Sonic the Hedgehog has been through ups and downs and many loop-the-loops in the past 26 years. Fans have started longing for those good-old 8-bit days, when Sonic was at its best. Thankfully, Sonic Mania is here to remind us just how good a Sonic game can be.
Being a hardcore Sonic fan, I’ve played nearly all games in the series. But whether you’re a casual player who played only a few of the old titles, a new player looking for a stylized and fun action platformer, or a longtime fan like me, you’re in for a blast.
Fans will start getting goosebumps as early as the game’s starting screen, where Sonic smiles and gives you a thumbs up from inside a large ring with wings. This is an old-school start screen, but it is stylized from top to bottom with modern aesthetics. If you wait long enough in the starting screen, you’ll find yourself watching an amazing hand drawn animation as a nod to Sonic CD’s old animation too.
Sonic Mania is aiming to be the “true sequel” to Sonic & Knuckles, rather than the partially successful Sonic 4. It scratches almost every nostalgia itch you can think of, while delivering a fun story with great gameplay.
This time, Sonic and Tails follow an energy signal leading them to Angel Island, the setting from Sonic & Knuckles. There, they find Doctor Eggman’s crew of robots digging up the Phantom Ruby, a mysterious stone that controls time and space. With the power of the Phantom Ruby, they’re sent wondering through all our favorite stages, and some new ones too.
Every zone is split into two acts. The first has an eclectic collection of all of the more iconic parts of the stage, while the second act takes it to 200%. That is when you get to feel what’s it like to play a classic Sonic game built with modern technology. Sonic Mania is a Sega Mega Drive classic for today’s audience, so no pixel is out of place and everything looks at its best. That’s why the game manages to pull off things that were never possible back in Sonic’s glory days.
For example, in Studiopolis, a movie studio themed stage, you enter a brightly lit building where Sonic appears as only a silhouette because of the lighting. In a later stage, a spring launches you to the background of the stage, and you continue ton control Sonic as he runs in the background.
Each act ends with a boss battle, which are some of the best moments in the game. Almost every boss battle is meaningful. You’ll battle old and iconic bosses, such as the original final boss battle from Sonic the Hedgehog, a boss battle that references to the spin-off game, Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, and even a boss battle where you play as Dr Eggman’s robot and Dr Eggman has to battle you. Some battles feature the Hard Boiled Heavies, Dr Eggman’s squad of robots who have been transformed by the Phantom Ruby. Each of them has a unique and fun personality that is beautifully conveyed in the battles with them.
The sound design also hit the spot. The Sonic franchise is known for its great music, from the catchy 8-bit tunes of the classic games to the cheesy rock tracks of the newer ones. Mania is no different. With jazzy songs and upbeat 8-bit music to lift the mood in the quicker stages, the music compliments the game very well.
Among my favorite themes in the game is “Lights, Camera, Action” – the song for the aforementioned Studiopolis stage. It’s jazzy and electronic, and really makes you want to run fast and free. Other strong tracks include “Dimension Heist”, the theme for the Special Stages, which keeps you in the mood for chasing the Chaos Emeralds, and “High Spec Robo Go!”, the theme of Hard Boiled Heavies, the quirky team of robots that take the role of enemies in the game.
Sound effects are crisp and satisfying. Hitting an item box and hearing that “bwop” sound of it popping up is one of the best feelings in the game. Lasers charging and firing, and some other sound cues for boss fights, all fit very well and match whatever is happening on screen.
Sonic Mania has everything you’d expect from a Sonic game and more. Sonic can run, jump, spin and dash, and this time he can use a new and special ability called “Drop Dash”, where he can charge a Spin Dash mid-air. I personally found this particular skill a bit difficult to pull off, at least at the start, which is a bit of a shame since it’s a new key ability.
You can also play as the flying two-tailed fox Tails, who can reach parts of the level that Sonic can’t. The “new porcupine on the block with the buff chest” Knuckles is also available, and he can glide, climb and break walls. Each character can access different parts of the levels and has different ways to battle the bosses, so the game encourages you to play with them all. You can also play in the fan-favorite Sonic & Tails mode, where a second player can control an invincible tails and help Sonic fly up to previously inaccessible areas.
In addition to the regular gameplay, you’ll find Special Stages. You have to chase down a Chaos Emerald on a 3D track, while speeding up and collecting rings. These reminded me you of both Sonic R and Sonic CD’s Special Stages, and they are incredibly fun and challenging. Collect all Chaos Emeralds and you’ll unlock the ability to transform to Super Sonic, and unlock a secret ending to the game.
There are also bonus stages in which you’ll have to collect blue spheres. It’s similar to a challenge that appeared in Sonic & Knuckles. Succeed in these bonus stages, and you’ll unlock some neat options such as the sound test feature and some really cool bonuses for the gameplay. But I won’t spoil them – you’ll have to find out for yourself (or Google it).
The gameplay does hit a few bumps along the way. Speed up too ,uch in a platforming area and you might find yourself constantly losing rings. Some of the later stages don’t really let you speed up without running into an enemy or a spike. Also, some of the objects you can climb on can squish you, costing you a life. This can be a bit of a pain since some of them have really surprising and weird collision-handling which didn’t make much sense to me.
The aforementioned Sonic & Tails co-op mode is not the only multiplayer mode. You can also play the competition mode, in which you and your friend race to the finish line and collect as many points along the way. The game also packs a single-player time attack mode, where you compete against the clock to try and get the best times. These are all fairly limited, but can be very fun.
Sonic Mania is a is fantastic game. The stages are huge, with countless ways to go around them. The classic stages are all beautifully recreated, but it’s the new ones that steal the spotlight. I found myself playing stages over and over because I liked them so much.
The sound, graphics and boss fights are all extremely well-made, and the gameplay, while hitting a few bumps later in the game, is just plain fun. The game was supposed to be as long as Sonic & Knuckles, but turned out longer and with more to do, which is always great.
So whether you’re a longtime fan or a new player, Sonic Mania .Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.