Back in The TAY is a segment where I go through the fragments of my youth, while sometimes veering off into the nostalgia filled releases of today!
Sometimes a game gets announced that just... Strikes a nerve. Plucking at the heart strings of something that I used to love. Shenmue III, Crash Bandicoot, and Metroid Prime 4 are the most recent games that come to mind. Other times, they decide to hit me right in the gut with a blue blur that is going faster than the speed of sound. That game is Sonic Mania.
Sonic Mania isn’t just a good game, it is a love letter. One written with care and passion by Christian Whitehead, with the help from Head Cannon Games, to our youth. It becomes more apparent as you continue playing, but this game wasn’t just created to reinvigorate a franchise, but to celebrate what made the games so great.
I was always more of a Sega kid growing up; I had a Genesis compared to my friends SNES, the Game Gear as opposed the GameBoy, and a DreamCast before I even considered a PlayStation 2. Yes, to me Sega always was the place to find my gaming preferences, and as such, Sonic played a big part in my gaming. The vibrant colors, amazing music, and mind bending speed just made my 8 year old face contort to grins of pure bliss. While I never had a problem with Mario (as my older sister would let me play on her NES), I never connected with it the same way. Fast forward 23 years, and Sonic has brought back the same excitement.
The story takes place after Sonic & Knuckles, and what should be a time of peace is soon broken. Eggman (Dr. Robotnik? I never understood the change) has found a crystal that controls the flow of time. Equipped with this new power, and a team of android companions, our three virtuous vermin heroes are back to the fight. I mean, who needs more of a story than that? It’s fucking Sonic!
The game feels, looks, and sounds like it was ripped straight from the 90's, which is absolutely a good thing. Following in similar cues from Sonic CD, the graphics have been tweaked to offer a wider variety in the characters motions. After viewing the animated intro movie from the game, the screen just oozes with aesthetics that would have been hip back in a time when acid washed jeans, fanny packs, and Reebok Pumps were king.
Visuals: The game embraces it’s 16-bit heritage by using graphics only a Blast Processor could only produce back in the day. Nice touches have been made, however, with the inclusion of additional animations. Sonic’s feet now form a figure eight as you hit Mach 2 speeds, twirl in the air after hitting a spring, and stand on the tip of his toes as he looks upward. The characters are not the only ones to receive the extra love, as the environments are now more lively. The increased detail in the parallax scrolling give each stage more depth with sweeping scenery, distorted behind cascading waterfalls. Flowers dance with the music as you run through the familiar lush grass of Green Hills Zone, racing over crumbling platforms to get to the end of each act. Everything is enhanced just enough to make it feel new all over again.
Controls: Sonic has always been known for speed, and the need for precise jumps to avoid the numerous hazards you will come across on your adventure. While the controls have been a bit finicky at times, they have been improved to be tighter. With the levels taking many cues from Sonic 3 and Sonic CD, you will be doing more platforming than running at times. But, at times, you will need to go fast. Of course you have your trademark spinning dash to help you out, but a new maneuver has been included to help us out; the drop dash. The new ability allows you to charge up a dash mid jump, giving you a jolt by the time you hit the ground. Need to go through that ring after launching on a spring? Charge up that dash! While nothing necessarily ground breaking, it’s a good little addition to help in a pinch.
Sound: While Mania had the ability to rip songs straight from it’s lineage of memorable tunes, a lot of the music has been created in the same upbeat vein from the ground up. Of course, familiar songs make an appearance (like Green Hills Zone), but the revamped version that plays during Act 2 will fill your ears with an addictively cheery synthesized tune. Tiago Lopes, who made a name for himself for doing great Sonic Remixes, does a fantastic job bringing a nostalgic rush with each new stage you enter, getting you ready to take down Robotnik’s mean machines.
Other Thoughts: Now if it sounds like I am completely in love with this game, it is because I am. It feels like it should, sounds like it should, and definitely looks like a Sonic game should. It’s crazy to think that after years of increasingly mediocre releases from Sonic Team, all it took was some dedicated fans to bring us a Sonic game we wanted. Now there have been some great titles since the Genesis era; Adventure 1 and 2 were groundbreaking at the time, the Sonic Advance and Rush titles were a lot of fun for on the go gaming, but other titles tried too hard. Sonic ‘06 wanted to build a huge narrative for a franchise that didn’t need one, Shadow the Hedgehog is just... Odd in a run ‘n gun way, and Sonic Riders? Who asked for that?
Now the game does have some issues, but it’s mostly with the hardware. I have been playing it on the Switch (which I’ll be reviewing next) and noticed it have a delayed response when either going back to the Home or into Sleep Mode. Also, I can’t seem to use the Pro Controller while in table top mode. Nothing game breaking, but still a nuisance.
Final Verdict: for being $19.99 ($59.99 if you decided to indulge yourself with the Collector’s Edition) I don’t see a reason to not buy this game. The only people I can see not enjoying this game are those who never enjoyed older Sonic titles, but that’s completely understandable. With how well received this game is, I hope Sega will give some of their other titles the same treatment.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still need to find three more Chaos Emeralds...