Okay. So, we’re all aware that Sonic the Hedgehog has had some rocky years with the likes of Sonic ’06 and Sonic Boom hurting his reputation, but Sonic Mania is the best he’s been in years. He’s had some other great titles like Sonic Generations and Sonic Colours, but seeing the blue blur go back to his roots has been both fresh and nostalgic.
Sonic Mania first thrusts you into the good ol’ Green Hill Zone which will be familiar to players of the original trilogy, but a few changes make it feel new. This is the rule of thumb for many of the zones you’ll whizz through with both new and old coming together to create something that fans will be familiar with, but will also be pleasantly surprised by. Some completely new zones join the fray and the final product is twelve, wonderful zones celebrating Sonic, his legacy, and why we fell in love with him in the first place.
Those of you who played Sonic the Hedgehog 4 might’ve realised that something felt a little off about it. The jumping felt odd and the stages didn’t leave much room for you to explore or take other paths — you could mostly hold right and jump a few times and clear a stage with ease. Mania is a little tougher and I saw the game over screen a handful of times, but it feels like a bona fide Sonic game with its physics and visuals only improved upon from the original games — why change what isn’t broken, right? It’s tight and responsive, works perfectly with the DualShock 4.
You can play as Sonic, Tails and Knuckles and with the three of them having different abilities, and the stages have been created to make the most out of them. There are routes that only specific characters can tackle, and some of these feel like vastly different stages which only come together towards the end. I played as Sonic first and when I started my second playthrough as Knuckles, I was surprised to see how big Green Hill Zone really is and all of the different opportunities available to me.
Outside of the normal levels, there are several special stages where you can collect the seven chaos emeralds and coins used to unlock stuff in the extras menu. The Sonic CD special stages return where you need to chase down a UFO to collect a chaos emerald and these look suitably old-school, with controls that match — these stages can be a little frustrating but overall I managed to clear all seven pretty quickly, and they’re pretty fun. The mini-game where you need to collect blue spheres to earn coins returns from Sonic the Hedghog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles too. This particular mini-game lasts a while and there are so many of them, and I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it.
Sonic Mania looks absolutely stunning. It’s not a far cry from the visuals of the originals, but it’s smoother with more detailed and extravagant animations. Little touches make the characters feel more alive and personal, and the colour and variety found in the zones is breathtaking. There’s a lot of personality in Sonic Mania and it’s nothing short of a love letter to fans, making fondly remembered levels look even better with new levels that blend in nicely with the already existing ones.
Gone are the lines where Sonic talks about his love of chilli dogs as there’s no voice-acting here, mimicking the days when Sonic and his friends were mute — thankfully, the animations manage to reflect the characters we know and love. The Sonic games have always had outstanding soundtracks and Sonic Mania is no exception to the rule. Its retro tunes fit in perfectly with the game’s matching visuals, and there’s plenty to get your blood pumping. The mix of new and old tunes, and remixes, make for an exciting and catchy listen, and the soundtrack will leave you wondering just how the Sonic games always manage to get such excellent audio work.
Sonic Mania is a celebration of the blue blur’s roots and it’s a fantastic one that had me in awe. There’s very little to complain about bar some issues I have in regards to special stages, but I’m already itching for more — I hope that we see a second Sonic Mania one day! It’s been a while since Sonic was on a Sony platform, but he feels right at home and I’m happy to see Sonic make his way to multiple platforms once again. A wonderful game, a beautiful celebration and a phenomenal platformer, Sonic Mania will invite you back time and time again.