By Jason Quinn / September 12th, 2017
|Developer||Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games|
|Release Date||August 15th, 2017|
|Platform||PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC|
|Age Rating||ESRB E for Everyone|
Sonic Mania is a combination of a few things that rarely ever happen. This game is made by fans that love Sonic and are very good at what they do. Christian Whitehead, the director, made ports of Sonic CD and Sonic 2 that people consider to be the best versions. These ports feature little things from the games running more smoothly to even restoring Hidden Palace Zone in Sonic 2, which was removed from the original game. These were also built from the ground up, so this guy knows classic Sonic inside and out. He originally just pitched an idea of a mobile port of Sonic CD to Sega. Sega decided to go ahead with it, and ports of Sonic 1 and 2 followed. Now, they were able to make their own original game.
Let’s talk about the game itself now. The story is light and simple. Eggman discovers an object known as the Phantom Ruby, giving him powers to send Sonic hurtling through space and time. It also had an adverse effect on some of Eggman’s robots, and now they’re bigger, stronger, and smarter. This group is known as the Hard Boiled Heavies, and now it’s a three way tug-of-war between them, Sonic, and Eggman to get the Phantom Ruby.
The game starts out with the iconic Green Hill Zone, and it seems pretty similar to how you’d remember it. Once Act 2 starts, you realize you’re practically playing a different level entirely, complete with remixed music. This game features 8 zones from classic Sonic games, and they all flow like this. A mostly faithful reproduction in the first Act, and totally different level design and gimmicks in the second Act.
To compliment this, there are four entirely unique zones. These were the highlights of the game for me. Their themes are pretty unique to Sonic games, and the level design is absolutely top notch. If heavily remixed classic Sonic stages don’t convince you that these guys know what they’re doing, these levels definitely will. The amount of love put into all of these levels is something I think only someone that has a true passion for these games can do.
The overall level design takes mostly after Sonic 3 and Knuckles. Levels are long, wide, and dense. There’s numerous paths through the level, and lots of little nooks and crannies with power-ups, rings, and occasionally a Special Ring. These Special Rings take you to a special stage that rewards you with a chaos emerald if you beat it. As per usual, collecting of all the emeralds is necessary to get the true ending.
Every level has its own set of gimmicks that make each one entirely unique. Some are brand new gimmicks, and some of them feature things from other Sonic levels that aren’t in Sonic Mania. One of the returning classic levels features some of the level gimmicks from Marble Garden Zone in Sonic 3. Chemical Plant Zone has these injectors that turn water into a bouncy liquid that allows you to jump higher. Green Hill Zone has zip-lines reminiscent of Angel Island Zone from Sonic 3. Each gimmick only gets used once, and then it moves on to the next.
In some 2D Sonic games, levels sometimes had spikes or enemies right in your path that were hard to avoid at high speed. Sonic Mania is pretty lenient in this regard. From my recollection, I don’t remember any moments where I zoomed into a wall of spikes or an enemy. The way games like Sonic 3 and Knuckles and now Sonic Mania reward skilled players is by offering a quicker way through the stage. If you miss an opportune jump, you won’t fall into a bottomless pit, but rather just a slower route through the level. Yes, this does mean replaying the stage is necessary to get really good at it, but that’s why it’s so satisfying.
Sonic Mania looks a little bit like a Sonic game for the Saturn that we never got. The graphics look slightly better than a Genesis game, but the animations and such are more detailed and smoother. The special stages also have low-poly 3D models like you would’ve seen in a Saturn game. Fortunately, the game runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second. Sonic 3, as good as it is, still occasionally suffered from some slowdown.
The music in this game is equally as stellar as everything else. In the classic zones, the first Act features a mostly faithful recreation of the original song. In Act 2, to complement the remixed stage, there’s a heavily remixed track. They’re all fantastic, and the music from the new stages are equally as good.
I’ve been singing this game’s praises, but there are of course some very minor issues. In Sonic 3 and Knuckles, there were little cutscenes that played out between zones that told you the story. They also made natural transitions from one zone to the next.. Sonic Mania does have some cutscenes and level transitions, but not between every zone, which is unfortunate. Personally, I wish there could’ve been more original levels. An even split with 6 classic stages and 6 new ones would’ve been great.
I do feel like at some points this game relies a little bit too much on nostalgia. There’s tons of references to previous games and most of them are subtle, so if you don’t get it, it’s not an issue. Unless you know some really specific stuff about old Sonic, you’ll probably scratch your head at some certain references though. The boss fights are pretty good overall, though some of them are incredibly easy. The difficulty curve is also all over the place with them. In Studiopolis Zone, the mini-boss is actually quite a bit harder than the boss.
These issues, however, are pretty easy to ignore when you’re blasting through a stage with killer music blaring. At the end of the day, this is a fantastic Sonic game through and through, that I have no trouble putting right next to Sonic 3 and Knuckles. This game was made by people with genuine passion and skill, and it shows. The game takes only a couple hours to beat, much like older Sonic games, but there is a ton of replayability here. If you like Sonic or any 2D platformers in general, you owe it to yourself to play this game. One can only hope that Sega realizes the talent of the guys that made it and continue to work with them.
This title was purchased by the reviewer.
Christian WhiteheadHeadcannonPagodaWest GamesPCplatformerPS4SegaSonic ManiaSwitchXbox One