Sonic has had his ups and his downs, we dove into them in our recent feature on the subject.
Sonic Mania is easily one of the best Sonic the Hedgehog games SEGA has managed to release since the Genesis days, which is saying something considering how many post-Genesis Sonic titles have come out since then. Personally, I’d wedge this in between Sonic 2 and Sonic & Knuckles as one of the best Sonic titles out there. Sonic fans, whether former or current, will absolutely enjoy this one.
Granted, Sonic Mania does end up revisiting a lot of content from the original franchise releases, but does so via remixed stages that may look familiar, but still end up feeling pretty unique. The game features 12 zones, with two acts for each zone, and every act ends with a unique boss fight. Of those zones there are a handful that are brand new with Sonic Mania, but many stages harken back to Sonic 1,2,3, Knuckles, and even Sonic CD. And most of the stages pulled are the ones you’d expect, starting with Green Hill Zone and continuing on with locations like Hydrocity and Chemical Plant.
In addition to the main story mode, Sonic Mania also features a 1 vs. 1 local competitive mode via split screen, and a time attack mode for every act. Time Attack is actually a lot of fun, in part because it makes use of online leaderboards, which definitely incentivised my desire to mess around with it.
Perhaps the best, and most important aspect of Sonic Mania, is that it feels like classic 2D Sonic the Hedgehog. If you were put off by any physics changes in Sonic 4 or Sonic Generations, then you’ll likely be happy with how well Sonic Mania controls. You can play as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles, and they all felt spot on in comparison to the Genesis / Mega Drive versions. Stages are still mostly designed with speed in mind, but if you take the time to explore, jump around, bounding off of enemies, avoiding traps, etc., it never becomes frustrating or difficult thanks to how smooth Sonic Mania plays.
And those 12 zones definitely feature ample reasons for exploring. There’s a lot of little secrets tucked into the various stages, with bonus stages to uncover and play through, additional items to discover, and just some neat little nods to the classic games that are worth seeking out.
Level design is at the series’ best here, the 12 zones are each meticulously designed with cleverly placed obstacles and varied pathways that keep you guessing. It can feel exhilarating to pass through a multitude of pathways, especially at top speed. No route ahead ever feels incorrect as you sprint through loops or hit springs launching you into different directions, and there are rarely any instances where the action halts without reason. And thanks to the visibility granted by the widescreen aspect ratio and the smooth frame rate, your awareness and sense of control running through a zone feels better than Sonic’s classic outings ever did.
There is so much to do in some stages that I often found myself running up against the 10 minute time limit, especially in some of the final zones. While Sonic Mania is definitely priced well at $19.99, you are absolutely still getting a full-blown game out of this.
It also helps that Sonic Mania looks fantastic. Again, it harkens back to the Genesis titles, but makes excellent use of HD rendering and 60 frames per second on modern consoles. And the stages are gorgeously designed, with tons of color and detail popping out of every frame. It’s a fantastic looking game, and I think it’s safe to say that Sonic the Hedgehog has never looked better.
So even if you’ve avoided the Sonic titles released in the last couple of decades, I think you owe it to yourself to give Sonic Mania a try. It’s a fantastic entry for the franchise, and it certainly has helped to reinvigorate my interest in the character going forward. Here’s hoping that SEGA can capitalise on this, and we won’t have to wait another two decades for another amazing Sonic the Hedgehog release.