Sonic the hedgehog has had many adventures in the past few years, the bulk of which are built around some kind of “twist” on the traditional formula or story we first saw 25 years ago. He’s been a race car driver, a knight, a hoverboard rider, a werewolf (technically “werehog,” which translates to “man-hog” – I wish I was joking), and even an Olympic athlete alongside Mario. However, Sonic Mania doesn’t employ a cheap gimmick like those, instead it has something else that separates it from the rest of blue blur’s games this past decade: It’s actually fun.
Sonic Mania takes Sega’s mascot back to his roots with 2D side-scrolling gameplay on classic levels, akin to the Sega Genesis games. A whole bunch of original levels return, but with some interesting changes. For example, the puddles of goo scattered around the Chemical Plant Zone designed to kill the high speed flow of the level can now be changed into a rubbery substance used to send him flying through the stage to great effect. There are also new stages, like Studiopolis, which fit in amazingly well with the classics while also serving as a nod to the retro roots of the game.
In addition to the levels, the visuals and sounds (cue, “SEGGGGA”) resemble those of the Genesis titles too. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that the game runs at 60 frames per second, at least on the Playstation 4. For a game that moves so fast, the frame rate makes sure you don’t miss any of the visuals or environment that serious effort clearly went into designing.
The prodigal son Sonic doesn’t make his triumphant return alone either. He is joined by Tails and Knuckles, both of who are playable in certain game modes. They also each have unique abilities specific to each character: Sonic with the classic slam attack, Tails able to fly and swim, and Knuckles capable of gliding and scaling walls. To be honest, I feel like Sonic got the short end of the stick. Climbing, gliding, flying, and swimming are much more useful for traversing through the stages than a dive bomb; though my friend is convinced that Sonic moves faster, which may even the playing field a bit in competitive modes.
As my friend and I were playing the co-op, it reminded us of when we were kids as we both jockeyed for Player 1 controller to play as Sonic instead of being the Robin to the other’s Batman. This issue was only compounded by the fact that the camera always follows Sonic, which leads to Tails getting left in the dust off-screen fairly often. There exists a silver lining for whoever plays Tails though, and that is he’s invincible. We learned this as my friend absent-mindedly flew Tails into spikes an almost unhealthy amount of times with no negative repercussions to our playthrough. But the perks of immortality are fleeting after you find yourself lost off screen for the umpteenth time. Thankfully, the computer will eventually take control and guide the two-tailed second banana back onto the screen just long enough for you to try helping again, or more likely tanking enemies. While fun to try, I wouldn’t recommend the co-op unless someone really wants to tag along.
Although thanks to the split-screen, competitive mode is a different story. Racing each other at breakneck speed is always fun. You’ll always have an urge to get through the levels as fast as possible, but it’s amplified even further when someone else is trying to beat you there.
My final complaint I have, aside from the co-op, is the checkpoint system. Yes, while checkpoints were somewhat sporadic in the original games, it still remains incredibly frustrating to die on the final boss and lose half of your progress in the level. But these were relatively minor issues which didn’t stop me from having a great deal of fun!
All things considered, I love Sonic Mania. It’s a return to form for the fastest thing alive, and one of the best platformers I’ve played in a long, long time. A great mix of new and old, and it only costs $20!