In Praise of Sonic Mania’s Boss Battles

From the second you start up Sonic Mania, it’s clear that this is a love letter to the franchise. Given it’s status as a special release for the series’ 25th anniversary, it was bound to have more than a few references to the past, much like Sonic Generations, but I don’t think anyone expected anything quite as phenomenal as this.

While I could talk at length about the game as a whole, highlighting everything from the sound design to the feel of jumps, the game’s bosses encapuslate everything that Sonic Mania gets right. They’ve got classic Sonic design, some wonderful references to previous games, and generally made me remember why I fell in love with the series in the first place.

As we’re going to take a look at the game’s bosses in some details, which feature more than a few surprises, it’s worth pointing out that the rest of this article will feature extensive spoilers for Sonic Mania as a whole, and its bosses in particular. Read on at your peril.

For a game that celebrates the history of Sonic, it’s only natural that Green Hill Zone kicks off Sonic Mania. The level is iconic for the franchise at this point, serving as a touchstone for both long term fans and those that are newer to Sega’s platformer.

It’s appropriate, then, that both of Green Hill Zone’s bosses feel incredibly familliar. The swinging, mini Death Eggs that rotate around each other are a clear reference to the wrecking ball that Dr Robotnik (none of this Dr Eggman nonense) wielded in the original Green Hill Zone, while the Death Egg Robot that features in Act 2 is a long term staple of the series.

However, it’s Act 2 of Chemical Plant Zone where Sonic Mania really makes its true colours known. Green Hill Zone is a classic of the Sonic platformers, so it’s kind of expected of any title that looks to revisit the series’ history. What’s not expected at all is a reference to Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, let alone a boss fight that consists entirely of a level of this Puyo Puyo puzzler.

It was at this point that I knew Sonic Mania was something special. While Sonic Generations may have been a reasonably good look back at some of Sonic’s classics, it had its issues and felt fairly disjointed. It was enjoyable, certainly, but it never really left me with the same feeling of pure glee that hit me the second I realised what was going on at the end of Chemical Plant Zone.

The hits just keep coming too, regardless of whether it’s a brand new boss or something that harkens back to earlier games. For example, while the Weather Globe boss in Studiopolis may be a new boss, the use of a Cluckoid as a rooster in the background is a cheeky nod to the series’ past, and the Act 2 boss in Oil Ocean Zone mashes up the submarine boss from the Sonic 2’s Oil Ocean Zone and the disembodied arms from Sonic & Knuckles’ Lava Reef Zone.

It might be Hydrocity that really nails the links back to original bosses the best, though. Here we get remixes of the two original bosses in Sonic 3, although with their order reversed. The original boss from Act 1 becomes the boss for the second act in Sonic Mania’s version of the zone, adding an underwater platforming sequence before you get to the meat of the boss fight and the underwater mixer that fans of Sonic 3 will remember.

While this take on the original boss fight is nice to see, it’s completely outshone by what Act 1 does. Here we get the boss fight from Act 2 of the Sonic 3 version of Hydrocity, but with the roles reversed. Instead of Dr Robotnik dropping depth charges onto Sonic from his latest variant of the Egg Mobile, Sonic finally get his hands on one of Robotnik’s creations and turn it against him. It’s a lovely twist on the series’ classic formula, and is certainly one of the high points for the game.

It’s great to see the return of Metal Sonic as well, even if the multi-stage boss fight may not quite be to everyone’s taste. What’s more surprising is the return of Silver Sonic from the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, serving as Metal Sonic’s minions during the middle stage of the fight. Given the 8-bit variants of Sonic and Sonic 2 were my introduction to the series, I appreciate any reference to those titles, which seem to be largely forgotten at this point.

Speaking of obsucre references, it’s a lovely touch to see the Heavy Shinobi boss from Act 2 of Press Garden Zone use the sound effects from The Revenge of the Shinobi, and it’s positively stunning to see the return of Fang the Sniper, Bean the Dynamite and Bark the Polar Bear during the Heavy Magician Boss fight. Fang’s another character that harkens back to my childhood, making his debut in the Game Gear title Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble, a game I spent a lot of time playing, when I wasn’t replacing the ridiculous number of AA batteries in Sega’s portable console. With Bean and Bark being mostly known for their appearence in Sonic the Fighters, an arcade fighter from 1996, it really goes to show just how deep Sonic Mania reaches for its references.

Alongside all of this, we’re treated to a frankly adorable boss battle in Metallic Madness Zone. Given this zone features a shrunken, Chibi-style Sonic, it only makes sense that we’re given a battle against a toy dispenser. With Dr Robotnik taking control of a gasaphon machine/capsule toy dispenser, you battle away against minituare versions of classic Sonic bosses, as well Amy Rose dolls that explode if they catch you. It mixes things up nicely, lets the game squeeze in a few more references, and brings a smile to your face.

Even without the effort that’s gone into Sonic Mania’s bosses, this would still almost certainly be the best Sonic game in years, perhaps since the Mega Drive era. However, the attention to detail and clear love for the series’ past really shines through in what Sega, PagodaWest and Headcannon have managed to pull off with this superb selection of boss fights. While the game itself is more than enjoyable, it’s the both fights that really left me grinning.