A Blast from the Past: Sonic Mania Review
It's crazy to think that it's been almost twenty-three years since the release of Sonic's last 2D outing on the Genesis. During the intervening years, results have been mixed, to say the least. For every Sonic Generations or Sonic Colors we received, we'd receive several flops, including games like Sonic the Hedgehog '06, Sonic and the Black Knight, or even Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. While there have been far fewer hits than misses, that doesn't keep longtime fans like myself from holding out hope that each new title will finally be the one that bucks the trend and brings us an experience on par with the titles we grew up with on the Sega Genesis.
Sonic Mania finally attempts to right all the wrongs, as it ignores everything that has come since and acts as a follow up to Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Picking up a short time after the events of that game, Sonic and Tails return to Angel Island after picking up a strange energy reading. This leads them to a group of Egg Robos who, along with Dr. Robotnik, have discovered a mysterious gem known as the Phantom Ruby. When the gem is unearthed, it sends out a strange wave of energy which transforms the Egg Robos into a new elite unit known as the Hard Boiled Heavies and transports Sonic and the gang to the Green Hill Zone. At this point, it's up to Sonic to prevent Robotnik from abusing the time and space bending powers of the Phantom Ruby.
If you are at all familiar with the older Sonic titles than you should feel right at home with Sonic Mania. Gone are the objectives from the modern Sonic titles and instead your goal of each stage is to race through stages at breakneck speeds while collecting power rings. It's that simple. Well, to be honest, it isn't quite that simple. Each of the game's twelve zones has two acts, each with multiple paths through and many secrets to discover. In addition to secrets in each zone, there are also seven Chaos Emeralds to collect across seven new special stages, and medals that will unlock additional features like Sonic's Insta-Shield from Sonic 3 or the peelout from Sonic CD.
These unlockables are a nice nostalgia trip for longtime Sonic fans and will give a reason to come back to the game, at least if you're a fan of the Blue Sphere stages, which return from Sonic 3. At its core, Sonic Mania is a classic Sonic title, one that acts as if nothing that came after Sonic the Hedgehog 3 ever happened. If you're a fan of classic Sonic and haven't enjoyed the gameplay of the recent 3D Sonic titles, then you may feel more at home with this throwback.
If you played Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and you're expecting that style the 3D character models with a 2D gameplay style, then I have good news for you. Sonic Mania keeps the original style of the games in mind with a visual style that, in the worlds of the developers themselves, is better than the Sega Genesis, but not quite as good as what could be done on the Sega Saturn. It offers a nice look back into the style of the mid to late nineties while offering widescreen support and vibrant visuals that pop thanks to high definition. Sprites, while modeled after those that appeared in previous games, offer up additional frames of animation when compared to their sixteen-bit counterparts, this coupled with a consistent frame rate, offer a true visual feast that looks fantastic on the Switch, regardless of whether you're playing on a TV or in handheld mode.
Joining its visuals are an amazing set of new and remixed songs for each of the stages. Stages from games prior to Sonic 3 have even received additional remixes, bringing familiar territory inline with the stages from Sonic 3 and the games that came after it. Sound effects are borrowed from the other Sonic titles, which adds to the nostalgic value of the overall package.
Sonic Mania is a fantastic title and is worthy of all the praise it has received. If you're a fan of classic Sonic, then there's no reason that you shouldn't pick up Sonic Mania on your platform of choice. The game offers a wonderful feeling of nostalgia, and playing it makes it feel like seeing an old friend for the first time in years. The visuals and beautiful and the soundtrack, by Tee Lopes, is a fantastic mix of old and new that blends together seamlessly in this one package. Even for those who may not be familiar with the series, Sonic Mania acts as a perfect jumping on point with a mixture of old and new that offer a greatest hits package of the Genesis Sonic titles.
That's not to say Sonic Mania is perfect, as much of the game is recycled from the earlier Sonic titles, though with some new elements added to those stages. The game is also on the short side, clocking in at roughly the same length as Sonic 3 & Knuckles, you can expect to finish a single play through in under six hours, so unless you're interested in multiple play throughs for slight differences in the stages or to collect the game's medals, this is a game that can realistically be finished in an afternoon.
I truly enjoyed Sonic Mania, but I can admit that the game isn't without its problems. Looking beyond my nostalgia, it's still a very solid game and hopefully it will go a long way in showing Sega that these are the types of Sonic games that fans truly want, even if that means we only get a new Sonic game every few years, I would gladly take that over another Sonic Boom.