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Sonic has never been better, but sadly that still isn’t more than just "pretty good"

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    Sonic Mania

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Sonic has never been better, but sadly that still isn’t more than just "pretty good"

    Sonic Mania has been touted as a return to form for the Hedgehog and his pals – a return to the classic days of speeding through zones, fighting robot baddies, and dying randomly due to poorly telegraphed obstacles. Yes, Mania truly is a perfectly crafted love letter to fans of classic Sonic, but sadly, that letter has never been written with much skill. Written with love – yes, but the series continues to lack the attention to detail and mechanical flourish of other platformers that keeps it from transcending from an adequate read to a literary masterpiece.

    While Mania has been praised by some as the cure to Sonic’s long history of video game transgressions, in reality, it reinforces the problems that have plagued the series since inception. Unfair deaths brought upon by random obstacles that crush you, sporadic tonal shifts from speed to precision platforming, and levels that kinda just "happen" instead of being properly structured with a beginning – middle – and an end. These things aren’t inherently bad design choices as there is a certain charm to trial and error gameplay, but Mania does nothing to evolve the series into something bigger. It comforts itself by repeating the mistakes fans have grown numb to, presenting flawed design under the guise of "classic" gameplay.

    But hey, I’ll level with everyone here – there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. There’s a certain charm to that classic style and there’s a lot of fun to be had with this game. Each zone, even the returning ones, are designed with such love and diversity that it’s hard not to smile as you attempt to rush (unfair deaths willing) through each zone with the grace and dexterity of a professional speedrunner. The new zones in particular such as Studiopolis and Press Garden are so unique that it makes me wish Mania was filled with new zones instead of 2/3rds of them being retreads of past themes. Even the retreads though have new mechanics to go with them. Chemical Plant in particular has received a nice boost in gameplay variety through the addition of bouncy floors and DNA lifts.

    In addition to some imaginative level design, the gameplay is complimented by some absolutely phenomenal music. I have a soft spot for 16 bit era music, and Sonic Mania delivers by providing some great remixes of past tunes, as well as introducing a variety of new themes that easily compete with the classics. The OST is very melodic giving it an ear wormy quality that’ll stick with you even after you put the console to sleep.

    Sadly, none of these things overshadow the fact that Sonic Mania (and I’d argued 2D Sonic in general) just isn’t very fun to play your first time through. When Mania encourages you to go fast, it throws you off the stage or into an enemy with no time to react. When it encourages you to go slow, obstacles will drop on you out of nowhere, forcing a game over. It’s not until you learn the mechanics of these levels that Mania becomes an enjoyable game to speed through. The caveat for this enjoyment being that you’ll have to suffer through many cheap deaths until the game "gets fun". This is because the enemies, background, and gimmicks are designed in such a way that it is almost impossible for the player to perceive what will happen without having already experienced it. How is one supposed to know that a spike will come falling down on you in Flying Battery? Or that a boost pad would send you to your death under some spikes in Titanic Monarch? Or even the function of an entire boss battle that relies on outside knowledge of another SEGA franchise for you to beat it? To Sonic veterans, this stuff is old hat, and they have since become numb – almost ignorant – to the flaws of the classic series as a whole. However, to newcomers, a lot of this stuff may be off putting, and rightfully so.

    That’s just the price you pay for investing in Sonic Mania though. Mania is a game so caught up in imitating the past that it forgets that some of those things aren’t worth imitating in the first place. Does this mean Sonic Mania is a bad game? Of course not. It’s just sad to see that the franchise, even at its best, fails to be more than just "pretty good".

    For Sonic to truly be great, either in 2D or 3D, the franchise needs to reevaluate itself as a whole instead of settling for the 90’s standard. But for now, I’m sure most diehard fans will be more than satisfied with this outing.

    Mania brings us back to home plate, but it’s up to the developers to make Sonic’s next outing a home run.

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