REVIEW – What if you take a franchise with several decades of history, give it to developers that grew up with the games when it was in its prime with the creators having more than just software in the industry? The result would be something resembling Sonic Mania: the game goes back to the Mega Drive/Genesis era, and the result is great!
Believe it or not. Sonic has celebrated his 25th birthday (in fact, he’s now 26), and thus, the speedy blue hedgehog is getting two main tittles this year. The other game will be the modern, 3D Sonic Forces this holiday season, which is also developed in-house via Sonic Team. Until then, let’s just enjoy Sonic Mania‘s brilliance.
Who remembers Sonic 4? Nobody? Good, because this game forgot it, too – storywise, we are right after 3, and while yes, Dr. Eggman is still the antagonist, he brought along some new bootlicker robots called Hard-Boiled Heavies. While technologically we are far more advanced than the 90s, the gameplay will be only affected positively, but mainly in one part (which I will mention a bit later): it’s a classical side-scrolling, fast-paced gameplay, with the story being advanced with no-commentary, mute cutscenes, just like in the past. Excellent.
All three characters are back with their skills from 3 as well. Sonic is joined by Tails and Knuckles. Sonic did get a new move, the drop dash, though: if you hold the jump button in midair, then after landing, you will automatically begin dashing, which makes the already quick gameplay speed up a bit by a few seconds per level. The old tradition is also here: until you have rings, you can get hit by enemies, but if you have none, you die in one hit, which means Sonic performs the good old falling down the screen with his :O face.
The gameplay is the same as on the Mega Drive/Genesis (sans Sonic’s new move): collect rings, get all the Chaos Emeralds for a better ending, and try to beat all zones, acts as fast as possible. The locations include some of the classic Zones – even those who never played Sonic should recognize Green Hill Zone.
The level designs aren’t fully horizontal, as they tend to include verticality, too, which was one of the biggest improvements seen in Sonic CD. Back to a bit of change in gameplay, the 3D areas (where you have to get the Emeralds while chasing a UFO plus collect blue orbs), without any slowdowns as in CD. There is a bit of frame dropping on the Switch, yes, but the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One both have the expected smooth sixty frames per second all over the game. (It would be ridiculous if there were a 30 FPS cap, wouldn’t it?)
The graphics aren’t modern. It DOESN’T want to be hip and cool. Even though it doesn’t hit the standard of 2017, it doesn’t deserve to be called as a negative, and this thought also applies for the remixed soundtrack. What can be critiqued then, you ask? Maybe the difficulty of Sonic Mania? It’s not easy, but I wouldn’t call it a large negative at all.
It wouldn’t be fair either. However, I do have to say that the boss fights seem to massively lack creativity, and it felt like that Headcannon and PagodaWest have run out of creativity with them. I’ve seen better in previous games. That’s all for negatives, I think…
If you ever had a SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis or maybe a Dreamcast, then buy this game. Yes, I am bluntly saying that. If SEGA is going to be a bit more willing to take risks with a sequel (if there will be one – and they already tried to open up a bit with the Knuckles mode, having two of them on the screen is frenetic!), while also asking the same developers, then I believe Sonic fans will have a great time coming for them. Unfortunately, you can beat this game in one weekend, but you can spend about a week with it – still, this thing takes away a 9 out of 10. Sonic Mania is an 8.5 but a strong one at that.
+ The classic gameplay with no unnecessary extras
+ Fast, retro, and enjoyable at the end of the summer
+ Knuckles mode
– It could be beaten quickly (despite its annoyances, especially in the 3D mode)
– If it gets a sequel, it should try more new things
– The boss fights
Developer: Headcannon, PagodaWest
Genre: retro side-scrolling platformer
Release date: August 15, 2017 (PS4, X1, Switch), August 29 (PC)