To talk about the latest addition in this franchise, I’d like to first talk about Sonic’s games over the last few decades. There’s two ways to divide the titles, and that’s by classic and modern. The blue hedgehog’s classic games refer to his original two-dimensional side-scrolling adventures on Sega’s systems. When he made the transition to other consoles, this began the modern era of Sonic games where the focus shifted to a third person view as you dashed through three-dimensional stages. There are a few key differences such as classic’s focus on platforming while modern went for flash appeal with quick combat, a homing shot attack, and lots of boosting.
Sonic Mania is a call back to the classic era in one of the best ways possible. Nowadays, it’s commonplace to find 16-bit games being made by independent developers that all try to capture that old-school feel. It’s true that most of these titles fail to accomplish that task, and so Sonic Mania was held with disregard as being another meaningless retro call back. The fact that this was the first new classic Sonic game in over 20 years was enough to gain a lot of popularity and hype.
This game is a fantastic blast from the past that somehow feels modern too. The game was built from the ground up to look like classic Sonic titles but with high definition sprite work and fluid animations not possible on past hardware. The game looks vibrant, beautiful, and smooth, while containing the option to turn on a CRT filter that shifts the graphics to a more aged, vintage look that feels right at home for fans of the originals.
Arguably the biggest selling point of Sonic Mania is its stellar game design. Games back in the era of the 1990’s were just beginning to transition from arcade parlors to the living room; And thus, were still being designed with the philosophy that the games should look flashy and fun, but remain difficult enough to demand quarters from the player. Sonic The Hedgehog 1-3 were all designed with a lives system and limited continues which really harmed the playability of these titles since it wasn’t hard to lose all progress made due to a cheap kill. Sonic Mania revised this system with a save feature, and removed the limited continues so that the player could continue making progress.
Speaking directly about level design, this game has the best level design in the entire classic era of games. The developers took note of Sonic’s high-speed gameplay and new widescreen ratio to design levels with fair difficulty. The addition of screen space meant that the player now has sufficient time to react to an enemy. Sonic 1-3 were littered with terrible enemy placement that lead to a lot of hits that were not the player’s fault. Sonic Mania understands this concept of balancing enemies, solid platforming, fun stage gimmicks, and fast gameplay to craft a spectacular experience.
Finally, the soundtrack is catchy, up-beat, and a fantastic callback to the pop music of the 90s era that inspired the original games’ tunes. The levels are divided into zones that have two acts each. The first act is a high-quality version of the original tune now made with modern instruments, whereas the second act is a complete remix of the original song that compliments how brand-new stage gimmicks are introduced in the second act. There’s a great bit of variety too, with smooth jazz, hard rock, and even some high-octane rave music.
Sonic Mania delivers a complete package that just feels so…enjoyable! It’s a lot of fun for long time fans and even those who are playing as the blue blur for the first time. There are alternate characters, mini games, and extra modes (time trials, player vs player racing, etc.) to appeal to all kinds of players. For only $20, this game is an absolute steal that I’d recommend to gamers of every kind. It feels great to be back in the golden age of gaming again.