Sonic Mania Review
The Sonic cycle has been synonymous among fans of the blue hedgehog for the best part of two decades. It goes a little something like this: First information released on new game. Screenshots and release date emerge. Critics slam title and even the most die hard of fans feel disappointed. Sega have been unable to break this (with the exception of the Adventure games and Generations to an extent). But when Sonic Mania was announced in 2016, there was new hope as the cycle started all over again. Coming off the back of the Sonic Boom titles on Nintendo formats, this had to be something truly special. And guess what? They only went and did it. In fact, Sonic Mania doesn’t just break the cycle, it can almost be forgiven for ever letting us down.
The game itself came to fruition as a joint project between Christian Whitehead, who has a wealth of previous knowledge with prior Sonic ports. Two independent studios, Headcannon and Pagodawest also form part of the development team. The goal from the outset was to continue the story after the last truly great title, Sonic & Knuckles. And to do so, development looked toward recreation of the art style and physics from the original 16-bit games. Granted, we’ve had numerous 2D titles on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, but none have ever truly felt like a bona fide Sonic experience from the yesteryear,
And so the story for Sonic Mania picks up where we left off way back in ’94. With Dr Robotnik (yes, we’re using his original EU name) defeated after the destruction on Death Egg, our heroes head home. Some time later, Tails picks up readings of a strange energy source on Angel Island and enlists Sonic to check it out with him. We won’t deliver the full story here but when you arrive, you find yourself confront by a new robot army known as the ‘Hard Boiled Heavies’ who extract this energy source and with it, sends our heroes back in time. The story itself is not fleshed out, there’s no voice acting, or oodles of extra characters. But it doesn’t need to be, this captures the feeling of the holy quadrilogy of games to a tee already.
Sonic Mania delivers up twelve main zones to explore consisting of a mixture of new areas and re-worked classics. As such, you start your adventure in the iconic Green Hill Zone. As you take your first steps you can’t help but feel nostalgic. And maybe wonder how many times you’ve trekked through this zone. But after a minute or so, the paths start to adapt, offering you not only the nostalgic feel but at the same time, an excitement for not know what’s up ahead. This theme continues for each re-imagined zone, but the new areas are just as well created and capture the feel of the original titles like nothing has before. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the mid-90’s playing this.
One aspect the team needed to get right was the handling and physics. After the train wreck that was Sonic 4, failure on this would see failure on the whole game. But, breathe a sigh of relief. It handles every bit as well as the original games. From jumping and speed dashes to flying with Tails or gliding with Knuckles. It hits the nail on the head perfectly. And both the aforementioned characters are playable and complete with all their moves from Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Graphically the game has taken the art style and enhanced it for the modern era. Not only does it look and feel like a Sonic game should, but it also adds in those extra elements that weren’t possible on the Mega Drive. The bosses look fantastic, and there’s a whole host of them. Two per zone. Some offering a greater challenge than others but all are nicely detailed and serve their purpose. Coupled with this is an outstanding soundtrack. Re-worked themes for returning zones are present, along with some fantastic music that captures the nature of the series perfectly for the new zones.
Special zones are back also, as you will need to collect those fabled chaos emeralds to see the true ending. The format has been ripped straight from Sonic CD, which sees you chase down a UFO carrying the emerald. But also adds in the blue spheres from Sonic 3’s special stage. The more of these you collect, the fast you become in the chase whilst trying to stay on course. The polygonal art style is reminiscent of Sonic R on the Sega Saturn. Which is just one of many love letters to fans within the game. Speaking of which, you may be left stunned at what they have done for the boss in Chemical Plant.
Whilst you can blitz through the zones in five or so hours, you’ll be missing the true ending and the stack of collectables available by completing the bonus stages. And these do take shape in the guise of Sonic 3’s blue sphere levels. Which are not only a test of your reactions but also your patience.
It’s hard to pick flaws out of the game. There is occasionally slow down, however this is at time of review and a patch is expected to eradicate this. The length and pacing feels just right. Never does it become a chore as each zone offers something new. And the later zones ramp up the challenge. You’ll be close to the ten minute marker to complete them.
Sonic Mania has broken the cycle. It may be twenty years too late to the party, but it is worth the wait. If you ever enjoyed the original games in the 90’s, you’re going to adore this. If you’re new to the series or have not strayed outside of ‘Modern Sonic’s’ 3D routes, its more than worth checking out everything that made the series iconic. This captures the essence of an era no other game has ever managed to achieve. New Mario Bros? Jog on. Earthworm Jim, Rocket Knight, the list is endless. And had this of been released twenty years ago as a Saturn title, we may have been looking at a very different console landscape now. It is that good, stop reading, start playing.
Sonic Mania is available now from the Xbox Store, Priced £15.99.
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