by Mario Wario
Do you want to go fast? I mean, faster than the speed of sound? Okay, maybe not you personally, but our favorite blue hedgehog can do it! He is the quickest creature around, and he is making his comeback by returning to his original 2D, 16-bit form that we all know and love. If you grew up in the 90s, if you were lucky, you either had the Nintendo SNES or the Sega Genesis. To be a serious contender in the North American market against Nintendo in the early 90s, Sega released a game called Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991. Being influenced by Nintendo’s Mario games, Sonic was all about collecting rings, sprinting around each level, and jumping/attacking with the single use of a button. As time went on, the game became a commercial success, which allowed more sequels to be made; introducing fans to whole new characters. Meanwhile, the Genesis system became even more popular to own, thanks to the help of a simple but speedy hedgehog. Before that year, the system was struggling to become a hit. Once the Sega Dreamcast came along, 3D became the norm for our blue hero. (Though Sonic 3D Blast on the Genesis system really started the trend.) As fans grew older, the majority were ready for a new 2D game after so many years of playing 3D Sonic games, especially with certain 3D titles being commonly-viewed as being poorly made. Fans also wanted a full game in the process, that was not episodic. The series needed some soul searching if it ever wanted to recapture the ‘spirit’ it had. Fast forward to 2017, and we finally have our wish: Sonic Mania, developed by Christian Whitehead, PagodaWest Games and Headcannon, and published by Sega.
Right from the start, players of Sonic Mania are greeted with the Sega logo; hearing 16-bit music right after that with Sonic popping up on screen. Once in the selection menu, players can control Sonic with his friend Tails or just control one of his pals. By the way, each hero has their own unique ability to help you along the way – for example, Sonic has a spinning dash move. The story itself is rather simple/nothing new: just stop Doctor Eggman from completing his evil master plan, etc. But that’s okay, because the fans just want a good 2D Sonic game that plays like the original. After hitting start, the first level players go to is the Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1, so right away they are transported back to 1991 with the music and the gameplay. Players should have that same feeling as they go through the other older or newer zones, which become different as you keep going through each act. But it is the size of them all that is the winner here. The zones are way bigger than what the Genesis days had, which generates excitement and helps with the replay value of the game some more. For instance, I kept going back to the same levels, making sure I had not missed anything during my first play through, and I did. The level designs overall are fantastic, and they are just beautiful to stare at. In each of these zones, you have your standard Sonic game checkpoints all over, plus giant rings hidden somewhere on each one. In those bonus and special stages, players are basically in 3D, collecting blue spheres (and rings for a timer during the UFO chases for the Chaos Emeralds) to complete the levels. These stages do get tedious after a while, especially the bonus ones. Once I had my fun in doing these, I just stopped caring for them.
But back in 2D in the environment, this is where the fun is at. For example, collecting rings, sprinting around and fighting off baddies, I could not put the game down for one minute. I was having a blast running around controlling Sonic or one of his friends, such as Knuckles with his climbing and gliding abilities. But I also like Tails with his flying/swimming perks. Do not worry, I am a Tails fan, just too bad the AI hasn’t gotten better for him. It still looks the same to me after so many years. The controls are adequate in what they do. The camera usually did okay in keeping up with Sonic and his pals, but there were a few times that it felt it was lagging a little when the gameplay got faster. Maybe it was me seeing things, but it seemed like it was there.
The boss fights are best part of the game, due to certain ones being so fun and unique. For example, for one fight, players face Doctor Eggman in a Tetris/Dr. Mario type battle. Yes, same rules as those two classics. How can you not like that? In another boss fight, players can control Eggman’s flying vehicle to complete a boss fight, or they face his giant mech in Green Hill Zone. Yes, the same one we saw at the end of Sonic 2! I am also pleased by how challenging the boss fights are, but the only issue here is that some of the bosses do last a little too long for my liking. For instance, we do not need to chase around the bad guy before hitting the main event. Let us start the fight right away to get it done (I am looking at you Metal Sonic). There is no need to drag it on if it does nothing to help with the story.
On a side note: I did play Sonic Mania on console (PlayStation 4) and on PC for the heck of it. I wanted to see how the PC version would play, but either version will do the job. Now, I do know about the whole digital rights management (DRM) issue, which did not allow players to play the game offline. To those unfamiliar with DRM, it pretty much protects a game from being cracked or pirated. But, as with the offline situation, it can sometimes make a game become unplayable. Plus, Sega had not stated that the PC port would have DRM included, so apparently some in the gaming community were not pleased about that. From what I could can tell, Sega did release a patch to fix the offline problem. So, my main recommendation to you is this: if you do care about this DRM issue right now, go play it on a console. For example, if you have a Nintendo Switch, I would say get Sonic Mania on that system, since it is a portable gaming device after undocking it. Regarding the other two, whatever you have, go with it.
Looking back, Sonic Mania has achieved its goal. Like with the early 90s games, those simple gaming mechanics just work, as well as they have always done. This new Sonic team did not worry about pushing the envelope in graphics or doing something weird, such as having our hero transform into another creature. No, it was all about being faithful to the original material – 2D 16-bit fun. So, go grab those chili dogs and play this game, because it is time to go fast once more!
On PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Want to talk about the game some more? Just click here to see the discussion thread on the FoCC forum. See you there!