Go on fun adventures with your favorite digital Sonic characters
Sonic Mania is a trip back down memory lane, packed with some of the best experiences in the blue hedgehog's long and storied history, stuffed in a 2D platformer that draws from the sense of speed and nostalgia that defined the golden days of the Sega Genesis. Sonic the Hedgehog fans have had to deal with a lot of ups and downs over the years, and recently, the low points have long outweighed the high ones. The move to 3D gaming resulted in a lot of poorly regarded games, as Sega never quite seemed to figure out how to make the thrilling and unfettered sense of speed work when adapting to the third dimension. Sonic Mania recognizes the strengths of the franchise and captures the feel that made gamers first fall in love with the titular character. Their approach to capturing this magic is somewhat unorthodox, drawing in amateur modders who have spent years developing unofficial fan games. By pulling in these fans, they've managed to hit gold, creating perhaps the most comprehensive Sonic the Hedgehog game of all time.
Sonic Mania is a game that absolutely drips with love, and that's in no small part due to the inclusion of fans in the development process. There are a lot of remixes here, with sprite sets that draw from the most beloved early games and restructuring them in challenging and interesting games. But this isn't a simple greatest hits collections with some minor alterations made for the sake of creating a new experience. The look of the levels may be familiar, but they build on that familiarity in interesting ways and then turn them on their heads. Players who were raised on Sonic will feel like they're coming home again, as all the old moves are intact and replaced only with a new drop dash move. It's a game that recognizes the inherent simplicity that's at the core of a great Sonic experience and doesn't try to fix what's already broken.
Where the game really finds its stride is in the boss encounters. While bosses have been a big part of the franchise from the very first installment, and they've always required unique strategies to overcome, Sonic Mania pushes the dial to 11 in terms of creativity. All in all, they count about two dozen, and they run the gamut from traditional platform bosses that require you to learn the patterns and exploit them to more irreverent affairs like a matching puzzle fight built on the Mean Bean Machine spin-off game.
If there's any significant problem with the game, it's that it's almost too in love with its source material. If it's been a while since you've played the Sonic series, you may have trouble distinguishing this new iteration from the source material. But the missteps that have been taken in the intervening years may be a good sign that going back to basics is the only conceivable route for the series.