When Sega announced Sonic Mania as a part of the blue hedgehog’s 25th Anniversary, vintage Sonic fans were excited. This wasn’t just blind optimism either, as this time it seemed like Sega had hit all the right notes. Not only did the trailer reveal classic Sonic action in a 2D pixel art aesthetic with a chiptune soundtrack, but also that Sega had also brought in retro masters like Christian Whitebread to ensure the project stayed true to its retro routes.
They do though say that first impressions can be misleading. Thankfully though when actually sitting down with Sonic Mania, this definitely doesn’t appear to be the case at all, as right off the bat Sonic Team and their retro entourage were hitting all the classic notes. The most symbolic of which being having a classic Sonic appear in the centre of a golden ring, just as he does in every single one of his classic 16-bit adventures.
As such, this instantly hit an early nostalgic note, one that will take many a gamer right back to the early 90s. This is then only compounded when the first stage loads up, and you’re presented with none other than the good old Green Hill Zone. Oh and I don’t mean an updated unrecognisable Green Hill Zone, but by and large the one we all remember, soundtrack included.
As such, I was able to tap straight back into those skills and fly through the level, all 157 rings intact. This involved dodging classic enemies like the crabs, jumping fish, and those pesky chameleons, all whilst flying through loops and speeding over and through many a waterfall. Make no mistakes this was every bit classic Sonic.
Blending New & Old
There were of course though some differences to the stage, including power ups from later 16-bit Sonic adventures, and a brand new boss battle. One in which two spiked rotating balls swung around whilst Sonic had to dodge them and hit them whilst they were unprotected. In fact, this boss was extremely reminiscent of the first time Sonic ever met Dr. Eggman, and exemplified one of the more subtle nods to Sonic’s past.
There was also one other massively advertised addition, and this was within the gameplay. By and large Sonic Mania’s controls are exactly as you remember them. In fact, some of Sonic’s later abilities have even been removed, such as the half second shield. Nevertheless, in its place comes the Speed Dash ability, which allows Sonic to move immediately into a high speed triple spin as he hits the floor.
Thankfully though, the new Speed Dash doesn’t disrupt the play at all. If anything it easily integrates itself into the experience to the point where you wouldn’t even realise it was a brand new feature. What’s more, this is also something true of the new stage that was also on offer as a part of Sonic Mania’s early demo.
Lights, Camera, Action
Studiopolis places Sonic squarely in what can only be described as a stage built in the vein of what would have been considered futuristic back in the 90s. There’s neon flashing lights, an authentic upbeat chiptune soundtrack, technology based enemies, and even teleportation. Most importantly though, the level design is truly inspiring, and has players going up, down, left, right, up, over, and even through thanks to the teleportation.
In many ways it very much had a feeling of the Chemical Plant Zone about it, and represented an excellent secondary zone, if that is what it ends up being. If there was one way of describing the first act of the Studiopolis Zone it would be “old meets new”. And to be honest, that’s a good way to overall describe Sonic Mania based what I saw at EGX 2016.
The Power Of The Past
Nostalgia is a powerful tool, and was definitely something I felt to its full force when playing Sonic Mania. In fact, in many ways Sonic Mania felt like a classic Sonic with an added nostalgia filter placed over the top. It was everything Sonic has been remembered for, with the odd blemishes you may have forgotten over time removed. It took me back to a time where Sonic was the King, and there was no better gaming experience.
However, to claim nostalgia is the only reason for playing Sonic Mania would do it one hell of an injustice. You see, even without the lens of nostalgia, Sonic Mania looks set to be a rather fabulous return to form for Sonic. If anything Sonic Mania is looking like every bit a classic Sonic for a modern age, one that will take you right back to the moment you first put that cartridge into your Mega Drive / Genesis.