Everyone, let me ask you something: What if Sonic the Hedgehog actually had a game for the Sega Saturn?
Sonic Mania is a 2D platformer published by Sega and developed by Headcannon, PagodaWest Games, and Christian Whitehead. The game is a continuation of the original Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Sega Genesis, picking up a few months after Sonic & Knuckles. After defeating the evil Dr. Robotnik, Sonic and Tails are drawn back into Angel Island in search of a mysterious energy source. There they see that the good doctor is up to his old tricks again, using a strange jewel known as the Phantom Ruby. However, when it is activated, the Ruby sends our heroes into what seems to be a dimensional portal and sends them to Green Hill Zone. Sonic and his friends will have to make their way across several iconic levels of the Genesis classics before they can get that Ruby and stop Robotnik.
The gameplay is taken wholesale from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles but fine-tuned into near perfection. It feels like the games were evolving with every new 2D iteration. The characters control as they did before, but it feels like any floatiness in their movement has been tweaked into a good balance. Speaking of the characters, the usual suspects come back: Tails has his ability to fly, Knuckles can glide through the air and climb up walls, and Sonic can utilize special moves with different elemental shields. Not only that, Sonic has a new move called the Drop Dash that has him shoot into a quick dash after jumping, which can help him gain a lot of speed in an instant.
The stages also continue this pattern of refinement throughout the game. The majority of stages are returning ones from Sonic 1 to Sonic & Knuckles, offering up something familiar to returning fans for the First Act, and then turning it over its head for the Second Act. It even makes a stage like Green Hill Zone feel fresh and new, as you use ziplines to traverse the caves of Green Hill. But I say that the highlights are the four new stages made for this game: Studiopolis Zone, Press Garden Zone, Mirage Saloon Zone, and Titanic Monarch Zone. Each zone brings something new to the series in both aesthetic and gameplay, be it Studiopolis’ Movie and TV studio setting, Press Garden pulling double duty as a newspaper printing press and a frozen garden, or Mirage Saloon’s Western stylings, but this game’s stages seem to have more thought put into them than ever before.
Upon finishing the game, there is always the chance to go back and collect the seven Chaos Emeralds, which unlock the characters’ super transformations and a final battle against Robotnik. In addition, some recent DLC gives players two new characters to play with: Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel, who have been pushed to the side as the series went on. Both characters have their own abilities that set them apart from the others, as Mighty can slam into the ground from any height and survive a hit from spikes without getting hurt, while Ray can fly across a stage like a hang glider. These two characters come with a special “Encore Mode”, that changes parts of the original stages and makes them a bit more difficult to play through, adding some more playtime to this game. It’s interesting to see how much has changed with this game, and yet it feels like I’m playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles as a kid again. I highly recommend getting this game, for both hardcore and casual fans of the blue hedgehog.
Sonic Mania is available on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.