Played on Windows
Also Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Sonic Mania made a big splash as it was created after a number of years. It was created by Christian Whitehead, who made fan games of Sonic and eventually a history of working with Sega on a number of ports of their properties. To have a studio take a fan game idea and want to make an official game out of it is surprising. To see it done with a major property such as Sonic makes it even more impressive. The question is whether Sonic Mania lives up to the legacy of Sonic.
That legacy has taken a bit of a beating. Sonic has been Sega’s main talent for a very long time. He helped sell the Genesis and talk about blast processing. As one of the stars of the 16-bit era, Sonic had issues moving to the next generation. While Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 were good games, they have not aged extremely well, but Sonic eventually fell on hard times, leading towards games like Sonic the Hedgehog, in 2006. The history has more highs (Sonic Generations) and lows (Sonic Boom), but really this little hedgehog has been on a wild roller coaster both through reviews and games.
I’ve played many of these games, having a Genesis when I was young, and then picking up both Adventures on Gamecube, as well as the 2006 entry. I’ve played more, and own almost every Sonic game for the Genesis, and Game Gear. So I would call myself a fan. In fact, I was a fan who remembered how great this series once was, and like many people wished Sega would return to the simplicity of those old days.
The minute you start Sonic Mania, you start to notice that much of the game is a throwback to that classic Sonic style. The title screen starts and Sonic pops his head through the title showing off his 90s style attitude by shaking a figure at the audience, it’s a scene reminiscent of the original Sonic titles.
So much of Sonic Mania is made for fans of the series. It is amazing how well the graphics look, both combining the modern era graphics and styles, while still staying true to the original games. The characters look and feel like they were lifted directly from the original Sonic games. The game looks fluid and can be played at 4k resolutions without any issues appearing.
Out of twelve main levels, nine are taken from the original sonic games, and four are brand new. They all look like they came from the same game. Though Sonic Mania has a definite difference in the four new levels and the remastered levels.
Sonic Mania is a throwback to a different era, and it takes that to heart, even hiding its story in the manual of the game. I’ve had this game for almost a year and only discovered the manual button on the store page of Steam as I wrote this. That’s where the core of the story is hidden. Dr. Eggman gets his hands on a Phantom Ruby, and has all new enemies with him, called the “Hard Boiled Heavies”, five different robots that Dr. Eggman created.
Of course, if you don’t read the manual, none of this is very clear similar to many NES and Genesis games from back in the day. However the game really doesn’t need the story, and you have a very fast introduction to all these characters, not even spending the time to name them.
One of the new zones, Studiopolis, it’s a movie studio style zone, even with a popcorn maker
This may be an adherence to the rules of the original Sonic games which never had a written story in the game, and it’s acceptable here, but it’s also a bit of a shame, as there’s only one place to get any of this story, and gaming culture generally doesn’t even look at the manuals anymore.
As I started to play Sonic Mania, I had one thought in my mind. “Sonic is back.” I had a goofy smile on my face and I just loved playing the game. It starts with Green Hills Zone and from that moment, I was in heaven. Everything about Sonic Mania reminded me of being a kid and getting a new Genesis cartridge, plugging it in and learning a new game through trial and error.
Green Hills as always is a zone that combines Sonic’s style with the feeling of speed and control, challenging the player to get to the end as fast as possible. Sonic Mania has a timer, and while the game will kill the player if they take more than 10 minutes to complete a level, only the slowest players will even get close to this limit. Every level is relatively fast, and even if you lose a life after 10 minutes, the game will place the player at the closest checkpoint and restart the clock from scratch. While many fans claim Sonic is about speed, it’s more about exploration and control, but the first levels of these games always allow for players to quickly move from left to right.
Green Hills zone is definitely back. Can you hear the sound of Sonic jumping and hitting an enemy? I can.
There’s no tutorial, again another throwback to the old era, but with only a handful of moves, and only a single action button most actions are easy to understand. The player can Jump, spin dash (done by holding down and the Jump button), and a few special abilities depending on which character you are playing as, but it has the simplicity that the series has been lacking for a while, and for that, I think Sonic Mania should be cherished.
All three characters play just like they did in the original games. Sonic has a few abilities depending on a setting the game has, from an instant shield to a drop dash and an ability from Sonic CD which I wasn’t able to puzzle out. Tails retains his ability to fly for great distances and reach out of the way platforms or avoid hazards. Knuckles is able to glide around levels and climb up the walls similar to his abilities in Sonic and Knuckles.
The main game, Mania Mode, has four configurations, allowing the player to play as Sonic and Tails (an unofficial two player mode), Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles.
From there the game is simple, just run through every level as fast as you can. The game saves your progress after every zone or two levels. The player does have limited lives, starting with only 3, and losing all of them will send the player back to the beginning of the zone, even if they are on the boss of the second level in the zone. It makes sense to have a life system but it still is one of the most archaic elements of the game, and one I wish could have been made optional.
However Sonic and friends are not completely defenseless, as they race through the levels, they’ll pick up rings, these rings have the same magic power as always, protecting the character from a single hit. If an enemy hits the player, they’ll flinch, get thrown back and drop all their rings which will disappear after a short time. If the player gets hit without holding a single ring, they’ll die.
The Blue Sphere Bonus level is back. I might be the only one who liked this one.
Collecting a single ring that is dropped though gives the player full protection once again, and is definitely a tactic players can employ to avoid death.
As mentioned above, Sonic Mania features twelve main zones in this game. Eight are based on the original classic stage from the original Sonic games, Sonic, 2, 3, & Knuckles, and CD. There are also four new zones, named Studiopolis, Mirage Saloon, Press Garden, and Titanic Monarch.
Each Zone has a similar progression, the remixed levels start with a level that feels like it could have come from the original game, with no new mechanics. The second zone will add in new mechanics.
An example would be the Chemical Plant which is the second zone in the game and originally was in Sonic The Hedgehog 2. The initial level mostly focuses on some underwater or drowning danger, and pathways that are like pneumatic tubes. The second level though adds in the ability to bounce off pools of rubbery liquid, Syringes that will inject a new compound into different pools, and whether new or just remixed.
In addition, each level (act) ends with a boss battle, and all of these are quite interesting and entertaining. Sonic Mania features a few surprises as well as interesting battles, though I’d say almost all of the fights with the exception of perhaps the final boss, are relatively easy. Sonic might get hit, but it’s not that hard to hang on to a ring to keep him from death. The fights though are inventive and fun to see what is coming next.
Oil Ocean is back with a mechanic of Sonic’s fire shield setting the oil on fire as he skids down it.
That is the progression for all twelve zones. Even the four new zones introduce a relatively simple stage and then remix them into a more complex and interesting stage for the follow-up level. The style of the stages mixes nostalgic flair with design expertise and produces very interesting results that kept me delighted and interested.
The new levels are a mixed bag. Studiopolis and Mirage Saloon are excellent additions to the series and feel like they came out of a classic game. Press Garden is interesting but a bit too slow for my taste, and Titanic Monarch does some things that I found excessive for the final levels of the game. However, while Sonic mania has good, great and amazing levels, there really are no bad levels and only maybe one or two levels I could call merely good.
As you play through the game, there are also two different types of bonus levels that are available to the player. The first is available at each checkpoint, allowing the player to warp to a bonus level if they have 25 coins. This is based on the Sonic And Knuckles’ lock-on technology, a gimmick named for placing a cartridge on top of the Sonic and Knuckles cartridge, locking it in place and starting the Genesis. Sonic Mania gives one of the 32 levels included in it at a time, and the levels are randomly selected. Each level beaten will award a gold or a Silver medal and be removed from the rotation until all levels are beaten, and these levels are only used to unlock bonus features.
A second bonus level is accessible if the player finds the large ring in any level. This bonus level challenges the player to chase a UFO that flies around a track. The player has to collect blue spheres, as well as coins that act as a timer for the level. Sonic Mania features seven increasingly harder versions of the UFO chase bonus level which each awards a chaos emerald for successful completion. Failing to beat the level only means it’ll appear the next time you find a similar large ring.
It looks great, even if it’s quite challenging. This is where 3d Sonic belongs, the bonus levels.
The UFO chase game starts relatively easy but I have struggled quite a bit to collect the fourth emerald. Sadly that also means I may never see the alternate ending, without cheat codes. It’s a shame but definitely a perfect challenge for a sonic fan who wants a little more.
The most shocking thing to me about Sonic Mania is how well it was designed and created. While it’s definitely a nostalgic tour through Sonic’s history, focused on the old Genesis and Sega CD games, Sonic Mania is fantastic in so many ways. While I still struggle with the bonus rounds, the difficulty is a good thing. At the same time, it really helps to wash some of Sonic’s history away and remind fans why Sonic has so many adoring fans.
While I haven’t played every Sonic game, Sonic Mania has easily become one of my favorites of the series, and at a price of 20 bucks, it’s easy to recommend. Sonic Mania is simply the best Sonic game to come out in at least a decade, and the only real crime that could be committed would be to have Sonic Mania be a single game. I’d love to see a sequel eventually and the studio who made this clearly understand Sonic to the point that Sega should be considering this as well. While this game is focused on nostalgia, I only wonder what they could create if the reins were taken off and they could add to the lore of Sonic.
I give Sonic Mania a
Sonic Mania is a must play for anyone who wonders why Sonic is a a major mascot.
Final Thoughts: Sonic Mania is simply one of the best sonic games in the last 25 years. It’s highly polished, well designed and brilliantly fun. It’s everything the sonic fan in me wanted making a must play.
Stats: 21.9 hours 12/16 achievements earned.