Game: Sonic Mania
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows
Rating: E for Everyone
Cost: $19.99 to download
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. Sounds, smells, sights, and tastes can unexpectedly trigger long-forgotten memories shrouded by time. In this week’s review, nostalgia takes center stage as a new Sonic the Hedgehog title arrives on all major platforms, attempting to recapture the magic children of the 1990s will remember fondly.
The Story So Far
Software (and at one-time hardware) developer and publisher, Sega used to flaunt the name Sonic with pride. The speeding 2D side scrolling, blue hedgehog was the company’s mascot, going toe to toe with the most famous video game creation of all time: Mario. Sonic’s fame grew as swiftly as he ran, collecting dollar bills and sequel installments just like the titular mammal collected rings in-game, and then something happened—the name Sonic became synonymous with bad games. But how did this gaming legend fall so far from player’s good graces? As video games developed and more advancements took hold, the transition from 2D to 3D wasn’t a pleasant one for our little blue friend. He became bogged down with poor gameplay mechanics and illogical plotlines. Now, 26 years since his debut, Sonic is back in Sonic Mania, and this outing nods to all his past adventures, even the bad ones.
The Nostalgia Begins
Sonic Mania gives players the option of choosing to play from a cast of beloved names, each with their own set of abilities, either Sonic, who is the fastest, Tails, who can fly, Knuckles, (my personal favorite) who can glide and climb walls, or the combination of Sonic and Tails, who can work with one another to overcome obstacles and enemies. After selecting a character you are immediately transported to a familiar location from the original game: Green Hill Zone. This name will instantly delight many players, bringing them back to their childhoods by zooming through green pastures and leaping on and over bad guys. To those unacquainted with the long running series, Sonic is a 2D side-scrolling game in which you must race to the end of a level while collecting floating gold rings and uncovering secret gems along the way, hey, it was the 90’s! Initially the controls and visual style may appear identical to Sonic 2, however, the further you progress the more obvious the differences become. This is less of a sequel and more of a love letter to the entire series, a mish-mash of all the games’ best moments and features to make one super charged, ultimate Sonic experience. Both fan favorite stages and new ones alike sum up the number of open-ended environments to a whooping twelve explorable locations.
Sonic aficionados will have replayed, replayed, and then replayed some more time and time again all of the previous entries, I for one sure have. There-fore, I was taken by surprise by the difficulty level. At first, I rushed through the opening stages as though I hadn’t missed a beat from my days holding a Genesis con-troller instead of a PS4 gamepad, but then it hit me, my first game over screen. And then the next and the next after that. It could be because I have played the old ones so many times I could finish them with my eyes closed, so the differences took me by surprise. Or, it could be that this game is just a lot harder, either way the challenge is a welcomed one, although some players will surely become enraged at certain boss battles. There’s also a plethora of Easter eggs (secrets) keen-eyed players will undoubtedly grin at. From the inclusion of classic 3D mini-games and two player face offs, to more obscure references like cameos from old baddies and the inclusion of a CRT filter that can be turned on to replicate the grainy look found on older televisions, and many, many, more loving callbacks waiting to be discovered.
The gameplay in Sonic Mania remains pretty much unchanged since the protagonist’s debut two-and-half decades ago, yet amazingly it is still just as fun as it was then. The level of fan service is off the charts, meaning returning fans will find nostalgia coursing through their veins like never before. With that being said, newcomers to the franchise may feel a little confused and underwhelmed. Nevertheless, Sonic finally has a game released in the last ten years we can be proud of.