STAFF REVIEW of Sonic Mania (Xbox One)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017.
by John Elliott

Sonic Mania Box art If you're a gamer and haven't heard of Sonic the Hedgehog, you should definitely feel ashamed, as this iconic character has spawned not only games (video and board), but television shows, comics, clothing and a plethora of toys that my own children often ask me to purchase. Having had Sonic Mania on my radar since it was announced, I was excited to get this title in my hands and I jumped right in as soon as it downloaded to my Xbox One.

Sonic titles were never strong on story, and Sonic Mania is no different. It starts off with Sonic and a couple of his well recognized friends, Tails and Knuckles, jumping into a plane and heading off to investigate a powerful energy reading that they detected. When they arrive at their location they find that Doctor Eggman and his goons are also on the hunt for the energy, so Sonic and his pals must battle their enemies to reach the energy first. With the basics plotted out we get to jump into the gameplay which can be simply described as retro classic 16-bit goodness.

The gameplay for the most part is exactly what a Sonic game is known for. It's the same experience that you would experience if you popped in the original Sonic the Hedgehog from 1991 on the Sega Genesis. Sonic blurs through each of the zones going through tunnels, loop de loops, bouncing off spring loaded platforms or being boosted through areas via power-ups found throughout the zones.

Keep in mind that you can play as the two other characters in the game; Tails, who can fly and swim and Knuckles, who can climb walls and glide. Sonic's ability is to dash as soon as he lands a jump, allowing him to pick up speed quickly. This is really good to know as some of the levels are infinitely easier with the other characters, but on the other hand this also creates some new challenges when using the other companions.

Each “zone” is split up into two acts where you make your way through obstacles themed after the zone itself. Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone are two that I instantly recognized as these zones have been mainstays in many of the Sonic games as well as the cartoon. I do admit I have binge-watched some of the Sonic cartoons with my sons in the past while, so it is fresh in my mind. Other zones that are in the game are Studiopolis, Flying Battery, Press Garden and Stardust Speedway.

With each zone there are some unique obstacles that you have to deal with. For example, in the Chemical Plant you use a chemical plunger to combine chemicals to make the otherwise deadly pool of acid turn into a huge trampoline to bounce your character to new areas. Another example is The Flying Battery level that uses magnetism to cling your character to metal objects making it easier to traverse deadly areas that might get you electrocuted. Finally, in Press Garden, you face off against the cold elements, placing your frozen self inside a huge ice cube which you can use to slide yourself down a hill to smash areas open for more exploration.

Aside from the main campaign levels you can show off your gaming skills by participating in a Time Attack mode, which posts your times against all the other gamers in the world to see how you stack up. I am proud to say that I was in the top 10 for some of the levels before the game released, though I am sure that my placing will plummet when the superfans get their hands on this title and show us reviewers how it is really done. Along with Time Attack there is a Co-op Competition mode where you race through the zones to see who is quickest to the finish line and ultimately play for bragging rights.

Though this title is faithful to the original games of Sonic's glory days, you do not have to fear that you are just playing a remastered edition of old levels. The zones build on what made Sonic great and push it even further with some of the unique obstacles mentioned above, combined with new level designs that even an accomplished Sonic player as myself had to stop and have a few, “Wow, that was really cool!” moment. One such instance was when Sonic gets launched through the air, floats for a bit, and then gets suddenly whooshed into a huge turbine to be spit out on the other side.

Visually, much like the gameplay, we are presented with what is a faithful artistic recreation that the original developers would be proud of. The retro 16-Bit style that has had a huge resurgence in modern gaming is amazing, and Sonic Mania fits well into this genre, even upping the ante a little bit more. In the video settings you'll find an option to set the game to look like a CRT television to put the final touches on that retro feeling. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles look as they should in their sprite forms, along with the many enemies that they encounter throughout the zones. As I mentioned, the level designs have a lot of cool moments, but the way they look is just as awesome in broadening the world of Sonic, even more-so for fans of the series.

Music and sound stays true to what Sonic fans have become accustomed to, with what I can only describe as a wheel revving as Sonic speeds away, the classic ding as you grab onto golden rings to the sound of Dr. Eggman's robots blowing up to tiny little bits. The music changes based on the zone that you are in along with the situation you are facing, be it the sunny Green Hill Zone to the skies in The Flying Battery Zone or how the tempo picks up more and more as you are drowning and desperately trying to get back to air. Did I mention if you're not careful you're going to die a lot?

Sonic Mania is what fans of the blue hedgehog have been wanting for years, as it is a return to what made Sonic who and what he is with lighting fast 2D side scrolling action and some new levels to blast through. With some bragging rights on the line, SEGA has thrown into the mix the Time Attack and Competitive modes which will add some replay value for some of the serious Sonic players out there. Sonic Mania is great for the fans and if you never played a Sonic game before, this is definitely a great place to start.

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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