Sonic Mania – SEGA’s Redemption
An often quoted philosophical maxim states that one should not multiply dieties beyond necessity. This is a helpful tool in philosophic discourse and in game development. Sometimes simple is better. Ever since my grandmother bought me my first Sonic game, SEGA’s blue blur had me hooked. Something about the fast-paced platforming action, the funkadelic soundtrack (especially Sonic 3 & Knuckles), and simple yet windy environments spoke to me on a deeper level. And now, in Sonic Mania, he’s back. After several years of 3D mishaps, Sonic is back. And he’s better than he’s ever been.
Taking place just after the events of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Sonic returns to Angel Island to find a group of robo-badnicks called the Hard Boiled Heavies (HBH) unearthing a mysterious gem. This mysterious gem is called the phantom ruby. Incidentally, the phantom ruby contains time-and-space-manipulating powers, of which the HBH take advantage. It’s up to Sonic and his friends Tails and Knuckles to defeat Robotnik and his HBH and restore the phantom ruby to its rightful place.
Unlike some modern Sonic games, Sonic Mania’s plot is simple. There are no intricate character backgrounds; it’s just Sonic and friends taking on Robotnik’s evil forces. And I consider this a plus for Sonic Mania. Sonic Mania’s gameplay and replayability trump complex intra-narrative storytelling. Such priorities enable players to enjoy a less cluttered, more simple experience. Christian Whitehead knew not to multiply dieties beyond necessity.*
While the game leaves a few buttons untouched, the controls are simple enough: run, jump, spin dash, spinout, and air dash. The air dash is a new mechanic. When the player holds down the jump button, Sonic performs a mini-spin dash in the air to gain momentum. Returning mechanics include Tails carrying Sonic and Knuckles punching through and climbing walls.
Once again, simplicity reigns, even in Mania’s gameplay. The game feels like a classic Sonic game: not too fast, not too slow. The player can speed through the levels without feeling like they’ve lost control of their character. In other words, characters go fast smoothly. Concerning gameplay, Sonic Mania strikes the golden mean, if not very close to it.
Given that I haven’t played a classic Sonic game in years, I didn’t know what to expect graphics-wise. The same blocky textures still loomed in my mind like a fixed reality. However, when I turned on Sonic Mania, I was pleasantly shocked. Not only were the textures and colors gorgeous, but nothing felt stiff or frozen. Everything seemed alive. Moreover, character animations seemed incredibly smooth and detailed for a game designed intentionally just above SEGA Saturn capabilities.
Perhaps the level that best captures the genius interplay of colors and lively atmosphere, and my favorite level of all, is Press Garden Zone. I’ll let the screenshot speak for itself. Living things can usually defend themselves.
As I write this review, the Sonic Mania soundtrack woos my eardrums. With remastered and remixed classics, as well as some new tracks, I can’t help but bob my head to the rhythm to each song. The glee that overtook me as I heard the opening notes to Green Hill Zone was inexplicable. Sonic Mania’s soundtrack contains some masterful composition, ranging from arid, spacious trap fusion to aquatic, adventurous funk rock—and everything in between. Surely, each song in this game has potential to be an ear worm. And I don’t mind it one bit.
Sonic Mania offers a variety of play through options. The player can play through the campaign (called “Mania Mode”) as Sonic, Tails, Sonic & Tails, or Knuckles. Moreover, the player experiences each level differently depending upon whom they chose for their campaign. Before the player, then, lies four distinct campaign experiences.
Furthermore, upon completion of the campaign and other things, more play through options open up. I don’t wish to spoil the unlockables, for some of them are quite amusing and worth the effort. Suffice it to say, Sonic Mania is worth completing—all fifty-something hours.