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Review

Sonic Mania Review

We're going back.

You might want to sit down when reading this review. What I’m about to say is potentially controversial, blasphemy even, to a hardcore 2D platformer fan. One might say that the opinion I’m about to share is just based on a first time playthrough, but I can assure you that I have exhausted all the potential this game has to offer and it has led me to one conclusion: Sonic Mania is not only the best Sonic game in recent years, it may just be the best 2D Platformer, period.

Now, I can see those pitchforks you’re brandishing like an angry mob. “How dare he say that Sonic Mania is better than the Mega Drive/Genesis originals!” you’re all saying. “It’s just a fan project with a few of the original team working on it!” That much is true to an extent; after all it is the creation of fans of the early games who had originally created mods of the classics. However, it goes beyond that.

Let’s start with the premise. Dr Robotnik (he will always be Dr. Robotnik in this setting) has excavated what looks like a Time Stone from Sonic CD that was buried deep within Angel Island Zone. He uses it to take over the world with the help of the Hard Boiled Heavies. It’s a basic premise, but it’s also more than we ever got out of the classic 2D games and does set up the reason why we’re revisiting old levels in a dynamic way.

Length of Sonic games fluctuate heavily depending on characters used. Sonic Mania has all three main protagonists – Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles – and is around the same length as Sonic 2 in terms of places you visit. However, Sonic and Tails aren’t always visiting the same levels that Knuckles heads to, with him even having a unique and exclusive level that uses his gliding and climbing abilities extensively.

Levels on the whole are well designed and mostly comprise of remixed levels from Sonic’s 2D history. Within the older zones there are new features that flesh out the level design, but also familiar layouts that veterans will know exactly what to do in.

As Sega have teased the game, we’ve already seen the likes of Chemical Plant Zone having chemical pools that do different things depending on what colours are there, but other zones have also become more fleshed out settings that occasionally use gimmicks lifted from different zones from entirely different games. Every one of the classic levels that wasn’t revealed in the marketing was a genuine surprise and a joy to travel though.

Sonic Mania also includes a handful of unique zones exclusive to this game and these just show the inventiveness of the team involved with the project. To say any more than this would spoil just how good these levels are, but my only real gripe with Sonic Mania is that I wanted more of these original levels and to see the ingenuity of the designers with a blank slate. Hopefully they can be given this kind of freedom in future games.

Of course, we can’t forget about the visuals and the music. Each zone is full of character, including some stage transitions that are fitting – the one for Stardust Speedway is particularly on point, while the new ones have a similar level of excellence. Sprite quality is also top notch, with smooth movement for all characters and enemies, as well as some great idle animations that show bags of character.

The soundtrack, which was composed by Sonic Remixer Tee Lopes, is another success story as not one track is a dud. Each act has its own versions, which are distinct in style and tone. They’re all catchy remixes or awesome original pieces that fit the setting wonderfully. Even bosses have different music depending on who you are facing at that given moment.

All of this would be moot if Sonic and his friends controlled horribly as in Sega’s last attempt at reviving the glory days of 2D. The difference is night and day, with all three characters acting just like their Mega Drive counterparts,  with the exception of Sonic’s new drop dash ability. This is arguably his most effective tool as it can be used whenever Sonic jumps, rather than requiring  you to be standing still before using  it, or using it to grant brief invincibility.

Power-ups are the same as those found in all the classic 2D Sonic games – standard and elemental shields. There are also Blue Coin TVs that for one time upon being hit scatter larger rings that are worth a divided value based on rings obtained before being hit, meaning you can salvage a larger amount of rings upon being hit once. Elemental shields also have properties beyond their original purpose, such as burning the rotating wood spike bridge in Green Hill Zone.

Then there are the bosses, with a mix of encounters with purposefully created sub-bosses and Dr Robotnik encounters. Again, spoiling these would be detrimental to your enjoyment of the game, but they’re among the most original designs for boss battles devised for a 2D platformer and are a major highlight.

It even gets something that Sonic Team has been trying to do for ages with its 3D games right – an enemy team. The Hard Boiled Heavies are four modified Eggman Robots who each have their own gimmick. These encounters are just as good as the other bosses, with one even incorporating sound effects and movement from another classic Mega Drive game. They don’t speak, but are full of character in their appearance and battles.

When talking about Sonic games, there are of course Special Stages. The Chaos Emeralds can be obtained by going into giant rings hidden in each zone, and chasing down UFOs. Blue spheres increase your speed when the gauge is maxed out, while Rings increase the time remaining. It starts off rather simply, but eventually includes bombs that reduce your rings and places that when you run off them immediately end the attempt. One of these is significantly harder than the others, but generally they’re a lot more inventive than any Special Stage previously devised.

Speaking of previously devised Special Stages, Blue Spheres returns from Sonic 3 upon collecting 25 rings and hitting a checkpoint to reveal swirling stars. This is where the completion incentive lies in that completing special stages unlocks new features in the Extras menu, as well as the Secrets option found when starting a “No Save” game. On top of this, you can collect all the rings in a special stage to achieve a gold ranking. Progress for this is carried over games, so you need not start again when playing as a different character.

Sonic Mania also includes a Time Trial mode that features all but one level in the game (for reasons that upon playing will become obvious), as well as the return of Sonic 2’s Competition Mode. Time Trial now includes a button where, should you mess up, you can hold to teleport back to the start of the level to try again without reloading. It’s a great addition for those seeking the perfect run. As for Competition Mode, it has a lot more levels that are playable than Sonic 2’s version did and is fun for those with a score to settle.

What’s Good:

  • Remixes old stages, adding new obstacles
  • New levels showcase understanding of what made Sonic great
  • Boss encounters are fresh and unique
  • Music is phenomenal
  • New special stages are challenging in the right way

What’s Bad:

  • Only a few entirely new levels
  • I’m not playing it right now

Sonic Mania surpasses the Mega Drive/Genesis originals. It not only incorporates what made Sonic great, but has the inventiveness to shatter what was possible in a 2D platformer. As a nostalgia trip, it sets the bar for what comes next for the modding community. For those unexposed to what made 2D Sonic great, this is still a solid game in its own right and may create new fans in the process. If being this good took ages, it’s about damn time.

Score: 10/10

Version Tested: PlayStation 4

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24 Comments
  1. Tony Cawley
    Pint! Pint!
    Since: Feb 2009

    Well, this has gone from “meh, couldn’t care less” to “Christ I wouldn’t mind owning that. Great review!

    Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 16:05.
    • Dave Irwin
      Member
      Since: Jun 2015

      Glad I could convince you, otherwise I’d be an awful critic if I can’t recommend something genuinely good.

      Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 18:02.
  2. Avenger
    Member
    Since: Oct 2012

    Great review. This game is going on the switch tomorrow, should be bundles of fun.

    Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 16:12.
  3. Crazy_Del
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Cannot wait for my collector’s edition to arrive tomorrow

    Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 16:25.
  4. Pixel_nme
    Member
    Since: Mar 2014

    Bought.

    Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 16:35.
  5. The Lone Steven
    Never heard of him.
    Since: May 2010

    Blimey, we get an actual excellent Sonic game. That is both shocking and surprising. Shocking that despite the awful Sonicfest or whatever that stream was(the one with the very butchered Sonic free rider… sonic her… oh, whatever it was by that one fan) and a bad indicator of what to expect. Surprising in that it’s the Sonic Game that we all need and deserve. Now, let’s see what Mario is up to. *sees that the plumber is possessing people*

    I do hope that Sega uses this as the default standard for all future Sonic games. I’ve only played Shadow the Hedgehog in regards to 3D but it was medicore, i think and it involved shooting. Shooting in a sonic game. At least it wasn’t Sonic ’06.

    Oh and something,something, TSA biased. Mario rules, Sony bribe, Microsoft bribed, everyone who doesn’t like the PS4 is a Microsoft drone.

    I kinda got a bit carried away with those last few bits.

    Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 16:46.
    • Dave Irwin
      Member
      Since: Jun 2015

      Yeah, that show was not the best. Think it was “Sonic Heroes” where they invited the fan to sing.

      Shadow the Hedgehog was a misstep. Even though I enjoyed it somewhat as an edgey teenager, it doesn’t hold up. Sonic ’06 is definitely worse though.

      Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 18:01.
  6. ron_mcphatty
    Member
    Since: Sep 2008

    Great review Dave! Your enthusiasm is infectious, even more so considering your 24hr Sonicathon, I’m now extremely excited for tomorrow. It’s good to see Sega finally hitting the nail on the head, I really enjoyed Generations but from that back to 3 was such a mixed bag I couldn’t be arsed with Sonic at all. Brilliant, well done the Sonic team.

    Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 16:46.
    • RSX901
      Member
      Since: Aug 2017

      It had nothing to do with Sonic Team /Iizuka. That’s why it’s so good.

      Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 17:13.
      • ron_mcphatty
        Member
        Since: Sep 2008

        I misunderstood, thought it was the Sonic team hiring the fans but it’s the other way round! Perfect.

        Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 17:36.
    • Dave Irwin
      Member
      Since: Jun 2015

      Yes, that 24 hour “Sonicathon” prepared me quite nicely for Sonic Mania. I also pretty much exhausted everything the game had to offer outside of getting Gold Rank in the remaining 4 or 5 Blue Sphere special stages. This is obviously what I’ll be doing this evening.

      Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 17:57.
      • ron_mcphatty
        Member
        Since: Sep 2008

        Nice, and well done for rinsing it dry so quickly!! Quick question about that intro video, I didn’t see it on my Switch, is it supposed to be in there?

        Comment posted on 15/08/2017 at 12:54.
      • Dave Irwin
        Member
        Since: Jun 2015

        Wait on the title screen for a few seconds. It plays after that on the PS4 version.

        Comment posted on 15/08/2017 at 13:04.
      • ron_mcphatty
        Member
        Since: Sep 2008

        Ah brilliant thanks Dave!

        Comment posted on 15/08/2017 at 13:25.
  7. Nate
    Member
    Since: Apr 2010

    *Breathing intensifies*
    Potentially more excited by this than the birth of my son. Don’t tell him.

    Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 16:59.
    • Dave Irwin
      Member
      Since: Jun 2015

      Oh, now I can’t condone that. :P

      Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 17:58.
  8. Jake Durasamy
    Member
    Since: Jun 2016

    I really want this on my Switch now. It really is the Sonic game we’ve always wanted and even with technological advancements since the original games, Mania shows us that simplicity and perfect execution makes Sonic Mania the perfect choice in 2D platformers when compared to more modern ones.

    Great review, Dave.

    Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 17:00.
    • Dave Irwin
      Member
      Since: Jun 2015

      Cheers Jake. I’d be interested to see if it plays just as well on the Switch and if the PC version offers anything else different.

      Comment posted on 14/08/2017 at 18:04.
  9. DividSmythe
    Member
    Since: May 2012

    I’ve just played this on the Switch in handheld mode and I’ve got to say it’s played well so far. I don’t like handheld mode per se. I’d rather play docked (I wish I could leave what autospell put in here.) or tabletop mode with the Pro controller but I’m on holidays so couldn’t be bothered to turn all that stuff on, I’m in Wales so in just glad it downloaded…

    Overall though the game feels retro but new at the same time do is agree with this review and score, although I’m Sonic lover from years gone by.

    Great review thanks.

    Comment posted on 15/08/2017 at 00:56.
    • ron_mcphatty
      Member
      Since: Sep 2008

      You beat me to it David! I had a quick go before work today, its gloriously old school and looks fantastic on the Switch’s little screen, it’s like having a 21st century Game Gear. And those animations are so slick, I didn’t expect it to look this good.

      Comment posted on 15/08/2017 at 06:19.
      • DividSmythe
        Member
        Since: May 2012

        Yes it is really good on the little screen.

        I got a proud Dad moment. When my little one told me yesterday that she hated Sonic I was furious. Now I can’t get her of my Switch at the minute.

        Comment posted on 15/08/2017 at 10:49.
  10. MadBoJangles
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    Great review.
    Haven’t played a Sonic game in years, the 3D games sullied the entire thing for me. After reading this, I logged straight onto the eshop and bought it.

    Looking forward to firing up the Switch and having a blast :)

    Thanks!

    Comment posted on 15/08/2017 at 17:22.