Try as you might Sega, you’re not off my s*** list. I’ve invited you back into my life so many times to have you just pull your same old stuff over and over, and I’m just as much the fool to not keep my angry flames flying. I want to forgive you for what you’ve done to Sonic…I just….
Let’s start from the beginning: I love Sonic like Pac-Man loves pellets. He was the first mascot to really grab me with color, lore, and aural fervor to the point that it broke me. For some, an RPG or Mario ushered them under the “video games are more than high score chases” banner to be adorned with leis and straw hats. Mine was this blue hedgehog of destiny; Sonic 2 was when I vividly remember no longer caring about my score, just about taking down that machine-making bastard, Dr Robotnik – as he shall always be named!
Time passed and quality dipped with only occasional rises until Sonic Team hit us hard with Sonic Mania as a spectacular triumph of the old-school style. It will elude me through the end of time itself as to how it took that company this long to realize that all they ever had to do with this franchise was keep doing what they were doing in the heyday: copy Mario and add a different flavor. Make three-dimensional for those that want it, make two-dimensional for those that hate 3D, rinse and repeat. This is why you’re in the doghouse, Sega!
Sorry, rage fit….
Anywho, Sonic Mania, amiright? The level-to-level feel has never been so in tune in a Sonic game as here with a subtle mixture of old and new sewn with game design grace. Both hedgehog and fox burst from the screen with sharper colors that are far more plentiful than ancestral entries, creating a crisp visual experience that matches with the speed of the game. That may seem pithy, the concept of a game keeping speed with itself, but it’s been such a struggle for 3D Sonic that seeing him aligned with the action, darting from platform to item box, feels somehow new again.
There are more than a few levels lifted straight from old games that were then remixed during the transfer and not all the ones you’d expect. Oil Ocean was a unique change of pace in Sonic 2 and is finally given a modern console look with added elements that bring further sprite-flavored life to the world. The beauty of the additions to this and other levels is in their planned exclusion; no matter how much Sonic you’ve played, you’ll not have an advantage throughout. Everything feels, and in just enough cases simply is, new.
Das music for Sonic as a whole (even the shovelware) has a private amphitheater in my heart, and while that doesn’t necessarily change here, I don’t find the additions to the aural section of Sonic Mania as memorable as the visuals. The remixed tracks are essentially the same with a few more layers of sound that do a respectable job of fleshing Chemical Plant, Greenhill, and others into more modern sounds. I think I would’ve rather Sega stick closer to the Sonic CD style of fewer, more focused layers of synth sound per track. While this is certainly hair splitting of the highest degree, it’s telling to me that I’ll ultimately forget the new tracks and revert to the classics for how much effort was put in here.
The small grievances I have with this round of Mania deal mainly with the secret stages. I would approach these as though my life depended upon not just getting the emerald – that’s the cheap way out! – but also getting a continue, leading to many seppuku ceremonies in my childhood assassin lifestyle. Sonic Mania collects all of the stages I’ve drawn from memory in insane asylums but the new ones all feel like uncouth attempts at difficulty near the end of the campaign. There just doesn’t seem to be as much care or love put into the handful of new courses, leading me to resent the last three I had to grind for chances to complete in the end.
Sonic Mania is everything I’ve wanted from Sega and Sonic since…ever. I know Sega’s entered my bedroom, violated the privacy of my locked diary, and read my deepest desires but at least it lead them to some of the old Sonic magic again, damn it. They’re the ultimate fresh red sneakers carrying the soles of my hopes and dreams again. Maybe…maybe I can invite Sega in for tea and we can hash this all out and make another go at this love thing….
Sonic Mania Score: