Author’s Note: Below you’ll find my review of Sonic Mania, but if you’d rather watch than read your game coverage, check out the video review. Be sure to let me know what you think of the game and please subscribe to TVGB’s YouTube channel!
Sonic Mania is a true love project made by fans of the popular blue hedgehog. Throughout my entire time playing, I could feel that love poured out into this game. All of the hard work and determination these developers put into this has made Sonic Mania, in my opinion, the best Sonic the Hedgehog game ever. 2D or 3D.
Doctor Eggman (or Robotnik) and his Hard-Boiled Heavies (because egg puns) have found a pink gem on Angel Island that lets them teleport through time so it’s up to Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles to stop them. The game opens with a beginning sequence almost identical to Sonic 3, with Sonic and Tails flying in and stopping in the same exact spot where Knuckles crashes into them in Sonic 3. They get sent back in time and start their journey from Green Hill Zone Act 1. The plot of the game really is not anything amazing, but we’re playing a Sonic game. We just want to go fast.
Controlling Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles, the gamer gets to speed through each level defeating Eggman (or Robotnik) and his badnik robots in a different way every time with the different abilities of the 3 protagonists. Sonic is fast and can take advantage of the lightning, fire, and bubble power ups found throughout the game. He also has a new drop dash move brought into this game, but there’s no tutorial on how to execute it; I got through the game just fine using the old spin dash. Tails can fly throughout levels up until a point where he gets tired and falls to the ground. This can be dangerous because any enemies you land on will harm you, so it is best to be conservative with his flying. Knuckles can glide and climb walls. His glide does destroy badniks if you hit them with his fist, but I found at times it can be a little wonky with the hit detection and sometimes harms you (as Sonic I also got crushed in situations where I thought I would not multiple times).
A surprising thing about Knuckles is that he doesn’t require a spin to breakthrough walls; he can charge through breakable walls by just running fast enough. Overall, these are the same three classic characters and they each feel different and great to play in their own rights. The game also has new animations for all the characters in the between-stage cutscenes, and their charmingly old school feel makes Sonic Mania feel like a Genesis game on steroids.
Graphically, the game looks exactly as intended: a Sega Genesis game brought into today’s world. The levels look beautiful with their updated 16-bit graphics. There are so many things that look exactly the same, just updated, that I have to believe they took assets from the older games and brought them directly into Sonic Mania. The backgrounds have so much detail to them and the music picked out for each act fits perfectly. The animated sections at the beginning and end of the game are great as well.
Sonic Mania takes so much of what was popular and loved about Sonic 1,2,3 and Knuckles and jams it together in a single title, adding just enough changes to make old stages newer and better than ever before. Green Hill Zone starts out exactly as you remember it the first time you played Sonic 1 with the music to match. At some point though, it completely changes to a new version of Green Hill Zone and after you beat the mid-boss of the zone, the music alternates to a more modern version of the song. This is how every zone is handled throughout the game. It starts out recognizable, for nostalgia purposes, then adds in some new twists and a mid-boss. The second act is an expansion on the twists and ends with the final boss for the zone.
The developers brought back many assets from the older Sonic games, whether we wanted them or not. In the all new Mirage Saloon zone, there are two different instances in the first act where you are on top of the tornado (Tails’ plane) in either an auto scrolling section, or a mid-boss fight. This section feels exactly like it did back in Sonic 2 in Sky Chase Zone. This is the one section of the game where the gameplay feels like you have little control over your character because of the way you have to move the plane around. The second act of the zone is great and interesting; even jumping along the train in the first act is a task that definitely could have been played out more. The other thing brought back that was not really wanted are underwater areas. You know, the parts where Sonic has to move slow and constantly look for air bubbles. Luckily, this is only in two parts of the game – Chemical Plant, where you go under the pink water, and the return of the Hydrocity Zone, which I will admit, is probably the best underwater Sonic level – but still, underwater levels and Sonic do not mix well.
As for the bosses in the game, these were the most thought out and most fun boss battles I have ever had in a Sonic game. Eggman or his Hard-Boiled Heavies are always the final boss in every zone. Each boss fight is completely different from the others. In Green Hill Zone, you are running away from and jumping back at the Death Egg from Sonic 2. For the final boss for Chemical Plant, you face Eggman in a game of Puyo-Puyo. Even when you are fighting the Hard-Boiled Heavies you are having a unique experience.
All the Heavies are very different from each other and have their own unique quirks about them. In fact, I was hoping to see more of them throughout the zones. Them having more of an impact on the layout of the stage would be an interesting mechanic. The mid-bosses are interesting as well. These are usually remixed versions of the older game fights. For example, in Hydrocity Zone, roles are reversed with Sonic sitting in one of Eggman’s carriers dropping bombs and swirling water to bring Eggman up to harm him. It makes the old fights feel new and absolutely nails it, just like the rest of the game.
To get the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic Mania you must find the giant rings in the stages. They teleport you to the old UFO chase sequences from Sonic CD which I never played. In these stages you chase a UFO while collecting blue orbs that make you run faster. You also have an ever depleting amount of rings and if they hit zero, you fail. This was very uncomfortable for me and, admittedly, I still have not gotten the hang of the controls. Sonic seems to almost drift when you turn and it throws me off every time. It just does not feel good. I only collected 4 chaos emeralds through my first playthrough so I am planning on spending more time exploring for the giant rings on my next go around.
The other special stage are the collecting blue spheres stages from Sonic 3. You have to avoid the red orbs and collect every blue orb to collect some kind of token? I have not gathered a ton yet as I was aiming to get through the game fast, but my guess is the more you get, the more extra content you unlock. The stages themselves start out easy and get progressively harder. Seeing this back was a nice bit of nostalgia, but personally I would have loved to see the special stages from Sonic 2 return where you collect rings while running down the path.
It took 23 years, but Sonic the Hedgehog finally got a game worthy of being the fourth numbered entry in the series (I know there was a Sonic 4, but we don’t talk about Sonic 4). Sonic Mania is an example of using a proven formula, adding to it, and nailing the end result. By no means is it a perfect game; there are a few bumps in the road, but it is a simple, fun nostalgia trip that Sonic fans need to try. It is great to see a game where you can tell the developers cared and put their all into its creation.
Gameplay - 9/10
Plot - 6.5/10
Design - 9.5/10
Sonic Mania might be the best Sonic game yet. The old time controls and feel of the past come roaring back into the present successfully while giving a fast, fun environment to play in. The game is an absolute must try for anyone who ever called themselves a Sonic fan.