Sonic Mania Review

Welcome back Sonic.

Sonic Mania(PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC)
Developer: Headcanon, PagodaWestGames
Publisher: Sega
Released: August 15th, 2017

Sonic the Hedgehog. A name that brings so many different memories and feelings for a great deal of us. You’ve got a massive collective who think his best years are far behind him, and some who believe he is doing just fine. There is a clear division amongst fans in recent years. Casual players have this thought about Sonic being ‘dead’ thanks to this fan divide, and SEGA has clearly been making strides to try and please everyone and just deliver a good Sonic title.

So they handed the keys to those fans. Sonic Mania is a game for fans of the series to show other fans just what Sonic can be. But it does not concern itself with trying to capture a familiar sense from the older generation, and it does that naturally. Sonic Mania improves on the classic Sonic formula and creates its own special essence of a game that honestly feels like a love letter with real heart, rather than just an attempt to recreate something that was done naturally.

Sonic Mania left all of us here in the office with a big dumb smile. Some of our co-workers had only ever played the Mega Drive games, one had played just Sonic 3, and one who’d only played the more modern ones like Sonic Adventure onwards. We all could agree, no matter what our personal opinions of Sonic were, that Sonic Mania is a darn good game.

Sonic is back in action everyone.

Gameplay

Sonic Mania feels twitch perfect. Familiar enough for those who grew up with him in the Mega Drive days, and easy enough to grasp for anyone who hasn’t played his 2D outings, or *gasp* a Sonic game before. No really, controlling any of the three characters from the roster feels like a dream. Each one has their strengths of course. Sonic is the token speedster as he always is, Tails adds the flight mechanic to the equation, and Knuckles feels like a powerhouse combination of the two.

The game brings a few new additions to the field, which shows some new power ups, and new control mechanics. Such as being able to jump into the air and go straight into a spin dash, which you could be confused and think that would probably not work well, but it does so incredibly well. It feels fluid, as do all the other controls. The sense of speed is the same as the MD days with the dial turned up to 10. The momentum works well in the game, and the progression of a level feels like the perfect blend of speed and platforming.

In modern Sonic games, the gameplay often involves beating a level with your boost mechanic, and it often feels like the primary goal is just speed by as fast as possible. Whereas the Mega Drive games saw you take brief pauses for particular moments in the level or just some general platforming. Carnival Night zones infamous spinning barrel is a good example of this pause is speeding by a level to stop and engage in some platforming that lets you appreciate the level design.

The level design is pretty impressive. You’ll see a slew of classic stages, and some new stages that’ll give you those childlike jitters from yesteryear. They are fantastically designed and given a new sport of paint, but more impressive is just how vast each level is. You go in thinking “Oh, I know Chemical Plant Zone pretty well, this will be a cakewalk” and then come out with a much more engaging experience than you expected. They even throw in some mechanics from games that don’t have any level representation per say, such as mechanics from Sonic 3 and Knuckles. Take a quick look at the layout for one the levels to get a sense of just how much work went into the design.

Overall Sonic Mania and Gameplay do not miss a beat whatsoever; they manage to meld old and new into a complete identity all its own. It doesn’t even feel like a fan game or ROM hack from any previous year; it’s an experience that you need to go pick up and try for yourself. You’ll want to replay the game a few times over so you can experience that feeling of rush and run that you can only get with a well-designed platformer.

Gameplay gets solid marks from us!

Graphics

Sonic Mania has so many little-hidden bits of detail that it’d take an entire article to break it all down. The animation behind the game is incredible. It’s one of those things where you go “Oh, this is just Sonic, I know how this is supposed to work.” and then you suddenly see extra frames of animation of things you thought you knew, or new animations all together! Things like Sonic’s fluid wacky arm flails when he is dangling on an edge, to the slight water splashes from the bubble shield. It’s insane.

A lot of this can be attributed to the great team behind the game of course. But to give you a real sense of scope on how passionate some core team members are, you need to look no further than Tyson Heese. This is a guy who started out making custom sprites of Sonic on MS Paint and sharing it with forums on the internet back in the early 2000s, with places like MGComics or the Spriters Resource for example. Nothing more than a kid who loved Sonic the Hedgehog, Tyson went on to expand his skill and create some truly fantastic content. Check out one of his early sprite sheets as proof of his love for the Blue Blur.

Tyson helped create the animation for the game. The opening cinematic? That is his work. Everything about the game seriously made by the fan base who love it the most. From the tiny details with sprites, the level design, and even the animation. No expense was spared in making the game play well but also look like the ultimate love letter to Sonic the Hedgehog. The team at PagodaWestGames is actually comprised of some of the same members behind that old Sonic 2 HD project that people responded really well to when it was released. So the proof is in the pudding there, the fans know what is best!

Music

Surprise surprise. Sonic Mania has some really good music. Penned by composer Lee Topes who is known in the Sonic community for the remixes he did in his spare time, he was penned as the choice to lead the sound for Sonic Mania, and his work shines. Each song has their distinctive feel, and we mean every song. It’s a tough thing to manage that even Triple A games tend to struggle with a unique sound.

Sound effects are particularly enjoyable too. It’s not obnoxious whatsoever, it all feels familiar. You get to pick out classic sound effects as you play, like during special stages for example. Remembering the little blub sounds that played as you went through the matching orbs just brought us some big smiles. Lee Topes has said he wanted older fans to feel like kids again and he manages to do that in spades while showcasing a new sound in other stages that’ll no doubt be etched in our heads for some time in the future.

Well done sound team!

Summary

Sonic Mania does so many things right. The price point is perfect for the 4-5 hours you’ll get if you want just to tackle the base game and not dabble in the extra bits like Time Attack for example. It has co-op, but not just any type of co-op like the online co-op that modern games seem to be favouring as of late, but no… couch co-op! If you want to hand the 2nd controller of whatever system you are using, then go right ahead and have fun! In a world where couch co-op seems to be fading, the inclusion in Sonic Mania just feels great.

The boss battles work great too. Some are so so, whereas some are true treats. One, in particular, is a fantastic throwback that we refuse to spoil and suggest you go grab Sonic Mania to experience for yourself. Some might complain about the level of difficulty as it progresses, and while not on the same level of the recent Retro throwback, Crash Bandicoot, it does ramp up ever so slightly, so try your best to keep on your toes when it comes to the game.

All in all, Sonic Mania is the perfect love letter to fans of the Blue Blur. Fitting for all audiences, the casual fans who have played one or two, the hardcore naysayers who think ‘Sonic is dead’, or the dedicated kids who made their custom sprites and Sonic OCs who still love the hedgehog that goes fast. Plays great looks great, and sounds great. It’s everything you ask for in any game, but most of all, it’s good to see it working for a Sonic game.

We strongly suggest you pick up Sonic Mania as soon as you can for some good platforming fun!

That was our review! What are your thoughts on Sonic Mania? Have you been enjoying the game as much as we have?

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