To start this review, I want to say that Sonic Mania Plus is hands down the best Sonic game in nearly 25 years. If the recent reviews are anything to go by (and they are) Sonic Mania Plus is the best reviewed Sonic title in 25 years.
Sonic Mania is everything I want in a classic Sonic the Hedgehog game, the 16-bit sprites have been updated for this generation and this game is a clear example of what works for the series, with some of the best level designs the series has ever seen, and a phenomenal soundtrack that strikes nostalgic memories, this is a win for Sega and Sonic fans alike.
It seems though, that Sega has learned from their mistakes and with Sonic Mania, the company looks to right the wrongs of the last two decades. I’m glad to say that this is two-steps in the right direction for Sonic and Sega, as Sonic Mania is the perfect love letter to older gamers who grew up with Sonic and friends on Genesis.
Why does this game resonate so well with everyone? It’s because the graphics for the most part never left the era we grew up with them. The team at Headcannon has spent time perfecting the visuals, the gameplay, the music, and everything feels rightly retro. It’s like plucking a new Sonic game from the 90’s and transporting it into today’s consoles, and what a feeling of relief it is to get this series back.
Many of the stages have been beautifully recreated, familiar levels like Green Hill Zone, for example, features new paths, and levels like Hydrocity Zone have new gameplay elements that add to the experience by allowing Sonic new ways to complete levels.
While it is nice to return to familiar levels, however, I wish Sega and Headcannon created all entirely new zones to explore, simply because of how well the new zones fit right in between classic areas. With new life into the series, why not allow a full revival with entirely new elements? Hopefully, this is rectified in a sequel, the potential is there.
A total of 12 zones are included in Sonic Mania, each zone features two levels to complete and at the end a boss battle that features probably the best the series battles we’ve seen in the series.
With three classic characters returning to stick it to Eggman, Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles all have a way to get to the end of a level, with numerous branching paths it’s easy to never track the same way twice. Knuckles and Tails have the added ability to get around nuisances like underwater sections or sky zones that Sonic could not dream of doing without fear of dying. Playing as each character comes with its strengths and weaknesses.
At the end of each act, Eggman and his cronies attempt to face you in a boss battle. Easily, these battles are a high-point for Sonic Mania, as each encounter is creative, difficult, and most of all fun. I couldn’t stop smiling as I defeated Eggman and company time after time.
The classic bonus stages have become better, now Sonic must chase a UFO, all the while collecting rings and blue spheres that boost his speed up to Mach 3. Each bonus stage effectively gets harder but completing these grants you a Chaos Emerald. In addition, the return of the blue sphere levels from Sonic 3 return, but I much prefer the race around to catch the UFO, where Sonic needs to race around a track trying to gain speed to catch the UFO while collecting rings to keep the clock ticking.
About a year after the release of Sonic Mania, Sega has released the definitive edition this year with two new characters, remixed levels of the original game and support for the existing multiplayer mode, which allows four players now. It may not be significant for some, but the support this game has recieved is enough to warrant a return. Encore Mode is a welcome treat that while sometimes difficult to finish, is extremely fun and features an exciting new way to play classic Sonic games.
The core mechanics of Sonic Mania are still in tact. The hard sell is whether it is worth double-dipping on this game for some minor adjustments. Luckily, if you own the original game, you won’t need to, as Sega offers the Encore mode for less than a combo meal. The game is also now available physically, whereas last year, it was only a digital title. Check out the really cool physical edition that came out last week, isn’t it gloriously old school?
It comes with two new characters that play differently than Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles. Mighty the Armadillo has uses stomp move that smashes anything in his way and his buddy Ray the Flying Squirrel is his accomplice who is adorable and easily the cutest thing ever. He’s Tails 2.0, and I can’t get enough of him. Ray’s ability has him gliding along as he can maintain momentum., and one you understand how he plays, allows you to effectively glide through the entire level. The new additions of Sonic Friends are welcome in my book, both characters create new ways to return to the world of Sonic and quite honestly, they are great to play with.
Encore mode remixes levels in new ways, by using the existing in exciting ways, levels are altered with different enemy placements, new hazards to look out for, and cool visual tweaks that add nuance. This also provides a challenge that for Mighty and Ray as both characters add layers to the gameplay and alter exploration in exciting and fun ways. A highlight for me was learning how Encore mode works, which is essentially a New Game Plus mode. What took me some getting used to was starting a level with Sonic, and finishing the level with Mighty. See, you can swap out characters by exploring the level and discovering item boxes that add characters to your group. These extra characters serve as lives essentially, so if you die, your teammate can pick up where you left off and finish things off.
Sonic Mania Plus adds enough content to warrant an upgrade for those who already purchased Sonic Mania. If you missed out last year, you really shouldn’t miss out on what is essentially the best Sonic game in a long time, and now, you can pick it up in stores, too. The new characters fit right in and add new ways to explore familiar levels, and the added Encore mode is a delight. The four-player co-op is neat, but it won’t be for everyone, but everything else included is a treat.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]