Sonic Mania Review: Going Super Sonic

Sonic Mania Review: Going Super Sonic
There’s a reason that Sonic the Hedgehog is a lasting and much loved video game character and franchise. The Blue Blur has never known the meaning of the word: stop. Over the years, the Sonic franchise has been a tumultuous ride to say the least, but Sonic Mania brings Sonic and friends back to the 2D side scrolling realm for more of what we love: entertaining, blast processing fun.

Sonic Mania

Hydrocity Zone is back with new gameplay elements. Now you’re in the driver’s seat of Robotnik’s mean machine.

Taking control of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles is like reawakening tired muscles as you jump, spin dash, and speed your way through each of the game’s twelve zones. Throughout each stage Sonic and company will face off against Dr. Robotnik’s new “Hard-Boiled Heavies”, egg shaped robots and even with Robotnik himself. Familiar zones such as Green Hill, Hydrocity, and Flying Battery return. However, these stages have been completely reimagined while staying true to the original stages. For example, Hydrocity Zone now has segments where Sonic is bubbled underwater and has to be steered by propellers changing the current of water. Flying Battery Zone has been updated with brilliant storm effects as you constantly shift between the bowels and hull of the flying warship.

Sonic Mania is not just host to classic stages; it has several original zones that have become instant classics. Studiopolis Zone is cast in wonderful neon lights, evoking prime time entertainment in a world based on television. Mirage Saloon is a trip through the Wild West deserts and cantinas complete with honky-tonk pianos, six-shooters that fire Sonic every which way, and even references to long-lost characters Fang, Bean, and Bark.

Sonic Mania

Press Garden Zone, a new stage, captures a beautiful Winter Tundra.

Each stage has been given a noticeable overhaul in presentation value. Colors are far more sharp than their original counterparts and gone is the stuttering frame rate when Sonic hits a spike trap, spilling his precious rings. The 2D sprites of Sonic Mania are much more expressive than they were on SEGA Genesis and SEGA CD. Sonic Mania’s visuals are paired perfectly with its soundtrack composed by Tee Lopes. Classics are beautifully remixed and brand new stages have fist-pumping good beats. I turned down the sound effects a bit so I could jam along to the tracks while playing.

Sonic Mania is a complex game. Like its predecessors, there’s no one way to get to the end of a stage. There are multiple branching paths with loop de loops, springs, and many other ways to speed along. If the camera could be pulled back to view an entire stage, you’d see there’s an enormous verticality to it all. Having replayed many of the stages, there was no shortage of surprises any time I discovered secrets within a new tier I had never explored.

You’re encouraged to veer off the predictable path, because hidden in each stage are the familiar giant rings that trigger bonus stages. This time, however, Sonic must chase down a UFO while collecting rings and blue spheres before times runs out. Catching up with the UFO means taking the elusive Chaos Emerald from its grasp. With seven Chaos Emeralds in total, you can expect the bonus stages to change things up as you go. While fun in concept, its execution is not so. As Sonic begins speeding up, making those sharp turns proves a difficult task not being able to see hazards or pits on the horizon. One collision with a spike track not only costs you rings, but can also mean the end of the stage if you careen totally out of control.

Sonic Mania

New bonus stages are tricky to control, but the reward is worth it.

As a matter of fact, checkpoint posts are far more generous in Sonic Mania. Passing through one with 30 rings in hand lets you play the much suspenseful “Get Blue Spheres” bonus stage also from Sonic 3 & Knuckles. If Sonic games truly required skill to play, it’s definitely required here. Instead of earning Chaos Emeralds, successfully completing these stages gives you medals ranging from bronze, silver, and gold. Medals unlock bonus features such as a sound test, debug mode, and, hysterically, the option to add Knuckles as an extra character even when you’re playing as Knuckles.

Even game-changing extras can be unlocked such as swapping out Sonic’s abilities. The Super Peel Out from Sonic CD returns, as well as the Insta-Shield from Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The downside here is that these abilities can only be used on a file you can’t save on. However, Sonic Mania’s new Drop Dash feature is easy to use and keeps the speed going even during platforming segments.

Another thing I have to praise Sonic Mania for is how it handles its own difficulty. Even I, who’s played Sonic games since the Genesis days, had some difficulty in overcoming certain stages or defeating some of the game’s bosses. In the Genesis games, once you lost all your lives and exhausted all your continues, it was back to the very beginning of the game to try again. Thankfully, Sonic Mania lets you retry from the beginning of the stage. What’s more is that you get to keep all the Chaos Emeralds and Medals you’ve collected along the way.

Sonic Mania

There’s endless ways to get to the goal post in each stage.

For those seeking a cooperative adventure together, Sonic Mania has a couple of ways to play together. You can play the main game together and share one screen. Unfortunately, like the classic Sonic games, the camera is only situated on Player One, so if Player Two strays off screen, the camera won’t auto adjust. At least Player Two can never die or lose a life no matter how bad of a beating they take. On the other hand, Competitive Mode is where two players can race each other through several different stages for a more familiar split screen experience.

Truth be told, the last time I consciously remembered having a huge, giddy smile on my face with a purely 2D Sonic game was Christmas Eve 1994 having unwrapped Sonic & Knuckles. Dare I say, Sonic Mania may become my new favorite 2D Sonic game. It’s a game made with the utmost attention to detail and no shortage of love and care. You gotta go fast and get Sonic Mania in your life.

9
Phenomenal

Summary

Despite some issues like clunky bonus stages and special features that can't be enjoyed on save files, Sonic Mania doesn't slow down with its fast 2D gameplay, amazing visuals and music, and a heartfelt throwback to what made Sonic our hero over 25 years ago.

One of the biggest Star Wars fans there is. When I don't have one of many gaming peripherals in my hands I probably have my nose in a good book, out amiibo hunting, or contemplating (and never deciding) what game to pull off my shelf next!

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