Initial Release: 15 August 2017
Sometimes to move forward you’ve got to look back or …. “Segaaaa”….
Sonic returns in the ultimate fan service sequel you’ve been waiting for since you put your megadrive in the attic.
The formative years of the early nineties console wars wasn’t fought by games alone. It was fought by mascots. Many stood tall and far more came and went. One of the biggest heavy hitters was Sonic the Hedgehog. A red sneaker wearing cyan blur of speed and platforming madness. Sonic merged iconic platforming with eye watering speed to make some of the most defining games of the generation. However, time brought new advancements in technology and The 2d platforming era was over. Now it was time to give way to the dawn of the 3D age. Some made the adjustment. Sonic struggled. For every Sonic Adventure there was a Sonic Unleashed to sully the name. And after gimmick after gimmick, Despite the success of the excellent Sonic Generations. Sonic soon became the epitome of washed up.
Now, in the same year a certain orange marsupial makes his big return, Sonic is also back, in a big, fast, amazing way.
Sonic Mania is the labour of love from Christian Whitehead, indie developers Headcannon and PagodaWest Games and published by Sega. With a return to its graphical roots and equivalent game play. It is a fascinating return to form. Its colour and hue are vibrant and a sight to behold. Not that you will get much time to take it in, Sonic is back to push the boundaries of speed and to test your reflexes. Sometimes it’s ok to just hold right and pray for the best. But never take your eyes off Sonic for too long. These levels may seem familiar, but within them lie deceptions. New dangers lay ahead to stop you from allowing your nostalgic muscle memory to take over. Sonic Mania may look like the Sonics of old but this time its brought a plethora of new tricks up its peachy coloured sleeves.
Some levels are a reassembly of old familiar stages, the ever faithful Green Hill zone and Flying battery make an appearance. Albeit with new twists and routes to find. Alongside some new stages such as the flashy neon Studiopolis. Each zone has been completely recreated from the ground up with lots of new surprises to keep veterans interested. The second boss battle of Chemical Plant is such a pleasing success at fan service it shows you just how much these guys love and know their Blue Hedgehogs. Special stages are back, with a pseudo 3d that is reminiscent of Sonic Jam on the Sega Saturn. They are fun to play and excellently designed and are a testament to the understanding shown in crafting a game that needs to recapture the nostalgia of its classic roots yet also innovate and bring its own challenging gameplay to fruition. What is brilliant about the level design is that it takes what people are familiar with and what they are expecting and challenges them with punishing twists. Never get too comfortable. Spindash into an enemy only to find yourself taken on a secret path of mad loops, spikes and pitfalls for a true test of hazard perceptions and action reflexes.
The story also has taken a retrograde. Gone are the sharp witticisms of Sonic’s vocals. He is back to being mute now. Everything else is pretty standard. Robotnik is after those emeralds again. We can only assume for nefarious reasons. So its up to you to guide Sonic through a section of zones. Freeing your animal buddies from robotic imprisonment along the way. Of course you play the titular Sonic the hedgehog as you try and navigate your way through these zones. Also here for the festivities are Sonic’s faithful sidekick Tails and former rival Knuckles. There is no need for an excessive cast or some gimmicky sideshow freak to spoil things (We all know the ones). Its all about that gameplay.
Each character brings their own unique character traits which allow for varied play-throughs. Sonic relies on his speed and unique use of the new move the drop dash. Tails can fly and Knuckles can glide and climb. And as an excellent nod to the glory days, One player can play as Sonic and a second player can subsist as Tails for an even more friendly co-op experience. This is the beauty of Sonic Mania. Its ability to seamlessly merge its mixture of classic gameplay, with some excellent new twists that are so welcome: from the brand new stages to the subtle new animations, you may feel like they were there all along.
Aside from The main story mode, there is also a Time Attack to hone your skills. and a local split screen Competition mode to reignite those old rivalries.
This game is difficult! For the most part the bosses are all new, and with them they bring a multitude of hair-tearing encounters that will make you waste lives so quick you will wonder if Dark Souls really is that hard after all. You only have 3 lives to start, you can get more by finding Life-up boxes or by collecting one hundred rings. But once you are out… it’s back to the start of the level. One Boss in particular is so hard it could (and maybe did) bring a grown man to tears. And it’s not just the levels and bosses that bring challenges. New enemies also inhabit these vibrant worlds, a special mention goes to the circular saw juggling crabs for making it even harder to hold on to those illustrious rings.
Will this game appeal to the younger market who won’t have even heard the words mega and drive in the same sentence? Maybe not, but this game wasn’t made for them, much in the same way Call of Duty wasn’t built for people who aren’t screaming adolescents with a penchant for camping and an ‘insults for your mother’ handbook. It was built for the original fans, for the mania. This doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to a new crowd. But its main focus is to bring back the speed and hardcore gaming that Sonic represented so many years ago. And in this it excels and thrills, it makes you nostalgic and appreciate that perhaps sometimes it really was better in the golden days.
Verdict: 9 out of 10
A copy of Sonic Mania was provided by the publisher for review purposes.