Last year’s explosive release of Sonic Mania wasn’t just about a game that ended up thrilling both new and old blue blur fans. It was also proof that a brand new, ‘classic’ style 2D Sonic title will sell – and sell it most certainly did, cementing itself in the annals of hedgehog history. But, while widely regarded as one of the most critically-acclaimed Sonic titles in recent memory, there were some clear presentation omissions and missing elements in the base game – elements that you would think Christian Whitehead and co would have included, if they were just given more time to bake it in.
Enter Sonic Mania Plus.
Reviewer: Adam ‘T-Bird’ Tuff
Note: This review contains some spoiler elements pertaining to the new features of Sonic Mania Plus; as such please be aware if you have been avoiding leaked details. While this review does not focus on the original features in the stand-alone version of Sonic Mania, the score given here reflects the entire package as a whole.
Since the launch of the original game almost a year ago, Whitehead and his co-developers (at HeadCannon, PagodaWest Games and new friends Hyperkinetic) have been hard at work expanding it, adding on some bells and whistles that will further satisfy fans that are hankering for even more nostalgia kicks.
The focus of Sonic Mania Plus is the presence of Ray the Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo, returned from relegation by popular demand, alongside the new Encore Mode. To the uneducated, these might seem small additions – however the new characters offer novel gameplay mechanics, with Encore Mode stages adding new twists to throw off players who are already well versed in Mania‘s original stage format.
Ray’s glide ability allows him to hang over danger or induce a momentum-building, ledge-leaping nose dive that can be used to great effect when executed correctly. Mighty’s shell offers defence from many hazards and the ability to decimate cracked flooring, while adding an extra layer of protection at critical moments such as boss encounters. While many will likely prefer to retain the elements of exploration offered by the likes of Tails and Knuckles, it’s refreshing to revisit Mania Mode with these new skills.
There has definitely been no respite for the art team, who have created a full set of sprites for Mighty and Ray that you will want to examine by teetering on ledges or shrinking yourself down in Mecha Madness. The animators’ attention to detail even goes as far as replicating Ray’s hand-holding gymnastics from SEGASonic Arcade, while Mighty’s idle action borrows inspiration from Sonic 2 on the SEGA Master System, which really shows there has been no lack of enthusiasm in breathing life to these long-lost protagonists.
Although fun to utilise in Mania Mode, these two old favourites are more useful in the Encore mode, which opens with a new intro stage in the form of Angel Island Act 1 only briefly visited by the same cut scene found in the original release. Once you have freed the duo from their confinement at the end of the act (and have thoroughly enjoyed the catchy character selection drum fill!) the scope of the new mode is revealed.
There are no lives in this mode so to speak – though perishing while playing one particular character will remove them from your roster until an extra player item box is broken (or they are reclaimed in the pinball machine-cum-UFO catcher Trap Tower bonus stage). The player can alternate between primary and secondary characters at convenient moments, and heroes can also be swapped in by hitting the relevant item box. While the switch-out is often frustrating at times (particularly if you don’t have a certain character combination at a vital time), it presents opportunities to vary the paths taken mid-zone depending on skills available – something I’m sure many dedicated Mania fans will spend hours exploring and refining.
Each zone has had a fresh lick of paint via a carefully chosen palette swap, which not only alters the ambience of stages drastically but works to augment the rather fiendish alterations and pitfalls that will continue to startle and frustrate those who think they understand the Sonic Mania level design formula. The hard-core fans will appreciate the step up in difficulty in places, but many will end up tearing their hair out during many fruitless attempts to gather all of the Chaos Emeralds through seven stages (or seven circles) of Saturn-themed special stage hell.
There are, admittedly, still moments in the game where aspects seem absent, yet these are far outnumbered by new inclusions such as zone transitions, as well as a boss battle that is now even more fantastic to play (you’ll know what I mean when you reach it!). Mitsuyoshi-san triumphantly returns as announcer in Competition Mode and has expanded his range of enthusiastic exclamations, which now accommodates up to 4-players simultaneously in head-to-head. Those still looking for a challenge have a host of time trials available, which will add hours upon hours to the Mania+ experience for those looking for an extra challenge.
If you already own a digital download of the game then the DLC is an absolute no-brainer for an additional $5/£4. Collectors will now be satisfied at the prospect of adding a physical copy of the game to their collection for the bargain price of $30, packaged with a 32-page art book stuffed key assets and concept artwork.
Sonic Mania Plus takes another step closer towards classic Sonic perfection, with the new content extending the lifetime of a game that already has a high replayability value. The price point in particular is a bargain, whether you are buying for the new content or picking it up for the first time. Once again, SEGA have demonstrated they are listening closely to their fans, and that the Mania team can deliver a quality product time and time again.
One can only hope this is a start of a trend, and that Mania Plus has set a precedent for a slew of classic-inspired titles that are sure to follow.
This review was based on an Xbox One copy of Sonic Mania Plus kindly provided by SEGA.