Sonic Mania – Hands on Impressions

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

22 Comments

  1. How does one initiate the drop dash? Do you hold the jump button to perform it? Do you double tap it? If it’s replacing the insta-shield, I hope it really does feel like a well addition to Sonic’s moveset.

    1. As far as I’m aware, you press and hold jump while in the air and it will happen as soon as you hit the ground and, yes, it does replace the insta-shield.

      1. Hm. That’s interesting. I really want to play a demo of this game to see how it feels… as I haven’t seen any footage of people extensively using it.

        1. I tried it out when the demo was playable at Summer of Sonic. From what I can remember, you activate by pressing the jump button twice, but holding the button down for the second press. Personally, I found it very useful! Took a bit of getting used to, but I’ll definitely use it a lot when the game comes out.

          1. I’m hoping it stays exclusive to Sonic. I feel like it, in combination with shield abilities, would make him equally as fun as Tails and Knuckles. I think it sounds like a good ability when used diligently.

  2. I’ve not played the game (yet!), so I shouldn’t say for sure, but I agree with what you’ve said about the Drop Dash. Yeah, I can see its potential, but I would’ve much preferred the good ‘ol insta-shield.

    Hope they release a demo on PSN like they did for Generations ahead of release. I’m so stoked for this game.

  3. Would you say that the level designs are more akin to numbered-Sonic games or Sonic CD? I lot of people loved CD, but I was one of the few that actually disliked the verticality and sporadic nature of the level design and set pieces. That, and it felt like if you just ran and jumped occasionally, most CD levels could be done in about a minute. Any level that you can’t sends you through an endless myriad of bounce pads or pipes that either send you a bit forward or a bit backward. That’s probably just me though.

    1. From my own time on the game, the level design felt like it was as in touch with the importance of physics play as CD, but with the sense of focus and direction that 3&K had. It’s definitely not a game where the level seems to be constantly at odds with you going fast unless you know how to manipulate the geometry perfectly like CD.

  4. Is it just me or does it seem like in the beginning Hogfather was having a fanboy moment? :3

    All jokes aside, I honestly don’t think anyone should be worried about Sonic Mania. This seems to be a fan-service game, where SEGA is giving fans what they want before gambling the Sonic franchise once more. (*cough* Sonic 2017. *cough*) I’m glad your being cautious, but I honestly am just hoping for a decent Sonic game. Not only that, but a decent Sonic game that is recognized by the average gamer. I’m happy that this game isn’t only going to be a decent Sonic game just for us.

  5. All these positive impressions and reviews seem fine and dandy, but it’s beginning to sound a bit hollow with every hands-on impression. On the surface level, all it speaks to me as a consumer is that “Mankids really really really miss their Genesis days” and “This is one of the best Sonic fan-games since After The Sequel”.

    So whether you are a believer that Mania will be the second coming of spikey blue Jesus and need validation or someone who is just curious about what all the hub-bub is about, we all share one goal – to play the game for ourselves to make our own impressions.

    SEGA already built up the hype, now they got to back it up by releasing that demo into the wild or at least have Webber follow Archie Comics through conventions and attach a Sonic Mania demo to the booth.

    I trust Hoggy as well as a I trust my toe, but without any more visual evidence or the ability to form my own impressions, this just sounds like more pro-Classic Sonic props.

  6. I’m fairly certain Green Hill might be the only nostalgic stage. I feel like they put it there just to show players that it plays just like the classics and at least made half of it new so it wouldn’t feel like a rehashed stage.

  7. I really don’t understand why some people are calling this game fan-service. So we can’t have a 2D sprite game anymore? And if we have one it is called fan-service?(maybe I have a different understanding of the term “fan-service”…..)

  8. Because it’s absolute heresy to them for Classic Sonic in all it’s 2D glory to return rather than more tryhard edgy anime bullshit in cities, keep in mind that these same folks got their dreams of SA3 cockblocked again and Sonic Team’s teased them with a return to tryhard Sonic but dashed those hopes the second Classic Sonic jumped his way into it making the possibility of that game’s tone actually being edge the hog 10%.

    And then there’s the side that is absolutely pissed that it’s not like New Super Mario Bros. in all it’s utter blandness for a multitude of confusing reasons.

  9. Ditto with the stages. Seeing Green Hill again is nice but I would’ve liked it better if it had all new zones instead. And while this isn’t a gripe with the game itself, I kinda feel that it shouldn’t necessarily have been the job of the fans to give us a Sonic game that Sega should’ve gave us 20 years ago instead that Sonic 3D Blast nonsense.

  10. With the levels in the style of Sonic CD and the graphics in the style of Knuckles’ Chaotix this looks very promising. I hope they release a demo of the game very very soon.

  11. Although I’m certainly excited and interested in seeing how the game will handle both the new and returning zones, I still feel as though the time spent on the returning ones should’ve been spent on extra levels.

    You know how After the Sequel had those star-medals in every zone that would unlock a special act for that zone with a Genesis rendition of its track? That’s the kind of stuff I’d like to see. Or you could go for a middle ground and have both remake stages and special acts.

  12. This is the WORST “review” I’ve readed!
    In the vision of game designer, you can’t understand the Drop Dash. This is not about speedrun. This is about “f***-you, Dash Pad” and “f***-you, Insta-Shield OP”.

  13. 1) Dash Pad -> autocontrol of the game. This BREAKS a Sonic game.
    2) Instalshield -> OP Aerial Attack using timing.
    3) Drop Dash -> Not OP: you need press a button twice and fall in the ground and you can choose between left/right. Drop Dash is the best thing for Sonic since Spindash.

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