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Sonic Mania

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: PagodaWest Games
Release Date: July 17, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Sonic Mania Plus'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 3, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Sonic Mania brings fans back into the 2D world of platform games with nostalgic pixel-style art and core classic gameplay by reimagining iconic Zones and Acts from Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD and Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and Knuckles.

Buy Sonic Mania Plus

When Sonic Mania released last year, it was heralded as the best title in the series since the original Sega Genesis games. It provided players with a reminder of how good a 2D title can be, while also introducing new stages and elements that could make it stand out as more than just a tribute game. That's a significant feat, since the title was developed by fans instead of the main Sonic Team over at Sega. Die-hard Sonic fans and lapsed ones alike agreed with the critics, and they ate up the title, proving that the blue blur is still as viable as ever. The original development team kept plugging away at improving the game, and almost a year later, we have the expanded Sonic Mania Plus, which is also available as DLC for owners of the original title.

As far as the plot goes, Dr. Robotnik is once again trying to steal the Chaos Emeralds to rule the world. This time, he has the help of some robots that became self-aware and refer to themselves as the Hard-Boiled Heavies. As Sonic and Tails arrive on the scene, one of the emeralds has already been dug up, and its power was already tapped, sending the heroic duo time-traveling into adventures past and future.

The first level is Green Hill Zone Act 1, and from the outset, nothing looks or feels different. Both Sonic and Tails look exactly like they did back when Sonic the Hedgehog 2 came out, and Green Hill Zone looks exactly like it did in the first Sonic the Hedgehog game. Enemy placement is the same, the rings are in the same locations, and the springs are also where you remember them to be. Even the music is the same. More importantly, the game is presented completely in 2D with exquisite sprite work. In short, the first level is an exact replica of past games, and while it still serves as a perfect introductory level for the gameplay mechanics, it leaves one wondering what all the fuss is about.

Give it a little time, and you'll notice the gameplay differences. The level may start off with the iconic loop, but you'll soon encounter that spiral from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The flame bubble shield is here, but it burns the wooden beams with spikes on it. Get the bubble shield, and you can now perform a bounce attack. Hit a checkpoint, and you'll see the stars for the bonus stage appear, taking you to the large spherical worlds of Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Reach the end of the stage, and you'll be greeted with a boss fight instead of the large sign indicating the end of the level. What starts off as a carbon copy of an older level quickly morphs into an amalgamation of the best bits from other Sonic titles. It's a neat trick, and the mash-ups are expertly crafted instead of being haphazardly put together.

If that's all the game was comprised of, then it would be fine, but Green Hill Zone Act 2 changes things up dramatically. The level's theme remains, but there are plenty of elements added to the background to make the worlds feel richer. Enemies are different, and the new level layout is much larger than the original levels. Paired with new bosses and new music, the additions never feel out of place.

This sort of thing continues with stage themes that are both old and new. Chemical Zone, for example, introduces syringes that change the properties of some of the toxic liquid so it's less deadly and more bounceable. Flying Battery has piles of junk that are used to slow you down, while Oil Ocean fills the screen with smog if you don't take the time to vent the level at checkpoints. Studiopolis has you going through popcorn machines while watching old-timey cartoons of Eggman, and Mirage Saloon brings back the pinball bumpers and flippers while adding seltzer bottles and pistols for propulsion.

Part of the reason why those old remixed levels and the newer stages work is because the design team understood what made the older games shine. Sonic is often thought of as a game about speed, and Sonic Mania Plus certainly embraces that ethos. Indeed, there are parts where you'll see the hedgehog and his two-tailed fox companion bounce around like mad pinballs, reaching speeds so fast that the camera has a bit of trouble keeping up. It makes for quite the spectacle where you feel like taking control will just break the scene.

However, those who have played the old titles will also note that those same stages allowed for exploration if you're willing to slow down a bit, and that idea is also accepted here. The path to the end of a stage has many branches, so if you're willing to look around and jump, you'll find a path with a few tricks that you may not have seen on your first run. Indeed, there are plenty of rings and power-ups to be found, so going off the beaten path is likely to result in a good surprise instead of a dead-end or death.

As such, the game as a whole becomes a celebration of what worked in the past and retrofits some new ideas that work well without breaking the title's original spirit. The physics feel right; it takes some time to build momentum or stop, so things don't feel abruptly done. New moves like the drop dash, which lets you build up your spin dash speed in the air, are available, but otherwise, the control configuration is straightforward. The real highlight are the boss fights, which are a mix of remixed old encounters and something new. Some of them are pretty inventive, like the robot spider fight where you have to knock it into walls of spikes. Others are frantic, like the fight in a trash compactor. They're all good, but a special mention has to be made for one fight that emulates Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, the reskin of Puyo Puyo that released on the Sega Genesis decades ago.

The game is actually quite long, with the number of stages trouncing those found in all of the titles that inspired this one. It can be finished in a short amount of time, but finishing the game only with the Sonic and Tails duo robs you of the full experience. Both of those characters and Knuckles can go solo, and while Sonic's experience only differs in that you've lost an extra person to deliver hits with, everyone else's run is vastly different. Both Tails' flight and Knuckles' climbing ability open up routes that Sonic couldn't reach, and in the case of Knuckles, a completely different boss fight appears. As such, the game warrants multiple playthroughs to get the complete picture, and that's not counting the versus racing stages or the collection of Chaos Emeralds for the true final fight and ending.

Speaking of which, the bonus stages may be the only part of the game that will grow tiresome. Finding the large rings in each stage takes you to a chase sequence reminiscent of Sonic CD. You collect orbs to gain speed and catch up to the emerald, but the less-than-precise controls here make navigating through the courses a chore. The bonus stages gained from checkpoints are much more fun, even if completing them only unlocks bonus games, like a truncated version of Mean Bean Machine and the chance to replay the spherical stages. They're so numerous and the access requirements are so low that you'll encounter them quite often. You may actively skip them just so you don't break your momentum in the current stage.

At first glance, the Plus portion of the title (or Encore, for those taking the DLC route) comes from the inclusion of two very obscure characters in the Sonic universe. Both Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel come from the somewhat-obscure arcade game, Segasonic the Hedgehog. As you would expect, both come equipped with some rather nifty moves. Mighty gains a ground pound that can break through some terrain to reveal new pathways. He's also impervious to spikes so long as he's in motion. For Ray, he's comparable to having Mario's cape form in Super Mario World. It'll take some practice to control, but mastering his dive bomb and upward glide means you can keep him airborne for a while and hover through most of the level — similar to Knuckles but covering more distance.

Adding the characters wasn't enough, as the game comes with a brand-new campaign that adds new routes to take advantage of the abilities that both Ray and Mighty bring to the table. Additionally, the game has a pinball minigame that replaces the original's blue sphere minigame. You're tasked with shooting the ball to the top of the table to activate a crane minigame, where you try to get shields and characters. This last part is important because the new campaign doesn't use the standard lives system. Instead, you'll be paired with another character all the time and can switch between the two at will, and the rest of the cast acts as reserves. If the character you're controlling perishes, you'll immediately hit the last checkpoint with a new character from the reserves, and the character you lost has to be rescued from the pinball table or environment. It's a neat little twist that skews the gameplay for Sonic experts rather than those who are coming to grips with the campaign for the first time.

According to the developers, the presentation can be summed up as what would have happened if Sega kept the series in 2D but had it play on the Sega Saturn. For the most part, this means that the game looks like the Genesis version but with an increased sprite count and more colors. It tries to remain faithful to the quirks of the console, like the color bloom is only present when the game fades to black. The overall look, including the much smoother animations for all of the characters, really shows off the extra horsepower. As mentioned earlier, the sound effects and some of the music is the original material, but it's still fascinating how the new stuff matches the quality without using any extra sound channels to make things sound too rich.

Sonic Mania Plus is a must-have for gaming fans of all types. If you're a fan of the Genesis games, this is exactly what you've been waiting for. If you're more of a new fan, Sonic Mania Plus shows you why the series was so revered in the first place. If you already own the main title, the DLC is an excellent add-on at a reasonable price, especially for the amount of stuff you'll get.

Score: 9.0/10

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