The Sonic franchise has grown tiresome and abundantly stale over nearly two decades now, but the series continues to churn its legs, desperate for a break. The latest release from the famed Blue Blur, Sonic Mania, gives longtime fans the title they’ve been waiting for since the 16-bit days. No more clunky and confusing 3D adventure games, and out with the sub-par graphically enhanced, mechanically flawed 2D attempts at revamping the classic feel. Sonic Mania is here, and it delivers.
The Sonic community shouted valiantly for a rebirth of the tight and responsive 16-bit blue hedgehog, and – though it took awhile – the Sonic the Hedgehog developers finally responded. Using the ingredients that made Sonic the icon he was in the 90s, Sonic porting professional – Christian Whitehead – and developers Headcannon and PagodaWest Games delivered a 2D, side-scrolling title so spot on with the originals, one could easily mistake the new release for a 16-bit Genesis remake.
Speeding through new level designs, obstacles and a variety of branching pathways, Sonic Mania also delivers a few classic levels from the early years of Sonic the Hedgehog. With familiar platforming areas and enemies, these re-visited classics are now extended with tons of new areas to explore, where most new enhancements come when running through the second acts of levels. Completely revamped and re-imagined, new level designs introduce exciting platforming mechanics, surprising new areas, dangerous enemies and tough bosses – all with their own tactical advantages, and disadvantages.
Special stages make a roaring comeback, starting with the return of the iconic 3D sphere trotting stages from Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, which reward you bronze, silver and gold tokens redeemable for secret unlockables. Introducing a new method of retrieving the precious Chaos Emeralds in the new “Big Ring” stages, players will have to put their skills and reflexes to the test in these new racing-style challenges.
Scattered in hidden areas across all levels, the coveted Big Ring teleports the player to new areas where they’ll be faced with chasing down an alien UFO that’s holding one of seven powerful Chaos Emeralds. Racing around what essentially resembles a small go-kart course, there are obstacles to dodge, rings to collect and more blue spheres to gather as you close in on the alien UFO. With a decreasing timer made up by your ring count, your speed set to a permanent Mach setting based upon your sphere total, and cliffsides, spike balls and shortcuts to keep the player acting quickly and precisely, these new additions keep the challenge of collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds exciting and new.
Making your way through the nostalgic feel of the old Sonic games, you’ll be able to play as the 3 most recognizable characters – Sonic, Tails (or Sonic and Tails paired together) and Knuckles. Every level contains numerous pathways, loopy-loops, floating platforms, climbable walls, all of the familiar item boxes including the useful standard, fire and lightning shields and tons of hidden areas – in which some are only obtainable by certain characters. Using Knuckles‘ popular glide technique and rock climbing skill, Tails‘ flying technique and Sonic’s famous speed and essential skills, players are sure to find tons of secrets like special items, 1-ups and Big Ring stages.
Any hardcore Sonic devotee, die-hard Sega fan or simple nostalgic admirer will find precious moments and a glorious familiar playstyle in Christian Whitehead’s most appealing release yet. Taking older generations on a well-known journey with brand-new adventures and puzzles, while introducing younger generations to a world that existed before the tragedy of the modern Sonic demise, Sonic Mania is exactly the title fans have been yearning for. After so many gruelling spin-offs and lacklustre adventure titles, that speedy blue hedgehog, Sonic, has officially returned back to his true form.