Sonic Mania: The SoaH Review

Sonic the Hedgehog is by all means one of the most beloved characters of all time, a legend in the pantheon of what all gaming characters strive to live up to. Not only did he manage to go toe-to-toe with Nintendo’s beloved plumber but he paved the way for so many fans who work in the video game industry while inspiring countless others. Sonic has been through all the different planes of existence, sometimes even painfully evolving with the next bit of hardware to come out over the years.

With many of the most recent Sonic titles cashing in on the love and admiration for our favorite little blue hedgehog, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Sega announce Sonic Mania. However, even though we saw it coming, we wouldn’t be quite ready for the fastest thing alive to make such a celebrated comeback.

Sonic Mania is the perfect continuation of the 2D Classic formula with just the right amount of charm. Sega didn’t decide to try and modernize on the experience, instead they opted to take all of the best parts of the older Sonic titles, mash them together, and weave some original content together to form this game. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, they just let the car drive itself, taking the road that all of us wanted it to go.

Developed by Christian Whitehead, Headcannon studios, and PagodaWest games, this game is the ultimate tale of how fans of the franchise were able to directly work on a property they felt so passionate about and how a fanbase that had been crying for this type of title (for years) had finally been heard.

The game opens up in a system very similar to how Sonic 3 & Knuckles did, with a file menu system that harkens back to the days of old. The 2D sprites feel like a redesign of some of the assets from Sonic CD that were slabbed with a fresh coat of creative paint. Once you boot up the game, you are welcomed to the same story that never gets old: Dr. Eggman is up to no good, hoping to utilize the power of a mystical gem to achieve his schemes. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are all playable in this game and each has specific abilities that help them take advantage of the different paths available in each zone. Sonic is able to perform a Drop Dash which helps him come out of a jump and spin dash once he connects to the ground. Tails is able to take advantage of his namesake propeller tails and fly upward, accessing lanes ad paths that were vertically hidden before. Knuckles is able to glide, slowing his downward descent and also climb along the walls of each zone.

The zone choices reflect familiar scenery during their first acts, while during the second act, the terrain is usually changed up, revealing the vastness of the level. For example, the first zone is Green Hill Zone which feels just like it did on Sonic 1. The vast blue ocean swells in the background, cascading waterfalls cross over green grass and checkered rock, and the enemies all make their entrances on cue. When you transition into act 2, the player can now see cave formations, giving a sense of going under the level and deeper into an already familiar place that was already there, faithfully hidden. It’s touches like this that make the revisited zones feel much larger than they were on the Genesis. Of course, there are fan favorites such as Green Hill Zone, Chemical Plant Zone, and even Flying Battery Zone. These choices transition with the newly made zones like Studiopolis Zone and Mirage Saloon Zone very well.

Navigating the zones feels very similar to how the mechanics were on the Genesis. Sonic has always been a platformer that forces players to use timing and speed in conjunction with skill. Sure, Sonic can go fast and blur on a lot of the sections of the levels, but the challenge is controlling your impulse to just speed through. Rings are ever present and help with damage mitigation, as well as paving the way for the player to enter into a Bonus Stage once they reach a Star Circle should they have at least twenty-five rings. These Bonus Stages are the same design from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, in which your controlled character has to collect blur spheres and rings while avoiding red spheres which end the stage. Collecting all the rings and blue spheres will land a player a gold medallion, which helps to unlock features in the “Extra” section of the game. Collecting just blue spheres will land a player a silver medallion which unlocks abilities of characters, such as Sonic’s Super Peel Out that was first featured in Sonic CD. These abilities and other features are only available in the No-Save Mode.

There are also giant rings available which transports the character to Special Stages that are ripped straight out of Sonic CD. In this mode, the character has to chase a UFO that is holding a Chaos Emerald. To do this within the time limit, the player must collect blue spheres which in turn will raise their speed meter, going from mach 1 to mach 2 and so on. To increase the time limit, the player can also collect rings as well. The player must avoid pitfalls in the level, as well as obstacles that are scattered on the track.

These two special modes make the game a joy to complete, as it gives the player something to achieve and once all the Chaos Emeralds are collected, grants the true “secret” ending to the game. (You know where I’m going with this, right?)

The boss fights are enjoyable and force you to go through a myriad of strategies that aren’t always apparent at first. There are also some cameos made by all sorts of characters like Nack the Weasel, Amy Rose, Bean the Duck, and Bark the Polar Bear. There is even an instance where the boss battle is strictly the character facing off with Dr. Eggman in a match of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine!

The soundtrack is refreshing and updated with composer Tee Lopes bringing some surprising original music to the table while offering tasteful remixes and reimaginings of the original scores.  Players also have the option to partake in a local competition mode, which is this game’s equivalent of multiplayer. Two players face off with each other to race to the finish of a zone in the style of Sonic 2. There is even a Time Attack which helps with those types of players who want to speed run and out-stat their friends with online leaderboards being supported.

Overall, Sonic Mania feels like a “Best Of” compilation of all the 16-bit Sonic games with updated visuals, animations, and sounds that make the game play great, nostalgia goggles aside. While the game is short, it does offer plenty of collectables and replayability while keeping several aspects of the franchise alive and relevant. With plenty of cameos, classic levels, expressive character sprites that tell a great narrative, and fresh new zones, Sonic Mania is a great time for not only fans of the franchise but gamers in general. Sonic Mania is a celebration of what makes Sonic classic and what made him the lovable speedster that races through our minds and hearts today.