I have a confession to make. I was never a huge fan of Sonic Retro. I’d lurk on their forums from time to time and I thought they tended to act a bit arrogant and cocky at times. They’d say that they could make a much better Sonic game than Sega. “Right!” I thought to myself. “A bunch of amateurs make a better game than veteran programmers? Bah!” However, Sonic Mania, lead by Christian “Taxman” Whitehead, is proof that it wasn’t arrogance, but the truth.
When at the Sega/Atlus booth, the lines for Sonic Mania were sometimes twice as long as it’s HD brother Sonic Forces and there’s a good reason for that. While Sonic Forces feels a lot like the same-old, same-old but with a “create your own character” twist, Sonic Mania feels like a return to greatness that I haven’t felt in a long time, but still fresh and new.
The version I played was on the Nintendo Switch in both docked and portable mode. As someone who’s played the demo on other consoles in the past, I can confirm there is no difference between the experience on Switch and the other consoles. The demo itself was different, featuring two new levels: Mirage Saloon and Green Hill Act 2.
I first tried out the Mirage Saloon demo with Knuckles, who was playable for the first time. The level was incredibly fun. Between spinning on saloon stools (similar to the spinning mechanisms in classic Sonic games), bouncing between giant piano keys, stepping on giant seltzer bottles that temporarily open a new trail (so be quick) and being fired from a giant revolver, I couldn’t help but shout out “Man! This is fun!” while playing. The level was huge and sprawling with several ways I could tackle it. I was in the zone and having a blast. It also helps that the music composed by Tee Lopes is an amazingly jazzy soundtrack that hearkens back to some of the great music composed for games like Sonic CD. I was dancing around a bit while playing the game. There’s also a nice shout out to the Archie comic’s “Team Hooligan” as wanted posters of Nack, Bean and Bark can be seen throughout the level.
The next day, I tried out Green Hill Zone: Act 2. While it does feature your typical curved hills, spiked rolling logs and caverns to smash through, there ‘s also some new features that keep it fresh. The zip lines from later levels of Sonic 2 are now prominently featured in this level, along with the Fire shield from Sonic 3. It not only lets you blast forward in an instant, but you can burn those annoying spiked bridges and unlock a secret area.
But the best thing about that level is the boss battle. At the end of the stage, you have to deal with the return of Death Egg Robo. The final boss from Sonic 2 He lumbers towards you slowly and menacingly, destroying everything in it’s path. You can only hit it from the bottom or top, but it’s difficult to do so without losing rings as his foot stomps can cause damage and his spiked arm can cause Sonic harm. A difficult, but not impossible foe.
Those cocky boys from Sonic Retro proved me wrong and are putting together an amazing product that they should be incredibly proud of. They’ve beaten SEGA at their own game. Churning out a title that seems to outdo Sonic Team’s big 3D title in every way imaginable. Make sure to download Sonic Mania when it hits on August 15th. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go eat some more crow.