Last night’s announcement of Sonic Mania was well-received by fans of the classic Sonic titles. However, this isn’t the first time that Sega has promised to return Sonic to his roots. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was the biggest attempt to bring the speedy hedgehog back to his 2D glory, but it ultimately failed to recapture that magic thanks to some strange level design and physics that never felt quite right. It’s because of this and other titles that haven’t been well-received that many have curtailed their enthusiasm for Sonic Mania until they can play the game themselves. Thankfully, I had that opportunity and can report that Sonic Mania plays just like the classic Sonic games it models itself after.
The pixel graphics look like a combination of the visuals from Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and Sonic CD. Even some of the animations mimic those of Sonic CD; as Sonic bounces upward off a spring, he spins like he did in CD. Sonic’s running animation when he moves his fastest reminds me of the figure-8 run from CD as well, but without his legs forming the “8.”
The demo I played had two different Zones available. Green Hill Zone is one every Sonic fan remembers from the very first game. In Sonic Mania, you go back to some of these familiar Zones from the older games, but they have updated level designs and a few surprises along the way. In Green Hill Zone, there are additional branching paths to explore and a new boss at the end. The boss I battled at the end of Green Hill Zone was two spherical robots attached with a chain. The two enemies swung back and forth, alternating between being vulnerable to attack and being in damage mode. Once I destroyed one, the remaining enemy began bouncing around the screen as I dodged, waiting for my opportunity to strike. The boss battle wasn’t very difficult, but its design definitely had that old school vibe that the other parts of the game hit on.
The other Zone in the demo is Studiopolis Zone, a futuristic film-themed playground with springs, moving platforms, and rooms that fill up with popcorn. This Zone was more dynamic, focusing on platforming more than the speed-focused Green Hill Zone. That’s not to say that there wasn’t any sprinting involved in this, however. In a nice touch, as I bounced forward off of a spring, Sonic sped so fast that he outran the camera for a fraction of a second. This was always one of my favorite little things that could happen in the Genesis days, and I was so happy to see it happen again in Sonic Mania.
When Sonic 4 Episode 1 launched, the biggest issue many took with it was the weird physics surrounding Sonic’s momentum. With Mania, things feel as they should. The feeling of building up and maintaining speed is exactly how I remember it from my favorite games in the series. Things like running around a loop or getting a high-speed start with a spin-dash feel fantastic.
The demo I played of Sonic Mania left me feeling better about a Sonic game before launch than I have in years. We still have a little bit to wait, however, as the game launches in spring 2017. I loved what I played of Sonic Mania, and I hope it will be worth the wait.