Aug 27

Sonic Mania Review: Back To Beautiful Basics

Gotta Go Fast! Okay, So What’s Next?

Way back in my personal gaming history, I was a early teen watching the 1990s console war between Sega and Nintendo spill over from the pages of magazines into schools and living rooms.

At my home, I was a bit of a waffler and owned both systems, due to the fact that I didn’t want to miss out on the epic games that were available on both systems. However, many of my friends were firmly entrenched in either the Sega or Nintendo camps. So rather than get myself into the middle of the battles over which system or game mascot was better, I would usually drag whichever system I needed to whatever sleepover I was heading to. 🙂

Since I was a hardware freak and wanted “ALL OF THE SYSTEMZ!” I was pretty ambivalent over which system or game mascot was so-called “better” at the time. However, it was interesting to listen to my friends argue over such things as the SNES and its Mode 7 graphics capabilities or Sega’s in-your-face advertising about “Blast Processing.”  Although I’ve always enjoyed the precise, slower paced platforming of Mario and friends, Sonic was still a bad ass. He was fast, the game levels were well thought out and colorful, and the early series entries just exuded that more “mature” Sega vibe that the company was shooting for. Unfortunately for Sega, the earlier pizzazz that the 16-bit titles had somewhat petered out when later console generations came along, and at that point I really started to lose interest in the series. Looking back at the poor sales and scathing critical reception to later 3D-based Sonic titles over the last couple of decades, so did many others. The speedy hedgehog was weighed down by bloat across a spate of 2D and 3D offerings that seemed to indicate the character’s makers really had little idea about WHY gamers loved the early 90s games, and wanted to push out new titles just by throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what stuck.

To their credit, the powers that be over at Sega finally realized they were doing more harm than good and passed Sonic’s red-and-white sneakers over to Christian Whitehead and the folks at PagodaWest Games and Headcannon. That trio prudently ignored every Sonic title released after 1994 and encapsulated within Sonic Mania the essential ingredients that, as I’ve come to remember, made that first few handful of Sonic titles so much fun.

Nostalgic, And Yet Not

Sonic Mania opens with Green Hill Zone, the starting “world” of the original game and one of many fan-favorite regions that join new playgrounds. The new areas are solid, but the oldies-but-goodies deserve special mention because they comprise the cornerstone of what makes Sonic Mania so great.

Each oldie-but-goodie zone starts with some familiar terrain, and then adds in some new mechanics and areas. Chemical Plant Zone will still have you zipping through lots of pipes, but instead of diving into one and watching Sonic roll through, as per tradition, you come to junctions where you have to choose which pipe you take next. In the same region are giant syringes dipped in pools of chemicals that, after you interact with them, makes the goop extra bouncy so you can spring up to reach higher portions of the levels.

Boss fights are more prominent than they were in the Sonic’s formative years. Instead of squaring off with Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman, if you prefer) at the end of each zone, you’ll go up against him or one of his robotic minions after every level. As one would expect, there’s plenty of throwback encounters that center on finding the boss’s weak spot and smashing into it until it explodes in a shower of fire. Sonic Mania DOES switch things up at times, helping to prevent the game from getting stale, such one battle that unfolds as an unexpected round of Puyo Puyo.

Sonic Mania’s great mix of new and old ideas reminds me of the some of the level design that the older games did have, and Christian Whitehead and company handle this deftly. You’d never know this game didn’t come from the minds of the original Sonic dev team. You can play Sonic Mania as a passive observer, putting the pedal to the metal and marveling at the rate at which scenery flies by. But by doing that, you’re passing up opportunities to marvel at the incredible scale of levels, and the amount of hidden goodies, power-ups, mini-games, and the various terrain each one offers up for you to explore.

These qualities were evident in Sonic’s best outings, but Mania’s nice, subtle additions make it a much more interactive game than its predecessors and, for me personally, as enjoyable as the older Sonic games I grew up with, if not more so.

Gotta Go Back In Time

If you’re into the gaming scene (especially us older folks!) Retro fever has been ramping up quite a bit in recent years, resulting in a glut of games that are sometimes good, and other times shameless nostalgic money grabs. As someone who’s a fan of Sonic and his earlier games, I can safely say Sonic Mania isn’t one of those. Rather than the game being just yet another HD remaster with a layer of nostalgia on top, it uses that nostalgia as a foundation and layers some extra character, visual, audio, and design goodness on top to make the game great. Thank you Sega for letting this game be what it is, instead of forcing it into something it shouldn’t be.

Sonic Mania is at once a look back into Sonic’s past and hopefully a window into Sonic’s future, bypassing everything between it and the early ’90s. At any rate, come for the nostalgic feels and stay to hopefully catch a glimpse of what Sonic’s gatekeepers may have in store for his future outings.

via GIPHY

Have you ever played Secret of Mana, and are you interested in the upcoming remake? Let us know in the comment section below or talk about the game in our discussion forums!

This review was based on an Xbox One digital download version purchased by Gamer-Tech. Sonic Mania has already released for the Xbox One, PS4, and Switch, and will be released on August 29th for PC, for $19.99.

Sonic Mania

$19.99
Sonic Mania
8.1

Graphics

8.0/10

Sound

8.0/10

Control

8.5/10

Fun Factor

8.0/10

Pros

  • Better than 3D Sonics!
  • Classic visuals and audio
  • Nice touches, like better animations and improved frame rate
  • Nice game mode variety

Cons

  • Game is a bit too short
  • A physical release would've been nice