It’s amazing to think that the first Sonic the Hedgehog video game was released 26 years ago. Growing up, I remember saving all my money to buy a Sega Genesis, I already had a Nintendo I got as a birthday gift, but after playing the first Sonic game at my cousin’s house, I had to have it and eventually the sequels. After Sonic 3 & Knuckle, the series has gone through a huge change as Sega tried to take the series in a new direction to try to cater to different types of fans. While many of those games did well, others failed miserably for various reasons, and one of those reasons is that they didn’t have the same impact that made the originals so exciting and more importantly, extremely fun to play.
Sonic Mania is a game that aims to recapture what made Sonic so iconic back in the 90’s and does so perfectly. What’s great about Sonic Mania is that it’s the ultimate Sonic fangame; developed by fans who grew up as fan of the original games. Christian Whitehead, who previously worked on mobile ports of the original Sonic the Hedgehog games, led the project, and Independent studios Headcannon and PagodaWest Games, who were chosen for their Sonic fangame releases, developed it.
Old meets New!
Sonic Mania really highlights just how great 2D games can really be, even in this age of high definition graphics. The game retains the 16-bit style from the Sega Genesis (Sega Mega Drive System) era, but it also adds some nice enhancements and additions that really make the game stand out while still giving off that retro feel.
Sonic isn’t alone. Similar to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, you can select between Sonic (with or without Tails as a partner), Knuckles and Tails as playable characters. Each character each has their own unique style that changes how you play the game. With 12 different Zones to explore, each with two acts and various paths, you will always find something new each time you play.
Out of the 12 Zones, five are brand new with seven of them being taken from various Sonic 2D games (Sonic, Sonic 2, Sonic 3&K, and Sonic CD). The first act in each stage plays similarly as it did in the original game, but the developers add quite a few elements, including new enemy placements, new enemies, new exploration routes and a few surprises ending off with a mini-boss battle. Act 2 on the other hand features completely remixed stages with plenty of brand-new elements that completely change the way you look at the original game. Best of all, it also features remixed tracks of classic songs from the original games, which makes playing each act more fun listening to amazing tracks from Tee Lopes.
As you progress through the game, you will notice plenty of references and nods to other Sonic games. Special Stages use a model of Sonic similar to the one used for the Sega Saturn with Sonic Jam and Sonic R. Bark the Polar Bear and Bean the Dynamite from the one-off fighting game Sonic the Fighters make an appearance in the game, along with Fang the Sniper (aka Nack the Weasel). Some acts in the game even feature elements from other Sonic titles, which is actually really cool to see.
Welcome back bonus stages!
Growing up, I loved having to earn the Chaos Emeralds to unlock the Super and Hyper versions of Sonic, Knuckles and Tails. Honestly, I missed the sense of excitement and being able to transform into Super once you collected 50 rings anytime in the game. By having to meet certain requirements (Sonic 1, 2 and CD) or finding Special Rings (Sonic 3 & Knuckles), you entered stages that could potentially reward you with a Chaos Emerald if you succeeded. Collect seven, and well you are Super…literally.
In Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles, jumping into the Special Ring would transport you to one of seven (or 14 if you are playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles) of the Blue Sphere stages. In Sonic Mania, you find yourself in a 3D Sonic CD-inspired stage as you chase down a UFO holding a Chaos Emerald. To catch the alien, you need to collect blue orbs, which help Sonic, Tails or Knuckles gain extra “Mach” Speed as well as rings to help extend your time in the special stage.
The UFO stages aren’t the only bonus stages to play. Blue Sphere also makes a somewhat welcome return. While not necessary, completing Blue Spheres rewards you with medallions that unlock extra features in Sonic Mania. There are 32 medallions to collect in total, so it may take you awhile; especially if you get stuck on a few like I did for a while. But, it will be worth it.
What’s a Sonic games without a few glitches?
When you have a game all about going as fast as you can, you come across a few glitches. While not common, I came across a few problems, which included getting stuck in walls and weird hitbox collision resulting in instant death. It can be annoying when it happens, but luckily you can reset the stage and continue rather than having to completely restart the game or the whole stage.
Challenge, Replay Value and Extras
Sonic Mania is pretty challenging, especially if you’ve never played a Sonic game, but most importantly, it’s extremely fun. The game caters to old school Sonic fans by giving them exactly what they’ve wanted for a long time. The special stages for the Chaos Emeralds and boss battles are challenging, but that’s what makes them fun, especially having to memorize what are the best routes to explore and take. I still die every so often, mainly by getting crushed, but that’s nothing new when I am going too fast.
In terms of replay value, Sonic Mania has tons of it. You have a variety of ways to play the game, either solo or with a friend, taking them on in the Competition Mode to see who can complete the stage the fastest. If you want to work together, Player Two can always control Tails to give you a lift or fight enemies alongside you with Knuckles after you unlock the option. Time Trials are also a nice way to challenge yourself and others to see who can complete an act the fastest, and your time is uploaded to an online leaderboard. Most importantly, even after you complete the game, you can also replay it over multiple times, or take on any stage you may want to practice or return to in order to collect any Chaos Emeralds you may have missed.
Is it worth it?
It’s amazing just how much content you get for $20. If you were worried that Sonic Mania would be another Sonic game that wouldn’t live up to the hype behind it, well don’t worry because it blows away all doubt being that Sonic game you’ve been waiting for. Sonic Mania really is one of the best Sonic games to date made for fans by fans, and it shows. Did I mention just how amazing the hand drawn animated cutscenes are; especially the intro!