At Summer of Sonic I managed to get some time to play Sonic Mania. Here is my initial response… Sonic Mania is probably one of the best platforming games for years, it’s probably better than the original classic series, it’s probably that and more… probably.
Now let’s talk about why that is.
I played through Studiopolis, and by played through it, I really tried to explore as much of the stage as I could and see exactly what a real 21st Century Classic Sonic could do. Sonic Mania is a game which feels like it’s teaming with life, exploring through Studiopolis, I find myself one moment exploring what appears to be a ‘oh Casino/Night Time Esq stage’ before suddenly finding myself thrown into a movie/TV studio backdrop which is teaming with things to see and pathways to explore.
We’ve all seen by now the dancing Eggman cartoon on the movie projector, and the way in which Sonic is beamed around the stage via satellite signals. But it’s not just the fact that these things exist in the stage, they’re carefully plotted, there’s no overuse of a gimmick or constant bombarding of imagery. Everything appears at just the right moment to keep your interest and above all entertained.
Even the moment where Sonic goes into a silhouette like platform, it’s done at precisely the right moment, dancing Eggman appears at precisely the right moment, when you are transmitted across the stage, everything feels like it was crafted by some insane puppet master who knows exactly what the audience wants and when.
Level design on the whole is stunning, there are tons of secret paths, tons of ways to explore the stage, secrets to discover and we’re not just talking about special stage rings, item boxes are also well hidden, and… unless I’m missing something, quite sure there are Tails and Knuckles only sections in the stages too.
Even the use of shields with unique powers are back, and once again level design has been careful about their placement. For example, do you use the moving platforms to navigate the vertical path? Or use the shield bubbles bounce power to bounce off different badniks to get higher much faster but at greater risk?
Aside from level design, Sonic himself has some utterly beautiful animations and small things which just add to the effort which has gone into this. Stand still and push up on the controller, Sonic looks up. Aside from the screen moving up Sonic also opens his eyes wider as if straining to see, just little things like that give the character a sense that he’s actually alive and not just a sprite awaiting commands.
These animations are not just limited to Sonic, badniks also react, in Studiopolis there is an Orbinaut like badnik, you can attack the orbs on this one, but with each orb you destroy, the badnik looks more worried, when all orbs are gone it looks really depressed because it knows it’s about to be destroyed. Similar to how the badniks in Generations would laugh when they scored a hit, these 2D badniks also have their little moments.
The controls, dear god they’ve got these utterly nailed down, they’re… probably perfect. I’m taken back to the 90’s as I’m playing this game, Sonic controls so well, it feels like I’m playing a game on a 16bit era machine, it doesn’t feel like it’s emulated, it doesn’t feel like Dimps Inc does Sonic, it feels like I’m moving Sonic through old 16bit era hardware, the manner in which Sonic responds feels absolutely right.
Oh speaking of, rolling physics, yes they exist, yes they are spot on, yes they work as they should.
Music is absolutely sublime, nothing else to say on it.
There is one major criticism that I do have about the game… the Drop Dash… or as it should be called ‘The What Dash?’ because from when I was working on the pods during the day, to even my own playthrough, I didn’t see one person use the drop dash, I never found any reason to use it and until someone reminded me I totally forgot it was there. It honestly feels right now like it’s just a flashy move for speed runners to use since I think the spin dash gives you the same velocity from a max charge as a drop dash does, the only issue is that the drop dash is an instant response vs the spin dash charge up time.
Now I can already picture and come up with scenarios for future harder levels for where the drop dash is a necessity, but until then there doesn’t seem much use for it, at the moment.
Now, I do want to advise some caution to the hype here. So far we’ve only seen Green Hill Redux and Studiopolis, one is the nostalgia hook, the other at the moment is a ‘show level’.
I need to see more, I need to see if the new original stages are on par with Studiopolis, I need to see if I’m stopping short of saying ‘this is probably the best platform game for 10 years I think… Maybe.’ But if every stage is on par with Studiopolis, ‘Sonic Mania is probably the best platform game for 10 years I think… Maybe.’
I don’t want this to become just a ‘well here’s all the old stages you loved before with some new tricks!’ I want to see more of these original stages, I’m hoping they’ll outnumber the redux stages, but somehow I think it’ll end up being even between the two.
Oh one more criticism…. This is a digital download only? Sega, get in touch with Limited Run Games, give this the physical release it deserves and if you want to really make us go insane, make the boxart reversible and decorate it like a MegaDrive box. Give this the release it deserves.