The hedgehog returns.
Oh, Sonic. Your journey has been paved with classic status as well as horrendous ideas. No other gaming mascot seems to have as many ups and downs as you do. When Sega first announced it was making new Sonic games for this generation, most people simply sighed. The blue hedgehog has had a rough ride with only a few bright spots to speak of over the last decade. Sonic Mania is the first of two games hitting this season and it tugs at the nostalgia. Surprisingly it works, and it works well.
Sonic Mania feels like the Genesis-era games, sometimes in egregious fashion. There are classic levels revamped alongside brand new worlds. The game play is fast and mixes in both original concepts as well as new ones. This is no shock, as Sega handed the keys to the franchise over to fan developer Christian Whitehead. He and the developers at Headcannon and Pagoda Games were tasked with bringing 16-bit Sonic back to life.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4, Switch, PC
Price I’d Pay: $19.99
This game feels like the greatest hits album Sonic never had, complete with a few brand new tracks. The setup is simple. There are returning zones and new zones. Each one contains two levels. There is also a smattering of boss fights. Green Hill feels familiar, but expands in ways gamers will not be used to. New areas like Studiopolis feel fresh but also mesh with the classic levels. Also why did they include Lava Zone? I mean seriously no one liked that stage to begin with.
The boss battles are also inspired, each one requiring a new technique to take down. Stages are massive and reward exploration. Finding bonus zones and Chaos Emeralds require returning to old levels. The bonus stages also make a return and feel fun for once. It feels like the love the series deserves was manifested in all the right ways. This is the Sonic game fans have deserved for a decade.
Controlling Sonic feels like it should. The traditional moves are here, and some of the stages now feature things found in later Sonic games. Sonic does have a new move that lets him spin dash out of a jump. It is cool, but also extremely finicky to pull off.
Once I completed the first zone new modes unlocked. These include time attack and even an online component. It provides both cooperative and competitive modes of play. It is novel, but not something I found myself going back to often. My biggest gripe is everything surrounding the game. There are options to switch characters and other various things, but the game never spells it out. Also I could not change visual or sound options in-game. It also never informed me when it was safe to quit, which apparently is when a zone is completed. Quitting before that results in lost progress, which sucks.
Sonic Mania is the Sonic game fans have been wanting. It hits all the notes (and problems) the originals had. But it is also why the series has remained relevant for so long. It delivers speed, fun, and chaos (no pun intended) all in one package. It also finally removes the stigma that all Sonic games are terrible. Let’s hope Forces is as well polished and enjoyable as Mania is.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.