It may have taken them a long fifteen years, but Sega has finally released a Sonic the Hedgehog game that fans can be incredibly proud of. Developed by Headcannon and PagodaWest Games, Sonic Mania is a true return to form for the blue speedball, receiving rave reviews almost everywhere.
Unsurprisingly, like the previous games, Sonic Mania revolves around stopping Dr Eggman (Robotnik) and collecting the Chaos Emeralds. As they attempt to thwart Eggman’s plans, Sonic, Tails and Knuckles are thrown back into the past. Now it’s a race through time to save the day once again.
The game is similar in style to the original 2D platform games that the franchise is renowned for. Players are able to play as Sonic, Tails or even Knuckles in a variety of different acts. Some old favourites return with some grand redesigns, along with a small selection of shiny new zones.
Sonic Mania kicks things off with a stunning little animated short, and immediately this feels like a fresh start for the franchise. Known for his work on the recently cancelled Archie Sonic Mega Drive miniseries, Tyson Hesse lends a hand in animating this fun intro.
There’s a clear labour of love behind the game, as it’s even developed by a number of fans who are known in the community for their hard work on porting and creating their very own Sonic games. Once lead programmer Christian Whitehead approached Sega about this unique idea, the company decided to help publish it.
Thankfully, Sega made the right choice here. After so many previous pitfalls, Sonic Mania finally gets it right. It’s a superb piece of work, which can provide fans with hours of entertainment. Having recently finished the game, it’s safe to say that it should be recommended to those who have even fallen out with the hedgehog.
The zones have such a clever design to them, meaning that Sonic can traverse across any of the acts however the player wants. Due to the way some of them are designed, zones can be ended in various different ways. Don’t care for the water on a certain level? Get dry and travel to the highest parts of the map.
There’s a huge sense of nostalgia when Sonic is revisiting the old zones, but honestly, the new ones are where the game truly shines. For example, Studiopolis Zone showcases just how great the level designs are, and how the developers have managed to add their own flair to an old recipe. There’s so much detail to be seen as Sonic whizzes on by, so don’t hesitate to pause once in a while to admire the vibrant colours and unique designs.
If there’s any criticism to be made about the game though, it’s that we’ve seen some of these old acts before. The nightmare inducing Chemical Plant and Hydrocity zones make a return, along with that horrifying drowning countdown sound. It’s nice to revisit these zones with a fresh coat of paint, but there was a certain desire to see more new content, especially considering the fact they’re so well made.
Despite this minor criticism, it felt that Sonic Mania was severely missing its very own Ice Cap Zone, so no valid complaints can be made there. Bonus stages make a return again and unfortunately, there’s been no improvement here with collecting the blue spheres. There’s also the addition of the Special Zone, which can be accessed in hidden areas. Special Zones consist of chasing down a UFO, which is a welcome change of pace.
The enemies in Sonic Mania are pretty much the same as their predecessors, but there are a few surprise appearances throughout. Fans of the series will be happy to see a myriad of old faces, and some of the more keen-eyed gamers will notice references to forgotten games.
Players will notice the change in difficulty later into the game, and in one case the final boss in Oil Ocean Zone resulted in some short gameplay breaks. When all lives are lost in Sonic Mania, players have to start from the beginning of the first act. It’s not as harsh a punishment from the previous 2D games, but it’s suitable. Practice just makes perfect with these games.
Unfortunately, a small number of glitches hindered my progress throughout the game. So far, Sonic has managed to completely skip an act one boss, and also get himself perpetually stuck in the spinning motion during a boss fight, presumably for the rest of his life. This can be put down to the fact that the game is brand new so glitches like this can happen. Hopefully, these get fixed though, as other players are having issues.
The sprites have never looked better either, and they’re completely fluid no matter what Sonic is doing. The same applies to the enemies and especially the boss battles, and Eggman’s creations are meticulously put together brilliantly. Hard work and dedication has been spent on bringing this game to life, and people familiar with sprites will end up blushing during the game.
Of course, Michael Jackson isn’t around to help contribute to the music in Sonic Mania (was he ever?), but it is without a doubt the strongest soundtrack in around 20 years. Whereas Sonic Adventure 2 had some decent songs, Sonic Mania provides some solid remixes and fresh tracks that fans will be already adding to their personal playlists.
Sonic Mania took around five hours to complete, but thankfully there’s an awful lot of replayability here. There’s a Time Attack mode, allowing players to finish the zones in the fastest time possible. Competition Mode makes a welcome return (first appearing in Sonic the Hedgehog 2), where players can race to the finish line.
As is the case with all Sonic games, players aren’t truly finished until all the Chaos Emeralds are collected. Medallions can also be acquired in the game, unlocking special features for different characters. Some will even notice that playing as Knuckles results in a different layout for one level.
For those who fond of the original 2D games, it’s certain that they’ll fall in love with Sonic Mania. It’s even a great starting point for the younger player, who will enjoy the fast-paced action. Considering just how cheap it is, Sonic Mania is great value for money, and it deserves to be played. Hopefully, Sega picks these developers once again, and we’ll see more of this sort of thing.
Sonic Mania is available on all platforms, and it’s a downright bargain. Although I claimed that there have been no well-reviewed Sonic games in fifteen years, I’ve admittedly left out the Sonic & All-Stars Racing games, which deserves recognition for being amazing. Sorry about that.