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