Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Sonic Mania Review

Though Sega games are admittedly a blind spot for me (see my Sega Gap post for more info), the Sonic series has been an exception; over the years I've played through all of the Sonic platformers on the Sega Genesis, Sega Dreamcast, Gameboy Advance, and Nintendo DS. So naturally, Sonic Mania, which has been lauded by some as the best 2D Sonic yet, has been on my radar for some time.

Sonic Mania is a 2D platformer in the style of the classic Sega Genesis games that was developed as a collaboration between Sega and indie developers. As in classic Sonic, each level of the game is a zone divided into two acts. To unlock the "true ending" of the game players must collect a full set of Chaos Emeralds by finding and completing hidden challenge areas in the zones.

  • This game uses a custom engine that replicates the look of 16-bit Sonic but incorporates effects and a level a detail beyond the capabilities of the Genesis's famous "Blast Processing".
  • Coming to Mania with the mindset of classic Sonic, I was hoping to hear some bops and this game did not disappoint. Sonic Mania includes some cool remixes of retro Sonic tunes as well as some very catchy original tracks.
  • Similar to the music, some of the level designs are remixes of Genesis Sonic zones while others are brand new. For me, this game struck the right balance of nostalgic retro-based stages and creative original levels.
  • Sonic's full move set from the Genesis games is replicated in Mania and still feels just right despite the new engine. The game does a good job of retaining the classic feel while also introducing new mechanics.
  • The game includes some cool surprise references to Sonic series history. (I won't spoil them)
  • Sonic boss battles typically aren't anything special, they're generally just a matter of avoiding a few enemy attacks and then bouncing off them to score a few hits. This game's bosses are much more dynamic and often work in the environment of the stage in interesting ways.

  • In its desire to remain true to the retro format, Sonic Mania keeps certain 16-bit design elements that can add frustration to the experience, especially for players not accustomed to old-school pitfalls:
    • Sonic has a limited number of lives - Getting sent back to the beginning of a zone after losing to a second act boss is pretty lame. At least there are infinite continues.
    • Stages have a 10-minute time limit, running out of time kills Sonic instantly. Since the later levels can be quite long and confusingly laid out, running out of time can be a serious issue on one's first playthrough. Thankfully, the time limit can be disabled in the options menu, but I didn't realize this until I was already nearly at the end of the game.
    • Sonic can be killed by getting crushed extremely easily. If any part of his sprite gets pinched at all, it's an instant loss of a life. It's very easy to think you've cleared an obstacle only to find out that you've positioned Sonic in a space where he's slightly squeezed and thus spontaneously turned into a hedgehog pancake.
    • Every once in a while a seemingly innocuous-looking floor tile will have spikes pop out of it just to spite you.
  • The stages in Sonic Mania are unusually labyrinthine for an otherwise straightforward linear 2D platformer. There where many occasions during my stream of this game where I said out loud "Well, hopefully, I'm going the right way." Once I realized that I could disable the time limit, this wasn't that big of a deal but it still seemed like an unusual design choice.
In short, Sonic Mania is an awesome package for fans of classic Sonic that aren't prone to getting tripped up by a few potentially divisive old-school design choices. I would also recommend this game as a strong starting point for retro-curious players who want a good sampler platter of 16-bit blue hedgehog platforming.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 5 hours (regular ending)

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