In a year where everything old is new again, it seems fitting that one of gaming’s oldest franchises gets a new lease of life. Sonic Mania isn’t just another Sonic game to fill the gap; Sonic Mania takes all the hopes and dreams for a classic-style Sonic game and makes it a reality.
Sonic Mania takes place after Sonic & Knuckles, where Sonic and Tails travel back to Angel Island to investigate Doctor Eggman’s new nefarious plans. Discovering a mysterious gemstone known as the Phantom Ruby, Doctor Eggman uses his elite Egg Robos known as the Hard-Boiled Heavies to harvest the gem and throw Sonic and Tails as well as Knuckles back through time. The trio travel across iconic levels of Sonic history to retrieve the Ruby and stop Doctor Eggman and his cronies.
From the moment you start up the game you know you’re in for a treat. The pixelated startup screen that follows the iconic SEGA scream could almost have been ripped straight from the Mega Drive Sonic games. The menus really pop and are bright with a 16-bit flair, and the music is there to match it. It just feels the way a Sonic game is supposed to feel, even looking past the rose-tinted glasses.
It isn’t until you hit the first level of the game itself that you get a wave of both nostalgia and excitement – the blend of old and new is practically perfect. Starting in Green Hill Zone Act 1, the level plays out almost identically to the original Sonic The Hedgehog. Older gamers will be able to look past the old and see the new – Sonic has an aerial spin charge known as a ‘drop dash’ that takes a while to get used to, the graphics are more modern and free-flowing, and while the songs are extremely reminiscent of the originals they aren’t the exact same. These are all good things though, as a rehash of the original games wouldn’t give the developers in Headcannon and PagodaWest Games any reason to improve. Blue Sphere bonus stages from Sonic 3 & Knuckles make a return (and are still extremely frustrating) as do things like Fire/Electric/Water shields and the like. The game also has a reimagining of eight classic zones, all with their original themes remixed and slightly modernized while still having that original flair.The new zones in the game fit right in with the old though, to the point where it feels like they could have been lost levels from the original series. Studiopolis Zone is bright and fun, while Mirage Saloon Zone has a familiarity about it yet a freshness at the same time. None of the new levels feel out of place at all, which is a real credit to the developers that they were able to capture the spirit of the older games.
This even translates to the new bonus game which can be found by locating the Giant Rings throughout stages. Players must charge up their mach speed with blue spheres and keep their power going with rings, all the while chasing a UFO carrying a Chaos Emerald. The good news it is it feels like a classic bonus game, but the downside to this is that it feels slightly broken and a little overly complicated especially for a Sonic game.The typical frustrations from the original games also make a return – enemy locations can be extremely annoying and sometimes feel counterintuitive and unfair. Level motion and speed of button presses may frustrate newer players who aren’t used to the pace of the games. And of course, while the levels have been redesigned and updated, there are still frustrations with flows and movement that will bug fans even 20 years on from the original releases.
Despite its flaws, Sonic Mania is the type of game that players can keep going back to over and over. It has the replayability of the classic Sonic games with minor modernisations for current day gamers, and is sure to appeal to old and new players alike. For a franchise that for a while seemed to flounder and suffer from subpar titles, it offers hope to fans that there will be more to return the series to its former glory.