Sonic goes retro
If there’s one video game trend 2017 will be remembered for, it’s old-school mascot revivals. First came Crash Bandicoot, then Mega Man, and now Sonic is back in all his 16-bit glory in Sonic Mania.
Available on all major platforms, Sonic Mania brings the best of Sonic’s past and future into one game. It’s a celebration of Sega’s iconic mascot over the last 26 years with lush 2D landscapes and nostalgic nods galore. It also happens to be the best entry in the franchise since 1994’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on SEGA Genesis. Indeed, this latest game represents a glorious return to form for Sonic, and reminder of why he rose to super-stardom in the early ’90s.
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Classic Sonic gameplay
Sonic Mania is a shining example of why sometimes less is more. It forgoes the mixture of 2D/3D perspectives from Sonic Generations, and the gimmicky Wisp power-ups seen in Sonic Colors. Instead, we have back-to-basics gameplay focusing on two simple elements: speed and momentum. These properties are what made the original games so much fun to play, and they carry forward to Mania beautifully.
Playing through the game I couldn’t help but marvel at the rhythmic elegance ever-present during all 24 acts. From high-speed loop-to-loops, to bouncy springs, to high-flying catapults, it really is Sonic at his best. Best of all, the game constantly surprised me with its sheer level design ingenuity. Stages routinely crisscrossed back-and-forth, had multiple different routes, and there are secrets practically everywhere. You can replay levels several times over and discover new surprises each and every time.
What’s most ironic about Sonia Mania is that it took superfans―and not Sonic Team themselves―to create the best Sonic experience to come along in years. Leading the project were indie developers known for their love of Sonic, including Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, and PagodaWest Games. This just goes to show outside studios with fresh ideas can be the breath of fresh air stagnant franchises need. Without question, all those involved have done a truly phenomenal job.
Remixed and all-new zones
Every ounce of Sonic Mania screams “love letter” to the franchise’s long-time fans. Nowhere is this more apparent than the eight remixed zone rejigged from prior games. Naturally there’s the trademark Green Hill from Sonic’s original outing, but also fun inclusions like Oil Ocean and Stardust Speedway. These levels strike an instant nostalgic chord with their enhanced yet recognizable scenery, familiar enemies, and wonderfully remixed audio tracks.
However, the updates in this game go way beyond the refreshed graphics and tunes. Remixed levels may start out like you remember from SEGA Genesis, but they soon morph and change in fascinating ways. By the time you face the boss or mini-boss at the end, they feel like entirely new stages. And aside from a handful of unnecessarily challenging segments, it’s virtually non-stop high-speed thrills from beginning to end.
In addition to the remixed zones, Sonic Mania also inserts four brand new ones into the mix. My favourite of the bunch is the Hollywood-themed Studiopolis, but props go to Press Garden for its gorgeous cherry blossom aesthetic. Mirage Saloon and Titanic Monarch round out the new zones, and these too have some wild moments. An obvious high-level of care has gone into these stages, with the new ones as fun as the reworked classics.
Teeming with nostalgia
From obvious to more subtle, Sonic Mania is simply flowing with reverential nods to the past. Within the aforementioned new and remixed zones you’ll find all sorts of familiar faces, enemies, and hidden Easter eggs. These include references to not only past Sonic games, but other SEGA properties like Daytona USA and Streets of Rage. Paying attention to every last detail is a reward unto itself, especially if you’re a well-versed SEGA fan.
Also pulling on your nostalgic heartstrings are the return of beloved characters Tails and Knuckles. Both are fully playable, along with Sonic, and each has their own special abilities that make them unique. Tails has limited flight and can swim better, while Knuckles can climb walls and glide. Sonic, of course, is still all about speed and can spin dash for extra propulsion. Given their differing moveset, it’s a neat challenge to complete the game with all three characters.
Chock full of bonus areas
I mentioned earlier that acts have multiple routes, but that’s just the beginning when it comes to the game’s secrets. Each stage has a Giant Ring that warps you to a Special Stage where you goal is to chase down a UFO. Doing so will net you a Chaos Emerald, and collecting seven of them unlocks the game’s true ending.
As well, collecting 25 rings or more and touching a Star Post checkpoint opens up a Blue Sphere bonus stage. Just like in Sonic 3, your goal is to race around a 360-degree spheres collecting blue orbs as you go. Performing well in these bonus stages earns you medallions that unlock all-new features in the game.
So many modes and secrets
Sonic Mania includes a plethora of game modes and fun secrets to discover. The main story mode is called Mania, and this can be played single-player or cooperatively with a buddy. Completing the first level unlocks Time Attack (a speed run mode) and Competitive (a local split-screen challenge mode.) Competitive is based off the same mode from Sonic 2 and tasks you with completing stages with the highest score.
Another unlockable mode in the game is Mean Bean, a pared-down version of 1993’s Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. It’s essentially a re-skinned Puyo Puyo game featuring characters from the Sonic universe. But that’s not all, Sonic Mania also has a Blue Sphere mini-game mode, and sound test called D.A. Garden. For those who really go searching, you can also find a hidden Debug Mode and a Stage Select code.
Sonic Mania is a blast from the past that feels fresh, modern, and revamped for a new generation. It channels everything that’s great about Sonic games and builds upon that foundation in tangible ways. The furiously fast-paced gameplay is exhilarating, yet it’s almost a shame to be zipping past the wondrous HD graphics at Mach 3. And let me tell you, this game is simply gorgeous. Crisp 16-bit visuals, fluid animations, and a dazzling array of colours to ignite your senses. Simply put, Sonic is back in a big, big way.
+ Beautiful HD retro-inspired graphics
+ Excellent remixed audio tracks
+ Immaculate level design
+ Tons of secrets to discover
+ Hits all the right nostalgic notes
– Rare few frustrating difficulty spikes
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.75/5 (95%)
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