Oh. My. God.
It’s somehow fitting that my favorite game on the PS4 is nothing more than a throwback to what was in my opinion the golden age of video games. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and Sonic Mania uses this to its advantage to create nothing but joy in this 32-year-old gamer’s heart.
One of my fondest memories as a gamer was coming home from school one day to discover that my parents had gone out of their way to surprise me with a belated birthday gift. As I walked towards my closed bedroom door, I heard video game sounds emanating from the speakers of my old tube TV. Did I leave my Nintendo on by mistake? DAD’S GONNA KILL ME! ( He always made sure that I understood that electricity costs money lol ) These sounds however, were NEW to me. I had played enough of Megaman 2 and Super Mario to know those sound effects and music by heart. No, this was something different.
I opened my door and in front of me was the greatest sight a 9-year-old could see: A brand new Sega Genesis just begging to be played. The game that was making those unfamiliar noises? Sonic the Hedgehog 2. As the game’s demo was playing, I just stood there, jaw dropped at its beauty. I hugged my parents and thanked them for what seemed like an eternity.
Soon after I indulged in what would become one of my favorite games ever. It was so different from what I was used to at the time. Instead of trudging along as a slow out of shape plumber, I was breaking the sound barrier with the little Blue Blur known as Sonic. Instead of hearing tiny sounding 30 second loops of a song every stage, my young ears were treated to some of the best songs I had heard from a video game console. I mean just listen to the Genesis sound chip MURDER this track!
MMMMM sweet, sweet 16-bit synth goodness right there.
The game’s sense of speed! Its sound! Its beautiful graphics! I was immediately hooked by the game, and I played the hell out of it as well as it’s two sequels, the amazing Sonic 3, and Sonic and Knuckles. And then, for whatever reason SEGA, the game’s developer somehow forgot how to make a good Sonic game (save for the GREAT Sonic CD that was made for its disk based SEGA CD console.) Once the lil hedgehog made the inevitable leap to 3D, the series lost some of its soul.
But with this newest game, Sonic is BACK!
After years of sub par games, Sega decided to enlist a gentleman by the name of Christian Whitehead- a freelance game developer and Sonic enthusiast. Whitehead’s initial claim to fame was his homemade port of Sonic CD for the iPhone. At first Sega tried to take down his hard work due to copyright infringement, but eventually they saw the labor of love that it was and actually hired him to make official ports of some of their classic Sonic games for the Xbox 360, PS3 and cell phones. These ports were very well received, so Sega decided to entrust Whitehead with the creation of a brand new Sonic game. And boy did he deliver.
This game is damn near perfect, and is a love letter to every fan in the series. Instead of using crazy 3D polygons and giving us a huge open world to explore, Sonic Mania gets back to the series’ roots – brilliant level design, a true sense of speed and momentum, physics that are dead on, gorgeous (yet simple) graphics and art design, and an absolutely INCREDIBLE soundtrack.
Sonic Mania contains twelve wonderful levels, all split into two acts. A good chunk of the levels are “remixes” of stages that appeared in the first three Sonic games on the Genesis, with the first acts remaining generally faithful to their original counterparts with a few surprises thrown in. It’s in Act 2 of these remixed stages that generally introduce new gimmicks and mechanics to keep players on their toes. Not only are all of these levels huge, but they all offer multiple paths to completion depending on which character you select.
Yes, right from the jump, you can decide to play as either Sonic, his flying fox pal Tails, or the wall climbing Knuckles. All can be played as solo characters, or you can team up Sonic and Tails together-with Sonic of course taking the lead. As an added bonus, a second player can jump in at anytime to take control of Tails if you decide to go through the game using the pair-just like in the original games. Each character has his pros -Sonic’s shields that he finds offer him special abilities like double jumping and the ability to shoot across the screen in a fireball, Tails can fly for a limited time, and Knuckles can glide horizontally for great distances and climb walls, and cons -Tails and Knuckles don’t get special shield abilities, and Knuckles can’t jump as high as Sonic. The differences between each character are slight but impact gameplay in meaningful ways.
As any Sonic fan can tell you the soundtrack is a vital piece to any Sonic game, AND HOT DAMN DOES SONIC MANIA DELIVER!!!! Seriously, the lead composer of Sonic Mania, Tee Lopes has done and utterly FANTASTIC job with the soundtrack, giving us remixes of the classics as well as simply stunning original compositions. The soundtrack swings from synthed out thrash to New Jack Swing style bangers. It has something for everyone, and each track fits its stage to perfection. Just take a listen to his remix of the “Chemical Plant Zone” track.
So, SO SEXY!!!
Now listen to the original composition “Prime Time” from the Studiopolis Act.
That’s some hot fire right there!
Sonic Mania is everything that I wanted it to be and more. Amazing visuals and sound, a punishing but fair difficulty, and loads of content make this a must own title that anyone can pick up and play. It hits a sweet spot for me personally for sure, but I honestly can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t enjoy it. Oh, and did I mention that it’s only $20 bucks?!?!?!?!? Yep, a $20 dollar digital only game that takes up less space on my hard drive than my Netflix app is by far the most fun I have had on my PS4 in a loooong time. I cannot recommend this game highly enough. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have rings to collect and funky jams to vibe to.
Game is available for digital download for PS4, Xbox 1, Nintendo Switch and PC.