Sonic Mania Review – Beautiful Nostalgia

Sonic Mania was billed as a complete nostalgic trip from its very inception, but many fans wondered just how much of the game is a rehash of the original games, and how much of it, if at all, breathes fresh air into the long-running franchise. I’m a longtime Sonic the Hedgehog fan and a die-hard SEGA fanboy, so I had some high expectations going into this title.

Sonic Mania
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Headcannon, PagodaWest Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: August 15, 2017
Players: 1
Price: $20.00

Sonic Mania comes off as an honest-to-goodness entry within the classic Sonic the Hedgehog titles. The games visuals are directly linked to classic sprite work, environments, and character models, however everything comes off with a crisp, high-definition veneer.

Coming from this, there are lots of little tweaks, new additions, and stylistic changes that basically make this game feel like the definitive, classic-styled Sonic game. Everything comes off as wholly fresh and yet so nostalgic, and my favorite: the character sprite animations.

There’s an insane attention to detail within Sonic Mania, it almost feels like there is no space within the levels themselves that feels reused, unplanned, or just boring. I felt like I wanted to explore more of the levels, simply because I wanted to see more of what’s to come.

The game even offers different styles of CRT scanlines, further deepening the level of nostalgia you’ll feel playing this game. Naturally, the game looks better on a proper television and not the Switch itself (Disclaimer: I mostly played on the Switch, and with soft CRT scanlines).

One thing I was concerned over was how I would feel seeing classic Sonic the Hedgehog levels effectively remixed in Sonic Mania. After playing through the entire game a few times, I can’t adequately describe how much I love the level design in this game. It’s fantastic.

This game was designed by some of the most die-hard Sonic the Hedgehog fans, so it makes sense the level design, enemy placements, and so on would all be top notch.

I found myself experimenting more, exploring more, and simply enjoying the levels more than I have before in the series. The game has a mostly underwater zone, the re-imagined Hydrocity Zone, which, for an underwater level, is fantastic.

There was a perfect blend of player-driven exploration and platforming to those Sonic-goes-super-fast-autopilot sections. Even when those super-speed sections came, they felt natural and connected nicely with traditional Sonic platforming. It all connects brilliantly and feels smooth.

I have to point out the Nintendo Switch version has some major bugs in comparison to the PlayStation 4 version, chiefly the home menu/escape and screen capture buttons become complete unusable (you have to sometimes hit them repeatedly to work, or force restart your Switch), music glitching totally out, and hitboxes getting wonky in some rare cases. There are reports of other bugs, but outside of these extreme outlier bugs (which are planned to be fixed in an upcoming patch), the rest of the game performs and runs beautifully.

There’s even stuff you can unlock like: a fully playable version of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, the Sonic CD Super Peel-Out move, Debug Mode, and my favorite: And Knuckles, which lets you add Knuckles as a second character, even to Knuckles.

All of the iconic Sonic bits of sound and music are here, with old level themes being re-arranged or remixed to match the levels themselves being re-arranged too. The entire Sonic Mania soundtrack is simply amazing and I’ve been listening to it frequently even while just working on things.

As with most platformers, levels have their own themes and their respective music themes to match. The new levels have excellent soundscapes, matching the look and feel of the environments while also sounding like they could actually fit in the originals.

I had a bit of concern with the soundtrack because the original tunes really have a special place in my heart. The game’s composer, Tee Lopes, really did an amazing service to the original tracks, while also pumping out some great new stuff.

There will be some minor spoilers for the beginning of the game here, but nothing further from that.

The story within the Sonic the Hedgehog games has always been secondary to the gameplay itself, most especially in the 2D titles. Sonic Mania is no different: Sonic and Tails, having just saved Angel Island, witness an interdimensional ripple that creates a strange energy source.

This powerful new source of energy quickly gets the attention of Dr. Robotnik (I’ll always call him Robotnik), and he promptly dispatches his elite Hard-Boiled Heavies to investigate and retrieve whatever is creating it.

This creates another interdimensional portal, warping Sonic, friends, and enemies to another Green Hill Zone. The energy source, the Phantom Ruby, empowers the Hard-Boiled Heavies, giving them free will. Robotnik uses the Phantom Ruby to restore the future version of Little Planet, and thus Sonic and friends put on the pursuit to stop him.

I feel like the story made awesome nods to previous games, even in boss battles. However, the true ending makes a really fun nod towards classic Sonic’s appearance in Sonic Forces, but I won’t say more than that.

The game’s Nintendo Switch version has some unfortunate glitches and problems, which overall really bummed me out as that was my preferred platform. There are reports of glitches on other versions, but I’m hopeful a patch will resolve them. It does raise concerns over how the upcoming PC version will perform.

Despite this, Christian Whitehead and the other folks involved have created a masterpiece of a Sonic the Hedgehog game. I know some other people have said the game is too derivative, it doesn’t do enough new things, but I disagree. I absolutely love this game.

It truly made me feel like I was playing Sonic the Hedgehog again for the very first time. I legitimately got choked up at how perfectly this game captures the magic of the originals, yet expands upon it. Let’s hope that Sonic Forces is able to capture the same magic that Sonic Mania has.

Sonic Mania was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4 using a review copy received from Sega. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 9

The Good:

  • Crisp visuals that are nostalgic yet fresh
  • Spectacular soundtrack, including remixes of old tracks
  • Fun new enemies, levels, etc.

The Bad:

  • Nintendo Switch-specific bugs or all-around bugs are inexcusable and cumbersome
  • DrearierSpider

    Sonic has always been and will always be complete and utter trash.

  • Mr0303
  • Mr0303

    The game is indeed awesome. It flows really well and the slower paced sections are well balanced with the high speed reaction bits. The bosses and levels are varied enough so that each subsequent level brings something new and it never feels stale.

    The soundtrack deserves a special mention – the new tracks blend perfectly with the classics.

    The game is a love letter to Sonic fans and nostalgia done right.

  • DrearierSpider

    Nah, I’ve given the classics several chances and they’re just bad platformers that sold on their mascot versus their gameplay. It’s how the series has survived a drought with over a decade of no good games, even by the fan’s standards.

  • Mr0303

    You are free not to like the type of game, but to come to a review of a great Sonic game crying about how it can never be good is frankly sad.

  • CommanderZx2

    Seen quite a few bugs in this, those not even mentioned in the review, when watching streams. Hopefully these will be patched before the PC version releases.

  • Scorching Sirius

    I guess you’ve never heard of an OPINION before, dude…

  • Dewey Defeats Truman

    The only things I’ve personally experienced were some jingles not playing (ex. game over or when you beat a blue sphere stage) and once getting a softlock on metallic madness by being pushed through a wall. And this I guess:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTnX_np7kWs

  • chaoguy

    Great review, but I would say some of the images chosen for the article (including the title screen, the 3rd, arguably 5th, 6th and 7th) have minor spoilers (level mechanics or bosses).

  • Riosine

    “I don’t like the speedy subgenre of sidescroller. Ergo, I must do an unfair comparison similar to stating Final Fantasy Tactics is a bad Civilazation Clone. With the hope of fooling people into my, otherwise, biased opinion without ever actually stating any kind of design flaws whatsoever”

  • I was torn on this because I really loved those screenshots that I took.. I might just get some stock screenshots without spoilers

  • InkViper

    Sonic to my mind has always been one of the more technically proficient titles on the old mega drive hardware(Genesis), and the new sonic mania definitely looks awesome, but a little too awesome! Now don’t take this as me knocking the game, I’m not., to my eye this game doesn’t seem to be using the restricted color display range or pallet of the old hardware, if any think it looks like it’s emulating one of Sega’s old arcade boards (Super Scaler series) for instant. And that’s fine and all, but I do find it somewhat odd if they really wanted to capture the essence 100% of the original sonic titles, they didn’t apply a more restrictive framework for this game. As being a large number of other retro titles which do seem to adhere to the old hardware restrictions more faithfully, which is why I find it bizarre that they seem to nail everything else except for this one minor point.

  • Uncle Ocelot

    It’s meant to be like what a potential Sega Saturn 2D Sonic might’ve looked like.

  • InkViper

    Come on dude, no one thinks of the Saturn when they think of 2-D sonic.

  • RichardGristle

    Yeah I never “got” it either. Growing up with NES and SNES with Mario platformers, I just always felt Sonic gameplay was extremely clunky and awkward in comparison. Good audio and visuals though.

  • Uncle Ocelot

    Well, that’s literally what the devs have described it as.

  • chaoguy

    Might just be me, but you never know. Thanks for replying Brandon!

  • SinkingSage

    This game just proves you 100% wrong, it plays extremely like the classics.

  • SinkingSage

    And this game fills that gap, theoretically.

  • SinkingSage
  • DrearierSpider

    The bar for what a “great” game is can get pretty fucking low when there’s this much Autism within the fanbase.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDcfVFs1Jnc

  • Riosine

    “Sonic character can, somehow, rally an strong opinionated obsesive fanbase, eclipsing the actual gameplay itself

    And I’ve an strongly opinionated obsession about Sonic and his fanbase Just in the Negative side of ℝ And eclipsing my perception of the game itself. Therefore my argument is right since it is Self-fulfilling”

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    Every game has autistic fans, doesn’t mean the game itself is bad.

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    You speak as if its an objective fact. It’s one thing if you personally don’t like the game, but its pretty ignorant to assume the game only has its fans because of nostalgia or w/e.

    I’m pretty young, so I wasn’t around during Sonic’s prime, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Sonic CD on Steam for the first time recently.

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    I dont get it, did you freeze at the end when Knuckles stopped moving?

  • Chocolate ISISCream

    This was probably the first 2D sonic that I’ve ever beat, I really liked it. I’ve always been a 3D sonic fan but I can see why many people prefer the 2D sonics. Enjoy your shit port in 2 days pcucks.

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    Shit port? You do realize its being ported by the same guy who did the awesome port of Sonic CD, right?

  • Mr0303

    Seriously? Judging a game, which you never played based on parts of its fanbase? Not to mention the incorrect use of autism. Just stop already.

  • Dewey Defeats Truman

    I was messing around after beating the first act and wound up jumping a bit into the next stage and the camera didn’t really like that at all. Every other act (that I’ve tried anyway) will snap you back to the ending section for the first act’s boss but this one. That “freezing” at the end was me just stopping to hit the share button so I could save it.

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    ahh

  • MISTER6AME

    Is chocolate fag why did you even trying to speak with him.

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    oops, guess I’m just a “PC cuck”

  • Captain Vidya

    “B-but the fanbase!”

    Fuck off with this shit. A fanbase does not a game’s quality make.

  • Some furf

    What kind of sub-human plays with scanlines?

  • Captain Vidya

    “Potential 2D Sega Saturn Sonic game.”

  • Snorlaxation

    Sonic became trashy in certain installments, like that werehog business, macking on red headed human girls, or that hedghog in king arthur’s court/arabian nights nonsense, but those games do not make up the whole series.

  • Uncle Ocelot

    Well, the rumours were true. The PC version was delayed for Denuvo.

  • Captain Vidya

    You’ve got to be fucking joking.

  • Uncle Ocelot

    I fucking wish, check Steam.

  • Captain Vidya

    Jesus fucking christ, have a bunch of people who became well known by modding and remaking your games make a new game but delay the PC release of it to add DRM. What a kick in the fucking dick.

    Not only that, but you make up for the delay by giving people their 15th copy of Sonic 1. What the fuck. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/98d5132f9f69a61b39b990b821f66632a0595ca9499a75fe98f6b37eab794027.jpg

  • SOMEGUY7893 .

    Nah, it probably already had Denuvo before the delay. It makes no sense how something that could be done in a few hours would delay the game as long as it was delayed.

  • SinkingSage

    I played on CRT even black and white televisions throughout my childhood and never did I once see scan lines, I’d really like to know where that came from.

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    100% agree with this, I love how they managed to keep all the fun gameplay stuff from the old games while adding new and fun twists to them. I’d honestly go as far as saying that this game has better level design than the old games.

  • Mr0303

    I tend to agree with the last assertion. The level design is better than the older games, but this should be expected given that the fans knew what worked and what didn’t in the previous entries.

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    Yeah, I liked how the levels really kept the momentum going, the old ones had a lot of constantly being halted by spikes or some annoying enemy.

  • Mr0303

    I think the last level did have a bit of that (not to the extent of the older games), but the rest of the game flowed really well.

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    yeah, screw those waves of electricity

  • Mr0303

    The instant kill squash pipes were more of an issue for me.

  • TheOnceAndFutureKing

    and those dipshits that throw bombs

  • Mr0303

    I think the Russian doll ones were worse since they were invincible.