For the Sonic Mania review we’re going to try something new, something a little more freeform. As both Guy Chapman and I have both played it we’re going to tag team the review… Let’s begin!
Personal Background with Sonic
Guy: I was a veteran of the great “Nintendo Vs. Sega War” back in the 1990’s. I have remained a Nintendo fan for years, but Sega always had that “cool”, “edgier” vibe going for it. The 1990’s was also a time of “Platformer Mascots With Attitude”. While other characters stepped up before and since, Sonic was the definitive face of this new wave of potential icons.
I remember getting the first Sonic in June of 1991, and being amazed how colorful it was, and how fast Sonic ran. It was filled with catchy music, and images that reflected concepts of surrealism and simple geometric shapes. The other 2D games (I had a Sega CD as well) were great, but as Sonic went from 2D to 3D, I went from loving Sonic to wanting to love Sonic. I met Sonic Mania with the standard skepticism that comes with every new game in the series these days, but damn, if this new one didn’t start to grow on me, and kept growing.
Kaiser: Blah blah blah. Sonic sucked. Mario rules. When it came to the 16-bit era Nintendo Vs. Sega battle, I was team Turbografx-16, then eventually hopped onto team Super Nintendo. So suffice it to say, I never had much experience with Sonic growing up. It wasn’t until the last year that I’ve really discovered an appreciation for the blue blur. With Sonic Mania, I am now downright in love with the little ball of attitude.
Kaiser: Hey Guy, what was the last good Sonic game you remember playing?
Guy: For me, I could easily say Sonic and Sega All-Star Racing, but that’s not a “main series” title. Honestly, the last one that I really liked was Sonic Generations, primarily because it brought back the “cute, chubby Sonic” of the old days who just liked to run and platform (I did like the Sonic add-on in Lego Dimensions, however).
Kaiser: Sonic CD was my first real serious attempt to play Sonic, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This prompted me to check out Sonic Generations, which I also had a great time with. I tried watching a friend play the Sonic ‘06 game, and just watching it was a chore. He offered the controller and after about five minutes I handed it back saying “I’m good, thanks.”
Seems outside of Sonic Adventure 2 on Dreamcast, the series really hasn’t been able to gain mainstream appreciation in 3D.
Guy: Sonic Adventure was a lot of fun to me, but this was where Sonic started getting into that “And Friends” era. I didn’t care about “And Friends”. I wanted to thrill to see how Sonic was going to handle his transition into the 3rd dimension like Mario did 3 years prior.
Kaiser: Aww, c’mon. You know you loved that fat cat.
Guy: “Where’s Froggy?” This really was the sign of the “Sonic Apocalypse”.
Kaiser: See, I knew it. You’re still quoting him all these years later.
Guy: Don’t even get me started on swords, werehogs, and all of the other assorted crap they started shoving into the series. It really weighed the feel of every game down. Even with they tried Sonic 4 (episodic, no less), it really felt like Sega had no idea what to do with him anymore.
Kaiser: *in his best Guile voice* SONIC BOOM! That’s all I have to say about that. Let’s rejoice in the glory that is Sonic Mania, shall we?
Guy: From the second you start the game, Sonic Mania just feels joyous. From his better and more lively logo, to that just incredible animated intro, Sonic feels fun again. Sonic feels like even he is having fun with being himself, instead of “cooler than thou” attitude that made everything… I don’t know if I’d call him “serious”, but he didn’t generate the happy vibe like he used to.
Kaiser: Totally agree, and how cool is it that they got the Archie artist that worked on the long running comic series to work on the animated intro? Sega really embraced the extended Sonic family for this one, and the passion really shows. They aimed for a “better than Genesis, not quite Saturn” look to the graphics, and everything from the colors, sprites and animations are all top notch here. There is pure inspiration seen throughout.
Guy: Absolutely. Again, everything just looks “fun” to run through. There are a ton of Easter Eggs for both Sega and Sonic fans, and the animation is a slight step above Genesis quality. It’s like the Sonic you believe that you remember, versus what actually was. And there are so many clever ideas in each level. One of the highlights for me is that each section in an individual zone looks different, so it’s not simply running around in a themed area with different level design elements.
Kaiser: What really impressed me was all the custom animation for each little new element that would get introduced in a new act. From spinning around horizontally or running through a meshed cage, or spinning around on propeller turbine, to just everything, everything is just so damn impressively uniquely animated, it’s beautiful.
Guy: I loved Studiopolis Zone, and Mirage Saloon Zone. There was always something to look at in this game.
Kaiser: What’s your favorite zone, visually?
Guy: Again, Studiopolis Zone. Old-Time Eggman from film projectors, being beamed by airwaves into TVs…. All of it was so inventive and fun to watch.
Kaiser: I think that may be my favorite, too. The movie studio vibe really appealed to me. It really wowed me when I got in the giant popcorn machine, which incidentally is named after an actual Sonic arcade game/popcorn dispensing hybrid machine that exists.
Guy: And then the house started shooting out fetuses! No, wait, that’s Splatterhouse.
Kaiser: The music, like the art, the gameplay and everything else about this game, is created by talented fans that were embraced and pulled into the development of Sonic Mania. Tee Lopes, who had created a number of praised remixes, brings his A-game here. It sounds exactly as you would expect it to sound. While not as memorable to me as a lot of Mega Man tunes, everything in this is a solid work of art that compliments the game with every beat.
Guy: The fun intro music, that was also used in the last preview trailer was composed by Hyper Potions. Musically, it’s all over the place in terms of styles: Jazz, pop, technos, western themed, and plenty of classic remixes. It perfectly compliments the world of Sonic, and feels like something out of the ‘90’s. Honestly, I loved the music so much that I pre-ordered the vinyl record.
Kaiser: That’s part of its magic. While it is all over the place thematically to match the worlds, it is styled in a way that it compliments each other and feels of the same game as a whole.
Guy: I think the other thing that stands out to me is that the soundtrack is actually something I can remember and hum off the top of my head. The last game I really did that with was Shovel Knight.
Kaiser: All hail Shovel Knight!
Fan Made Game
Guy: As you touched on earlier, this is a fan made game. I think after years of Sega seeming to have no idea what to do with Sonic anymore, they basically handed it off to the fanbase and said: “Here. You do something with it.” This is basically unheard of, and risky in some cases, but man did it ever pay off. I guess they decided to do something that Nintendon’t.
Kaiser: ZING! *cough* AM2R *cough* But seriously, all praise to Sega for seeing the talent and potential in it’s fan creator communities and fully embracing it. Capcom did show a little love a few years back when they took the fan-game Mega Man Vs. Street Fighter under their wing and made it available on their official site.
And of course, thank you to Head Cannon, PagodaWest Games and Christian Whitehead for all their passionate persistence in getting Sega to see their talents and vision.
Specific Stand out Moments
Kaiser: Guy, I’m sure you were like me in playing the game where as each new zone was introduced there would be some new “wow” moment that made you grin ear to ear. What were some of the more stand-out moments that you recall?
Guy: Studiopolis has a ton of moments, but I was so impressed by the beauty of the second area of Press Garden. Each area had some little flourish that really got back to basics with the pure thrill of speed to the point where the game feels like a rollercoaster. There was always something to see, and it felt more unrestricted in play than any Sonic game has for a while. I was so impressed by the retro vibe this game was promising, that I went out and bought the Collector’s Edition…. Something I don’t usually do for games.
Kaiser: Agreed. You can play through the same level a different way every time and keep discovering new things you missed the first few run throughs. That impressed me on a larger scope. Torn between wanting to speed through and exploring. More specifically, I’d say the way the vines worked around and bent and grew in Stardust Speedway, the running through the mesh tubes in Flying Battery, and the grabbing the chain mechanic… honestly the way new elements are introduced in each new zone really makes the game stand out as a whole above the glut of games being released these days.
Guy: Sonic Mania invokes “The Mega Man 9 Effect”, a phrase the Penny Arcade comic introduced to translate the sheer sense of wonder of seeing a game with the same level of enthusiasm that you did as a kid. This game cuts the crap, and gets back to the basics of pure speed and platforming. No gimmicks, no barriers, no “And Friends” (save for Tails and Knuckles, who I think do add longevity and variety to the series).
This game was designed by people who like Sonic the Hedgehog, who want you to like Sonic the Hedgehog as well. This may have been one of the smartest moves Sega has done in years, and if they want to extend this practice to say, Streets of Rage, Shinobi, Golden Axe, Phantasy Star, and Space Harrier, I could go for that.
No, seriously, Sega. Do that.
Kaiser: But where Mega Man 9 rooted itself to “Mega Man 2”, Sonic Mania runs with the nostalgia and takes you to all new glorious places, both in environments and in gameplay. If only Capcom would take a cue from the success and praise Sonic Mania is getting and bring back Mega Man in the same fan fueled glory… a man can dream, I suppose.
And all the YES on doing this with Streets of Rage, Shinobi, and the other games you mentioned there, Guy. It would bring old souls like me happiness for many years to come and allow me to truly embrace Sega now since I did not do so as a kid. Just fix the broken-ass double jump in Shinobi if you’re going to bother. 🙂
Sonic Mania just may be my favorite game of the year so far. It is that good.
Guy: Agreed, though Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is this year’s “other” great game, but for reasons similar to Sonic Mania: It gets back to basics.