A fall from grace. Those are the words that describe Sonic’s appearance in video games since last we saw the speedster lighting up televisions around the world in the early and mid-90s. The extra dimension in the modern era just never sat well with its original play style. Several attempts at modernising the popular hedgehog and we have finally come full circle. Sonic Mania is heading back in time to fix all the wrongs.
Time to crack some eggs
Forget about Sonic’s cringy voice-overs, all the 3D levels that fell to pieces with more bugs than he could save and controls that just never felt at home – 2D Sonic is back! It’s not just 2D Sonic, it’s SEGA Mega Drive Sonic that has returned. Every frame is in place. The manner in which he taps his foot when idle, waiting for you to pick up the controller, through to the way that you watch him speed through a level at amazement that you are somehow in control of it all. It’s glorious. When you hear the first few notes of Green Hill Zone it’ll catapult your mind back in time where you might recall episodes on KTV. It’s the real McCoy… and the whole experience comes from a bunch of guys who originally worked on a Sonic fangame via a ROM hacking site. SEGA’s embrace of this is paying off in rings, but of course there is still one evil villain in play – Dr. Eggman.
No, I still can’t live with Dr. Eggman (It’s Dr. Robotnik forever!), but here he is, the poor sod, back to take on his arch-enemy, Sonic, after events that unfolded when you last played Sonic and Knuckles on the SEGA Mega Drive. The emeralds are still a hot commodity in the Sonic universe and this time Dr. Eggman has brought his sidekicks, the EggRobos, to provide Sonic with his next challenge. In this particular case Sonic is out to secure a magical gemstone named the Phantom Ruby, but before getting to it the EggRobos get their hands on it which provides them with new powers and transforms them into the Hard Boiled Heavies. This sends Sonic and Tails into dimensions they’ve been to before in their effort to retrieve it. That’s where the exciting new prospect starts.
There isn’t a sprite that is out of place.
Your very first entry into Sonic Mania, once done with the compulsory prelude, is indeed Green Hill Zone. Everything looks and feels very familiar. Sonic still has his spin dash and Tails can still get in the way and be somewhat annoying at times. There isn’t a wonky sprite in sight, but as familiar as it feels, the levels have been completely redesigned. Your route from A to B will change exponentially as it’s just so much more diverse than Sonic Team’s original efforts. This trend spills over to a revisit of Chemical Plant and other fan favourites as well as three brand new zones, which I won’t spoil. At the end of every Act Sonic gets to face off against one of the Hard Boiled Heavies or Dr. Eggman, depending on who is the in the mood for an ass-kicking. These boss battles are easily the highlight of a game that’s already filled with so many good feels. Some boss battles, especially the early ones, can be a straight-forward bout, but there are some battles that had Christian Whitehead and his team thinking way, way out of the box. I would rather not focus on these as it needs to be experienced first-hand. The original recipe doesn’t end there.
Special stages with old-school 3D levels return too, which has Sonic running after UFO-like aircrafts to obtain an emerald. The level design for each and every stage has been carefully constructed. Finding a water bubble will stop Sonic from drowning, the fire effect will protect him from flames and lets him dash through the air as you would have in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and finding speed shoes will send you flying through the levels faster than your brain can calculate. The platforming feels on point. Each level comes with returning features you would have experienced years ago, but the developers have also brought new bits that improve on the game. It’s the Plus mode in particular where it all comes in to play.
Where the entire package excels is in its presentation.
Plus is made up of the additional downloaded content, which is included in this collection. The big addition is the arrival of new characters – Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel. Sonic warps to Angel Island Zone (from Sonic the Hedgehog 3) only to bump into to friends who are trapped, and I’m sure you can guess who the two are. It’s in the new Encore mode that you’ll find that most of the shake-up takes place. Instead of increasing your number of extra lives you’ll be tasked with finding boxes that have either Tails, Knuckles, Mighty or Ray unlocked when bounced on. In other words – you can have all the characters in your assembly all counting as lives.
Five is company, two is a crowd
Should one of your characters die you’ll simply switch over to one of the other characters until there are none left. It’s an interesting take on the series, but it comes with its own flaws. Mighty has the ability to ground pound and is immune to spikes if in the ball shape, while Ray can glide through the air (which is detrimental in closed confines), Tails can reach higher out-of-reach areas and Knuckles can climb vertically and glide to areas Sonic could never dream of reaching. It’s awesome having access to all of these abilities, but unfortunately, you only have access to two characters at any one time. Press the triangle button and you can rotate between the two. Do you require Tails and he’s not in your current rotation? Tough luck, go find a box that swaps the characters out.
The download content also changes up some of the levels you might have played through in the original Sonic Mania mode and some boss battles have been changed up quite drastically. There is also a new competition mode where up to four players can race through to the end of a level in 4-player split-screen, which is a welcome addition in 2018 for people who enjoy some couch co-op. Where the entire package excels is in its presentation. The 16-Bit graphics will look extremely blocky on your fancy 4K telly, but it’s half the charm when you hear the beautiful rendition of classic Sonic soundtrack in the background playing. Each sound effect is on par with what you would expect and there are now new ones that’ll become iconic sound effects all unto its own. There is much more secrets to unlock. It’s a Sonic fan’s wet dream.
It’s taken over two decades for Sonic to finally get his act together. SEGA have come to their senses and there is now a new dream Sonic team. Unless you hate a sense of speed and fun platforming, you would be a maniac not to consider this game. For Sonic fans this is life.