Sonic Mania is a love letter to the classic Sonic the Hedgehog games. Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic Knuckles all come to mind. As you play through it, all of those wonderful memories come back. It exemplifies everything great about the classic installments in the series, and I appreciate that. However, it is the surprises that make me love Sonic Mania even more.
Some of the surprises are small. They are little things that might catch you off guard. Like when one zone ends in Sonic Mania, you immediately begin the next one. Your rings carry over. You see how the two areas connect to one another. The worlds feel more consistent. There’s even a handy transition between zones, with odd blackouts and warped reality punctuating the moves between the two spaces. These transitions work so well, and I am amazed at how meaningful these opportunities to move between the two spaces are.
The way in which familiar elements work is another pleasant surprise. We are used to different sorts of elemental shields in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. They’ve always protected Sonic and his allies and occasionally offered other added bonuses. In Sonic Mania, these interact with the environment in brilliant and logical ways. The first one you will encounter is the Fire Shield in the Green Hill Zone, which can set fire to wooden platforms and partitions, giving you access to new areas. In the Chemical Plant Zone, a Water Shield can save your life by keeping characters from drowning in the first act’s liquids or perform a bound jump to reach a new area. Once you get to the Flying Battery Zone, the Lightning Shield interacts with the magnetic platforms. When the power is on, your character flies up to the electrified surfaces, allowing you a new way to get through spaces.
Even the mechanics can be pleasant surprises. Each of Sonic Mania’s zones has these unique ways in which Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles interact with the world. In the second act of the Chemical Plant Zone, there will be pools of liquid. Your character can press down to inject another chemical into them, making it possible to dash across a now more solid surface or bound off of it to reach new heights. In Studiopolis Zone, running into the back of one of the many news vans in the city will broadcast your character throughout the level, sending them from one satellite dish to another until it bursts out of a TV. In another portion, your character heads into a giant bingo ball bowl, with numbers actually pulled before you pop out.
Editor’s note: this is a spoiler alert. The next paragraph will discuss the Chemical Plant Zone Act 2 boss. If you want to go in untainted, avoid the next paragraph.
But the biggest and best surprise comes in Chemical Plant Zone Act 2. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine makes an appearance. Yes, the boss fight is a Puyo Puyo match. An incredibly easy one, by the way. Your character heads down a pipe and finds himself in a seat opposite the doctor. On round of the classic puzzle game proceeds, with a win allowing your character to continue to Studiopolis Zone. And the thing is, as amazing as this surprise is, it fits in perfectly with the array of boss fights that require you to really think and plan as you complete each act. It has the same level of precision and care, which is extraordinary. You are challenged and reminded of the places the Sonic the Hedgehog series has gone at the same time.
This is one of those situations where I can say whatever expectations you may have for Sonic Mania, the game will likely meet them. It delivers a solid Sonic the Hedgehog experience. But more importantly, it has these moments where it stuns you with its mechanics, gameplay, or flow. One of my best video game moments in 2017 will be coming to the end of the Chemical Plant Zone. It is an incredible thing, and Sonic Mania has many of these moments where you know you are playing an extraordinary game.
Sonic Mania will come to the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One on August 15, 2017. It will come to PCs on August 29, 2017.