In the early 90’s Sonic the Hedgehog was the poster boy for video games, even surpassing the behemoth named Mario in some cases. Sonic was everywhere after the success of his debut on the Sega Genesis, with merchandise, two television shows, and much more. As time went on, however, Sonic lost his crown back to Mario, and it wasn’t entirely the characters fault; most of the blame is on SEGA’s shoulders as they couldn’t quite figure out what to do with the character. Since the Genesis dominance, there have been some good games like Sonic Adventure and Sonic Colors, and some terrible ones like Sonic 06. Still, many gamers, especially retro gamers, just wanted Sonic to return to the roots of the series: fun and fast platforming, catchy music, and crisp visuals.
Enter Sonic Mania
Sonic Mania is essentially a large fan project that is spearheaded by Christian Whitehead, who is well known in the Sonic fan game community. Christian was picked up by SEGA to create Sonic Mania, along with HeadCannon and PagodaWest, also notable names in the Sonic fan game community. The result of this is the best constructed Sonic game since, well, the 16-bit era.
Sonic Mania starts off after the events of Sonic and Knuckles, with the team of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. Dr. Eggman is up to his sinister ways again, and the gang must thwart his efforts once again. The lack of a deep story is honestly a refreshing breath of fresh air when it comes to Sonic. Interspecies relationships, long dialogue, none of this ever made a Sonic game better, in my opinion, so I enjoyed the lack of story immensely.
Once in the game, everything feels familiar but fresh. The game’s first two levels are based on classic Sonic levels, Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone. Quickly after exploring the levels, you realize these aren’t simply cut and paste jobs of these original levels to pad the game, but more “homages” to these original classics. Sprawling paths, different enemies, and different mechanics show you that these levels are just to ease the player into how the game works, and it does a great job of it. The level design is very clever as well.
Sonic CD was an interesting Sonic game because while it was a traditional Sonic, there was a level of exploration within the levels. Levels weren’t just simple left to right speed attacks, but more open and rewarding to the adventurous. Sonic Mania follows that sort of gameplay. Levels aren’t restricted to the standard left or right and you will find yourself exploring every nook and cranny, from up and down to the right to left sometimes.
The openness of the game is one of the strong suits because you can literally see different paths as you progress through the levels that lead to the desire to want to replay these levels to see where they lead to. Since you have to track down Chaos Emeralds, the reward to search throughout the levels is high.
The Blue Blur’s New Tricks
Sonic brings a new trick to the table as well with the “drop dash”. This new ability allows Sonic to immediately dash after jumping, which can help you with your attacks and speed. Speed has always been a focus for Sonic games, but the original ones managed to balance both speed with tight platforming, something the later games seemed to forget. The controls in Sonic Mania are tight and responsive, and there’s a great balance of both platforming and sheer speed sections as well.
Sonic Mania looks like a 16-bit Sonic game with a few modern touches. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are all very well animated, more so than their Genesis counterparts. Levels have some nice scrolling techniques and depth in the background that maybe the Genesis couldn’t pull off, which gives the game a nice little modern feel while retaining a classic aesthetic. The music in the game is superb and reminds me a bit of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which had heavy Michael Jackson influences (and of course the fact that he secretly worked on the music in the game.) Tunes are upbeat, chipper, and very catchy.
Aside from the main game, Sonic Mania has Time Trials for unlocked levels and a 2 player split-screen local mode like the one featured in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. These are nice additions, but nothing special.
Honestly, Sonic Mania is a game I had high hopes for, but I felt like I would be disappointed. SEGA has let me down before, and I figured this would be yet another case of a colossal letdown. Somehow though, Sonic Mania pulled through. It managed to capture the innocence of when I was just a kid with a Genesis playing a Sonic game, but managed to keep me enthralled till the end of the game and made me want to keep playing. Sonic Mania is honestly one of my favorite games so far of 2017, and a real treat for SEGA and Sonic fans. It doesn’t deviate too much from the source material, but in this case, that’s probably for the best.