I think it’s fair to say the legacy of Sonic the Hedgehog hasn’t endured over the years. Granted, when we look back to the early-nineties, the little blue blur was giving Nintendo’s fat plumber man a run for his money. It could be argued that the Sonic franchise was the preeminent 2d platformer during that era. As time passed and, a rather disappointing sequence of 3D Sonic titles were released, Sega’s flagship character has lost some of his panache.
It is odd then that, after Sega’s failed attempts to modernise Sonic the Hedgehog, that they passed the development reigns to a fan, who has in turn, restored Sonic to his former glory. Sonic Mania (2017) isn’t a flashy 3D platformer, or an open-world odyssey – it’s Sonic like your dad used to play. It’s classic Sonic for the traditionalist. It’s almost like a Sonic greatest hits compilation. It’s Sonic Mania, obviously.
A greatest hits collection is an almost apt description but not one applied to detract from Sonia Mania’s successes as a videogame. In fact, when you first begin the game and are greeted with the familiar, nostalgic green, brown and blue colour palate of Green Hills and that soundtrack – the anthem of youth – you would be forgiven for thinking it was another ride around the Sonic rodeo. Any sluggishness you would remember from the Sonic games of yore, brought on by the limitations of Sega’s 90’s hardware, are completely obliterated, given the significantly more powerful modern-day consoles. Whether you play on Xbox One S, PS4 or Nintendo Switch, gameplay runs at 60fps – unsurprisingly, it should be said, but it makes for an incredibly fluid game. Colours also appear bolder, the sprites more defined and the soundtrack better than ever.
The story mode, while relatively short, consists of twelve zones, two stages in each, and is your typical Sonic fare, which sees you fighting to retrieve a gemstone, known as the Phantom Ruby, from Eggman and his elite team of Eggrobos. After you’ve worked your way through the story, there are time trials to have a go at and split-screen multiplayer. There is a deep level of replay value here which further justifies the £15.99 price which I can’t see getting old quickly.
There is always this adage about playing remastered games, being that it feels and looks like the game when you first played it. Obviously, the visual fidelity of the original title and the remaster are miles apart, but the remaster brings the game to the forefront of modern technology, just as the original did. Now, to be clear, I know Sonic Mania is not a remaster, although it plays like you remember Sonic games from the Mega Drive era played but, obviously, it is much, much better
The fact that Sonic Mania and Sonic titles have such a distinct style of play is something that may put off fans who have become used to the slower-paced, puzzle-esque platformers of recent years. Given that the Sonic franchise has waned in popularity over the last fifteen years, more needs to be done to make this title more appealing to newcomers, not just seasoned, hardcore Sega and Sonic fans. That said, there is some new material here which shows that this isn’t just nostalgia fodder for the Sonic faithful, with the introduction of of new zones, such as Studiopolis, a discothèque inspired stage with pinball style platforming sections, and Mirage Salon, which takes on a desert aesthetic and makes use of an airborne segment.
One thing that should go without saying is that Sonic Mania is, typically, very fast. The biggest trapping of coming into Sonic Mania with little experience in the franchise is to play it like a ‘traditional’ platformer, that being, to take it slow. The trick is to just let Sonic do his thing, to whiz around the map collecting rings and bashing into enemies. Sonic is at his best when speeding around the place like an unstoppable force, hovering up rings and taking names. A key part in facilitating this style of play is the level design, which has seen classic zones, such as Green Hills and Chemical Plant, expanded with multiple pathways and their layouts adjusted slightly in places. It catches out players who have memorised the layout of these zones and makes playing through them again feel like a whole new experience
It would be disingenuous to say that Sonic Mania doesn’t do new things, at least with level design. In fact, these newer stages are so well-crafted, so inspired and original, that it makes you wonder why they didn’t go all-in and just create a brand new 2D Sonic game entirely, but, cleverly, developers, HeadCannon and PagodaWest Games, understand the market for this game is diehard Sonic fans. It’s just a shame it may not appeal to more people not invested in the franchise.