Back in 2009 a developer named Christian Whitehead created a proof of concept of Sonic CD running on a mobile device. He had created his own engine to make this happen and it was smooth.
Sega initially took it down but, in a move that we have seen before in other fandoms, sometimes hardcore fans are just what a franchise needs to rejuvenate a property. So it was announced that Whitehead would bring Sonic CD to the iPhone, then Sonic 1 and 2. Eventually it was announced that he would be working on an original Sonic title and here we are.
Sonic fans have had a pretty rough go of it the last 20 years or so. If you are like me you probably cut your teeth on Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. But it’s probably been awhile since you last played a Sonic game that made you feel the way you felt playing those games.
When I first saw Sonic Mania was coming out I was excited but suspicious. After all, I have played almost every Sonic game that I could get my hands on and none have really been all that great. Modern Sonic games like Sonic Adventure and Sonic Boom were fine. At times they were actually even fun, but they–and most Modern Sonic games–have been riddled with bugs that had me annoyed more than anything.
So it was with much fear and trembling that I hit purchase on Sonic Mania on my Nintendo Switch. But boy am I so glad I did! Seriously, Sonic Mania is the game Sonic fans have been waiting for. If you liked retro Sonic you are going to love this game in the sense that it feels just like them.
Of course, any old school gamer knows that means you will also find yourself frustrated because old school games were not forgiving. This game is no exception. You will find yourself in places you cannot get out of and you will die a lot. Remember Chemical Plant Zone in Sonic 2? Well it’s back and it’s every bit as frustrating when you find yourself in the water today as it was back then.
However, there is now a save system so the game does extend a little help to us accident prone players but there is a tiny caveat. It will save at the beginning of a zone but if you get a game over on Act 2 you will be sent to the beginning of that particular zone and some of these levels can be long! That is not a complaint you are hearing from me because I still remember dying late in the game when I was a kid and starting over at Zone 1 so I will take what I can get. Other gamers may find it too easy and for them there is a “No Save” mode that will replicate the experience we all grew up with.
That call-back to the original games is really why Sonic Mania works. The levels are taken from previous Sonic games but tweaked in ways that bring them new life for those of us who have played Green Hill Zone so many times we could play it our sleep. The controls are responsive, simple, and they feel like home.
I’ve said plenty about how Sonic Mania is the same, but there is originality here too. Mini bosses between zones are a new take and add a new layer of difficulty to the game. The new end stage boss fights are fresh too, with Whitehead doing some really interesting things. The final boss in Chemical Plant Zone literally has you playing a round of Dr Robotniks Mean Bean Machine against Eggman himself. This is an old mechanic but used in a way that I did not see coming.
I have found myself constantly saying “WOW” as I play this game and my brain has to adapt to new ways of playing wrapped in a visual that feels so familiar. It’s like my brain thinks it knows exactly how to do a certain thing and the game keeps making it work harder. Again, this is not a complaint. This is what Sonic fans have needed for so long.
Sonic Mania is a wonderful addition to the Sonic family and one that I believe it well worth the $20 download cost on the Switch. If you happen to have one I recommend buying it there so you can play this wonderful game anywhere anytime. If not, it is available on consoles and soon to be on PC as well.
Do yourself a favor and get this game if you love Sonic. You will be delighted, amazed, and frustrated (in a good way). If Sega keeps this up, this franchise may well deserve the staying power that we fans have graciously given it for so long. And all because they recruited one of us to help make it happen!