Sonic games have had their moments over the years, good and bad. For every Doomsday Zone, there’s a Lava Reef Zone. For every Sonic Generations, there’s a Sonic Boom. Even the best Sonic games have had hiccups, whether it be Sonic 2′s bonus stages or a few zones in Sonic 3 & Knuckles (S3&K), the blue blur isn’t exactly consistent. Sonic Mania is the game that finally takes this trend and smashes it into a thousand pieces. It takes zones and ideas from other games that were crap and turns them into pure gold.
There’s actually a bit of story in Sonic Mania, though not much more than what we’ve seen in S3&K. Eggman has returned to Angel Island with the help of his Egg-Robos to take the Phantom Ruby, a gem capable of bending space and time. Sonic and Tails rush back to the island (just like the beginning of Sonic 3) but are too late. Eggman disturbs the gem and releases its power. The resulting shockwave teleports everyone back to Green Hill Zone and turns the Egg Robos into the Hard-Boiled Heavies. After that, it’s pretty much twelve zones between you and stopping Eggman from using the Phantom Ruby to take over the world.
When I heard Oil Ocean Zone’s music hit, I think the groan that came out of me could shatter glass. I was not happy. By the end of the first act, though, I was having a good time. The look of the level was elevated way beyond what it was in Sonic 2, and the boss was pretty cool!
Then Act 2 hit and Christian Whitehead let his creative juices flow all over this zone; it’s fucking awesome. Burning oil begins to fill the screen with smoke, and, if it gets too intense, your ring count slowly goes down—even if you have a shield. You have to constantly race to levers throughout the stage and pull them down to clear the smoke until you get to the next one. It’s a clever little mechanic that keeps you rushing through the stage as fast as you can. It’s a Sonic game, so that’s actually a good thing.
Unlike pretty much every other Sonic game, this game consistently rewards you for going fast. Not once are you ever just going to run so fast that you fall into a pit, spikes, or an enemy. Even the best Sonic games are guilty of doing this, but Mania rewards you and makes you feel good when you hit top speed. Getting the speed shoes power-up is, for once, actually awesome every time you get it because you can hit ridiculous speeds at almost any point in any level.
In the original Sonic games I used to roll after picking up any speed because I always assumed I’d hit an enemy. I don’t have to actually do that in this game, though. It’s almost a relief because I can keep my speed up all the time without worrying. Basically, this game takes everything good that you knew from the old games, makes those things even better, and eliminates everything that was bad.
I already stated that Christian Whitehead made shitty levels awesome in this game, but that applies to other aspects, as well. The bonus levels to get the Chaos Emeralds are actually…fun. You have to chase a UFO down a track while picking up blue spheres to speed up; collecting rings help keep the timer from reaching zero.
Not only that, but the blue sphere bonus stages from S3&K are back. If you have enough rings, you can play them at every checkpoint. Rather than getting emeralds, though, you get silver tokens for getting all the spheres and gold tokens for getting all of the rings in the special stage. These unlock in-game bonuses such as being able to use the Super Peel-Out from Sonic CD, or the insta-shield from Sonic 3. There are other, even better things to unlock, but I’ll let you find out what they are for yourself…unless you just Google it. It’s not 1993 anymore.
Aesthetically, the game is just absolutely amazing. Old zones are given new life with new backgrounds, fantastic sprite animations, and music remixes that can bring a tear to your eye. Beyond that, the four new zones that you get to play in are just so good. Press Garden Zone is absolutely beautiful. The new zones also have a ton of fan service, whether it be a Wanted poster of a Sonic character or even just a reference to another Sega game! This game is oozing with love from the creators, and you feel it in every damn pixel of Sonic Mania from the start to the finish.
Even the soundtrack is mind-blowingly good. Sega started releasing songs from the soundtrack over a year ago when the game was first announced, and you can bet I’ve been listening to ‘Studiopolis Act 1’ since then. It just goes to show that the best Super Sonic fights don’t need Crush 40 blowing out your TV speakers.
Not that I’m talking shit about Crush 40—almost 20 years later and Open Your Heart can still be heard blasting in my car on any given day. The Sonic Mania soundtrack is pure bliss, and I’m extremely excited to get the vinyl version of it soon.
I can honestly recommend Sonic Mania to everyone. Fans, first-timers, veteran gamers, beginners—everyone. It’s not overly difficult, but getting all of the emeralds is slightly challenging. Fans will love all of the throwbacks and references, and first-timers will hopefully see some of the awesome stuff from past games and want to go back and play them, too! It is just, absolutely, the best Sonic game all-around, and everyone should play it; especially considering the fact that it’s only $20.
Honestly, I’d pay more for it.
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