SEGA returns to Sonic the Hedgehog’s roots in Sonic Mania. Is it a solid return to form for the long suffering franchise?
Sonic The Hedgehog hasn’t enjoyed the best of runs when it comes to his post-2D heyday. After a slew of awkward titles, the series has been left in something of a rut; many modern gamers viewing the franchise as something of a “yesterdays child”. Thus SEGA have returned to the series roots in a game that attempts to plant the Sonic franchise firmly back in positive stead. The big question – is Sonic Mania actually any good?
At its core, Sonic Mania plays directly to those Sonic fans who fell in love with the series all those years ago. There’s very little here to entice those who didn’t enjoy the original trilogy of games. Likewise, those who couldn’t get enough of the blue hedgehog will find themselves in love with the game and everything it offers.
Because really, this game is a love letter to them. The core mechanics handle almost identically to those original games – allowing gamers to slip back into the experience with little hindrance. There’s none of Sonic 4’s awkward physics here, and that’s a huge relief because this game mechanically works on most levels. Whether you’re whizzing through the worlds with wild abandon or stopping to try and uncover secret areas, there’s plenty for gamers to get their teeth into.
The game’s graphics also remain as faithful as possible to the original trilogy of games, invoking some genuinely gorgeous locales as you hop between the worlds. Whether it be Green Hill Zone’s luscious rises or The Mirage Saloon Zone’s beautifully sculpted backgrounds – there’s plenty here to keep your eye engaged.
But it’s in the gameplay section where Sonic Mania succeeds most. Thanks to the decision to incorporate features from across the series, the game has a more fluid feel to it. Levels have been remastered to accommodate this improved roster of abilities, with much more verticality and choice of direction through levels on show. Certainly, Sonic Mania knows exactly how to play to its strengths.
But part of my problem with this game is that it plays things a bit too safe. While transplanting everything gamers loved, a number of the issues from the original game come to the forefront. The biggest of these is that underwater sections remain as tediously dull as ever. Mercifully their inclusion is brief but their appearance in stages like Hydrocity Zone (Taken from Sonic 3) only serves to hamper the experience. Sonic games are at their worst when the gamer is standing still and in this zone, you’re forced to do so in order to progress. It’s a painful reminder that not every aspect of the original Sonic series was grand, and it’s slightly disappointing that Sonic Mania effectively indulges this poor design.
Likewise, some of the new levels left me feeling wanting. The Mirage Saloon Zone, in particular, feels like a clustering of ideas that on paper work well but when executed feel underserved. The first half of this level just pays homage to Sky Chase Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but falters in execution. There’s no real intrigue or excitement, just a section that sees you riding on the top of Tail’s plane. I’m reluctant to say its inclusion was a bad decision (There are no bad levels in this game) but it’s arguably the closest the game comes to losing its hot streak.
Of course, we also can’t avoid discussion of the Boss Battles, which remain as easy as ever. Sonic Bosses have something of a reputation for being insanely easy – and this game doesn’t move to change that. Some of the bosses follow the series standard “jump, hit, avoid” mechanics but others throw new ideas into the mix. In particular, I did giggle when forced into impromptu games of Puyo Puyo in order to progress. In a normal game this kind of inconsistency would be a notable downer – but given the nature of this title, it’s easier to forgive.
On the side of this main mode are a selection of unlockables, multiplayer modes and various other ways to engage with the game. Most of these unlockables are earned by completing variations on the Special Stages (Which are are teeth knawingly grueling as ever) and give you access to various additional content. If this is the kind of thing you’re here for, then Sonic Mania has you covered.
Ultimately Sonic Mania is a success in its aims. For long time fans of the series, it’s a sign that SEGA has finally begun to listen, delivering fan service of the highest order. The major drawback to this is the games biggest weaknesses stem from this direct fan service – which may put off more casual gamers. There are some decisions I feel the game doesn’t take that would have made it all the more better – but given that Sonic Mania exists purely to remind us of the series great past – it’s a solid outing.
Hopefully, this game inspires sequels that take the ball and run further. It’s a FUN game, but one that has its share of frustrating moments.