Sonic Mania Review - a joyous celebration of what made the series great
The announcement of Sonic Mania did not leave much to be desired. Revealed during one of the biggest trainwrecks ever committed to live-streaming, Mania's initial reveal did manage pique the interests of many who missed Sonic's heyday on the Genesis. However, we have been burned by Sonic so many times over the years it is hard to get truly excited for a game starring the world's most famous blue hedgehog. So, has Mania done what so many Sonic games have failed to do in the past and actually delivered a good game?
In short, yes. It is a wonderful game. If you liked old school Sonic then this game is perfect for you. I get the feeling you already know that though. This review isn't for you. This review is for people who do not get the Sonic hype or have just never experienced it. Is Sonic Mania for you? Well, let's see about that...
Sonic Mania's fantastic opening puts this game as the next game after Sonic & Knuckles - Sonic 4 wisely being dismissed as "the" classic Sonic sequel. The story is back to basics. Eggman, or since we are feeling old school let's call him Robotnik for old time's sake, he's back to his stealing ways but this time he is joined by a group of robots called the Hard Boiled Heavies. He steals a weird gem called the Phantom Ruby and Sonic gets sent back in time to Green Hill Zone. That's all the plot you need - no light or dark sides, no strange human love interests and no transforming into werehogs. This is a Sonic story that takes a backseat to the game and it is refreshing.
Oh, yeah, about that Green Hill Zone - roughly two-thirds of the levels in Mania are based on previous games. There are some usual suspects like Green Hill from Sonic 1, Chemical Plant from Sonic 2 and even Stardust Speedway from Sonic CD. The first Act is very much as you would expect if you've played these games before but it's the second Act where things get a bit interesting - new gimmicks and obstacles get introduced that work really well with the older elements of the levels to create something that is both new but familiar. They do a very good job at not making you feel like you've played all of these a million times - each level becomes something brand new by the end of the second Act.
In my honest opinion though - it's the original levels that really shine here. By presenting a totally new experience, these four levels are exactly what some people have been waiting well over twenty years for - all new classic Sonic levels. Studiopolis Zone is a particular favorite of mine with a brilliant backdrop, numerous references, and great gameplay.
The gameplay is the key here - it works exactly like you would expect if you've played the older games. If you haven't...then prepare to be frustrated. Not because the controls are bad or anything but this is an old-school platformer at heart. You have unlimited continues in this one but lives are not easy to come by. It's not a hard game but there is definitely hard sections. Sonic's momentum can also sometimes get the better of him and he'll slide off platforms or run just a little too far before you notice something you miss but then the levels block it off from you - this happens a lot.
Some of the bosses are great - most are original or at least a unique take on previous ideas. I won't spoil it, but the Act 2 boss of Chemical Plant Zone actually made me squeal in excitement. There was no one else in the room which made it worse but it was an unexpected and welcome surprise.
Some bosses are not so great and can take a good while to destroy - Act 2 boss of Flying Battery springs to mind (uh, no pun intended for those who know what boss I'm talking about). I actually timed out during that fight which I have never experienced in a Sonic game before. You have to beat an Act in 10 minutes which usually is more than manageable. Luckily, I can say I've enjoyed more bosses than hated but I do think there are some that perhaps don't lend themselves to having much fun.
That brings me to this point - I have doubts Mania will appeal to anyone who has never liked Sonic. If you hated the Genesis games - you are not going to find anything here to change your mind, at least in terms of gameplay. If you know nothing about Sonic, you might get something here but again, this game isn't made to make new fans of the Blue Blur. It is purely for us old fans to get our nostalgia on.
The game looks stunning - yeah, it's 16-bit but it takes advantage of the upgraded graphical properties in modern gaming to make everything crisp, clear and detailed in a way the Genesis would not be able to. Sonic and pals are animated very well and all the old animations are there - including Sonic getting sassy if you don't press a button for a few seconds.
Musically it is very reminiscent of the Genesis games style and that is a wonderful thing for my ears to experience. The remixes of old themes are good but again, music to Sonic games is so important and they've nailed it. From the opening theme to closing theme - Sonic Mania's OST is filled to the brim with delight. Again, Studiopolis' music goes a long way to why I reckon it was one of my favorites.
For what SEGA are charging, about $20, you get a lot for your bucks. There are twelve main Zones (and a final 13th zone), but there are unlockables, alternative endings if you collect all the chaos emeralds and various nice things that make fully completing the game worth it. You unlock certain abilities, game modes, and extras by completing the bonus stages you can go through if you pass a checkpoint with enough rings - these are stylized after the bonus stages in Sonic 3 where you have to collect the blue spheres.
You get a chaos emerald you have to race around a circuit in a similar fashion to Sonic CD to catch a UFO. Again, collect blue spheres to fill up a speed meter and rings to give you more time. There are seven chaos emeralds to collect and many bonus stages to complete to get silver and gold medallions - the latter you collect by getting all the rings in a bonus stage.
There is definitely enough here to satisfy an old-school Sonic fan. However, what about the doubters? Are you gonna be satisfied? Honestly, it's hard to recommend this game to you. There is one target audience for this game and that is fans of the Genesis Sonic games. It was made by fans of those games rather than Sonic Team - Christian Whitehead made his name initially by making Sonic fan games. This is a game by fans for fans. Non-fans may be left in the cold. My only advice if you're feeling lonely - check out the older games and if you like them, get Sonic Mania. Otherwise, this may have to pass you by.
And if you liked the older games then you probably already have this game or you are pensive because you've been burned in the past by Sonic. All I have to say to that is this is not one of those times. Sonic finally has a game worthy of standing next to the old trilogy of games. It took going back to its roots to do so, but it was well worth the wait.
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