Developers: PagodaWest Games,
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch,
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date(s): August 15th, 2017;
August 29th, 2017 (PC)
ESRB: E for Everyone
Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game
Let’s be real for a second; Sonic the Hedgehog hasn’t exactly had the best of luck over the years. Ever since he entered the 3D realm, our favorite supersonic hedgehog has stumbled a few too many times for his own good. That’s not to say that there aren’t any good 3D Sonic games, but… well, let’s just say the blue blur hasn’t exactly had the greatest track record (and I’m not talking about literal track records here, as I’m sure he breaks them all). Sonic the Hedgehog in 2D, however, has almost always been great, at least in my opinion.
So, you can imagine my excitement when Sonic Mania was first announced. I’ve awaited a game like this for what feels like an eternity. In fact, I’d say I’ve been waiting for Sonic Mania ever since I beat Sonic 3 & Knuckles, I just didn’t know what it would be called. And once it was released, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the 90s again. Not only does it feel like a true entry in Sonic’s Genesis era, but with today’s technological advancements, Sonic Mania performs even better, too. Some extremely creative level designs, an insanely good soundtrack, and all the nostalgia you could ever ask for makes Sonic Mania one game no Sonic fan should miss.
As with most of the classic Sonic games, Sonic Mania doesn’t really focus too much on story. There is a story being told, but it takes a back seat to just about every other aspect of the game. The gist is that, following the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, Sonic and Tails have noticed a strong energy reading similar to the Chaos Emeralds coming from Angel Island, so they head on over there. Of course, Dr. Eggman (who else?) and the Hard-Boiled Heavies – a group of robots created by the bad doctor – noticed the signal too, so they made sure to get there first. What they find is a gem known as the Phantom Ruby, which enables Eggman and the Heavies with immense power, including the ability to warp Sonic & co. through time and space. And thus, the possibility to replay old stages becomes possible.
Sonic Mania is more than just a collection of old levels, of course. While the development team most definitely repurposed some of the old levels’ designs, they also made sure to change some things. For example, while the Act 1 stages of the classic zones are very reminiscent to the originals, Act 2 tends to be a brand-new level entirely. Aside from that, there are also some new zones you will only see in Sonic Mania (at least for now). And if I’m being honest here, I’d even wager that the newer stuff has the better level design (please don’t kill me…).
As for how Sonic Mania controls, it’s exactly what you would expect. From the simple running, jumping, and spin-dashing mechanics to Tails flying and Knuckles gliding and climbing, the game really feels like you’re playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles again, but with a different lineup of levels. The power-ups from Sonic 3 & Knuckles even make a nice comeback. There is a new mechanic, however, that helps Sonic Mania stand out a bit more – the Drop Dash. Basically, while Tails can fly & Knuckles can glide, Sonic can now dash immediately after dropping to the ground after a jump. It can be very useful if you get the hang of it, although until I figured out how to use it, I sometimes found myself drop-dashing accidentally to unfortunate consequences.
Speaking of things from Sonic 3 & Knuckles that have returned for Sonic Mania: love it or hate it, the blue sphere special stages are back. They don’t unlock Chaos Emeralds this time, however. Instead, upon clearing these special stages, you earn silver medals when hitting all blue spheres and gold for also collecting the rings. Collect enough medals and you start unlocking additional features, such as moves from previous games, Debug Mode and the much-needed “& Knuckles” Mode, a feature that allows you to have Knuckles tag along on your adventure, even if you’re playing as Knuckles. Because if there’s one team-up I always wanted to see, it’s Knuckles & Knuckles.
While the blue sphere special stages don’t unlock Chaos Emeralds, they aren’t the only special stages in this game. Finding a giant ring hidden in each stage will warp you to a new type of special stage exclusive to Sonic Mania where you must catch a UFO and take the emerald from its grasp, collecting blue spheres to gain speed and rings to not run out of time. I actually found these special stages quite enjoyable, with a definite Sonic Jam/Sonic R vibe going on. And like with any type of special stage, they get harder and more frustrating, which can get annoying when you have to keep looking for the giant rings in order to retry the stages after failing. But it’s all worth it in the end, once you can become Super Sonic and fight the true final boss of the game.
There’s not a ton to say about the graphics aside from it being like Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but better. And I found that delightful. As a long-time fan of the game (and the series in general, of course), I just love how similar it looks. Obviously, the resolution is higher and the overall quality is better since it can be. And I was impressed by how seamlessly the development team could create new levels that look exactly like something from Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Like, seriously, these levels don’t look out of place at all. If you’re a sucker for nostalgia, then Sonic Mania will have no trouble satisfying you.
The music, though. THE MUSIC, THOUGH. Seriously, Sonic Mania not only lives up to the awesomeness of the classic games it borrows levels from by remastering certain songs we all remember from those games, but the remixes used in the Mania-exclusive Act 2 stages of some of those zones and the songs written for the brand-new zones are just pure gold. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that Sonic Mania has my all-time favorite soundtrack of any Sonic game ever. And that’s really saying something. Of course, it certainly helps that many of my favorite Sonic tunes have returned in Sonic Mania.
I realize I haven’t said a whole lot about the negatives in Sonic Mania. But there’s a reason; I simply can’t think of that many. I remember one time when the game glitched on me and somehow replaced the jumping sound effect with the ring one, which was weird. I also ran into a glitch in a certain new stage right before the boss that kept the boss from showing up, thus keeping me from progressing until I either ran out of time or killed myself. Other than that, there are a few annoyances that carried over from the classics, such as abruptly and unfairly getting crushed to death. And if you’re one of those people who didn’t care too much for the stop-and-go style of classic Sonic games, this game probably won't change your mind.
For the longest time, I’ve considered Sonic 3 & Knuckles to be my favorite Sonic game of all time. But now that I’ve played Sonic Mania, I’m not so sure anymore. The game has its share of glitches, but they are few and far between and takes nothing away from what makes the game so good. With some level designs so good I might even consider them the series’ best, graphics that make the game look like a Genesis game with higher resolution, and possibly my favorite soundtrack of any Sonic game ever, Sonic Mania is one hell of a comeback. If you’re a fan of the classic Sonic games, you owe it to yourself to get this game. You won’t regret it. I promise.
+ Incredible level design that might even top the classics
+ Fun special stages with plenty to unlock
+ Delightfully retro graphics style
+ Amazing soundtrack that is hard to stop listening to
- A few minor glitches
- Some frustrations passed down from the classics
Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)
A wonderful throwback to Sonic's Genesis days, Sonic Mania is a fantastic game and a strong contender for best Sonic game of all time, thanks to some incredible level design, a delightfully retro graphics style, and an amazing soundtrack. This is one game no Sonic fan should miss out on.