Between Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey and now Sonic Mania, there seems to be a noticeable push in the games community to go back to the good ol’ days. To make these old games as good as they used to be, to go back to a simpler time when you just had to move right and save the princess. The pressure was on for Sonic Mania; not only was it meant to be a return to form for the franchise but it also owed an immense debt to the fans who helped make the game. These people had a genuine passion and love of Sonic, so if anyone was going to be able to make Sonic great again, it was going to be them. So, how’d they do?
I want to open by making clear my feelings for Sonic: I grew up on the 3D Sonic games, the Adventure DX, the Sonic Battle, and yes, the Sonic ’06. But unlike most I never hated them. I was probably too young to understand what made a game good or bad, but I have distinctly fond memories of playing Sonic ’06 (despite being fully aware now what a dumpster fire that game was).
Contrast that with my only experience with 2D Sonic as a child, playing a GameBoy Advance version of Sonic 1 on my old DS, which was a much worse time. The game was just too fast; I didn’t know where to go or what I was doing, I couldn’t tell what hit me, sometimes I’d have to go LEFT instead of RIGHT!? It was too much for me at the time, and I never picked it up again. So needless to say I was suspicious of how much I would enjoy Sonic Mania when I picked it up, but I can happily say I was pleasantly surprised.
Now of course, if you just don’t like 2D Sonic then you’re probably not going to like this because that’s what it is. It’s just 2D Sonic. There are plenty of bonus games and even a mini boss where you have to beat Eggman Puyo-Puyo in a Sonic game that is all welcome distractions, but the core of the game remains the same. Go fast, get rings, save the animals, beat Eggman.
The colors changed a bit. The animations are smoothed way out beyond what was possible on 16-bit. And the general plot (as much as there is one) is new. You can even switch it up and play as Knuckles for an entirely different version of the stage if you want. But if going fast ain’t your thing you’re looking at the wrong franchise. If you do like going fast though, this game has you covered.
There’s something indescribably fun about Sonic Mania, something I see in a lot of retro games (Mario Bros, Mario Bros 3, Zelda 1, Tetris) and even retro-inspired games (Rouge Legacy, Shovel Knight) that just leave you with a huge smile on your face the whole time. Or, at least most of the time.
I’m not here to say the game is perfect. Far from it. But most of my gripes with it are more with Sonic as a franchise than the game specifically. I find losing ALL my rings with one hit frustrating, and the fact I can’t get them all back doubly so. The speed can be jarring and hard to follow at times, as well. Even some of the mini games can get a little TOO frequent for my taste (I’ve collected more blue spheres than I can count).
The most frustrating part is probably the frequency with which I died because it never felt like it was my fault. Of all my deaths in the game, the VAST majority were because I got caught between two moving platforms and got crushed. Or I couldn’t possibly get out of the water in time. Or I couldn’t get enough speed to run on the ceiling over a gap and fell. I can’t even remember a time an enemy killed me, and I think I only died to one of the bosses so far. Granted I haven’t finished the game yet, but the difficulty curve should’ve ramped up by now.
But never the less, between brief moments of frustration or anger and only one controller tossing “I give up” fit of rage, the majority of the game is fun, and I keep finding myself coming back to it. If you love old school Sonic, you’ll love this, and if you’ve never played 2D Sonic, I’d recommend checking it out too, as it could be a nice new type of game.
However, if you are the type who gets frustrated at cheap deaths easily, or if you’ve tried the old Sonic games and they’re not your thing, though, I don’t think Sonic Mania is good enough or offers enough new to make it worth buying for you.