Sonic Mania - Review
Sonic has had his fair share of ups, downs, and loops in his career, but he's proven himself to be - and still is - one of the most beloved and enduring icons in video games. With Sonic Mania, Sega takes Sonic back to its successful roots, namely the world of side-scrolling 2D platformers, directly drawing inspiration from the 16-bit games that have propelled Sonic and his friends to the rank of superstars. Sonic Mania is proof that despite the years, effective gameplay remains so.
Sonic, Tails and Knuckles are back to face the forces of Dr. Robotnik in the best way possible: by running, jumping, spinning, flying and hovering to victory, through twelve zones. We find classic levels from Mega Drive episodes, like Chemical Plant, Stardust Speedway and Lava Reef, but also new ones like Studiopolis and Mirage Saloon. These new areas are particularly impressive: their level-design is colorful and creative, and I couldn't wait to run through and explore them, in search of all kinds of challenges (and easter-eggs). Take, for example, the neon buildings of Studiopolis, an area inspired by a big city TV studio. One of its routes will take you into the bowels of a popcorn machine - after it has propelled you through the beam of a satellite, while another will send you speeding through the tunnels of the city's metro.
But even the old areas are full of new things. They are bigger, more elaborate and filled with traps known as unseen which tickled my nostalgic fiber while managing to surprise me. The Chemical Plant Zone level in Sonic 2 has always been a fun circuit to play, with its many tunnels and ramps, but the addition of a slimy, chemical substance that makes you bounce all over the place - especially to let you Hanging on to the walls - makes the crossing even more fun and unique.
The different areas offered are not the only things to have undergone a little facelift. The levels look better than ever, carried by vibrant colors and intoxicating visuals, while the artistic flair of the new levels blends brilliantly with the pixelated 2D world of old Sonics. Everything, from the smallest piece of decor, is very detailed and delivers an unparalleled sense of movement. This also applies to enemies. Dr. Robotnik's new bosses aren't lacking in personality either, which makes these villains as interesting as they are unique, without even having a line of dialogue. The soundtrack is also at the top, rich in remixes of the original themes and new compositions.
Sonic Mania has all the elements of a successful Sonic game: elaborate levels, responsive controls, good movement physics, interesting and thoughtful traps, hidden rooms to uncover, and dangers that force you to stay alert. constantly and above all to react very quickly. I replayed certain levels several times, each time discovering new secrets that had passed under my nose in the previous parts.
And the game motivates to replay all these levels. There are indeed a number of special hidden levels that need to be completed to collect all of the Chaos Emeralds, useful gems to unlock the true ending of Sonic Mania. In these special levels, you chase a UFO through a 3D landscape, collecting blue spheres and rings that improve the speed of the hedgehog. It's a fun concept, even if it is sometimes difficult to see the barriers that block the road coming. And the collision with some objects is not perfect. To make matters worse, collecting bombs can set off a chain reaction and send you over other obstacles, turning your successful run into a laborious crossing.
The bonus levels of Sonic 3 are also back, the latter to be unlocked by activating all the checkpoints scattered in the various zones. These levels do not allow you to unlock emeralds but bonus options once a certain number has been completed, such as a sound test, a debug mode, and even mini-games. They are initially easy, then gradually gain in difficulty. Completing them all therefore takes a lot of time and practice.
That being said, not everything that comes from old Sonic games is necessarily a good thing to take. There's a good chance that elements from the old episodes could be found somewhere in Sonic Mania - even if that wasn't something very positive. For example, if it is nice to be able to replay in the Sky Chase Zone of Sonic 2, let's be honest, the auto scrolling and the more or less wobbly controls related to this zone were not very fun before, and they are. no more today. Not to mention the game mechanics of the Sandopolis Zone of Sonic 3, still so boring 23 years later.
Also, while most boss fights are cool, there are a few that tend to pull the rope a bit too much, like the mid-level boss from Studiopolis and the new version of the end boss from Sonic 1. I know that the old episodes didn't have a checkpoint system between the different bosses, but that clearly wouldn't have been too much in Sonic Mania. As for Sonic's new Drop Dash, the latter is a bit too weak and slow for our liking, besides being complicated to use - so I stuck with the Spin Dash (the most annoying being that you can unlock options for activate Sonic CD's speed booster and Sonic 3's Instant Shield, but only in a mode in which it is not possible to save progress).