“By the fans, for the fans”. It’s a phrase you hear all the time, but it’s usually followed up by a promising fan project getting C&D’d weeks later. Not in this case. Sonic Mania is the product of a rare event; a company seeing how talented members of a classic franchise’s fanbase are and instead of telling them to stop doing what they’re doing, deciding to hire them to create the potential next great entry in their beloved series. In a lot of ways, this could be seen as a big risk, especially when the whole “back to Sonic‘s roots, as you truly imagined it!” thing has been done to death in the past with usually mediocre results. But when the names attached to the project are the likes of Christian Whitehead, Simon Thomley, and Tee Lopes, among others, your worry starts to dissipate, and you start to think “this could really be the game I’ve waited 20+ years for”.
So that’s the big question. Is it? Since Sonic discourse is usually about as divisive as a political discussion or a comment thread about who the best Persona 5 girl is
(it’s still Haru, by the way), we’re doing something a little bit different to answer that. We’ve gathered the thoughts of three different members of your humble Sega Addicts staff, each with differing levels of Sonic fandom and experience, to give you the most comprehensive, and gargantuan, answer to that question we can.
Brett Hatfield, played on PS4
Of all the Addicts, I believe I had the most flip-flops during the lead-up to Sonic Mania. From my initial disappointment at the debut, to my childlike astonishment at the new levels like Studiopolis and Mirage Saloon- and everything in between- it’s been quite the rollercoaster of hot takes and emotions. By August 15th though, everything had settled back solely into excitement. I mean, it’s a new 2D Sonic, in the hands of some of the fanbase’s most talented creators, in 2017. How the hell do you not get hype for that?
If I could describe Mania in one clichéd phrase, it’d be that it feels like coming home. It’s a game that, much like Sonic 3 did for a younger me, just simply feels comfy. You can immediately see the amount of love that’s been put into this game without even stepping foot into Green Hill, from Tyson Hesse’s utterly gorgeous opening movie to the menu design. And when you do get into the actual game? Man, oh man. The levels and sprites are fantastic, popping with bright colors, but not in a garish Sonic-CD-esque manner. The whole thing is just such a treat for the eyes, and it personally made me feel like I was 5, just witnessing Sonic for the first time all over again.
It’s not just a visual treat, either. I’d like to know who I need to bribe to keep Tee Lopes as the composer for every Sonic game moving forward, because his work here is some of the best in the series. Special mention has to go to his renditions of Lava Reef Act 2, Flying Battery Act 2, and Metallic Madness Act 1 (what up, Ridge Racer Type 4 sax?), but pretty much every track on the OST is fantastic. Seriously, I’ll happily trade Jun Senoue, legend that he is, for Lopes to get brought on full time.
Enough begging from me, though. We need to talk about the meat of the game and answer the $66,000 question: How does it stack up with the classics? Quite frankly, Sonic Mania not only lives up to their legacy, it surpasses them with flying, mostly blue, colors. 2D Sonic has never felt better to control, with the bump to widescreen and a steady 60FPS framerate helping immensely. This is especially apparent in the Blue Sphere bonus stages. Play one in Mania, then go back to one of the myriad releases of Sonic 3 and play one, and tell me Mania’s don’t feel so much more responsive.
On top of the fantastic controls, the level design is some of the best in the entire series. The layouts are structured well enough to offer a fair challenge to any type of player- from a hardcore speedrunner to someone who just likes having lots of stuff to explore. I was very iffy on bringing back so many Genesis era zones, but the Mania revisions of the classic levels are far more creative than expected, and I couldn’t be more pleased. The most exciting prospect was the promise of new worlds to explore, though, and the four new zones are amazing, not feeling out of place in the slightest. The biggest standouts, however, are the aforementioned Studiopolis, which is an instant classic on par with any of the all-time greats, and the decidedly weird but gorgeous Press Garden.
The best thing about Mania is simply the sheer amount of replay value it has, with three different story routes, an absurd amount of unlockables, huge levels with plenty of easter eggs to discover, and of course, getting all the Emeralds and medals via special stages. I initially thought a $20 tag was too high, but with the amount of content here, it’s more than worth that. I’ve played about as much Mania during launch week as I would a good JRPG, and I’m nowhere close to being bored. That’s just how much there is to do and how good the game feels.
If I have any issues with the game, the absolute biggest one is the ratio of new-to-old zones. I get that this is a nostalgia product- and a damn good one at that- but I really would’ve preferred to see more new zones to old ones. Reverse the ratio and make the old zones a reward for people who give new ones a chance next time. Also, if I ever see Green Hill again after this and Forces, I will scream. That aside, the one other glaring issue I have is that sometimes, collision detection is a bit off. This is especially apparent in Oil Ocean’s boss, as I’ve had rings just ghost through me instead of going back into my collection several times, something I never see on other levels.
In the end, Sonic Mania is an absolute must-have for any Sonic or Sega fan in general. Even as someone who absolutely adores the “boost-to-win” titles like Colors and Generations, this is the most fun I’ve had playing Sonic in years, and I can only hope that, A.) Forces can be just as good as Mania, and B.) Sega has the good sense to bring back this team for a sequel.
Let the Mania continue to run wild, Brother.
TJ Kitsune, played on PS4
I was hesitant at first to approach this, even though Sonic Generations had somewhat raised my hopes that Sega had learned their lesson on classic Sonic. The opening cinematic that Sega showed on Twitter had my hopes up, and I was actually expecting them to be dashed once I got to play the game. Surprisingly, and to my delight, the game felt like I was back playing the original classic games of old.
Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles played exactly how I remembered them. It was wonderful to see familiar stages with new twists and new areas to explore. The bonus levels returned from Sonic 3, and the hunt for giant rings to bring you to Special Zones brought back familiar feelings from Sonic CD and the frustrations that came with them. The music is fantastic, and there’s a bit of challenge to the levels that sometimes make the 10-year-old in me be ashamed of my present self.
The new zones were a welcome treat. Studiopolis is now one of my favorite zones. Controls are sharp and responsive, but I will point out there is a serious issue with hit and ring detection. Often times I found myself being squished by a block when barely touching it, or rings would seemingly slip through my character. This is minor, but still an issue.
Scotty Mo, played on PS4
I am so incredibly happy to say that Sonic Mania is finally what the fans thought they wanted for so many years- no gimmicks, no extra characters, no multimedia tie-ins, just faux 16-bit glory and synthesized pop music. If you wait long enough after the title screen to see the intro video clearly inspired by the Sonic CD anime cutscenes, you can immediately see that Sonic Mania is going to feel more like a Sonic game than anything since 1994, and it delivers in a big way.
Sonic Mania re-introduces old zones not just for nostalgia, but to show you that this game is going to feel familiar. I will admit I did shrug when I saw Green Hill Zone for the hundredth time, but when the differing paths and remixed soundtrack kicked in, I knew Sonic Team wasn’t just cashing in with a few quick levels to save production time.
Speaking of levels, the sphere-collecting bonus levels from Sonic 3 & Knuckles are back. These bonus levels made me realize just how tight the controls are in Mania, as that little bit of lag needed to react to sudden turns and jumps are represented perfectly. However, these bonus levels occur with every single checkpoint post. One solid complaint I have about this game is that there are too many of these sphere-collecting bonus levels, and the pay-off is not worth their frequency. I soon found myself avoiding them to simply progress.
The most notable new addition to Sonic Mania are the bonus levels to collect all seven chaos emeralds. These levels are an homage to Sonic CD’s bonus levels, and maybe even Sonic R. With Sonic R, however, you could make tight turns using the shoulder buttons, which would make these levels a lot less tedious. As the game progressed, I was less inclined to engage the bonus levels for the sake of seeing new zones.
The overall character of Sonic Mania is amazing and really brings back the 90s feel before a cavalcade of sidekicks and unnecessary love stories interrupted the flow of Sonic’s series. Even the enemies are fun to observe and see how they interact with their surroundings, from turtles scuttling along carrying turbines to badniks playing a game of catch with a buzzsaw.
Tossing aside the bonus levels, Sonic Mania is the best Sonic experience I have had since my eyes widened at “Lock-On Technology.” With the varying character gameplay, multiplayer, and a nice assortment of unlockable bonuses and homages, I don’t see myself putting down the controller any time soon.
So there you have it. It may have a couple weaknesses, but Sonic Mania isn’t just a return to form for the ol’ blue blur, it’s strong enough to be yet another contender in a crowded race for 2017 Game of the Year. Mania should also be a case study for the entire industry to learn from. Simply, if you have fans so passionate about your franchise that they’re making amazing stuff on their own, don’t punish them for their love and skills; bring them into the fold, and try to make magic happen together. It warms my heart that Sega was the first to take a chance like this, and that it’s paid off so tremendously.
If you love you some Sonic, Sega, or platformers in general, Sonic Mania is a can’t miss title. Your thumbs and your inner child will thank you for it.