Just as Mario is the de facto mascot for Nintendo, Sonic the Hedgehog is an iconic character for Sega. While Mario’s games have almost always gone from strength to strength, we can’t really say the same for Sonic. Over the years, the blue hedgehog has been in an impressive number of games, but many of them, such as 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog, 2008’s Sonic Unleashed, 2009’s Sonic and the Black Knight, 2014’s Sonic Boom, and 2015’s Sonic Lost World, were big disappointments. So you can’t blame us for being skeptical when we started playing the recently released Sonic Mania. Luckily, we’re happy to say that we were wrong about this game.
The graphics and art are intentionally retro in Sonic Mania. It looks like a fan’s tribute to the good Sonic games of the 90s, right from the moment you fire it up. Everything about Sonic Mania evokes nostalgia, from the art, to the music, and even the way Sonic responds to the controls.
The game starts with Mania Mode, which is where you get to unleash Sonic the Hedgehog’s best traits — high speed, and lightning quick reflexes. This mode is an old-school 2D sidescroller for the most part, where you will be vaulting over obstacles, curling Sonic into a supersonic ball and knocking enemies over, and speeding past entire levels. Your faithful companion Tails, whose primary ability is to swing his tail like a helicopter’s rotor, accompanies you.
You can’t control Tails in Mania Mode but he collects rings for you, and even helps you take down foes. Mania Mode also carries over a frustrating element of old Sonic games. Because Sonic is racing everywhere at high speeds, you’ll often encounter obstacles and enemies that seem to randomly appear from off-screen. Sometimes you’ll be on a great run with over 100 rings collected, and suddenly you’ll hit one row of spikes or an enemy and you lose all your rings, forcing you to push your reflexes even further.
Sure, you can collect some of these rings quickly as they fall near you, but most of them are gone if you make one mistake. Since obstacles and enemies are hard to spot, you’ll end up having to memorise each level and master your path to avoid them. This is much harder than it sounds because each level is so intricate. You can find yourself at the top tier on each level and land up at the lowest rung underwater within a matter of seconds.
Boss battles were fun to play too. At the end of each level, you encounter a boss and here you need to hit the jump or dash buttons to curl into a ball. You can attack bosses in that state and win the battle.
Since this game is true to Sonic games of old, you start with only three lives, and hitting an obstacle or an enemy can cost you one of those lives. Collecting 100 rings earns an extra life, and if you’re hit while carrying any rings, you lose rings but not a life. Other ways to lose lives include spending too much time underwater, and falling into bottomless pits. Also par for the course for Sonic are the level checkpoints, called Star Posts. When you lose a life, you start over from the last Star Post, and if you haven’t crossed any yet, then you restart the level entirely.
This isn’t a bad thing by itself, but for modern gamers used to unlimited respawns, and near ubiquitous checkpoints, this could prove to be a little off-putting.
Then there are special stages in Sonic Mania. You can trigger these at various weird looking teleportation devices within levels. These put you in a third-person view, controlling Sonic as he sprints around collecting rings, or slowly moves around going through blue coloured balls that turn into rings. These stages are hard to master, and they are a great addition to the game as they add variety.
Sonic Mania features 12 zones in all, of which four are original, while the rest are remixed versions from older games. While we have no issues with this, we were a bit disappointed not to see more original zones. However, we had a lot of fun in Mania Mode nonetheless, so this is a minor quibble.
Sonic Mania also features a Time Attack mode, which is unlocked after your character dies a few times in the game, where you pit your speed run skills, and a split-screen multiplayer mode where two players can race to the end of the level, and the fastest one wins. There’s enough content here to keep people occupied for hours on end.
From level design, to the art and music, Sonic Mania gets a lot of things right. For once, we have a Sonic game that does justice to the iconic character and the franchise.
- Level design
- Special stages
- Off-screen obstacles
- Could use more original levels
Overall rating (out of 10): 8