I’m a big fan of Sonic and Sonic games. No matter how many attempts of innovation SEGA takes to the gameplay, the speedy hedgehog is my childhood hero and a favorite game franchise. The problem is, my faith became very stagnant once Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric came about.
Back then I was just asking for something consistent and better for the franchise. A glimmer of hope came once I first saw the trailer for Sonic Mania. Cautious Optimism later became a glimmer of hope for the hedgehog- It suddenly became clear that Sonic Mania was going to be more than a return to form for Sonic himself.
I got the game as soon as it released, of course. But now, we have an even bigger package with Sonic Mania Plus, a DLC pack that makes the game relevant once again. Without spoiling much, I can already tell you that Sonic Mania Plus is definitely an experience worth playing. But those who would like to see a more in-depth review will definitely find something here.
There are a lot of things to discuss regarding Sonic Mania Plus, from its core game modes (Mania and Encore) to the characters that come with the game themselves. As such, I will dedicate a section of this review for talk about the things that come with the Encore Mode entirely, with a bit of emphasis on the characters when I talk about the game’s mechanics.
With all that said, let’s get started with this review.
The Classic Mania Returns!
Sonic Mania Plus is a game that responds to the question “What makes a good Sonic Game?” with a game that returns to the classics while at the same time providing people with new stuff in regards to level aesthetics, character sprites, animations and other sorts of trinkets.
Some players grew skeptical of the reusing of places like Chemical Plant and Green Hill Zone, but the game also offered remixes of the stages that allowed players to explore new environments while staying in familiar territory.
One of the best aspects of Sonic Mania Plus is definitely the fact that the game goes out of its way in terms of story to have these places being connected. There definitely is a lot of charm and creativity behind some of these choices too, especially considering the little details that can make longtime fans chuckle every now and then.
In total, there are fourteen zones in Sonic Mania Plus: Five of these stages are making their debut in this game and the other nine zones are extracted from other games but remixed accordingly. This alone adds to the charm of the game, especially because rather than having to see rehashes of stages we see entirely new layouts that still use the stage’s assets in new ways.
The zones that were remixed are Green Hill Zone (Sonic The Hedgehog), Chemical Plant Zone (Sonic 2), Flying Battery Zone (Sonic 3 & Knuckles), Stardust Speedway (Sonic CD), Hydrocity (Sonic 3 & Knuckles), Oil Ocean (Sonic 2), Lava Reef (Sonic 3 & Knuckles) and Metallic Madness (Sonic CD), with Angel Island Zone added as an exclusive for the Encore Pack that’s part of Sonic Mania Plus.
The remixed version of the stages often takes some elements from other Sonic games. For example, in Chemical Plant Zone Act II there is a huge emphasis on using chemicals of different colors to be able to bounce higher throughout the stage, reminiscing Wacky Workbench from Sonic CD.
Meanwhile, the new zones that make their own debut in Sonic Mania Plus are Studiopolis, Press Garden, Mirage Saloon (Which sports an entirely new Zone in the Encore Pack), Titanic Monarch and Egg Reverie.
All of these stages are extremely unique and brimming with detail, references to other Sonic games and even SEGA memes themselves and incredibly sounding music tracks that will stick with the player even after they are done playing the main game. All of the stages come with th
eir fair share of obstacles, alternate pathways and also rewards for the players who explore the stages.
Things work similarly to Sonic 3 and Knuckles in the way that you continue right after the point where you finished the first Act of the stages. All of the stages have a Boss Fight in each Act that are fairly simple to beat. It requires the player to learn some patterns instead of just blindly attacking them head on.
With this, New players to the genre will be able to experiment the stages that became iconic to Classic Sonic while Old gamers will be able to experiment with the remixes of their favorite stages of all the Classic Sonic Games, while also having new Zones to play with entirely.
The only gripe I have towards the choice in Stages is the fact that there isn’t a balance between entirely new stages and old stages with a new coat of paint. While I do appreciate going through new versions of Flying Battery and Oil Ocean, I would definitely prefer to play in new stages entirely rather than in remixed stages. But, that’s mostly a nitpick more than anything.
The Modern Works of the Past
The new stages themselves are definitely worth talking about in detail. They are simply jam-packed with such aesthetic choices that make them feel like they are from an entirely new Classic Sonic game. Studiopolis Zone, where Sonic dashes through a TV studio and teleport from place to place by Satellite dishes. With a boss fight that creatively abuses the TV Forecast tropes.
Press Garden with the excellent level design that is complimented by the beautiful aesthetics surrounding it. I just love how after defeating the sub-boss the stage becomes a beautiful snowy wonderland that has a magnificent music theme that makes my ears melt and brings me over the edge.
Mirage Saloon’s good ol’ Western Aesthetic is just funny to play through. I especially love the giant guns that shoot Sonic across the stage which just adds to the game’s charm. That and the Piano tiles which always come with every Wild West trope movie, with the Act 2 boss seeing the return of characters like Bean the Dynamite, Bark the Polar Bear and Fang the Sniper.
Titanic Monarch reminds me a lot of Crimson Carnival from Sonic Unleashed, mostly because it’s a huge stage where you go through skyscrapers in a high-tech metropolis that culminates with a fight against Doctor Eggman himself with a rather epic boss fight.
These stages alongside Egg Reverie are pretty much a demonstration of how well the new stages can blend perfectly with the classics. With incredible visual flares and references to old sonic properties and even propaganda used to promote said classics (Lock-On Technology is heavily advertised in this game. Especially in Studiopolis).
Gameplay and Mechanics that Never needed a fix.
For the people new to the series, Sonic Mania is a 2D side-scrolling platformer based on momentum. The name of the game is clearing the stage by going from point A to point B in the fastest time possible.
You can take control of a whole plethora of characters including Sonic the Hedgehog, Miles “Tails” Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel. Every single one of the characters will bring different ways to speed through the stages which encourages replay value.
Sonic sports a new ability called the Drop Dash, by pressing and holding the jump button in mid-air, Sonic begins to wind up and rockets off in a high speed spin-dash. It’s a good way to recover your speed after a drop caused by enemies or because the player suddenly hit a wall.
Tails has the ability to fly through stages. This is done by pressing the jump button and constantly tapping it to increase his height. This isn’t an end all beat all thing because Tails gets tired after a short period of time of flight and needs to land on the floor before being able to take flight again.
Knuckles has the ability to Climb Walls by landing on them and he also can Glide by holding the jump button in Mid-air. Naturally, he’s a slower character than Sonic and Tails but he also is the character a lot of players will find more attractive for stage exploration.
The first new kid in town is Mighty the Armadillo who comes back from Knuckles Chaotix and brings the Hammer Drop, which is a downward slam attack that can also break some obstacles and even reveal some hidden goodies in the stages.
The second new character to talk about is Ray the Flying Squirrel. He can glide through stages like Knuckles, but this is actually much faster. Not only that but the player can freely move Ray up and down to increase his height and flight distance.
There will be times where the speed will be so fast that you will even be outrunning the camera at points. Keeping the speed like this is a major challenge in this game but that doesn’t mean that exploration is completely off the charts as there are places that reward curious players for their capability of finding hidden treasure along the stages.
One of the collectibles the player will come across are Rings, which will give them an extra life when they collect 100 of them. However, if the player gets hit by an enemy or touch spikes, they will lose all the rings they’re currently holding.
Rings are basically a one hit protection, but you can protect said rings by acquiring power-ups like the returning Elemental shields or the Combine RIng power-up that makes groups of rings scatter as gigantic and slow moving rings.
Elemental Shields come in different flavors and allow for different uses. The Flame Shield is a Shield that makes the player character immune to Fire hazards like Lava and also allows for a short Flame Dash that can destroy enemies and grants immunity for a bit, perfect for offensive approaches. However, it should be said that this shield dissipates when it touches a body of water.
The Thunder Shield allows the character wearing it to collect Rings from a distance and enables a Double Jump. This also affects the Flying Battery Zone stage as the magnetic ceilings in the Zone will attract the character and open up new routes to explore the stage even further.
The Aqua Shield is my favorite one of the bunch, it prevents the player from drowning in flooded areas when equipped and it also allows characters to use a Bound Jump to reach further heights or constantly bounce on the floor.
Other power-ups include Speed Up and Invincibility. These features are mostly self-explanatory and work on a short timer. The Speed Up Power-up produces afterimages while active and the Invincibility Power-up surrounds the player character with sparkles.
It may seem like a lot to digest for new players in the game. However, a simple playthrough of Sonic Mania Plus will allow players to realize that these elements can actually be easy to get used to. Not only that but they are bound to find these and more gameplay elements in mechanics through experimentation in multiple playthroughs.
Special Stages and Chaos Emeralds: The Frustrating Bunch
Of course, there will be times where curiosity will get the best of you and you will want to explore these stages back to back to learn new routes or to acquire the plot important Chaos Emeralds, which are required for a better ending.
In order to find the Chaos Emeralds, you need to access special stages. The special stages are readily available to the player through a giant ring hidden in various zones of the game. You can reach these places by thinking outside the box or by complete accident like I did in Chemical Plant Act 1.
These are the biggest rewards that the game offers and introduce you to Special Stages where the prize is a Chaos Emerald. However, there are other kind of special stages in the form of Blue Sphere, which are accessible by collecting 50 Rings and touching a sparking circle right after passing by a Checkpoint.
In the Special Stages, the player chases a UFO that holds the Chaos Emerald itself while the ring count acts as a timer and goes from 30 to 0 in a circuit-like racetrack. It’s possible to extend the timer by collecting Rings and acquire more speed by collecting Blue Spheres, both scattered throughout the stage as a whole.
Mobility options are also limited to being able to move left and right (The character runs forward automatically) and jump. Don’t worry, this actually makes the Special Stage a bit easier since there isn’t a lot to be concerned about besides avoiding obstacles or falling off the stage.
It should be noted that increasing the character speed will make them harder to control. Not only that but the amount of Rings available in the Special Stage is rather limited and do not respawn. As such, it’s important to manage resources effectively while speeding through the racetrack.
Completion of the Special Stage rewards the player with one of the 7 Chaos Emeralds. Completing the 7 Special Stages will allow the character to access their respective Super Form. Super Forms are enhanced versions of the characters that can be accessed by collecting 50 Rings and Pressing Y (Xbox) / X (Switch) / Triangle (PlayStation).
The Common Traits of Super Forms are enhanced mobility and invincibility. But they also depend on Rings to continue running, with the Ring Count going to 0, acting as a timer again. As such, it’s important to keep collecting rings in order to make this benefit last as long as possible.
Of course, individual character abilities also receive buffs as well. Knuckles receives a buff in his Gliding Height and Climbs walls faster, Tails becomes faster while flying, so on and so forth. In the case of Sonic, acquiring the 7 Chaos Emeralds is required to access Egg Reverie Zone and also the best ending for Mania Mode.
Don’t feel guilty if you can’t get the 7 emeralds on your first run. The game offers you plenty of chances to retry the Special Stages and the player is almost always bound to find a Giant Ring at some point as well.
Something that initially bothered me was the fact that once a Giant Ring was touched, it couldn’t be used again (Unless playing in a completed game file), not even by starting over from the beginning of the Zone by reloading your save file.
Now that the Special Stages are out of the way, let’s quickly address Blue Sphere Stages as well. These stages are not actually ways to acquire Chaos emeralds but they do unlock special features in Sonic Mania Plus.
The Playable Character once again moves automatically in a spherical planet. The objective is to collect all the Blue Spheres / Rings in the stage while avoiding the Red Spheres. All the while the pacing of the character becomes faster overtime.
Completing the stage by collecting all the Blue Spheres rewards the player with a Silver Medallion while getting all the rings and spheres rewards the player with a Golden Medallion. Like I said before, Medallions are used to unlock new features for future replays of Sonic Mania Plus.
Sonic Mania’s Charming Presentation
Let’s talk about the presentation aspect to Sonic Mania Plus starting with its musical score. The music of this game is just amazing, every remix has become a tune I will listen to whenever I go out and whenever I want to relax.
Chemical Plant Act 2, Press Garden Act 2, Blue Sphere, Stardust Speedway Act 1, the Main Theme by Hyper Potions, Studiopolis Act 2, Titanic Monarch Act 1 and Flying Battery Zone Act 2 being my personal favorites.
The composition is just so great; the songs feel natural to each other. Heck, I can spend hours listening to the freaking MENU SONG. This is something that hasn’t been achieved by any musical score before, but I guess that’s to be expected from a Sonic Game, which always has had excellent musical choices regardless of the quality.
Coupled with the amazing music is the amount of callbacks and references throughout the stages. It’s so lovely that the team behind Sonic Mania Plus prove to be incredibly big fans of not just Sonic, but SEGA in general.
I can pick the visual references I noticed like the Daytona USA High-Class Hornet truck, the Segasonic Popcorn Shop gag and the callback of “Genesis Does…” in Studiopolis (With even more in that same area!), the Future sign and even the Sonic CD Time Travel action used as a transition between Stardust Speedway Zone Act 1 and 2, even the introduction sequence has a reference with Tails wearing the goggles he used during the Sonic OVA.
And by God, even the Bosses are filled with references to the Sonic Games and SEGA in general. Having the boss of Chemical Plant Zone Act 2 be a round against Dr. Eggman in Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine or when you defeat him in Studiopolis Zone Act 2 the audio feed of the game has that annoying buzz that plagued the Sonic 25th anniversary shi- I mean, stream in 2016.
I have complimented the graphics before as well, but I’d like to talk about the animations they use for Sonic Mania Plus. The characters move around at a fluid pace and they make such charming gestures when you’re idle or when watching a mid-stage cutscene. The spritework is just amazing and the subtle visual touches also make for great stages.
I love how Knuckles in his scenario thinks twice before throwing himself at the Master Emerald with little doodles, or how Sonic gets into his running position before a drop of water falls on his head and he shakes it off (Which is a reference to Sonic Spinball when Sonic dries himself when starting the first level, Toxic Caves). Attention to detail like this is what makes a game great, and Sonic Mania doesn’t fail in that.
And by God, even the game’s achievements are chuck-full of references to even other games that aren’t from SEGA like Pokèmon, and even a book by Charles Dickens. I just don’t see the end of the charm this game has and I could actually spend hours upon hours explaining every reference I pick up in and outside of the game, it’s just that good.
Now, this basically means that any people who don’t know much about Sonic games will definitely be alienated or indifferent to the Easter Eggs and references and it could also potentially make the game dated at some point. However, I don’t think that was the point behind them and they are just neat things to discover for those who happen to stumble upon them.
Tweaks that need some Work within Sonic Mania Plus
I’d love to believe that Sonic Mania Plus is perfect, but there are a few more issues that need to be talked about, people say Boss fights are too hard and frustrating. I say they are too easy and painfully gimmicky sometimes. That’s not to say that they are downright bad but there are some times where the game tries to be too innovative.
Take Metal Sonic in Stardust Speedway Zone Act 2 for instance, where you have to wait until mini-sonic robot clones start spin dashing so you spin dash against them so they are flung into Metal Sonic. It’s simple in concept but in execution, it fails because I swear the angles at which these things are launched are way too random and will only hit Metal Sonic whenever the game feels like it.
I praised the Eggman Boss Battle in Chemical Plant Zone Act 2 but I realize that I am gushing about it because I played a lot of Sonic games in my youth and can understand the joke. However, people expecting a platformer boss (and those who don’t enjoy puzzle games) will certainly scratch their heads when they start playing Puyo Puyo against AI.
There is also the fact that there are zones where the pacing is inconsistent or slow. I will say it, I don’t like the return of Oil Ocean Zone Act 1. Seriously, I hear that it’s a level loved by a lot of Sonic 2 fans but the aesthetic and music were painful and the pacing was slow compared to the rest of the zones. Thankfully, the remixed version fixes these problems and has an amazing song as well.
I am also ashamed to admit that I was a bit lost during my first time playing through Flying Battery Zone Act 1. I did learn how the structure of the stage worked after that and managed to breeze through it in multiple playthroughs, but I do realize that some players might get lost (or even find Giant Rings by complete accident like I did).
My gripes with the stages are really few and far between so just consider the aforementioned problems a nitpick. However, besides that. I still believe that Sonic Mania Plus is a great throwback at the classic formula. For the first time, I didn’t have any issues with framerates, compatibility with controllers or lack of response to inputs.
For a game which the main gimmick is to be absolutely precise. I find that to be an admirable move. Every mistake I make in the game feels like it’s my fault and not the game’s for some arbitrary reason. Not even the DENUVO Malware managed to stop me from the game’s antics, that doesn’t mean I forgive the use of a thing that throttles computers, though.
The Encore Package: A Great Cake without Icing.
So, let’s address the things that come with the Encore Package as well. First off, we should talk about the aforementioned Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel. I did mention that I like these character’s gimmicks and playstyle options but in Mania Mode (the main mode of the game) both of these characters don’t really have a story of their own.
It bothers me a lot because, well, Knuckles had his own story to go through and while yes, he did visit the same Zones he had his own stage structure and often visited different areas in the same Zones, giving him a lot more identity. With Ray and Mighty, it just feels like more of an afterthought than anything.
Let’s also talk about the main draw of the game package, Encore Mode. This is a pretty hefty rethread of Mania Mode that does enough things to be different from its counterpart. As such, as a whole, I respect the structure of this DLC package.
This Mode takes place after the events of Mania Mode and Sonic Forces. With Sonic teleporting into Angel Island Zone and finding Mighty and Ray trapped in a capsule. After you make a pick of which one you take with you, you get back to Green Hill Zone and the game’s stage structure goes back to normal.
However, I will mention that the stage layouts are entirely different, with new pathways built for the new guys. Some bosses are actually harder or have new phases added on top of them. The Special Stages are now reversed aesthetically and also made even harder to complete (I spent more than half an hour stuck in Special Stage 7, for instance), and a brand new Bonus Stage was added in the form of a giant pinball table that provides various goodies.
Encore Mode also has a very different approach to the gameplay in general by omitting the use of Lives entirely in favor of a Party System that uses all 5 of the characters. The party starts with Sonic and Ray/Mighty. Then, through the use of monitors hidden throughout the stage, the player will eventually add Tails, Knuckles and whoever wasn’t picked at the beginning to the party as well.
Yes, this means that these characters are like lives in a sense. If one of the characters dies by any means, they get swapped by one of the characters you have in standby. If all 5 characters are lost, you get a Game Over and will have to start the stage all over again (Or go back to the Title Screen if you don’t have any Continues).
While this could potentially make the game harder. Believe me, I don’t think it is. Reason Number 1 being that the amount of chances you have to collect your characters back (either through the Bonus Stage or by finding monitors to break) are plentiful and by the end of my playthrough I found myself with 5 Continues to Spare.
Also, I’m probably going to make this an article on its own but the Ending of the game you get for collecting all the Chaos Emeralds is definitely not worth the effort you go through in the Special Stages. I don’t want to spoil it for those who are enthusiastic enough to go after the challenge of collecting the Chaos Emeralds but the ending is very underwhelming.
Besides that, I think that for $5 USD is a great DLC pack that offers more than just 2 characters to add into the fray. I just believe that this package could’ve given Mighty and Ray more emphasis or even their own stages for Mania Mode. I certainly am not calling this package as a whole bad because an entire new mode was added to the game, I just wish I could’ve gotten a bit more.
Sonic Mania Plus: The best Classic Sonic Game to Date.
The fact that Sonic Mania Plus is a game that was created by fans of the series just tells how much love and dedication went into it. The work in the level design and the attention to detail are just parts of the big love letter to Classic Sonic fans. And honestly, it couldn’t have been done better.
Sonic Mania has some faults to its name, however. These don’t deter from the experience like before, in fact, it only makes me appreciate the amount of great things the game does even more than before. While I may have my gripes with the Encore Package or the game in general, it’s still a fantastic game all around.
It just seems like a sin to give Sonic games a positive score despite how much love and work is put into it. It especially seems to be the case with some critics in the industry (Along with that circlejerk of YouTubers who keep saying there are no good Sonic Games at all).
However, I believe that Sonic Mania Plus has an incredibly fair price tag of $25 USD for what should be considered a Premium AAA title, not only that but the DLC only adds more to the experience and brings a valid excuse to dust off the copy of the game you have and play it again. With that said, Welcome to the Next Level!