Title: Sonic Mania
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, Pagoda West
Copy Provided By: Bought it with my own money!
Sonic Mania is a fantastic game: A showing of true potential and design skills, held back from true greatness by technical and development choices.
Sonic Mania is a simple game. It asks nothing more than you enjoy 2D classic pixel Sonic with all its physics based platforming and speed. For a game attempting to relive and reinvigorate this branch of the franchise, it’s truly a great game.
The problem is it most certainly “Relives” a lot. But more on that later.
Whether you control Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles, it’s like jumping in to old games. All are fast, Sonic has a new Drop Dash for quick burst of speed and is a great way to keep flow going. Tails can fly, and even carry Sonic or Knuckles without a second player being present, and Knuckles can glide and has a slightly lower jump height, and can climb walls. It’s all as you knew it. You can even unlock the Super Peel-Out from Sonic CD or the Insta Shield from Sonic 3, but you can only use one of Sonic’s 3 abilities at a time.
Before a patch however, there was an issue: To do any of them secondary abilities of any character, you had to press Jump in the air. This is also how you transform into your Super forms. In mid air, or if you need to glide with Knuckles as is often mandatory, prepare to fall to your death. A patch did recently fix this, and many other issues, by adding a dedicated separate button combination to transform.
The game sees you chase Dr Robotnik all through…time and space I guess (Sonic Forces complicates how much of this game is real by trying to explain a core element) as he and his newly upgraded Hard Boiled Heavies play a game of keep away with the Phantom Ruby: A mystical stone that can warp reality. This leads to the Heavies being upgraded and Robotnik gaining control of Little Planet again, from Sonic CD.
The Ruby is also how you get from zone to zone…though…not all zones have transitions between them. Some simply fade to black and you are back on a zone that was seen on Angel Island…after just being in a zone that’s on Little Planet. The inconsistency with continuity is jarring especially as the game, seemingly at random, decides whether or not to fade to black: As if they couldn’t explain the zones being in the game half the time.
With the zones themselves though, they all maintain the high speed, many different routes to take, goodies sprinkled all over approach that past 2D Sonic games also did. Find a giant ring in a zone and go to one of the Special Stages, and win a Chaos Emerald. These are fun little chase sequences and a fresh idea: Collect rings to extend your timer, and spheres to go faster and catch the UFO, though by the time you reach the final one the truth is you’ll find them rather easy.
If you have 25 Rings and hit a checkpoint though, prepare to play one of over 30 Blue Sphere mini-games, returning from Sonic 3. These are far too long to be mere checkpoint mini-games that you’ll have the chance of doing multiple times per act, and frankly they are a bit boring. But they are they, if you want to flesh out that Extras Menu with goodies.
Back to the zones though, while the level design itself is top notch, the bosses can range from great call backs with new twists, great new ideas, or sadly, straight up repeated ideas. Part way through the game the bosses seem to start reusing a lot of past game ideas, without sprinkling in anything new. It’s as though the bosses range from great to seen it before. It’s a little disappointing, especially with how long some of them can potentially take.
The zones themselves though, are actually my main point of contention for this game. The phrase “Missed Potential” will be used a lot on this site I feel, but here it goes. 4 of the 12 zones are totally new ideas and environments we have never seen in past games. 8 are stages returning from Sonic 1, 2, 3 and CD. After seeing the sheer brilliance of the 4 new stages and how unique and fun they are, it’s such a shame to see the game fall back on old ideas. One or two old zones would have been fine, but this is a majority, and it does bog down the experience. The game very much does “Relive” the past.
Visually the game is fantastic. Bright and colourful, wonderfully smooth and detailed, this is what a great 2D sprite based Sonic game can look like. Audibly as well, the game has a fantastic jazzy feel throughout, and it does scream Classic era Sonic. I couldn’t fault that aspect of the game at all.
Sadly though, the game even after patching is prone to some rather funny glitches and softlocks, though most have been removed at the time of this review, some persist. Some scripted events also fail to play out, and has happened a few times over a good 50 hours of play time.
To be fair, this game is still an absolute blast to play, except when the occasional glitch rears it’s head. The gameplay is fun and very re-playable, even if the bosses are at times drawn out or unimaginative, and the zones, while screaming of missed potential, are still a treat to play. I can highly recommend this game to anyone interested: Just don’t expect the Sonic 4 you always wanted. It’s close, but it’s not nearly new enough.
If you are getting this game, I do highly recommend the Switch version. From what is seen it only missed Trophy/Achievement support, and the game looks just as good undocked as it does docked – I personally can’t imagine playing it any other way, though any version is fantastic – It’s all the same game after all!
As always, if you liked this review or have your own opinions, leave a comment down below about Sonic Mania – And share this with your friends and on social media – and as always: Happy Gaming!