Sonic The Hedgehog is back. Refreshed and re-energized, Sonic Mania cracks its knuckles and reinvigorates 2-D platforming without ever stepping on its own tails. Through creative level design, satisfying callbacks, and excellent new additions, Sonic Mania is a wonderful return to form for everyone’s favorite hedgehog.
Sonic Mania is a best hits collection of Sonic the Hedgehog; it contains levels and references from the 2-D Sonic games along with some new levels and a brand new coat of polish. It is more vibrant and visually detailed than any of the Sega Genesis games yet it somehow keeps the spirit, feel, and tone of the originals. Sonic Mania feels pulled right out of the Genesis era and that’s where the charm of the game stems from. Most of the time while playing Sonic Mania, I forget I’m playing a game released in 2017. Minor tweaks to the feel of speed and jumping help make the gameplay feel modern along with prettier levels and updated music. The music from Studiopolis Zone highlights some of the best the game has to offer with varied instrumentation, upbeat melodies and a smooth piano section.
It would be an insult to call Sonic Mania a remaster. The game comes packed with an assortment of levels, most of which are from previous installments of the series. These classic Sonic levels are updated and rearranged just well enough so that they keep the feel and moments from the classic games but possess enough variety and difference to keep the player guessing. The new levels are where the game shines the most. The genius of the design shines most in these new stages as there are multiple paths, unexpected twists and turns, and a large amount of spectacle for the player to enjoy.
While Sonic Mania adopts many of the best aspects of Sonic, unfortunately some of the series’ weaknesses also come along for the ride. Sonic Mania can be difficult at times. The difficulty is reminiscent of the challenge of classic Sonic games and so it is to be expected. Though, there are cases where Sonic Mania can be unfair. Most notably, when Sonic gets caught in between two closing surfaces, the player receives an automatic loss no matter whether or not you have rings. I was okay with this the first and second time this happened to me but by my eighth “Game Over” after being caught by these closing surfaces, I’d had enough. Other cases such as being kicked back to the beginning of the first act after a “Game Over”, although heartbreaking at times, provided a welcomed challenge.
Sonic Mania is purely Sonic at its core. It’s a game with moments, complexity in level design, and accessibility in gameplay. Though at some parts in can be brutal, all in all the challenge is reminiscent of the Sega Genesis games we all loved. Sonic Mania has all of the style and flare that the classic Sonic games had and it is successful in being a true homage.