Sonic Mania Review: Bringing Back Classic Sonic
Sonic is back with two titles this year -- and the first of them, Sonic Mania, has just launched for all three major consoles, with the PC debut delayed to later this month. Unlike Sonic Forces, Sonic Mania acts as a callback to the Genesis days of Sonic the Hedgehog. But does the Sonic Genesis trio have what it takes to bring fans into a mania -- or will it spin dash the Sonic Cycle back into a depression?
If you are coming into Sonic Mania for the chance to relive your childhood, or you're looking for a solid classic Sonic the Hedgehog experience without having to play on outdated 4:3 specs, then this game will give you everything you are looking for.
With the exception of a new special stage style, Sonic Mania is a replica of the Genesis classics down to the smallest detail. One of the few changes you'll come across is to Sonic's abilities, with the new drop dash. This ability lets Sonic charge up his spin dash in mid-air to allow him to get back into the action at top speed the second he touches the ground.
Other than that, there's not really much new to Sonic Mania in terms of core gameplay. That said, what Headcannon and PagodaWest Games have done is create wonderful remixes of classic stages from the Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis series, as well as a healthy number of stages of their own design. There are also a number of callbacks, Easter Eggs, and other hidden gems throughout the game that will be sure to put a smile on any longtime Sonic fan's face.
You know Sonic Mania takes pleasing the fans seriously when Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine makes an appearance!
Those who were afraid of nostalgia being the main selling point of this game have no need to worry, as remixed stages are more of tile-sets and stage mechanic callbacks more than anything, since all of the stage layouts are completely new. Second acts also provide new puzzles and platforming mechanics in retro stages to ensure everything stays fresh.
As for the game's difficulty, if you had trouble getting through the second or third zone in Sonic the Hedgehog games in the past, and are only returning to it now for the first time since the Genesis days, expect to die...a lot. The game's difficulty is perfectly in tune with a classic Sonic the Hedgehog feel, so don't worry if you thought this game would be toned down for modern audiences.
One last feature I would like to note is that the special stages are by far my favorites in the entire series. Using Sonic R style models, and a Sonic CD style map, Sonic Mania's special stages have you chasing after UFOs in order to get the Chaos Emeralds required for the true ending. They are perhaps one of the best examples of how this game is an homage to all things Sonic the Hedgehog, and it's only a part of the whole tribute that this game is.
While Blue Spheres make a return as a bonus stage, it should be noted that they are there for extra lives, and not necessary for completing the game.
While there isn't much to complain about in terms of Sonic Mania being a faithful Sonic the Hedgehog game, that might also be its downfall. In Chemical Plant Zone, for example, the rotating block stairs gimmick from Sonic 2 makes a return. Along with it comes the almost unfair case of what I call "broken toe death", where players will lose a life if the blocks happen to touch Sonic and Co. in just the wrong way. This is due to the game believing that Sonic has been "crushed" by the blocks, even when he could simply fall or be pushed away.
For returning players, this may not be an issue since it is expected. However, this and other old school platforming mishaps are bound to frustrate newer players, as it is not exactly something that would be expected in a modern platformer. Anyone looking to step into Sonic Mania as their first experience with the Sonic the Hedgehog series should keep in mind that this is merely a part of the experience and not an unintended side effect.
Sonic Mania is a wholehearted tribute to the SEGA Genesis in terms of presentation. To say that alone is a bit unfair though, as the sprite art and graphics are beyond that of even Sonic CD. With a 16:9 ratio, solid 60 frames per second, and crisp HD sprites, Sonic Mania is basically what your nostalgia filled eyes remember the Genesis Sonic titles looking like rather than what they actually did.
Music in Sonic Mania feels very much like Sonic CD remixes of old songs, alongside new themes for the Mania exclusive stages. Tee Lopes's talents really give the game life, and the energy brought into the title by the soundtrack is something to be experienced to believe. Even alone, the songs are fun to bob your head alongside. A personal favorite of mine is the theme of the Hard-Boiled Heavies, as their boss stages pack quite a bit of energy in.
The second this theme starts playing, you know you're in for a fun battle!
Sonic Mania brings Classic Sonic back. That's about the only way to summarize it. Between the enhanced Sonic CD-like graphics, music, and revamped Genesis gameplay, it would be a lie to say that this game isn't a true sequel to the original Sonic the Hedgehog titles. It is a must-have for Sonic the Hedgehog fans -- and a must-try for anyone who hasn't played a Sonic title in the past.
If you can forgive a couple of bumps and bruises from the game's old school engine, then this is a game you can't afford to miss out on. As such, Sonic Mania gets a solid 9/10.