Sonic Mania (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Az Elias 20.08.2017 8

Review for Sonic Mania on Nintendo Switch

Moderate attempts to revive the 2D Sonic series in Sonic Advance 1-3 didn't quite capture what made the originals so good to begin with (well, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles, at least), Sonic Generations was off in its physics and enlarged design, and the less said about Sonic 4 the better. Finally, though, a proper old-school sequel to the last entry on the Mega Drive has arrived. A good 20 years too late, mind, but its existence is something to be grateful for. The work of one Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games, and (for the Switch version) Tantalus, Sonic Mania is the true Sonic the Hedgehog 4.

It is easy to jump into Sonic Mania and be sent zipping around through the stages without a clue as to what on earth is going on. Speed is something that has been associated with Sonic since…forever, and that knock-on effect naturally plays into how most people jump into a Sonic game. The ramps, boost pads, springboards, and the blue blur's Spin Dash itself all either force or encourage speed to be put to use.

As screen after screen is flown through, though, and all these alternate routes, item boxes, rings, checkpoints and bonus areas go by in the blink of an eye, often with little way to return to them, it can send a confusing message about what this game - and indeed the Mega Drive originals - expects of its players.

Since a great Sonic game in the classic vain has been absent for so long, most new players (or even those returning from the Mega Drive days who struggled to find the appeal back then) would be forgiven for failing to grasp just exactly how these games work or how they are supposed to be played.

Screenshot for Sonic Mania on Nintendo Switch

The basic goal is obvious: get from the left side of the stage to the right side as quickly as possible. There is a 10-minute time limit, which is now more of a threat than previously, since levels are much larger in Mania than most of its 90s counterparts, although the timer generally isn't going to be the cause of all lives being lost. It does need an eye keeping on, though, as a Time Over death is a cruel way to lose a life, as rare as they are. More than just getting to the finish post, though, many are quick to forget (or just not realise) that Sonic is an arcade experience.

Compared to, say, 2D Mario titles, which number into nearly 100 levels, Sonic Mania itself features two acts over a dozen zones, with bosses at the end of each. The implication is that deaths and Game Overs are going to be common, levels are punishing, and that every stage is designed with multiple replays in mind. It is highly unlikely all secrets will be gathered on a first playthrough, and the most efficient and quickest paths to the end are just not going to be found without replaying and learning over and over. Indeed, it is the speedrun mentality where Sonic succeeds, even if it is hard to picture how people would ever be able to master some of these stages.

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People will do it, though; you can be sure of that. Sonic Mania speedruns are going to be something to look forward to greatly. For many others, it is important not to try and get overwhelmed with what this game throws your way, and not to be discouraged when paths and important areas are missed. Sonic is a learning experience, and Mania is no exception.

It is basically a love letter to the 16-bit days. There is a mix of both returning and brand-new zones, usually with the second act of old ones being completely revamped with new gimmicks. Chemical Plant's second act is a great example of a fresh twist, where Sonic is able to alter the liquid hazards to turn them into a springy gelatine substance, pinging him high into the upper reaches of the stage. Such creative spins are introduced in each zone - some frustrating, and some amusing - but they succeed at making Sonic Mania feel like its own thing.

Screenshot for Sonic Mania on Nintendo Switch

Bosses are the same scenario, with returning foes usually featuring experimental designs and updated moves, and plenty of new foes to mix it up with. These range from good to bad, with some bosses really testing the patience. Data is saved at the start of act 1 of a new zone, rather than forcing players to replay from the game's beginning upon Game Over. Due to levels being so much longer, and with bosses being placed at the end of both acts of a zone, however, there is nothing more frustrating in Mania than losing the last life through a cheap death on the act 2 boss, and then having to redo both acts and bosses all over again.

Old-school fans may point to the days of no saving and replaying an entire game from scratch, therefore to quit the moaning, but it doesn't take away from the fact that cheap deaths and replaying some of these extra lengthy acts just for another chance to fight the boss again is not something to feel joyful about. The satisfaction of finally beating one that had caused so much trouble, and the relief that comes with it from knowing that the you are safe and in a new zone, is second to none, though.


 
It is all something that comes together from repeated plays. Getting frustrated at the lengthy acts and cheap bosses, and having to replay these over again upon failure, all goes away once the stages and bosses are learned, and the next thing you know, you're training yourself to simply beat each act in a quicker time than before from discovering all-new paths and bopping on enemies' heads to maintain momentum and reach higher areas, rather than cursing the things that caused you to throw the controller down in frustration before attempting everything again.

The formula is something that needs to be played to be appreciated. Cheap deaths and replaying stages over doesn't sound appealing to anyone on paper, but the proof is in the pudding; it is not something that ever feels too out of reach to beat. There is no point worrying about trying to fly through stages in record time, because it is a recipe for disaster. That will come naturally upon the next playthrough.

Screenshot for Sonic Mania on Nintendo Switch

Sonic Mania hasn't forgotten what made originals so great to begin with. It is worth pointing out that this title has been promoted as the series' 25th anniversary celebration, and it is only expected that old stage favourites return here. The new stuff is just as excellent, though, and the twists and throwbacks to even some surprising titles and characters is especially cool. Level design doesn't feel out of place; it's as if this was created during the time Sonic Team still knew how to make a good 2D Sonic game.

Fans are going to adore some of the moments presented here, but it is especially impressive just how stylish and vibrant each level is. There is actual lore to the entire game if you stop and look, and that is owed to the brilliant visuals that have a story to tell. Even the second acts of a zone can be completely original in their design, more than just a bit of recolouring here and there; some of them are radically different to their first acts. From beginning to end, the individualistic stages keep coming; every area presents something new, whether it is enemies, bosses, gimmicks, or locations.

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This is far removed from a 2D Mario game, which has grown tremendously stale and literally reuses the same stages across the series, most notably in the New Super Mario Bros. line. There is a distinct visual aesthetic in Sonic Mania that is enhanced through the pixel graphics, and the addition of widescreen dramatically helps the speedy game this is, allowing a little more reaction time for upcoming hazards than in the 4:3 Mega Drive games.

Of course, Mania is going to repeat established concepts from the 16-bit titles, but a clear effort has gone into making sure the second acts of a zone, in particular, aren't just carbon copies of the act prior, and ensure even long-time fans will have more than just nostalgia to look forward to. This is echoed equally for the bosses, which feature some distinctive battles…even if some have the power to infuriate.

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It is worth mentioning that, for whatever reason, crush deaths can be incredibly harsh. Chemical Plant's moving box platforms that are used to escape the pink water are a good example of crushing Sonic when they seemingly shouldn't, and there are often cases in other levels where you can get hit and spill your rings, but immediately get killed by what looks like nothing, even during invincibility frames, leading to the belief that an unexplainable crush has occurred. Whether there is logic to these deaths is a little hard to determine, but such instances look to be overly severe.

Special stages return in the form of Sonic CD's UFO-chasing levels, which offer 3D-like behind-the-back on-rails sections to catch up to the flying ship that holds a Chaos Emerald. Sonic 3's Blue Sphere stages are back as checkpoint bonus areas, still as testing as ever, but unlock a few extras by completing a number of them and racking up the rewarded medals.

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Gladly, the competitive two-player mode is here, with players going head to head in a local race to the finish - in all its squashed horizontal splitscreen glory, which some might be pleased (or bemused) about. There may not have been a more presentable way to run this mode without the iconic squashed format that was standard in Sonic 2, but it functions and is quickly gotten used to.

Time Attack is available, with full leaderboards, although it is lamentable that video replays aren't recorded and uploaded to the servers. Who wouldn't want to study and watch in awe at the fastest times other players have set across the many acts? A shame, but leaderboards in themselves are still great to have, and it's not as if people won't look up on YouTube for viewable records, anyway.

It should go without saying, but Tails and Knuckles are completely playable on their own in the main game, with Sonic and Tails teaming up if desired - and with plenty of save files available, all options can be played to complete the game and hunt Chaos Emeralds for. Some of Knuckles' stages are also remixed, ensuring his climbing abilities are put to good use, whereas Tails is essentially the "easy mode" of the game, as his lengthy flying skill allows him to escape harm and take a safe route to the finish.

Screenshot for Sonic Mania on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Very few stones have been left unturned to create what is a contender for the best Sonic title ever made. More than just an anniversary celebration, Sonic Mania is full of fresh ideas, balancing its source material and addition of all-new elements to elevate it beyond many other platformers that rely heavily on the same old formulas. It is a great pity that Sonic 4 exists, because no game deserves that name more than Sonic Mania; this is the Sonic 4 you have all been waiting for. The hope now is that it does not prove to be a one-off; a sequel with even more original zones and ideas needs to happen down the line. For now, though, it is a time to appreciate Sonic Mania and the incredible work Christian Whitehead and his fellow developers have done.

Developer

Tantalus

Publisher

SEGA

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Our member of the week

I played my whole first playthrough of this live on Twitch, and only ran out of time once, on the first act of the last zone.

My main reproach is the length of the acts themselves. They tend to overstay their welcome by a minute or two. i'd much rather have taken a couple more zones and environments and each zone being a bit shorter.

( Edited 20.08.2017 22:03 by RudyC3 )

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

RudyC3 said:
I played my whole first playthrough of this live on Twitch, and only ran out of time once, on the first act of the last zone.

That's where I got a time over too, but there was definitely another somewhere...just can't remember which one. Not sure if fighting a boss that I was struggling to work out how to defeat was part of it... Cannot recall properly.

Honestly wasn't too over the moon to begin with, but it changed with each stage and boss I was finally able to overcome. Such a high degree of quality and love and care has gone into this. Once I start comparing it to a NSMB game, the difference is striking.

Would be foolish for them to rest on their laurels and not turn this into a new trilogy at the very least. Mania 2 with more brand new stages would be a blast. Some returning ones, sure, but there was such originality with the new stuff, I'd love to see what sort of slick new stages they come up with.

RudyC3 said:
My main reproach is the length of the acts themselves. They tend to overstay their welcome by a minute or two. i'd much rather have taken a couple more zones and environments and each zone being a bit shorter.

I can't really disagree. I think this was why dying at an act 2 boss was such a frustration. Redoing the lengthy acts again was annoying. It was part of what had me settling on 7/10 max, but the joy of overcoming bits that previously troubled me helped sway things.

I should say, actually - I don't get why there is even a time limit. Most will say ten minutes is plenty, but I don't understand the benefits to forcing players to hurry up. Same thing with Mario games. Seems counterintuitive to the explorative sides of the games.

( Edited 20.08.2017 22:26 by Azuardo )

I had fun with Mania, but if I have to play through Green Hill Zone one more time I might actually lose my mind. I was so excited when it looked like the game was going to start with Angel Island but then...immediate disappointment. 

Renan said:
I had fun with Mania, but if I have to play through Green Hill Zone one more time I might actually lose my mind. I was so excited when it looked like the game was going to start with Angel Island but then...immediate disappointment. 

Yep, Green Hill has been done to death and I'm sick of it. I can let it slide in this game, but the fact Sonic Forces is also using it is a pisstake. Angel Island I would definitely have preferred.

But that's why I hope to god they do a Mania 2 - they would be stupid not to, but the original ideas and stages they had in this game were great, so letting them run free and creating more new stages without relying on the classics would be exciting. I still wouldn't mind the odd throwback tho - Angel Island, like you say, or Ice Cap. Otherwise, let the imagination run wild, because Mania was a sign they have great ideas.

Man, I seriously wish this game was just all new stages. I've been juggling it and Miitopia the past week, and whenever I get to a rehashed Sonic level, I jump ship. It's absolutely amazing regardless, but I'd still have preferred all original levels.

Aaaaand maybe a little less of Sonic 3's special stage. I like that minigame a lot, but it doesn't feel as good playing it every single checkpoint.

Yep, wishing for original stages is being echoed a lot. I can understand why they've played on the nostalgia for this, but because the original stages are so good, it's easy to wish for more. Fingers crossed for Mania 2...

Agree on Sonic 3 special stage. Also didn't register with me till later that in order to get the gold medals you need to get all rings as well as the blue spheres, so... eff that.

Love Mania, and love the story behind it. I agree with the critical points, levels are slightly too long, it might be a little more punishing than some will like, but on the whole- rejoice! Smilie 

I didn't realise the Switch version was being ported by Tantalus Media either. I just went ahead and purchased it on the obvious platform of choice, so really glad there aren't any niggling issues or differences. 

Also, I really dig the CRT filter. Smilie

( Edited 23.08.2017 17:03 by The Strat Man )

Our member of the week

The Strat Man said:
Also, I really dig the CRT filter.

I like it when playing docked at 1080p, it renders well, but I find that it doesn't line up very well with the 720p display in handheld mode, so I revert back to the clean look when I feel like playing it portably.

( Edited 24.08.2017 00:24 by RudyC3 )

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

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