It’s been awhile since the world has gotten collectively hot and bothered about the release of a new Sonic game. Sonic Mania (out now on PS4, Xbox One and Switch; Aug. 29 on PC) built up a ton of hype before release, and unlike many recent installments, actually brought the goods and snatched top scores from reviewers across the internet.
Newer Sonic titles have struggled to reclaim the adoration that the series received back in the ‘90s -- our ranked list of Sonic games is about half full of some real stinkers. So what is it about Sonic Mania that easily puts it atop a list like that? In a word: passion.
Here are 5 reasons Sonic Mania is worth your time and money.
Silky smooth pixel graphics
Let’s start with the obvious: Sonic Mania just looks astounding. It’s an exemplar of smoothly animated pixel graphics. Every movement of Sonic and his companions — the enemies and the background objects — all have numerous frames of animation. This translates into a better sense of control over Sonic as he zips around classic remixes of Green Hill Zone and Studiopolis.
Deeply parallaxed backgrounds full of rich detail add to the sense of speed, which Sonic Mania isn’t shy about relying on. This is a game that’ll have you outrunning a spike wall while fighting a boss as a giant Dr. Eggman robot looks on from far off in the distance.
Simple controls, simple objective
The control scheme of Sonic Mania is the same as the one from the original Sonic game. The directional buttons move you around, and then you pick your favorite button to make Sonic jump because that’s what every other button does. Combinations of running and jumping let you spin dash or drop dash as Sonic. Playing as Tails or Knuckles unlocks flying and gliding by pressing jump twice.
Each stage is a simple progression from left to right. You can explore around to find every collectible and unlock every bonus stage, but there are no objectives to keep track of and no overworld to slog through. This is very much an old school platformer.
For fans, by fans
All of the love and attention Sonic got over the years came from the fans, so Sega decided to get some of them directly involved in the production of this game. Christian Whitehead, who worked on several unofficial ROM hacks and remasters of past Sonic games, got together with other fan programmers to pitch the idea of Sonic Mania to Sega developers.
The result is a game that was made with a lot of love and a clear understanding of what made the old games so amazing. Sonic Mania does a remarkable job incorporating bits and pieces of the 2D Sonic games, effectively making this game a remix of Sonic 1, 2, and 3 (& Knuckles).
The Sonic Mania soundtrack, like the game itself, is very familiar while also adding several new twists on what came before. The original games were known for their upbeat and electronic soundtracks befitting a turbocharged protagonist. Later games would veer into forgettable buttrock and cringey vocal pieces reminicient of low-budget anime.
Sonic Mania seeks to emulate the melodic tunes that pumped out of the old 16- and 32-bit hardware of Sonic’s heyday while also offering up remixes of tunes you’ve heard many times before. Most Zones start off with a familiar version of a Sonic track in Act 1, then follow it up with a new remix in Act 2. Heck, I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this!
Incredible boss fights
Sonic Mania is split into 12 Zones each with two Acts, and each Act has its own boss fight. You’ll quickly discover that this is where some of the best parts of Sonic Mania lie. Without giving anything away, several of these encounters directly reference other Sonic boss fights and even other spin-off games in a way that shows Sonic Mania for the passion project it truly is.
The fights often escalate in a way that keeps things tense without being frustrating. You won’t just cruise through the game, but Sonic Mania doesn’t purport to be very difficult.
With tons of unlockables, various multiplayer modes, and enough bonus stages to make a completionist blush, Sonic Mania is more than worth the wallet-friendly $20 price tag.
Image Credit: Sega