Sonic Mania could easily be mistaken for a 20-year-old game. On the surface, that’s exactly what it appears to be; if you dig a little deeper it becomes apparent that this is a labour of love. This may look like the next Sonic we expected to release after Sonic & Knuckles (and that’s the goal) but it does much more than that. Sure, it plays with nostalgia, but incredibly, it manages to surpass the experience it’s so lovingly recreating and honouring.
It’s the little details that raging Sonic fans will find most impressive. Take Sonic’s sprite, for example. It’s closer to his Sonic 3 look, overall, but the shoes are the pointier ones from his Sonic 2 adventures. He is also a lighter shade of blue than we are used to. These are all minor details but they form part of a larger picture, one that clearly depicts the obsession the creator, Christian Whitehead, has with making what he considers to be the perfect Sonic game. There are even a mixture of new idle animations and some borrowed ones, hand-picked from throughout the series for each of the three playable characters.
During my playthrough I sat with Aaron Webber, Social Media Coordinator at Sega. We were both apparently happy to sit and geek out about the changes and improvements to the series. For example, Mania‘s Zones are broken down into two categories. The first includes completely new areas never before seen in a Sonic game like Studiopolis Zone and Mirage Saloon; then there are the returning classic levels that have been transformed.
These re-imagined levels begin with the first Act showing everything mostly as it was in the original game the level featured in. There will be a few more paths and other surprises, but overall it’s a nostalgic trip to a very similar level to one old fans have visited previously.
“Every classic level has something new in Act 2,” Webber told me as I fired up the second Act of the classic Chemical Plant Zone. The second Act does away with the water in the stage and turns it into a gel. It’s like a concentrated flubber material; by jumping on it you can bounce extremely high.
Each time a classic Act introduces something new, it will be completely different too. Flying Battery Zone, for example, will give the ability to completely change how gravity works, flipping Sonic upside-down by using the magnetic shield. It’s a small touch but a total game-changer; another fine example of how much thought has gone into Sonic Mania.
I asked Aaron about the shields from Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.
“The shields are all there,” he confirmed — even a new shield from Knuckles Chaotix. The new, blue-coloured power-up changes how the rings work when you take damage. “If you get hit without a shield instead of a bunch of little rings flying around a few big ones will go around and they’re worth more.”
It’s safe to say the franchise is in good hands… but I’ve been waiting a long time for this game — I want it to last.
“The size of the game is comparable to the originals, if not perhaps a bit longer,” Webber replied when I asked of its size. I was also going to ask about bonus stages when I came across the first of four giant floating bonus stage rings. They were all greyed out and I was told they were unfortunately locked out for the demo but this is a big find. Chaos Emeralds will be making a return and with them, Super Sonic.
Sonic Mania heads to Windows PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch on 15 August, and I will be right there waiting to play as quickly as I can.