mechanic. In Encore mode you don’t receive lives. Instead you can hit boxes to add one of the characters to your lineup. Two characters can be on screen at once and swapped at will, but to gain access to the 3rd,4th or 5th character in your roster you either have to die or find an item box. All in all this new way to play doesn’t really add or take away anything.
Now for the levels themselves the main bulk of the DLC. I was skeptical at first at how much was gonna be altered for this release. Sega didn’t exactly show off a lot of the content and reports from various people varied greatly. After beating Encore mode I can safely say that the remixed levels left me feeling greatly pleased. For the most part I’d say the levels reach a split of 50/50 new and old.
You will certainly recognize certain areas in every level, but this doesn’t stop them from feeling fresh. The amount of new content does vary from stage to stage. Flying Battery Act 1 and Mirage Saloon Act 2 did feel a bit underwhelming, but those were the only ones that truly did. Whereas Mirage Saloon Act 1 was totally different from either versions of the stage. Also one boss was totally revamped and there had been some balance changes to other ones.
It is also worth noting that the special stages you reach from the checkpoints have been changed to a pinball minigame. It was OK, I can’t say I found it to be as fun as Blue Sphere, but it was a good way to refill my selection of characters. Also the special stages to get Chaos Emeralds difficulty was ramped up quite a bit, but that leads into one of my complaints about encore mode…
The Beginning and the End
Many Sonic games have a secret final boss once you collect all Chaos Emeralds. Encore mode has nothing, except for a true ending cutscene. I felt this let the overall experience down a bit. Especially considering they did go to the effort of greatly changing one boss. Also the beginning the game has you play on Angel Island Zone briefly. This is more of an issue with marketing, but when they said you could play on Angel Island Zone I expected to have two acts to play on, but you barely get half of one. In fact you can’t even select Angel Island Zone from the stage select screen. It was an odd decision to even implement it and I feel they would’ve been better off just giving us a cutscene, not the false hope of an entirely new zone to enjoy.
Then of course there is the 4 player competition mode that has been added. Arguably a mode that should have been in the base game. I am sure people would manage with having to play as the same character. It is a good mode, but it is a shame it doesn’t have online play as I haven’t actually had the chance to play 4 players yet. Some may say it goes against the idea of the retro vibe of the game, but they do have leaderboards and replays for Time Attack mode. Something for them to think about in Mania 2 I suppose!
I was skeptical going into Plus. I thought that it might suffer the same issues that the Zelda DLC had. A case where the biggest issue isn’t what the DLC is, but what it could have been. Even though I would’ve loved to have gotten 4-6 new zones at a higher cost, I can’t say I feel let down by Plus. Mighty and Ray are a welcome addition to the roster and the remixed levels do breathe new life into the game.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of Sonic Mania Plus for this review.