REVIEW: Sonic Mania
Updated: Aug 22
Whatcha Gonna Do When Sonic Mania Runs Wild On You!?
This game is made with Love. The same love I held for my Sonic Games as an 11 year old. For a great many of us 30-somethings we still harbour a fondness for Sonic games which was established back in the days of Megadrive where is was seen as Sega’s answer to Mario.
I like to think that this came about in silent acknowledgement that Sonic’s more recent offerings have not been up to scratch, which includes their other brief foray back into 2D which was Sonic 4 ep1 & 2. These titles were sorely received thanks to their janky physics which ruined any ingenuity in the games themselves.
The game was developed by a team who have previous experience in developing homebrew hacks of the original sonic titles and their fondness of the series shines through at just about every opportunity.
So what’s in here? Pretty much everything you’d expect to receive on a cartridge in 1993 to be honest. After the obligatory Sega logo you’re welcomed to a Title splash with Sonic wagging his finger and looking more glad to be back in an enjoyable capacity rather than oozing his trademark ‘tude. You notice straight away that there’s some mode 7 spinning around at the foot of the screen letting you know that things have moved on but not too much.
The game has been optimised for widescreen and Sonic et al remain a sensible yet bold size. They appear to have their ratio’s in check here as you’re able to see just as far ahead as you were in the 90’s.
The Zones are a mixture of those found throughout the whole series up until Sonic & Knuckles along with a handful of new editions. These begin with the popular iconic choices of Green Hill, Chemical Plant then begin to include a few of the less favoured or memorable. That doesn’t mean that the quality declines however, if anything these levels which were not so well received (I don’t recall asking for a return visit to Oil Ocean) are being given a second chance to impress and that they do.
The first act of each zone is a familiar representation of the originals, however in act 2 you start to see a bit more variety. You’d be foolish to not notice the similarity in certain stages from different entries across the series; Green Hill and Emerald Hill, Labyrinth and Hydrocity, Flying Battery and Sky Fortress etc. whereas obviously they wouldn’t include stages which are too similar in a single title, they’ve opted to do the next best thing and include assets from similar themed Zones in the ones included here. The game continuously has you smiling as you recall a certain enemy that’s found a new home or a new coat of paint. Whilst these changes are present throughout its normally the second act which mixes up the formula (literally in Chemical Plant Zone’s case).
Plenty of other fanservice is also included in the form of cameos from Sonic Fighters and Sonic Drift, to nods towards unused areas which have been given a face-lift and a formal induction into the series (an evolution of Dust Hill Zone being an example).
The game is larger than it’s inspirations too including over 12 Zones, all of which take a lot longer to get through. In Sonic 1 you can get through the first stage in 25 seconds but here you’ll be pushed towards 9mins by the end of the game. There are also plenty of reasons to replay given the various route that can be taken through each stage, another staple of the series which lives on here.
Bonus stages make a return too and true to form there’s the old and the new. The “Ball” stages from S3&K are bountiful and unlock trophies this time. Chaos Emeralds can be collected via a 3D running bonus stage which is reminiscent of Sonic CD although a bit more technically advanced. I don’t think there’s anything here that the Sega Saturn couldn’t pull off and I would love to see a conversion to the platform homebrew or otherwise (alas the console is notoriously difficult to program so I very much doubt this will ever happen).
There is a plot driving the action this time and in a similar capacity to Sonic 3 & Knuckles it’s not intrusive to the action. To be honest I had a bit of a hard time trying to establish exactly what was happening at points (without the aid of a game manual) and the game is unapologetic to this point. The gameplay is completely unaffected however so I found it forgivable.
So a big question – Could this run on a Megadrive/Genesis? No frankly, even without the 3D bonus stages. The Saturn would be able to do what’s going on and the 32X might have a good crack at it too though. There’s simply too many colours, rotation effects and large sprites for the 16bit era to dish out.
The game fits into a paltry 220mb or so, which whilst being too large for a cartridge back in the day also includes a 90 second video intro and an ending which takes up majority of that space!
Whilst it’s a shame this didn’t get a physical release the price as a downloadable title is right on this one, the majority wouldn’t look to spend £40 or even £30 and get your monies worth. At £16.99 however it’s well worth your time and I can only hope it’s success encourages other franchises to go through the same revolution.