It only took 25 years… Sonic Mania (Switch)

So I picked up Sonic Mania from the US eShop in the recent Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. When you see a deal, gotta go fast, right?

I’m not the biggest Sonic fan by any means but I did grow up around (not exactly with) Sonic games for the Megadrive. Of those early Sonic games I spent the most time with my favourite, Sonic 2. 2017, 25 years after Sonic 2 was released, Sega finally released a worthy successor. I kid of course – it’s fun to argue which of the classic Megadrive games is the best but honestly they all have something to recommend them. Post-Megadrive though, there’s no doubt that the Sonic series went from system seller to mixed bag. After all that Sonic’s been through I’m amazed how well Sonic Mania turned out. To the point where I have no qualms saying this is the best Sonic game ever made, even after just a few short hours.

What year is it again?

To justify this bold claim I need to explain how good Sonic Mania feels to play. On the Player One Podcast (a mighty fine podcast by the way), Greg Sewart said once that the classic Sonic games have nothing to do with speed, and everything to do with momentum. Gathering and maintaining momentum is the pleasure of 2D Sonic, and that’s something Sonic Team have failed to grasp and implement in the modern 3D games.

Anyway that’s a whole other rant right there. Sonic Mania bypasses all the BS by faithfully recreating 90s Sonic… only better. Sonic’s movement in Mania makes 90s Sonic feel stodgy by comparison. He’s easier to control at slow speeds than in the Megadrive games, without losing the aforementioned signature momentum. Our hero’s range of animations have been expanded too, with more fluid and detailed representations of walking, trotting, running, sprinting – all the things Sonic does best, naturally.

Buttery smooth

The levels are a catchy blend of old and new, with no shortage of references to by-gone glory days and less than glorious Sonic spin-offs. Classics Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone open the game, with more original stages showing up later. It’s a best-of Sonic 1, 2 3&K in many ways, capturing the highlights and cutting out the filler.

I mentioned the animations but there’re a host of subtle gameplay improvements: when you have a high number of rings and you take a hit a few larger rings worth 10 rings scatter so you can recover a fair proportion of what you had, the number of bottomless pits is reduced, you retain all your rings in the main game after playing a bonus stage… They may be small touches individually but together they make a compelling case.

Not as painful as it looks

Last thing I have to mention are the music and sound. As with the rest of the game, the audio is lovingly done. The sound effects are all intact, and evoke strong nostalgia. Classic stages have expertly done, faithful remixes, with strong original music for the new stages.

At the end of the day Sonic Mania is a passion project through and through, oozing with 16-bit Sonic love (that came out grosser sounding than I meant it to). The fact that this was made with minimal, if any, input from Sonic Team should serve as a serious wake up call for Sega. It seems they are paying attention, given the recent announcement of Streets of Rage 4. Like Sonic Mania, Streets of Rage 4 is a “back to basics” 2D game developed by an outside indie dev with beat ’em up experience. Here’s hoping it reinvigorates the franchise (and the fanbase!) in the same way Sonic Mania has. A toast to Sonic!

And one of the most delightful title screens ever

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7 comments

    • veryverygaming

      It’s funny and more than a little sad! Are you familiar with the more recent games? The last Sonic game I played prior to Mania was Sonic and the Secret Rings. I haven’t tried Colours or Generations but I understand they’re fairly well regarded?

        • veryverygaming

          That sounds like me after Sonic and the Secret Rings. Didn’t like that game much at all and it really soured me on the series. Bad games always make it much harder to justify trying another entry in the series, no matter how many people insist it’s good…

    • veryverygaming

      That’s awesome that you’re thinking of giving Sonic Mania a go! I wholeheartedly recommend it if you have even the slightest affection for any of the old Genesis/Megadrive games.

      Yeah, it’s sad that Sega have abused the Sonic franchise for so long.. I love a lot of Sonic Team’s games up to the Dreamcast era but since then their output has been inconsistent at best.

  1. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game, but have enjoyed some of the 2D Sonic games released during the 1990s. I have heard this game being praised for it’s ability to mix familiar aspects of old Sonic games with new levels and updated gameplay. I thought it was interesting that the main feature of 2D Sonic games was maintaining momentum, which explains the abundance of looping pathways and having to maintain a fast speed to climb steep curves. Some of the additions seem positive as well, particularly the large rings (so it can be easier to collect them after Sonic was injured) and the absence of bottomless pits. I was also interested to read that the game manages to faithfully recreate stages, music and sound effects from previous games, as I found the music enjoyable and enjoyed some of the creative levels.
    What old stages are used in the game? Do the new stages have a very different feel to the older stages? Is the music a similar style as the music used in older Sonic games?

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