I have very fond memories of Sonic. Some of my first video games ever were Sonic games, specifically Sonic and Knuckles which I played on some weird proprietary software running on Adobe Shockwave along with the Sonic Advance games. So when I saw the announcement of Sonic Mania last year, I was extremely excited. But then a little hesitant because this is the company who made Sonic ’06. However, as more and more was revealed I saw that his truly was a labour of love made with the utmost respect for the franchise’s roots. Thankfully, these hopes were paid off with a game that lives up to the hype, but with a few road bumps on the journey.
The story with this entry is quite straightforward with Sonic again going up against Dr. Eggman to again recover some gem shaped macguffin. Really this is no issue considering that this game is meant to emulate the older 16-bit era Sonic games which were extremely thin on plot themselves. Most if not all the charm of the progression in the game comes from the seamless transitions between levels, with some calling back to the original games such as going to the future in Sonic CD. All in all the story is light, but charming enough to not be an issue and the general progression of the game feels satisfying with the difficulty of the levels increasing in a sensible amount.
Gameplay is also great since it feels just the same as older 16-Bit era titles, with a few new additions. These include all of the previous items and two of the special stages consolidated into one game, brand new levels along with updates to the best of the old levels as well as a new ability for Sonic, the drop dash. Basically it takes all of the good gameplay from the original games, polishes them up a bit to catch up to current design philosophes and advancements, then goes on its merry way. It’s an amicable way to design a game that is meant to be a sequel to a series of games that ended well over 20 years ago and acts as a nice culmination of that design philosophy and style.
With the sheer amount of affinity to the game design of the Genesis games, you can see the amount of love put into the game by Christian Whitehead and his team; but this is not the only way you can see the amount of affection for the series and care put into the game. You can find it through the meticulous amount of detail put into the stages, the sheer magnitude of easter eggs and call-backs you can find in the game along with the faithful reproduction, yet updating of the aesthetics and sound of the Genesis Sonic games. Additionally, the soundtrack to the game is absolutely fantastic and is so faithful to the original soundtrack, but it would have been nice to hear some more tracks by Hyper Potions in the game itself however that’s just down to personal taste. Overall the game is filled with so much love and no cynicism in sight, which all equates to being just one of the most charming games of this year.
However, this super Sonic highway isn’t without its issues. For instance, some of the bosses are really obtuse such as Metal Sonic with its annoying bouncing of a robot gimmick, the awkwardness of speeding up in the Heavy Gunner boss and the lack of obvious solutions to those two and Phantom Magician in the final boss. A large majority of the Bosses are well thought out, but those examples above certainly are a thorn in the player’s side. Another issue I found with the game was that as I progressed through it, some of the levels get a bit too large and difficult to traverse, especially when wanting to find the giant rings to collect the chaos emeralds. I understand the idea to try and make the original Genesis games bigger and better, but the confusion caused by some of the level design became frustrating at points. The Special and Bonus stages follow a similar design, with multiple playthroughs needed to get the hang of the later ones, which may be alright to most but it irked me quite a bit. Sadly, there are also issues with the game on the Nintendo Switch, which is the preferred platform for me at this moment in time. These issues include taking too long for the Switch UI to appear when holding down the home button, trying to go to the Home screen or go into Sleep mode; however since this can be easily patched in its not too much of an issue.
I can’t help but not love this game, warts and all. It may be frustrating at times (and have some technical issues), but by god is it made with so much love for an era of gaming that I have a lot of nostalgia for. It also helps that it takes a lot of general design, aesthetic and music ques from various sources that I love as well. And that’s the audience this game is for: people who loved the old Sonic games and have been waiting years for another or for people who generally love the retro 90’s styling that the blue blur embodies. In short please go out and by this game if you love Sonic, you’ll be doing yourself a favour.