Review: Sonic Mania (Xbox One)
- Release Date (NA): August 15, 2017
- Release Date (EU): August 15, 2017
- Release Date (JP): August 16, 2017
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Headcannon
- Genres: Platformer
- ESRB Rating: Everyone
- PEGI Rating: Three years and older
- Also For: Computer, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Sonic Mania Brings the Blue Blur Back Home
A Triumphant Homecoming
It’s no secret that the Sonic franchise hasn’t had the most solid history. Despite some really fun games highlighting the speedster’s first jump into 3D platforming, things started going downhill around 2005 with the release of Shadow the Hedgehog, and hit an all time low with 2006’s failure, Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic Colors, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and Sonic Generations gave fans hope, but the Sonic Boom franchise reminded everyone just how low the franchise can hit. Bearing this history in mind, it only makes the triumph of Sonic Mania much more rewarding.
Despite Sega releasing a proper Sonic 4 years ago, Sonic Mania deserves the true title of the 4th Sonic installment. The game is a 16 bit side scrolling adventure, taking place directly following Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Despite playing the game on an Xbox One, it felt as if I’d been flung through time à la Sonic CD, and was playing on the Sega Genesis once again. The game banks heavily on this nostalgia factor, and gives fans of classic Sonic games the experience they’ve been begging for since the jump to 3D with three distinct gameplay modes; Mania Mode, Time Attack, and Competitive.
Mania Mode: Story and Gameplay
Mania Mode is the game’s traditional story mode. The story is a simple one, like most 16-bit Sonic adventures. On Angel Island, Sonic and Tails find Dr. Eggman’s henchmen known as the Hard-Boiled Heavies extracting a gemstone known as the Phantom Ruby, which has the power to warp space and time. Upon extraction, Sonic, Tails, and a nearby Knuckles are warped back to Green Hill Zone, as the Heavies race to bring the Ruby back to Eggman. Eggman intends to use this ruby to restore the ruined future of Little Planet, from Sonic CD. As usual, it’s up to Sonic and friends to put a stop to Eggman’s plan.
You can play the game as either Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or the combined Sonic and Tails with an option for co-op play. The gameplay of Sonic Mania will be quite familiar to anyone who's played the Genesis series of games; High speed platforming with a variety of Badniks to fight and rings to collect. Playing as Sonic obviously emphasizes speed above all, with Tails and Knuckles being a slightly slower playstyle, but with their own strengths; Tails can fly over Badniks, while Knuckles can glide short distances and climb walls with his spikes.
In co-op Mania, the second player will control Tails while the first player controls Sonic. This allows for some excellent cooperative gameplay, as Tails can pick up Sonic and fly him to areas he may not be able to reach on his own. When hit, Tails will not lose any rings, and will continue to follow Sonic after respawning. If no second player is present, Tails will be controlled by the AI while Sonic is controlled by the player still. Tails stays mostly out of the way, and isn’t a hinderance at all to the normal play, much like in Sonic 2. The AI, however, is still hilariously inept at controlling Tails which leads to some pretty humorous moments of Tails biting the dust.
There are twelve levels in all, called zones. Each zone has two acts, and a boss at the end of each act. The bosses do include typical “jump on them til they explode” robotic fights, but there’s some originality here too; One boss features a Bejeweled style puzzle contest against Eggman, ripped right out of the Genesis game Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, which is a fun nod to a classic spinoff title from the franchise.
Eight of the zones are remastered versions of classic Sonic levels, such as the famous Green Hill Zone, and Chemical Plant Zone. The remaining four zones are new stages made for Mania. While it’s an incredible trip down memory lane to see these remastered stages, and it’s certainly fun to play through the likes of Green Hill Zone with Knuckles and Tails, it leaves me wishing for more. For an entirely new game, I was hoping for more brand new stages. The nostalgia factor does a lot for this game, but it can only carry it so far. The reuse of eight classic stages just comes off as an almost lazy decision, no matter how fun the stages still are 26 years later.
Scattered throughout the zones are hidden rings that teleport you to the special zones, which will be familiar to any Sonic fan. The special zones are rendered in a very primitive 3D, inspired by the Sonic 3 special zones. In them, you chase after a UFO carrying one of the staples of the Sonic franchise; a Chaos Emerald. There are seven Chaos Emeralds to collect in all, and doing so will unlock a hidden final boss at the end of the game, to get the “true” ending. These special zones can be a bit of a challenge to get the hang of your first few attempts at them, and you do need to find the hidden teleportation ring to get access to it. But they’re a fun side step from the main game, and yield quite the reward for seeking them out and conquering them.
Time Attack and Competition Mode
Of course, there’s more than just the main story mode to keep your attention. The time attack and competition modes add hours of extra content as added bonuses to the game. They’re nothing new, but they’re a fun way to compete with friends and personal records in a familiar way to all Sonic fans.
Time attack works just as the name implies; See how fast you can beat the level. Each act in each zone is available to be timed, with a small leaderboard showing the top scores in each act. All three characters are available in time attack, each able to put their respective strengths to use and complete the stage as quickly as possible.
Competition mode is an even simpler concept than time attack; Two players racing each other through a stage to see who can finish it the fastest. Again all three characters are playable in this mode, and competition mode is done in split screen, with the screen stretched across top and bottom to accommodate. I only bring this up because in comparison to the full screen of the main game, the split screen view is a bit hard on the eyes, and doesn’t do justice to the fantastic zones being raced through. This doesn’t kill competition mode for me, but it is a bit of an annoyance.
Sonic Mania Launch Trailer
+ A classic and fun Sonic experience.
+ Timeless gameplay that holds up decades later.
+ Excellent price at $20.
- Reuse of many classic levels feels lazy.
- Split screen competition mode is a bit of an eyesore.
For a game made in the style of those classic Genesis Sonic games, it holds up phenomenally. Many times I found myself forgetting what console I was playing on, an excellent problem to have when trying to emulate classic Sonic.
The gameplay is simple, but considering the often clunky and sometimes overly complicated gameplay that most modern Sonic games have become known for, simplicity is what works.
The main campaign may be short, but each level is fun enough to replay time and time again. The special zones will keep completionists coming back for the Chaos Emeralds, time attack gives plenty to test yourself with, and competition mode is perfect for a quick match with friends.
out of 10
(not an average)
In the end, I really enjoyed Sonic Mania. The 16-bit adventure is a true return to form for the series, and an installment that many fans have been waiting for since Sonic 3 and Knuckles. The gripes are minor, but the fun is major. And at a modest $20 price tag, you really can’t go wrong picking the game up.