Sonic Mania Plus Review: Simply the Best
I'll be the first to admit I make some bad purchasing decisions when it comes to Sonic the Hedgehog games. Those decisions being buying them, then buying them again. And maybe again. I'm not really sure how many platforms I have Sonic 3 & Knuckles on, but it's more than five.
Last year's release of Sonic Mania brought back the feel and style of classic 2D Sonic that Sonic Team and Dimps struggled to recreate with the episodic Sonic 4, and it quickly became regarded as one of the best -- if not the best --Sonic games to date. There is something to be said for the Sonic fangame developers behind Mania and their understanding of what made the classic games memorable and fun.
Sonic Mania Plus brings the experience of the original Mania release back with a few tricks up its sleeve, some that may seem insignificant on paper but bring the whole game together into a complete package. It's a package that can satisfy both fans and newcomers with its signature '90s style.
What's in Plus?
The most obvious addition to Sonic Mania Plus is the characters Ray the squirrel and Mighty the armadillo, both of which have their roots in the arcade-only SegaSonic the Hedgehog. These two characters aren't just for show, either -- each has its own unique maneuvers for you to play with.
Ray, an enthusiastic and nimble squirrel, is able to glide mid-air much like Mario with his cape in Super Mario World. You tilt backward to catch some air and hover, tilt forward to take a dive. Unlike Knuckles and Tails, Ray can get some tremendous momentum when airborne provided you take the time to master his gliding ability.
Mighty, an armadillo in name and function, is immune to spike damage when jumping or spin dashing. Often you can jump onto spikes a single time and bounce right off. Mighty is also able to slam down into the ground with a double jump press, and he has a slightly higher jump than the rest of the cast. Ray is fun, but Mighty's slightly higher jump and mid-air spike immunity bring huge benefits.
These new characters and their brand-new abilities are perfectly suited to the new, remixed levels found in Sonic Mania Plus's new Encore mode.
Encore mode looks different at first glance, and it doesn't take long to figure out you're not in regular ol' Mania mode anymore. The levels in Encore mode have been tweaked to allow for Ray and Mighty to shine, with obstacles just for them, along with a wealth of new challenges spread throughout each zone.
Encore as a whole is the more difficult of the two modes, no contest. The new pinball-style special stages are more forgiving than the Sonic 3-style special stages in the original release, but the new Chaos Emerald stages (which are functionally the same as the original release) are brutal. I think I hate them, but practice makes perfect.
Along with the new obstacles found in Encore mode is the new character-swapping feature, which has you control two characters at once much like you would with Sonic and Tails normally. You can swap between them with a button press, but the characters you have will rotate frequently. Special boxes are scattered about to swap your characters, culminating to no two playthroughs ever being the same. You can also use the new characters for individual playthroughs in Mania mode.
The new Competitive mode is a throwback (pullback?) to the multiplayer modes of yore found in Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles, with little to no changes to how the mode worked in those games. This isn't a complaint -- I loved racing friends and family in those multiplayer modes -- but it is something to note.
In Competitive, you can change how many rounds you face off in, whether there's a time limit, and which item sets are available. You are also able to choose whether you want the screen to be stretched out like in the old days or squished to not look awful. I recommend the second choice, but purists will go for the first without question.
His face is about right for the old stretched screen view.
Something you may notice is that the game is advertised as having co-op. You expect that in a 2D Sonic game that lets you have both Sonic and Tails out at once, and I had hoped Encore mode would allow for two players as you have two characters out at a time. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Encore mode is entirely singleplayer, meaning the only co-op you'll find here lies in the Sonic and Tails combo in Mania mode. This is the only thing I have to complain about with this release, but even that is a small complaint. It doesn't matter in the face of all the good found here in Sonic Mania Plus.
The best around
It's rare an original game can take me back 25 years, gaming the hours away in front of the T.V. with my Sega Genesis and Nintendo. Sonic Mania did that last year and Plus does it even better with the addition of Ray, Mighty, and the remixed stages in Encore mode.
Exploring with Ray and Mighty's abilities in Mania mode and Encore mode make the game feel brand new. More than that, it makes me feel like a bright-eyed kid who just got the latest Sonic game and is discovering that it is just as awesome as the commercials claimed it would be. I almost want to buy some Bagel Bites and Capri Suns to complete the illusion.
Sonic Mania Plus did the impossible and made what was already the best new 2D Sonic since the Sega CD even better. There is only one word to describe Sonic Mania Plus and that is rad. I am not sure what Christian Whitehead and the others behind the game have in store for the future, but I hope it leads to more stellar '90s-style platformers like we see here with Mania Plus. The only thing keeping this baby from a 10 is the lack of multiplayer in Encore mode, but one can still call this the perfect Sonic game regardless.
[Note: The developer provided a copy of the game used in this review.]