When I first heard that they were making Sonic Mania, I was concerned. Sonic the Hedgehog’s recent track record is troublesome. The last game I enjoyed was Generations, and prior to that, Sonic Adventure 2. For a mascot and video game character that moulded my childhood gaming experience, the little blue boy hasn’t been treating me well for the past… decade.
However, as we crept closer to release I started to understand the thesis statement behind this game. Sonic Mania was made by fans, for fans, and it really, seriously comes out in the wash here. This is a game that absolutely stinks of passion. From the intricate sound design to the gorgeous pixel art, all the way down to the awesome level design, this game has got it all, from a talented team of Sonic fans/auteurs that are here to revive the roadkill and take everybody’s favourite hedgehog back to the big leagues.
If you’re looking for that age-old difficulty, It’s right here and in your face. Sonic Mania is still as punishing, and doesn’t take off the training wheels. I believe this adds wholeheartedly to the nostalgia. I felt that same tense feeling I had when I was a kid with Sonic Mania, the same fear when the purple water rose above my little hedgehog friend.
I could feel my adrenaline pumping as I scrambled to get to the surface, and the childlike joy keeps surfacing just like that as you make your way through the games main mode, reliving old memories and creating new ones.
In regards to controls and play styles, after vigorous testing, I’m happy to reveal that they all work well, though everyone will have their favourites. Each control style feels natural, from the Switch controller to just one of the joy-cons. I actually found this to be the most appealing mode of control, as the size of the controller reminded me a lot of a Megadrive controller
The game also runs expectedly well both docked and un-docked. Playing this game on the go is an absolute dream, but it’s also fun when you’re kicking back at home, though on larger screens you may have to flick between the video options to find which CRT/Clean style fits your screen.
The second act of each ‘old-school’ Sonic zone comes with an awesome remix and a host of new features, including fun additions like syringes that pump chemicals to create platforms in the Chemical Zone. You pump different colour goo that helps you bounce higher in the air, an awesome addition to an already iconic level.
New bosses are also in this game with sweet gameplay mechanics tacked onto their fights. Some have bullet hell components whilst others are a side-scrolling runaway fight from a huge mech suit. Each is diverse and super fun. I almost feel like I don’t want to spoil them because of how inventive they are, but I have to mention *SPOILER ALERT* that one pits you against Eggman in a game of Puyo Puyo, kinda like the mean bean machine. It’s radical.
You’ve also got a special stage in each zone that has you chasing a UFO for a Chaos Emerald, collecting blue orbs to improve your speed from Mach 1 so that you can keep up. The special stages in Sonic Mania use low poly 3D and it’s just as beautiful as the rest of the art in the game.
One thing I loved realizing was that the levels (beyond Chemical Zone) should be seriously appreciated in an exploratory fashion. I found a bunch of cool easter eggs and random stuff in Studiopoliz zone by taking my red foot off the pedal and letting Sonic & Tails explore.
Speaking of Studiopoliz Zone… Wow. What a god damn level that is. The thoughtful design that goes into marrying the theme with the enemies and obstacles is remarkable. Hop in the back of a tv truck and beam yourself across the map… directors chairs and popcorn machines that shoot you in the air. It’s a brave level filled with excellent design choices and an encapsulating score. I could go on forever about this one map. At one point, you have to ride a film reel out by running backwards to ascend to a platform. Utter genius.
There are a few small problems. Co-op screen in competition mode is limiting. Another Issue I ran into was some slowdown whilst taking screenshots of the game/trying to get back to the Switch system menu. Whilst not taking me out of the game this led to some delayed inputs that were a little annoying.
Also, after finishing a star power up the game never resumed the stage music, making everything… kinda eerie. I don’t know if this is a bug or not, but if so, it’s probably easily ironed out, much like the rest of the bugs listed. They weren’t enough to keep me away from Sonic Mania, a game that feels very much at home on my Nintendo Switch.
After hours and hours of play I really cannot fault this title, and if you’ve ever been a fan of Sonic, this is the quintessential game you’ve been waiting most of your life for.