Title: Sonic Mania

Platform: Steam, Windows, PS4, Xbox One, NSwitch

Reviewed on: PS4

Genre: Platformer

Players: Single player, Local Co-Op






Written by Whistler 11th September 2017


















The blue hedgehog has really struggled to find his footing again ever since Sega’s fall from grace with the ill-fated Sega Saturn. Despite Sonic Adventure striking near perfect scores all round, the Sega Dreamcast and their mascot faded into the annals of history. After several attempts to reinvent their mascot, the publisher made a surprising move and allowed a handful of fan developers to finish a port of Sonic CD and then gave them the keys to Sonic. So can the combined efforts of Christian Whitehead alongside studios Headcannon and PagodaWest games pull off what Sega have been trying for over ten years?


Sonic Mania is certainly a prime example of what fans with some serious devotion can pull off, in fact it’s downright eerie with just how right at home Sonic Mania feels amongst its Megadrive era ancestors. Sonic and companion Tails arrive on the scene to see Dr.Robotnik along with his new elite flunkies, the Hard-Boiled Heavies, have discovered a new kind of magical gemstone, the Phantom Ruby. Before they can make a move the ruby unleashes a distortion, granting the Heavies with newfound powers and sending the Sonic gang through different dimensions. But really it’s the true tried formula we’re accustomed to; collect rings, jump on bad guys, grab the seven Chaos Emeralds and gotta go fast.


























It’s Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s like explaining breathing or walking, playing is like 2nd nature (so much so that I learned how to somewhat play Sonic 2 before I even walked). Likewise though there is a shopping list’s worth of subtle yet effective changes that set this apart from the dozen or so ‘remixes’ we see every now and then. Animations have seen some tweaks with more lively sprites, levels look fantastic and the game runs butter smooth. Most stages feel like they’ve been expanded tenfold, with a dozen or so branching pathways creating some genuinely enjoyable exploration elements and likewise allowing for a bit more replayability.

That being said while level design is fantastic, the dedication to the original formula seems to have heightened one of Sonic’s flaws. The pinnacle of enjoyment to be had is to reach max speeds and barrel through obstacles; but here an all too familiar feeling churns up when you remember the sluggish build of momentum the blue speedster is plagued with. The windup to all of Sonic’s movements have always be an Achilles’ heel and while once were a nuisance, are now a full blown aggravation to deal with. While stages are bigger the camera stays the same distance meaning you’ll still likely hit into obstacles before you’ve had so much as a frame to react.


Since bonus stages no longer grant you a Chaos Emerald, I no longer cared about accumulating rings so long as I could just regain one or two after constantly getting hit from enemies offscreen. When you pass a checkpoint if you’ve kept ahold of enough rings you can jump into that starry circle and play the familiar bonus stage that we all remember from the very first Sonic. Here on this 3D globe you run through or loop around blue spheres in a grid to collect them all while avoiding red spheres as Sonic slowly speeds up. I’ll be honest, I almost loath these stages as much as I did as a young un’; turning Sonic always has the slightest delay and the way the environment moves always made it difficult for me to discern where I had been. Thankfully my ineptitude at these stages only denies me bonuses such as concept art as winning one of these grants the player a single silver or gold (if they collected all the bonus stage’s rings) coin that eventually unlock various goodies in the Extra’s menu. But likewise, since there are now so many potential bonus stages in a singular level, these started getting avoided more than anything by midway through the title’s playtime.


























To now get your hands on those seven emeralds to unlock Super Sonic, you now need to locate the various giant rings hidden throughout each stage. Thankfully you can even find more than one per level but past the 3rd and 4th emeralds I could never feel like I was getting a hang of it. In these emerald bonus stages you need to catch up to a UFO holding one of the seven gems while collecting blue orbs to increase your mach speed, and rings to avoid running out of time. You effectively do laps in semi-linear tracks balancing these resources while keeping your eye on the prize, they’re massively fun but boy did I suck at them. It’s great that you can collect more than one emerald per stage but by the time I was halfway through the game I had no luck finding more of the giant rings to even try again.


Thankfully I have no issues with playing through again to see the game’s true ending asSonic Mania is a blast to replay especially thanks to the colourful collection of bosses. While you’ll come across many reimagined and familiar forms of Dr.Robotnik’s machinations, the Hard-Boiled Heavies offer completely out of the box scenarios such as my favourite on a high speed highway in the Studiopolis Zone. While some are obvious it’s pleasing to have some bosses actually require some puzzle solving to beat though one or two of them are somewhat obnoxious.


























All being said, Sonic Mania is a solid return to form.

The updated visuals, stellar re-done and new additions to the soundtrack and overall level design are just fresh enough to feel new but are in keeping with the original aesthetics so as to deliver a true to form old school feel. Yet at the same time I feel like mileage that will be gained off Sonic Mania will come down to the individual’s nostalgia and willingness to put up with some of Sonic’s retained flaws especially since I felt the burnt out towards the later stages in Sonic Mania’s runtime. It’s definitely one to pick up and play for some casual fun especially given the more than generous price tag, just maybe time I admit I’m a grumpy old man and can’t keep up.



Pros:

Fantastically jazzy soundtrack,

Revamped familiar levels with modern level design,

Plenty of variety between stages,

Some of the best 2D Sonic bosses to date.


Cons:

Sluggish momentum gains kill the pacing,

Bonus stages get rather dull quickly,

Later stages don’t allow for much high speed gameplay.


Final verdict,

Sonic Mania speeds along with a 7/10.


Written by,

Whistler

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