Some may think that I’m being overly critical when I say that there hasn’t been a great Sonic The Hedgehog game, or even a good one, for quite a few years and as harsh as that sounds, I believe it is a pretty accurate statement to make. When I got given the new Sonic Mania to review, I didn’t get my hopes up too much despite promises that it was a return to form for this modern revamp of a much loved franchise that had been given the classic 2D style treatment. The moment I started it up for the first time and I heard that much loved ‘SEEEGGGAAA’ at the start of the game, it gave me those nostalgic goosebumps that took me back to when I was 11 years old when I booted up the Mega Drive for the first time and It was then that I started to sense that this could be the Sonic game people have wanted for such a long time.
There is a very familiar look and feel to Sonic Mania and the game itself consists of what can only be described as a ‘Best Of’ or a ‘Greatest Hits’ of all the classic sonic games of the nineties that has taken all of the most memorable parts of each of those games and rolled it into one while throwing some new features and surprises in there too, giving everything a fresh feel. The three characters that can be used are of course Sonic himself but the game gives you the option where you can choose to play as either Tails or Knuckles as well and you even have the option to pair both Sonic and Tails together through the campaign too if you want.
The classic styled visuals have been given a fresh coat of paint and have a polish to them that look brilliant and while the classic look has been faithfully recreated to the style that those original games were famous for, it has the added sharpness and vibrancy that stands out so well on a High Definition TV. Add a smooth solid frame rate in to the mix and you’ve got the most polished Sonic game to date and if you are feeling overly nostalgic, there is also an option to add a CRT render to the visuals too, which has to be said, looks great.
The level design in Sonic Mania is fantastic and while these levels look and feel familiar, they have been redesigned with some fresh routes and obstacles that just add to the already brilliant level variety. On more than a few occasions I found myself becoming comfortable with the levels only to have a few surprises put in front of me that offered great variety to an already established level design and it certainly kept me on alert wondering what new surprises these classic levels were going to throw at me.
Each of the games’ many zones consists of 2 acts with a boss fight at the end of each one and there are so many routes and secrets to uncover in each one that the replay value that is on offer here is quite substantial, especially when you can playthrough using the other characters to mix things up a bit too. There are also bonus areas and secret levels to unlock with the latter consisting of racing around a track to try and collect emeralds that contribute towards a nice little bonus at the end of the game. The bonus stages are taken straight from the original games and are unlocked by hitting a checkpoint with at least 25 rings that opens a portal to the bonus levels.
The gameplay of Sonic Mania is as polished as the presentation and the overall gameplay experience is simply fantastic. The controls are as responsive as they can be and timing is key when approaching certain areas within the levels. There were times when I got carried away trying to speed through which ultimately led to me hitting spikes or an enemy which resulted in losing my rings or even losing a life in the process. This made me realise that I had to take on some of the areas with a little bit of patience as some of the levels were unforgiving in their design and needed to be approached with a certain amount of caution, but when the sections came along that I could speed through, the fluidity of it all going around repeated loops and continuous springs worked seamlessly and were a joy to see in full swing. The only slight criticism I have with the gameplay would be that some of the boss fights can be a little repetitive and underwhelming with some inconsistencies to their mechanics and a couple are a bit of a chore to complete, but it is a very minor criticism.
Everything about Sonic Mania has been done with brilliant attention to detail and it’s no different when it comes to the soundtrack in the game. When that music from Green Hill started, I immediately had fond memories flooding back from 25 years ago and I couldn’t help but smile to myself while feeling like a kid again. Everything here has clearly been created to honour the originals in the best way possible and Sonic Mania has exceeded my expectations by a long way. The developers have done a fantastic job and deserve a lot of credit but it’s also a testament to not only the appeal of the character himself but also how well this game has stood the test of time.
So often we see old games brought back and given a modern makeover that hasn’t lived up to it’s original glory, but Sonic The Hedgehog is as great now as it was back then and Sonic Mania is a fine example of how a classic, much loved franchise should be brought back and be as great as it was, if not better than its original form. The disappointing Sonic games of the last 10 years or so are now a distant memory because Sonic The Hedgehog is well and truly back and better than ever in Sonic Mania and I urge anyone who loves this franchise or 2D platform games in general to buy this, trust me you won’t regret it.