Sonic Mania Xbox One Review

April 6, 2021 by  
Filed under PS4, Reviews & Features, PlayStation

Game: Sonic Mania  Genre: Platformer  Players: 1-2  Age Rating: 3+ Publisher: SEGA

Developer: Christian Whitehead, PagodaWest Games, Headcannon 

Console/handheld formats: PS4, Nintendo Switch

Related Sites: Sonic Mania, SEGA

I’m a bit fashionably late with this review, but better late than never, as the saying goes. It’s fair to say Sonic has had a rough time in recent years, with many questionable decisions being made about which direction to take his games. Just when you think things are going great and SEGA have cracked it, suddenly things take a nosedive with games released that are boring and downright broken.

2017 saw the release of two Sonic games which encompassed both of these two clashing extremes – Sonic Forces, which was, whilst playable, still pretty bad in its overall execution and was largely maligned, and, released as a accompaniment to Sonic Forces, we got Sonic Mania, which made many a classic Sonic fan rejoice and is seen to be, without doubt, the best Sonic game to come out in years.

Sonic Mania sought to take the blue blur back to his roots, the game being a 2D pixelated adventure which gives old, well-loved levels an overhaul whilst introducing new ones to keep Sonic Mania feeling fresh, new and modern. Sonic’s controls are also very classic, with simple running and jumping included, as well as the spin dash, and all controls very smoothly. A new mechanic has also been added, called the Drop Dash, which simply allows Sonic to jump and then perform a spin dash upon landing. Admittedly, this wasn’t a move I made use of.

The start of Green Hill Zone maintains its classic layout, but then the developers throw a curveball with introducing the new expansions to the level.

I enjoyed playing Sonic Mania (to a degree) and especially going back to older levels and seeing how they had been expanded on. I did enjoy playing some of the newer levels, though of course nothing compared to seeing how the old levels had been handled. On newer and more powerful consoles, and being in the day and age where we can expect games to last more than an hour, you’d expect there to be a lot more content within a game. A new 2D Sonic game would have to be bigger and better than ever – a lot of expectations were high. Sonic Mania certainly delivered on the content, with Sonic Mania Plus also having being released in 2018. Fans were happy. All this sounds like good stuff so far, right? Well, for me, it has been a slight disappointment……

I’m not a fan of the level designs in Sonic Mania. While almost everyone else is applauding the game – and I can see the hype – I find that there is just way too much going on. I can imagine that, as Sonic fans, being told you’re able to work on a Sonic game in an official capacity would result in a mammoth amount of ideas being thrown about. Whilst the structure of the levels are well thought out – slowly introducing you to mechanics and helping you to get used to how to play – I felt mostly that levels were cluttered.

Yes, I am going to be that person that has to find something wrong in a game others see as near-perfect. I felt levels were cluttered, that there was too much going on, and I know this would have been because of such enthusiasm to deliver a quality Sonic game, but I feel as though it wasn’t really about the quality here, and more about the quantity. That’s not to say it isn’t a quality game (it is), but I feel a lot was unnecessarily crammed in. I feel that so many ideas were so eager to be used – and were used – that the flow of the levels are not consistent. I certainly enjoyed the new ideas on offer, such as the water pistol that launches Sonic to another location, or the stools in the saloon bar that you can balance him on – these are nice little touches and make the game feel like there’s a lot to discover. But otherwise, there are so many routes to take in so many different ways, with so many things to avoid or collect, that levels just feel overly big and cluttered; too many spikes, too many things to bounce from, too many things to bash or that shoot you forward. It seems the developers felt a good Sonic game meant not one bit of area could be devoid of anything. Bounce pads, things turning in motion, lots and lots of inclines to run down. So much to take in! It’s a sensory overload.

As well as the cluttered levels, I felt going from one level to the next was a bit jarring. One minute you’re in a chemical plant, the next a recording studio, then a flying fortress, then on to a press machine? The tone shifts about from eye-catchingly colourful to more muted and pastel tones; usually Sonic levels are set in an order that is building up to the final confrontation with Dr. Robotnik, starting from on the ground (usually a bright, sunny tropical location), maybe onto a metropolis, then all the way up into space (or somewhere high up at least).

This time around Sonic has to stop Dr Robotnik from getting his hands on the Phantom Ruby, a gem even more powerful then the Chaos Emeralds. It has the ability to alter reality, amongst other things. Does this mean Sonic Mania levels are not cannon if it is simply the Ruby changing reality? Hmmm……

Sonic Mania kind of reminded me of Sonic CD, another game I feel is overrated. Sometimes you just have to slow down and smell the roses, something that Sonic Mania (nor CD) allow you to do. It seems in the last 10 years or so, a lot of Sonic games have been speed-focussed, so much so that there’s not much in the way of actual platforming (hence the introduction of Classic Sonic in modern games?). In Sonic Mania, you’re simply running and bouncing all over the place. Another old issue also present is that there is no way to know if you are going to run into a robot and lose your rings, something that has plagued the 2D series since its birth.

There are positives about the game that I do like; the sprites are high quality and well animated, the levels themselves are a huge improvement and make the most of modern technology, and the soundtrack is also fun to listen to – it certainly got my head bopping (the Boss music is always stuck in my head once I hear it, even at the time of writing this review). The intro animation that is reminiscent of the Sonic CD opening is clean and smooth, very enjoyable to watch. There are also Special Stages akin to those in Sonic CD (I am starting to sense which game was the go-to for inspiration for Mania), with elements from other Sonic games, such as the blue spheres from Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, and the polygonal fish and bird shapes from Sonic 1 (but I’m not a fan of the Special Stages either, the controls feel too slippery). As mentioned, Sonic Mania also has some nice little touches, including the way in which the oil in Oil Ocean Zone will light on fire if Sonic has a fire shield, much in the same way the electric shield would disappear if Sonic went into water in the old games – I like the common sense aspect.

The bosses have also been well designed, with new ones being introduced as well as putting a new spin on older ones. Each one differs from the last and offers varying difficulties of challenge at certain points that help break up all the speeding and jumping around. And mini Sonic and Tails are cute. Sonic Mania is every bit the love letter to the games of old. It’s overall a very creative game, certainly, but for me, I feel it is also only a very thoughtful fan game.