Sonic Mania video game

SEGA's answer to critics is a great one.


Some background: As a young boy in the 1990's, there was almost nothing better than being surprised with a new game system from your parents. The first time this happened to me was when my father came home with a Sega Genesis and a couple of games. One of those games was the original Sonic the Hedgehog! The memories of spending so much time trying to improve my skills and make it through the stages unscathed, as the punishing sound of lost rings played through my head all reminded me to play the new game carefully. My review is going to be heavily biased by the nostalgia of the old Sonic classics, but I have noticed some things that either didn't rub right or that I would have liked to see instead.

Sonic Mania is undoubtedly SEGA's biggest step in the right direction in a while. But why?

Here are a few bullet points that I'll expand upon throughout:

• Going back to something they know we love, but in a way that doesn't compromise the game for cheap nostalgia (*ahem* Sonic the Hedgehog 4)

• Modernizing the game mechanics while leaving Sonic's move-set as simple as ever.

• Remaking all assets but with the intention of keeping true to the classic games.

SEGA's newest entry in the Sonic series calls back to the originals, but even to the degree of limiting the game's visuals to something that could have conceivably run on a SEGA Saturn. Sonic feels more real than ever despite the limitations, as his animations are much more fluid and expressive. There are aspects of the game that rely on nostalgia, but I personally think that it's exactly what this game is about.

Sonic's move-set this time around is simple. Jumping, spinning, running, and the new Drop Dash move. Which is used for a quick run without having to charge from the ground. There's no lock-on spin attack, or Boost meter. It's as close as they've gotten to the original games' simplicity. But with that simplicity comes a host of fresh takes on the stages. The 2nd act stages usually feature a mechanic that Sonic uses to more creatively traverse through a stage. For example, there is a color-changing Gel that allows Sonic to bounce incredibly high when activated in the Chemical Plant Zone's 2nd act. But it's toxic to the touch until it's activated. (Think Shovel Knight's "Lost City" stage, it's the exact same mechanic.) Every stage has a twist like this in its second act that allows Sonic more swift movement through the stages. The bosses and minibosses take advantage of the 2nd act philosophy by making Sonic use his environment in more clever ways to defeat bosses. I don't want to say too much for risk of spoiling a new experience, but it's a really welcome take on the old Sonic boss formula.

Many of the zones are straight out of the originals, with Green Hill Zone obviously making a comeback, among others. But, all of the characters, vegetation, and tiles have been remade from the ground up. They did this to take advantage of a wider color palette and improved animations. Some of the zones don't just use parallax scrolling backgrounds but utilize 3D structures in the distance. And the music, well. Much of it is familiar, obviously! But Tee Lopes, the game's composer, has re-recorded the old music with a combination of real instruments and improved synth quality that emboldens it for the listener's enjoyment. And much like the game mechanics through the 2nd acts, the music is given a bit of variation and sometimes a complete remix. Lopes takes advantage of different chord structures and scales underneath many of the popular melodies from the originals. As for the brand new stages, they're given gigantic new music that fits in with the rest of the game so well. The mini boss theme is also an original for Mania, and just adds to how bouncy Sonic already feels.

There's also the question of how difficult this game is, it has its moments but it's not impossible at all. It's no Dark Souls, like many journalists who have never touched a controller may have you believe. There are times when the game did seem out to get me. But after realizing what needed to be done, I made it through just fine. There's also the somewhat artificial difficulty-add of having to restart the zone after a game over. Now, don't get me wrong. This is a much less painstaking alternative to the original game, which reset the cartridge entirely upon a game over.

There are a few criticisms I have, though. (More like nitpicks, when the rest of the game's stellar performance is considered.) The game's sound effects are much too loud in the overall mix, in my opinion. And there seems to be an issue with the sound settings staying put upon reloading the game, so this is surely an annoyance of mine. It feels as if maybe they thought the game's sound effects needed to take center stage for nostalgia purposes, but the music then suffers from being overshadowed as a result. As far as criticisms go, I'm not sure this qualifies. But I never remembered there being so many blue sphere bonus stages in the originals. Maybe they felt that people would eventually see them as optional challenges to jump into, when they're feeling like a drastic change in gameplay. But the people who go for 100% completion may tire of the over-saturation.

I think it's imperative that any classic Sonic game fans try this game out, though. The beauty of this game is that it isn't aiming to replace the main driver of the originals with more modern and ultimately more broken gameplay. (Again, Sonic 4...) It is aware of its place in the series.

Sonic Mania is the Sonic game the Saturn never got. From the clever boss battles, the fresh but ultimately old-school vibe; to the pounding groovy music and the 2nd act stages' new mechanics. Everything about this game is a combination of old and new that adds up to a nearly flawless game.

I wouldn't be surprised if all this buzz grants them a sequel, and I will certainly be looking forward to that if so!

omarsacca's Avatar omarsacca September 16th, 2017

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