Sonic Mania im Test - Sonic 3,5 (& Knuckles)
Old meets new
The Green Hill Zone is almost identical to its counterpart from Sonic The Hedgehog. Even the background music is practically the same, but no longer sounds as gritty as from Sega's sound chip in 1991. The zones (read: level) are divided into two "acts" as before, with half in Mania being twice as big as before on the megadrive. After the first act, there is also a miniboss waiting to be promoted to digital nirvana before moving on to the second half of the zone.
And that's where the innovations really stand out: in the second part of the Green Hill Zone, the level design is completely different and also offers a few new gimmicks. For example, there are elementary shields from Sonic 3 (& Knuckles). If, for example, we are surrounded by a flame shield, we flare the spiky wooden posts that lead over chasms in the level completely when touched. If the music in Act 1 still sounded like the original, Act 2 plays a modern remix. And at the end of the second part, we fight Dr. Robotnik, which makes life difficult for us in one of its huge machines.
Best of Sonic
As Sonic, Tails, Knuckles or a combo of Sonic and Tails, we make some of the best and most popular levels of the classics unsafe (Chemical Plant Zone, Flying Battery Zone, Hydrocity Zone etc.) and play with level building in the first half of the zone and the music from the originals and then with a new level design and groovy remix music in the second half. On top of that, there are also a couple of completely new zones, such as a wild west saloon or a television studio, which is somewhat reminiscent of the old casino levels.
Hidden bonus levels are also part of the game again - so we collect blue spheres as in Sonic 3 to unlock additional extras, or chase after race tracks on Chaos Emeralds as in Sonic CD. This is rounded off with many small gags and Easter eggs for fans, from allusions to Segas Game Gear to Super Shinobi to Sonic the Fighters. Progress is saved on request so that we can always continue playing in the zone in which we last stopped or failed. It doesn't get much more comfortable - let's exhale our last virtual life at the end boss of Act 2 of a zone, let's start again at the beginning of Act 1 of the same zone. There are no save states like on the Virtual Console or with an emulator.
Slightly prettied up
Sonic and his colleagues have also added some animation frames from Sega, so that they move much more naturally and fluidly than they did on the Megadrive back then. Some backgrounds are a bit more detailed and less pixelated than in the classics. The embellishments are subtle, but the part on the original hardware would not have looked that chic back then - despite blast processing. There are more cutscenes between the zones than before, in which we Robotnik and his new helpers, the Hard Boiled Heavies, watch as they steal the Chaos Emeralds and other nasty bosses.
Thankfully, all the actors keep their cheeks. There's no talking in Sonic Mania. The completely new zones look great and fit nicely into the game. The additional boss fights range from very nice to great. This is how the fight with Dr. Robotnik in his television studio has a weather report in the background, the forecast of which influences the fight. If sun is reported, we have to be careful not to be grilled by the studio headlights. If the report announces a thunderstorm, lightning strikes that we have to avoid. Cool idea! Elsewhere, the Obermotz controls a nasty giant spider that we have to bend in spines on the edge of the level. In our test version, however, the monster liked to get stuck somewhere in the ground or was completely unimpressed by hits. The idea is quite nice, but showed a few quirks in the implementation.
Sonic (& Knuckles) is still fun in 2D today. However, the gameplay is not perfectly aged. Occasionally, Sonic runs face-to-face in a spring at top speed and is thrown back a perceived kilometer. Then he stands still for a while, has to start again and ideally jumps over the spring on the next attempt, otherwise the fun will repeat itself again. Elsewhere, the hedgehog is catapulted across so many ramps, through tubes and tunnels that the level practically plays itself for a while. And while Tails can swim and fly and Knuckles glides and climbs, Sonic has a much harder time reaching certain parts of the game.
The 3D bonus levels from Sonic CD just don't look good these days. In addition, there is no real co-op mode . As before, a second player can take control of Tails and help Sonic. In this mode, the camera only follows Sonic and there is no split screen here. So Tails is practically never in the picture and therefore not really playable. At least in boss fights, a human colleague in the role of Tails is worth gold. There is also a competition mode in which two players compete against each other in the twelve zones for best times - with split screen!
Alternatively, we improve our lap times through the zones solo in Time Attack mode. Those who have never touched the classics or only play with Quicksaves otherwise should plan a good ten hours here. Especially for a complete playthrough with all Chaos Emeralds. Veterans board through faster.