Sonic the Hedgehog hasn’t been doing too well lately. Gone are the days when the blue speedster was considered a genuine rival to Mario. Apart from a couple of exceptions, since 2006 most of Sonic’s games have been garbage. Sonic Boom’s reboot of the character flopped and the less said about the Princess Elise bestiality romance the better. Sega’s current creative team have no idea what made Sonic so special back during the 16-bit era. Thankfully someone in the company does at least have the sense to outsource their mascot’s next adventure to a programmer who does. Christian Whitehead seized the opportunity given to him by Sega and the result is arguably the finest post Genesis Sonic title to date.
One thing I like about Sonic Mania is that it goes back to basics. Gone are the convoluted plots of recent times. A dialogue free cut scene sets up the story. Eggman has gotten his dastardly mitts on the mystical Phantom Ruby. Just like sexual harassment, that’s no good. Sonic and chums race after Eggman, but upon confronting him get sucked into a portal and are transported to the past. Players must now guide the trio of heroes through twenty-four stages, which are inspired by classic Sonic levels. The playable characters on offer are Sonic, Tails and Knuckles… who since Sonic Boom appears to have cut down on the steroid abuse. If you want an easy playthrough pick Tails because he can swim and fly.
Although some of the zones are modelled off levels from yesteryear their design has been tweaked and there is a fair number of brand new areas to challenge too. That’s a relief because playing a Greatest Hits of old content would have felt like a rip off, especially given that Sega has rereleased the vintage Sonic trilogy more times than Square has recycled Final Fantasy One. Dashing through each zone is a joy, as the courses have been crafted in such a way that you can appreciate Sonic’s swiftness. The stages may only have one exit, but there are multiple routes you can take which encourages exploration. No two zones feel the same, as every act houses its own unique set of obstacles.
My rating for Sonic Mania is four and a half stars. If you enjoyed the nineties Sonic games, Mania is a must buy. Unlike the disappointing Sonic 4, Mania captures the spirit and feel of the Mega Drive era titles. It’s surprising how well the sprites still look and the music is as catchy as ever. The soundtrack boasts a nice collection of remixes and new electronic tunes. It took me around five hours to clear the story, which is long by Sonic standards. The fifteen quid asking price seems fair given that I have yet to replay the campaign with the other two characters. I also have to hunt down the Chaos Emeralds and tackle the epilepsy inducing 3D orb mini-game. Pikachu isn’t the only mascot that can trigger fits!
The sole gripe I have with Sonic Mania is that progress is only saved at the start of a new zone. Levels are divided up into a pair of acts. Should a player exhaust all of their lives during act two they will be forced to replay act one from the beginning. Not a big deal though, as the game isn’t difficult. Insta-death pitfalls are rare and Sonic is practically immortal, providing that he holds at least one ring at all times. Any frustration I felt with redoing a stage was offset by the game’s cool references to past Sonic titles. My favourite throwback came at the end of Chemical Plant Zone, where the boss challenges you to a Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine duel. I couldn’t believe it. Sonic has to beat “Eggman” in a puzzle game? You must be yolking.