I still can’t quite believe Sonic Mania is real. It’s certainly the kind of project many Sonic fans have dreamed of: a game by the fans, for the fans, that somehow manages to capture the nostalgia of yesteryear while simultaneously adding new fresh ideas to make it an all-together new experience. This is the video game equivalent of patting one’s head and rubbing one’s stomach at the same time: possible, but difficult to pull off. And yet somehow, Sonic Mania is doing just that, and appears to be doing it flawlessly if the E3 demo is any indication.
In case you missed Jason’s impressions, here’s quick rundown of the demo: it sports two new stages and had all three Sonic Mania characters (Sonic, Knuckles and Tails) playable. The two new stages were Mirage Saloon and a remix of Green Hill Act 2.
Mirage Saloon is easily one of the most creative Sonic stages I’ve ever played. Gimmicks are abound throughout the level, all fitting in to the stage’s unique western motif. Jumping down on water spritzer bottles will cause them to briefly squirt out their contents, creating temporary bridges and ramps that can be used to reach other areas of the stage. Hop inside one of the stage’s giant six-shooter revolvers, and it’ll fire you to a part of the stage you can’t reach otherwise if you time it right. There are even bars, completely with spinning bar stools that can send you flying forward or backward, depending on how you jump. I’ve never seen a Sonic stage with so many diverse and useful gimmicks before, and mastery of all of them looks like it’ll be critical for better scores and times.
Green Hill Act 2 was the second remix stage of Mania available for play. I had the opportunity to play the remix of Act 1 last year, and noted that it was more or less the same stage with some new areas, the most notable of which being a brand new area that could be found above the regular stage. Act 2’s changes are a little more…extensive. In fact, I really only recognized a few areas from the original game, including the spot where you drill through a wall and go through a pipe. For the most part, the stage layout is largely new, and is much more sprawling, with zip lines that can take you across parts of the stage. Perhaps the greatest addition to GHZ is the boss: gone is the classic wrecking ball boss; in this game you have to contend with Death Egg Robot from Sonic 2!
It’s a hard boss, one I was not able to beat myself. The machine slowly pursues you through the zone in a similar manner to the Sonic Advance 2 bosses, lobbing bombs and firing its spiked, extendable arms. Its attacks are accurate, and due to its height there are few opportunities to get the high ground in order to attack it; alternatively, you can attack it by running up its extendable arm.
The appearance of the Death Egg Robot is the perfect encapsulation of the core element that makes Mania such a promising title. It is a familiar element, in a familiar place, presented in a way that makes it feel fresh and brand new. But there is more to Mania than this. If the demo is any indication, it is also an exceedingly well designed game, sporting some of the best level design of the franchise. Both of the Sonic Mania stages on display are huge, sprawling affairs that not only make optional exploration possible, but fun. Instead of just running through the stages, I often found myself just looking around them instead, trying to see what new areas or paths I could access that I hadn’t seen previously.
Sonic Mania’s graphics are gorgeous, giving it the look of a long-lost Sonic game from the 32X. From what I’ve heard of its jazzy soundtrack, it’s got some memorable earworms that’ll stick with you after a little while. Everything about Sonic Mania’s demo oozes a game crafted with care from a talented team that understands what made the core Genesis titles so great. If the entire Sonic Mania package can live up to what the demos have displayed, it really will be the dream game every classic Sonic fan has been wanting for decades, made real and playable. It looks like it truly will live up to its name, and reignite the Sonic mania in any lapsed Sonic fan, yearning for the days of the Genesis.
Sonic Mania will release on the PS4, Switch, Xbox One and PC later this year.