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If you’re an old school retro fan or a newcomer Sonic Mania has you covered!
I’m not going to lie; these past few years have been tough on Sonic the Hedgehog. What with Sonic The Hedgehog (also known as Sonic 2006), Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Generations not living up to gamers expectations. What started off as a 16bit Hedgehog sprinting through 16bit environments fighting the “bad guy” has evolved into a fully voiced, HD Hedgehog sprinting through HD environments fighting a re-designed yet familiar bad guy and saving the girl!? (I’m looking at you Sonic 2006!).
In truth times do change and long established game characters such as Sonic do need to change to keep up with the new generations of console as well as the new generations of gamers. Yes whilst Mario was high flying with his own new style poor Sonic suffered a tale of bad decisions and design and slipped into the “oh another Sonic game..” territory.
Yes, Sonic the Hedgehog is one of gaming’s greats. Ask anyone about retro gaming in the 90's and you’re going to hear tales of Sonic and Nintendo’s famous (not a plumber) Mario. Most people will be able to regale you with stories of wasted nights and speed runs, before speed runs where a thing to the famous SNES or Mega Drive (Genesis for our American readers) playground arguments. One particular memory of mine is watching a friend struggle, for to me then entering the level select code when he was out of the room. I would admit to doing this year’s later!
I feel that Sonic started his decline with Sonic Adventure 2 which was released first of all on what would be Sega’s final home console the Dreamcast. Sonic Adventure 2 was not necessary a bad game, however the clunky controls, poor camera angles and Dr Eggman (Who should always be Robotnik) would continue into the next games.
As mentioned at the start of this review, Sonic then went into a decline. With the likes of Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) not giving fans that classic Sonic feeling. Sonic Generations tried to capture this with its time travelling story which included retro Sonic with his slim fast paced future self however this was also met with its own downfalls. Sonic the Hedgehog gamers have yearned for the Sonic of yester-year. They want the Sonic where he fights Robotnik, the Sonic with the memorable stage themes, and the Sonic with the gut wrenchingly hard bonus stages.
This is what Sonic Mania does best. Sonic Mania is a plat forming game that is developed by Pagodawest Games and Headcannon which has been produced by Sega for Sonics 25th Anniversary. Sonic Mania at heart is a re-make of Sonic 1, 2 and 3 with remixed levels and a few new ones thrown in to the mix. The player can choose to play as Sonic, Tales and Knuckles or a combination of Sonic and Tales or Sonic and Knuckels to fight Dr Robotnik and his many machines to save the world and collect those ever elusive Chaos Emeralds.
Each character has their own abilities such as Sonic‘s ability to drop dash to Tales who can fly and then Knuckles who can guide and climb walls. Each character gives a different take to the overall game because what tactics may work with Sonic won’t necessary work with Knuckles. Sonic Mania also includes unlock able features that allow Sonic to be equipped with his abilities from Sonic 3 and Sonic CD.
The story of Sonic Mania takes place over twelve zones. Eight of these zones are remixes of some classic and the other four are all new. The Zones are divided into two acts which the player needs to traverse in order to proceed. At the end of each act you are then thrust into a boss fight with either Dr Robotnik or his henchmen The Hard Boiled Heavies. These have their own mechanics on order to beat, such as avoiding certain coloured missiles to playing a version of Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine.
The overall plot line is told via animated videos that play after some acts are completed which will be familiar to those who have played Sonic 3 and Sonic &Knuckles. Sonic Mania also fits into the Sonic time frame and is set after the events of Sonic & Knuckles.
Zone design is fantastic and you get a feeling of nostalgia when one of the eight classic levels is played. Even the new zones have Easter eggs to other classic Sega games such as one having a small nod towards Streets of Rage. Each stage is also filled with the ever familiar golden rings that are essentially Sonics life, as well as Speed boosts, shield orbs and a few new ones that can work against you. Also added are Sonics famous bonus stages that are unlocked via hitting a checkpoint with 25+ rings as well as finding the hidden giant golden ring. Bonus stages are made up of either collecting rings to then chase after a UFO, to Sonic 3's blue sphere stage. Completing the bonus stages allows the player to collect one of the seven Chaos Emeralds which will also unlock the games true ending.
Sonic Mania also features a Time Attack mode that sees the player racing through a selected act in the quickest time possible. These times are then posted to an online leader board so you can see how your time compares to everyone else. My only gripe with this mode is that the developers could have included some kind of replay functions because some of the top times seem impossible to achieve!
Sonic Mania also includes a split screen two player mode which pits both players in a race to the final in a similar fashion to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Players can also unlock a version of Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine which can also be played with two players.
The games visuals are nice and crisp and have the design of the classic Sonic games. I would compare the textures to the designs that featured in Sonics outings on the Sega Saturn, with that added HD flare that this current console generation provides. The title characters have their usual designs and have not changed into pixel versions of their 3D cousins. Also its worth noting that the enemies, whether being new or classic, have that familiar Sonic design.
Overall Sonic Mania is a fantastic game and is clearly Sonics best outing this last few years. With its crisp graphics and new yet familiar gameplay fans new and old will easily fall in love with Sonic. Sonic Mania is Sonic before Shadow and chums. Sonic Mania is Sonic with an extremely memorable soundtrack. Sonic Mania is a Sonic game that Sega should be proud of and long should this renaissance of a Hedgehog that can run fast continue.
Sonic Mania is available now via the Xbox Store: Buy Now
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