The Sonic the Hedgehog games that have come out over the past few years have been a mixed bunch, to say the least. For every great gem that we've gotten, like Sonic Generations and Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, we've also gotten an equally turd-like game, like the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog and whatever the heck Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was supposed to. Needless to say, Sega needed to get back to a point where Sonic was just good again, like he was in the Sega Genesis days when Sonic 1, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 hit us like a good trilogy was supposed to be. (And no, we didn't forget Sonic & Knuckles, which was equally amazing.)
And so here we are – in order to right the ship with its iconic hero, Sega has actually reverted back to the Sega Genesis days, with the 16-bit design of its latest release, Sonic Mania. The team behind the game – mainly consisting of Christian Whitehead, Armcannon and others (instead of the usual squad at Sonic Team, who's working on Sonic Forces for later this year) – know how deep Sonic's 16-bit roots run, and, without only the strongest of support from the publisher, has managed to make an adventure that shines just as brightly as his earlier adventures. It's almost enough to make me forgive Sega for Rise of Lyric.
In the game, Sonic once again finds himself pitted against Dr. Robotnik, aka Eggman, who's turning things upside down by messing with the Chaos Emeralds. It's up to Sonic, along with Tails and Knuckles (depending who you play as), to stop him at all costs, in levels both old and new.
The team behind Sonic Mania are absolute geniuses, taking classic levels from Sonic lore and remixing them to a more standard design for today's age, while keeping everything 16-bit. You've never seen the classic level "Chemical Plant" represented like it is here, with its classic grooves starting things off and then things getting complicated with bouncy gloo and "clingy walls" to help Sonic get around. Other levels are like that too, including "Green Zone", "Flying Battery" and more. It's a wonderful homage.
There's Plenty To Find In This Gold Mine
But there are new levels too, like "Studiopolis," which plays out like a chaotic Hollywood world where literally one wrong move could mean a picture wrap for our hero. Fortunately, the new level designs are just as wondrous as the older ones, and it all blends together into a thrilling new adventure for our hero – although, again, done in a nostalgic 16-bit style that will have people shouting, "Genesis does!" like the nuts that they are. And the game concludes pretty nicely, despite a few frustrating boss encounters that can take a little bit of time to figure out.
Fortunately, the game has plenty of checkpoints to go around, and it never becomes hard to the point where you throw down your controller in frustration. Whitehead, Armcannon and company have found that perfect balance with Sonic Mania that works just as well as it did in the Hedgehog's older games, where you find yourself challenged, but feel total relief when you move on to the next area.
It's not all point A to point B, either. Sonic Mania has many paths and hidden secrets to uncover, as well as plenty of bonuses to unlock. For instance, the classic 3D stages from Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are back, but instead of harboring Chaos Emeralds, you earn coins that unlock goodies within Mania, like hidden mini-games and other bonuses. It's a good initiative to keep players going.prevnext
Incredible Design Powers Sonic's Comeback
The general 3D stages where you do collect Chaos Emeralds are just as good. The later stages can be a bit frustrating, as it's easy to skid into walls or run off course, but eventually, you become strong enough to finish the game and become the Super Sonic that you yearn to be. They're in the same fashion as the Sonic CD 3D stages, but done much, much better.
In fact, Sonic Mania's design as a whole is inspiring. You can tell that Whitehead and company are big fans of the original Sonic game designs, and implemented a lot of great ideas into Mania that call back to the old-school favorites, while still retaining fresh content. It strikes that perfect balance that really works, especially as you dive deeper into the worlds and find some cool stuff along the way. There are occasional bits of slowdown, but I'm sure Sega is hard at work to patch that up in time for the game's release this week.
As for the sound, it's excellent. The classic sound effects that you've come to expect from Sonic are completely intact, especially if you drag Tails along and watch him accidentally run into hits and suffer…but, of course, he flies back in, hungry for more. He's immortal! And the music is beyond terrific, mixing older favorites and some new great melodies that will have you humming all day. At least, that's the way I was with "Flying Battery". Your tastes may vary.
And the gameplay is vintage Sonic, through and through. I'm not entirely a fan of the drop dash technique (I prefer the old "charge up and roll" move that was introduced in older games), but the rest of the gameplay handles just fine, especially as you start "blast processing" your way through levels. Again, the 3D bonus stage controls could've used a little touching up, but the game as a whole plays like a nice retro dream.prevnext
The Full Sonic Package
Quick side note: it's also fun to have the two-player versus mode back. Even though the screen is scrunched and the detail isn't as great as the solo mode, it's still a fun diversion for a few couch sessions.
Sonic Mania continues to buck the trend of bringing back a classic the right way, like Doom before it. But the team doesn't forget the heritage of which Sonic was based on, and keeps his 16-bit roots completely intact, while introducing fresh new ideas that fit our hero like a glove. It's insanely fun to play, despite some mild frustrations, and it's great to have 16-bit Sonic looking and sounding better than ever. It's a great return for a hero that was in desperate need of one, and it gives me high hopes that Sega may just right this ship yet. It's easily one of the best games this year.
Also, I really hope this sells well, so Sega realizes just how lucrative a purchase Streets of Rage 4 would be. We're waiting…0comments
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.prev