Over the course of years since the 2D era, the Sonic the Hedgehog series decided to explore many ideas in terms of gameplay, mainly involving going 3D. There were as many successes as there were failures. Recently, Sonic has been considered to have lost his touch in the world of gaming. With fans divided among the classic days of 2D and the new times involving the 3D, Sega really found itself in a pickle. However, there was still love for the beloved blue hedgehog. So, this is where Sonic Mania comes in. This is one of the first major Sonic games not developed by Sega. Rather, from a group of indies named PadogaWest Games, HeadCannon, and Christian Whitehead, Sonic Mania is created for the sake of pure love for the nostalgic 2D series.
The game borrows elements of Sonic 1-3 & Knuckles and Sonic CD while adding a few new twists to be more than a remaster or remake. The controls are back to jump, spin, and run. There is no lag or slow response, which is perfect. So timing jumps and air control doesn’t feel sluggish at all. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles retain their special abilities of spin-dashing, flying, gliding, and climbing, respectively. However, what is new for Sonic is a “drop-dash” feature. While jumping in the air, press and hold jump again to do an air spin dash. So once you hit the ground, you instantly get that speed boost of spin attack. This mechanic really is useful for preparing ahead of breaking items/obstacles/enemies while maintaining speed. Not to mention, it’s definitely a useful tool in speedrunning techniques.
In the zones, there are lots of paths to take, and using each of the 3 characters opens up a lot of exploration. The boss battles are great whether a sub or main. Some bosses return and completely changes the strategies of from how you faced them in the original series and the new ones throw in mixes you wouldn’t expect. While they can be challenging, they are not difficult to the point where it seems impossible to deal with without having a ring on you, which is good. Unfortunately, there are occasional glitches that can occur where you end up getting stuck in walls, making it impossible to continue the game. Regardless, the game is still fun to play.
Created by a custom “Retro Engine,” Sonic Mania looks spectacular in displaying a look that harkens back to the nostalgic 16 bit design, but in HD resolution. Even to the smallest of details, including the animation of the characters and zones, are fluid and smooth. The characters in running motion changes depending on the speed, which is cool; Sonic leans forward with arms behind his back; Tails’s tails spin even faster and his fur brushes as he expresses determination; Knuckles leans forward and holds his knuckles forward.
The zone designs (and redesigns) are phenomenal. Classic stages such as Green Hill, Chemical Plant and Hydrocity return, but with many changes. For instance, Green Hill has some of the same areas of waterfalls and loops as the Sonic 1 counterpart, but now added zip-lines, and an underground cavern in the background. Chemical Plant still has its pipe travels (and the infamous pink water rising area) in Act 1, but in Act 2 it involves inserting chemicals on gels to bounce to higher ground. New zones like Studiopolis and Press Garden fit right in with the rest of the zone roster and at the same time stand out on their own as unique. Also, there are some borrowed elements/bits and pieces of zones that either existed in the original Sonic games or are ideas based on beta versions of those games. Each zone is well-designed to give off some familiarity while looking fresh and new at the same time.
If ANYTHING that the Sonic series cannot fail in, it is having fantastic music. Sonic Mania really takes it to another level. It is composed mainly by Tee Lopes, who previously worked on mobile games like Major Magnet. Working with Jun Senoue, Lopes remixed the soundtrack like no other. Right off the bat, Green Hill Zone sounds just as its original, but then adds instruments of trumpets, salsa mixes to give it a groovy feeling. Then there’s the new Studiopolis Zone with its piano, trumpet, and synthesizer mix, making you reminisce the Japanese soundtrack of Sonic CD. Overall, the music goes deep into the new jack swing, hip-hop, jazz, and other 90s dominate genres. It’s nearly impossible to not dance or move to the funky beats and soft musical treats.
There’s plenty of features to go around in the game. Of course, you have the main Mania story mode at the start. On its own it can take about an hour at least to complete. However, by playing it and completing special stages like collecting chaos emeralds and blue spheres, you will unlock special modes like Competition, based of combined concepts of the Vs modes from Sonic 2 and 3, abilities from the classic 2D Sonic games, and special surprises that are unexpected to return or newly added for pure fun and replayability. Speaking of unexpected (and at this point, expected) the most interesting part of the game is the amount of easter eggs (no pun intended) and references to even real life events…and memes. One instance is in Studiopolis Zone, there’s a reference to the Streets of Rage, SegaSonic, and Daytona USA. However, one interesting reference is based on an technical incident from the Sonic the Hedgehog 25th anniversary stream. It’s a hilarious poke that tickles me to this day.
Sonic Mania is a major throwback to the days of Sonic’s 2D glory. From the gameplay, controls, music, design, and features, the game strongly gives you a nostalgic feel. At the same time, it stands out like a fresh and new game. Those who may be unfamiliar or in love with the 2D classic are definitely recommended to play Sonic Mania. Other than some little flaws, the game in its entirety is extremely well-done. Sega’s trust in the indie companies truly paid off. At one point, I thought I was 4 years old again, playing Sonic on the Sega Genesis in my Sonic onesie on a Saturday morning. No doubt, if anything, Sonic Mania revives the 2D franchise and takes the blue blur to the next level.
Welcome back, old friend!
- Game provides a major nostalgia trip but stands out as a brand new game
- Audio and visual quality are on par
- Solid controls and fun mechanics to make the gameplay fresh and fun
- Features and references provide longevity for replayability and entertainment
- Glitches can deter gameplay on occasion