REVIEW | Sonic franchise makes a comeback with ‘Mania’

While Nintendo had little to no competition in the late ’80s, SEGA grew competitive with the introduction of Sonic the Hedgehog. As the two titans of video games began duking it out for console market dominance, SEGA overtook the market – and for good reason.

With the introduction of 3D gaming, “Super Mario 64” hit the scene near the turn of the millennium, marveling gamers with a proper transition to 3D for Mario. SEGA responded with “3D Sonic,” and it was rough.

While Mario would enjoy a consistency of great games, Sonic would struggle to find an identity for many years. Mario enjoyed innovative sequel after sequel while Sonic was featured in games where he wasn’t even playable, including one with alien invasion.

SEGA continued to have a list of shortfalls, such as creating what is considered to be one of the worst games of all time. The Sonic team finally got their foot in the door when another developer came along and released another equally terrible game.

Sonic’s reputation was set at a very low standard, but finally, SEGA released “Sonic Mania.”

“Sonic Mania” was not developed by the Sonic team but instead by a collaboration of fan game developers; the most prominent were Christian Whitehead, Simon Thomley and Pagoda West Games.

The former two known as “Taxman and Stealth” have made Sonic fan games for years and ended up remaking both “Sonic 1” and “2” with extra features. Pagoda West Games apparently was formed from the team working on a ground-up remake of “Sonic 2” in HD, with original hand-drawn models and animations.

With this, we have arguably the best official Sonic game ever made. It reminds you of the golden age when Sonic the Hedgehog meant business.

The graphics in “Mania” are retro, but this is far from bad. In fact, it takes joy in that style choice; everything from Sonic’s sprite to the background is extremely detailed and full of life.

This is the best looking classic Sonic game, and it never dwells in that. The game knows you are there for classic gameplay, and in that regard, it delivers what’s promised.

Mania has three playable characters: Sonic, Tails and Knuckles. Each one has abilities from old games, such as Sonic’s spin dash, Tails’s flight and Knuckles’ glide. Sonic does have a new ability called the drop dash where he can jump and get an extra burst of speed pushing him forward.

This new move adds so much to the game. In the originals, the only way to get speed from a standstill was the spin-dash, which stopped your momentum. “Mania’s” level design is built from the ground up to make sure you can keep that momentum while also giving you tricky, but manageable, obstacles to reach the goal.

Another great thing about the level design is that it encourages you to explore each level and rewards you for doing so with power-ups, alternate pathways and the new special stages to get a Chaos Emerald. These stages are original, have solid difficulty levels and are exciting to play.

Rather than reusing something like the halfpipe, the special stages combine elements of older games like CD and other obscure Sonic games like Knuckles’ Chaotix. It’s addicting and can get a little hectic when you find yourself chasing a UFO, but it is so satisfying when you finally succeed.

This is one of the most consistent Sonic games because there are never any slow levels or low points. There are 12 zones, each with two acts. Four of them are new, and the other eight are remixed versions of classic levels, but you are not playing the same design from the old games.

Each zone introduces new mechanics unseen in the past games. “Mania’s” version of Chemical Plant Zone from “Sonic 2” adds different sorts of goo, which you can stick to or use to get a ton of height by bouncing off them. Even zones that were considered weird editions, like Lava Reef Zone from “Sonic 3,” are pretty great.

Each revisited zone has something like this, and the new zones are simply amazing. Studiopolis is one of my favorites. It is sort of a Casino or Hollywood studio hybrid zone with bright lights, neon colored TVs and a jazzy tune.

That also brings me into one of my personal favorite aspects of “Sonic Mania”: the soundtrack. Sonic fan Tee Lopes was brought in to compose the entire soundtrack for Mania.

The game offers up an incredible soundtrack with sick tunes. My personal favorites were both Studiopolis acts, Chemical Plant Act 2, Press Garden Act 1, Mirage Saloon Act 2 and the Theme of the Hard-Boiled Heavies.

One of the best parts of being a Sonic fan and playing “Mania” were the constant references I caught, thanks to my history with the franchise. It references many different games whether it be in mechanics, bosses, audio cues or secrets you would only understand if you stuck with the franchise throughout the years.

This doesn’t mean someone new to the series won’t enjoy, but I got a lot more from the game because of its cheeky references. There’s one boss in particular that I don’t want to spoil which has you playing something entirely different!

“Sonic Mania” is a title that will definitely get you your money’s worth and more. It is a love letter to the classic games, adds in new aspects and sets up for quality titles to come. It’s one of those games where after you beat it, you say ‘that was great, now let’s go beat it again.’

And I did that. Three times.

It was and is a joy to play, and I’m glad I bought the collector’s edition – Yes, I am that deranged.

This is one game you don’t want to miss.

Anthony Renteria

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