The return of Sonic…. & Knuckles
Since Sonic Mania was announced during E3 2016, the excitement from Sonic fans everywhere has been insane. People have been looking forward to this title as SEGA, Christian Whitehead and Simon Thomley have been unleashing new zones and features, and the excitement kept building and building. Now that the game is available to all, does the dreaded Sonic Cycle take hold, or does Sonic Mania live up to the hype?
Game Name: Sonic Mania
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Steam
Developer(s): Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games, Sonic Team
Release Date: August 15, 2017 (Consoles); August 29, 2017 (Steam)
Price: $19.99 – Standard Edition, $69.99 – Collectors Edition | Amazon
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Dr. Robotnik is back at it again, and he’s brought some friends…the Hard-Boiled Heavies! Sonic Mania puts you in the role of either Sonic the Hedgehog, Miles “Tails” Prower or Knuckles the Echidna, as you investigate some dimensional energy readings coming out of Angel Island. Sonic Mania takes you across 12 levels, some of which are brand new and some being remixes of other stages, as you try to stop Dr. Robotnik.
The typical Sonic 2D fare appears here, with some additional flair that will certainly please everyone. You race through the stages, bashing badniks and collecting rings and power-ups while avoiding speed traps such as spikes and pitfalls. At the end of every act, there is a boss battle, similar to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on the Genesis, but that’s just where the similarities begin. Taxman and Stealth do a fantastic job putting elements from classic Sega properties into Sonic Mania, such as the previous 2D Sonic titles, Daytona USA, Puyo Puyo, Club Sega in Akibahara and more. Hell, Fang the Sniper, Bean the Dynamite and Bark the Polar Bear appear in one of the stages as a massive throwback.
Something that I personally noticed was that a lot of the remixed stages, aside from being longer and more difficult, are combinations of different stages from the previous Sonic games. One such example is the Chemical Plant Zone, specifically Act 2. In Act 2, there are certain chemicals you can bounce off of. This is similar to the electrified ground panels in Sonic CD‘s Wacky Workbench, which send you flying high. Another Wacky Workbench throwback, the Tesla coils, make their appearance in the Flying Battery Zone, which also has elements from Sonic 2‘s Wing Fortress and Sonic 3 and Knuckles‘ Death Egg Zone. Stardust Speedway has of my favorite mashups, with elements of Sonic 3 and Knuckles’ Marble Garden and Mushroom Hill. Even some of the new stages have these too, with Mirage Saloon having elements of Sky Chase from Sonic 2, and Press Garden hosting elements from Sonic 3‘s Launch Base.
Aside from the main stages, in typical Sonic the Hedgehog fashion, the special stages make a comeback. Blue Sphere from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 makes a comeback, where you collect all the spheres to clear the stage. Unlike in Sonic 3, clearing these stages nets you bonus 25th-anniversary coins that unlock different secrets that you can use in the No Save option. This slightly irked me when I realized that it was the only way you could play a certain secret mode. The other bonus stage, where you get the Chaos Emeralds, you have to chase the ufo around a track, similar to Sonic the Hedgehog CD. The handling is just as dodgy, and one false move can send you careening into a time up situation.
The boss battles are quite inspiring and nostalgic as well. Of course, things are slightly different, such as Chemical Plant’s Act 2 boss battle being a round of Puyo Puyo (especially since Puyo Puyo Tetris was just released on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch in April.) Stardust Speedway and Oil Ocean’s bosses are familiar, yet different in a good way. Even the battles against the Hard-Boiled Heavies are inspired, yet challengingly enjoyable.
The visuals are breathtaking, to say the least, the backgrounds especially so. Just one look at the background of the Mirage Saloon Zone, and you’ll be taken away by the desert landscape and the insane amount of detail put into it. Even the foreground sprites look beautiful and detailed, akin to the Sonic games of days past. In an added bonus, you can set up the video mode to reflect being broadcast on a CRT television, which is a nice touch.
Replay-wise, you’ll want to come back to these stages multiple times, as even the remixed stages have multiple paths that you can find to access a multitude of secrets. Competition mode will take you and a friend via local multiplayer through various stages in a race to the finish, and time attack mode will help you if you want to speedrun the game (which will definitely happen down the line.) Don’t forget the secrets that are in the game, either. They’ll definitely spice up the game.
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Even though it’s not the Genesis version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Sonic Advance 2, Sonic Mania does a lot of good things right. Christian Whitehead and Simon Thomley put out a beautiful love letter to Sonic fans from the Genesis and Advance eras of Sonic 2D platformers. The nods to all of SEGA’s classic titles, the innovative boss fights, the merging of several classic levels, all of it proves that to capture the pure essence of Sonic the Hedgehog, sometimes it is good to simply go back to the basics…