Sonic Mania review: Return to the glory days

Sonic Mania
Let’s face it, there is no other video game series more polarizing than Sonic the Hedgehog. Being one of the most recognizable game characters in history next to Mario, the Blue Blur has had a ton of hits and misses, garnering him a spot as one of the most used memes on the internet (for better or for worse). I myself was a huge Sonic fan back in my childhood, enjoying the classics on the Genesis, the Adventure titles, and I mustered up every comic book and TV show episodes I could find. Just ask my mother, I was OBSESSED. Now that the obsession has wound down significantly, I still consider myself a fan. But like many other fans, I was let down by some of Sega’s questionable decisions within the last 12 years. Then came Sonic Mania.

With the development being led by famed modder Christian Whitehead, Sonic Mania is an attempt to create a new Sonic game in the style of pure, classic Sonic from the Genesis and Sega CD days. I use the term “attempt” as if it was unsuccessful, but don’t worry, it’s quite the opposite.

New and Old Collide

The first thing you’ll notice is that Sonic Mania looks and feels exactly like a Sonic game of the early ’90s would, with 16-bit graphics that look as if they were ripped right out of the Genesis era. Although they still made minor additions such as 3D graphics in the backgrounds of some scenes and more complex animations on a few characters and level objects. The music is also excellent, with some original and remastered tracks that fulfill the promise of every Sonic game to have great music.

Out of the 12 stages in Sonic Mania, 5 of them are original and 7 are from the previous titles, being 1, 2, 3, and CD. Though they’re unoriginal stages, the developers took the liberty of changing things up a bit, adding new areas of exploration and traversal. For example, eliminating some slow-moving platforms in favor of new pathways that complement Sonic’s speed. A welcome change considering that too many slow segments in any Sonic game can be an annoyance. But they’re always welcome in small bursts to get a handle on what’s going on.

Special Stages

It wouldn’t be a 2D Sonic game without special stages and in Sonic Mania’s case, there are two: one for the checkpoints and another you have to find while exploring levels. Once you hit a checkpoint, you can jump into its portal to begin the special stage from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, where you have to collect all the blue orbs to receive a gold medallion. If you want a Chaos Emerald, however, you’re going to have to look for the signature giant gold rings to enter a new special stage. Sonic has to run forward and collect blue orbs to fill his Mach speed and successfully catch up to the UFO holding a Chaos Emerald. Both of these stages start out easy but will grow to be more difficult as the game continues.

A Sudden Burst of Difficulty

Speaking of that, the first half of Sonic Mania was relatively easy for me. I may have gotten one or two game overs, but thanks to the save system, it sure felt a bit easier than classic Sonic games. However, the difficulty spiked once I arrived at the Stage 6 boss. It gave me about 4 Game Over screens, and once that happens, you have to restart at the very beginning of the level. Admittedly a better choice than the beginning of the game, but frustrating nonetheless. Classic Sonic fans will absolutely love the bold challenge this game presents. But the easily irritated (like me) will have a rough time dealing with the intense difficulty spike that comes during the latter half of the game.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some bosses are humiliatingly easy and can be taken down in under 30 seconds. Most of these were Act 1 bosses since there are now bosses for both Act 1 and Act 2 of each stage. The Act 2 bosses are incredibly creative, including the likes of some that made my jaw drop from nostalgia, which I will not spoil here. Just know that you’re in for some treats.

When you complete the main story and are looking for something else to do, you can choose between Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles to go back to any level and race against the clock in Time Trials, or play against your friends in a 2-Player mode. Tails and Knuckles offer new play styles since both characters can fly and Knuckles can climb, making for different ways of going through stages.

Final Reaction

If you have any doubts about Sonic the Hedgehog’s next adventure, you can chuck them out the window because Sonic Mania is worth the hype. It’s the ultimate love letter to the franchise created by fans for the fans. Aside from a spontaneous difficulty spike, Sonic Mania is full of ingenious level and boss design sprinkled with just the right amount of nostalgia to avoid being obnoxious. I played the PS4 version for the sake of this review, but I’ll have to get the Switch version so I can collect the Chaos Emeralds every chance I get. Safe to say that no matter what platform you decide to get it on, Sonic Mania is 2D Sonic at its finest.

Rating: 4.5/5 Atoms

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