I never had a Super Nintendo growing up; I was a Genesis kid. Although I envied my friends with their copies of TMNT IV: Turtles in Time and various other classics, I still basked in the glory of Sega. Games like Streets of Rage, Road Rash, and of course Sonic the Hedgehog were common games resting in my cartridge slot. Of all the Sonic games in the franchise, I mostly enjoyed Sonic the Hedgehog 3, usually with the Sonic & Knuckles cart attached. I remember those gaming memories fondly, but the Sonic franchise has never been able to reach those heights again. Now, Sonic Mania busts onto the scene, and it’s looking mighty impressive. But can it recreate the magic I’ve sought after for so long?
The Mania Begins
Right out of the gate, I started to appreciate Sonic Mania‘s attention to detail. When selecting your save slot (yes, there’s several save slots like the originals), you can choose which character you’ll play as. Apart from the obvious choice of Sonic, you can team up with Tails, play as just Tails, or take out Knuckles for a solo spin. Being able to play as Knuckles right from the start was a major appreciation. I still chose the standard Sonic & Tails combo, but was glad I didn’t have to jump through any hoops to unlock him.
Sonic Mania doesn’t do too much in the ways of mixing up Sonic’s actual kit. No, it’s still jumping and spin dashing. There’s the added option of drop spinning, but most of the variety in Sonic’s movement comes from the numerous power ups he can obtain. In fact, Sonic Mania is essentially a mix of all the best aspects of the original Sonic trilogy, mixed into a cohesive experience. However, not much needed to be changed about Sonic’s basic movement. You’ll still bounce all over the screen in a frenetic yet satisfying way. When Sonic Mania picks up the speed, it’s an absolute blast.
Through the Chaos Glass
Sonic Mania is relatively light on story, but that’s expected. The evil Eggman (or whatever you’d like to call him, I don’t really care) has once again obtained the chaos emeralds, and uses them to warp Sonic around various zones. There’s an evil plan somewhere in the mix, but with no dialogue (thank heavens for that), most of the story is inferred.
However, the Eggman warps Sonic across a variety of entertaining and beautiful zones. These zones all contain two acts, both distinguishable in their difference. There’s two kinds of zones; remade zones from the original games, and brand new zones with their own themes. The first act of the remade zones is always an identical recreation of one of the trilogies best. When you first start the game and are plopped into Green Hill zone (as expected), nothing seems quite out of place.
It’s not until the second act where Sonic Mania flips the script, reforming the zone’s assets into a new yet familiar experience. New visual tweaks become more prominent, the music receives a bit of a remix, and everything is generally a bit crazier. When it comes to original Sonic levels, I can take them or leave them. I appreciate the throwback, but the second zones are usually much more enjoyable than the first.
Crafted with Love
New zones are easy to tell from old ones, mainly due to Sonic Mania‘s great use of the color palette. Not only are new zones incredibly vivid and colorful, but they still maintain the signature Genesis era vibe. Some of the game’s best tunes are in these new zones, and the best looking zones (like Press Garden) are the new ones. These zones are a spectacle to behold, and the attention to detail and general love put into the art is noticeable. They’re all a great display on how using a vast variety of color can greatly improve a level’s themes and tone.
The use of color and visual spectacle isn’t the only impressive thing about Sonic Mania, but simply one of many. The animation is top notch, and there’s an insane attention to detail. Especially in the new zones, the world animates in a way that (while never possible on the Genesis) evokes the feeling of the golden era of platforming. Trees and bushes rustle and expel leaves as you pass through them, water splashes off the bottom of your feet as you run across the surface, and platforms turn and wobble appropriately. Everything in this game is crafted with immense love, and it shows.
Loads of Modes
Sonic Mania‘s main story mode is full of variety. Fun and intelligent gameplay mechanics are commonly introduced for a level or two, and then discarded before becoming stale. There’s a constant feeling of awe and surprise, from boss cameos to size mix ups. I won’t spoil any more of the smart gameplay features, but know that there’s plenty of variety. Which makes the inclusion of multiple modes, extras, and unlockables that much more commendable.
Not only are the levels varied and replayable, but Sonic Mania offers you several modes to enjoy those levels in. Speed junkies can hop into Time Attack and race to the finish, with your best scores posting to global leader boards. While there technically is cooperative play in the main story, it’s a very passive experience that is hard to control. Generally speaking, Tails can rarely keep up with Sonic on a single screen. Thankfully, there’s a split screen “Competition” mode, which pits you and a friend against each other in a race to the end.
There’s also a heavy helping of mini-games, both new and old. Namely, the blue sphere mini-game from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (if my memory serves me right) and a new racing mini-game that seems like something out of Sonic R. Completing the blue sphere games gives you either a silver or gold medallion, which eventually unlock new content in the Extras menu. I don’t want to give away the secrets, but hardcore fans will find the grind worthwhile.
There’s even some hidden unlockable characters and extra endings hidden within Sonic Mania, a real treat for those who have the patience to unlock them. Generally speaking, Sonic Mania offers a plethora of ways to play its already entertaining collection of zones. Whether with friends or by yourself, Sonic Mania has a mode of play for every kind of fan.
The Bottom Line on Sonic Mania
After the failed attempts on Sega’s part to revitalize the franchise, I assumed I’d never relive the magic of Genesis-era Sonic the Hedgehog. I was wrong. Sonic Mania takes everything we loved about the original trilogy and expands upon it, offering new ways of play and fresh takes on the formula. It’s got plenty of content, with 12 zones and a huge amount of routes to take through them. It offers some great unlockables for those willing to put in the time, and it’s a great game regardless of your skill.
Sonic Mania shows us that old game design isn’t bad game design, it just need to be implemented properly. If you’ve been waiting for a Sonic game that will spark that childhood joy inside you, Sonic Mania is it. It’s a celebration of every reason we love the speeding blue blur, with an after party of fresh and hugely entertaining content. The formula isn’t perfect, but Sonic Mania is the closest we’ll come to reliving the past.