I should preface this review with an important disclaimer: I have a Sonic the Hedgehog stuffed animal somewhere, multiple Sonic the Hedgehog shirts, and at least one pair of Sonic the Hedgehog pajama bottoms. He's been my dude since I was a kid.
That little blue hedgehog had attitude, he was fighting the MAN, he was a violent environmentalist. I freaking loved that little blue ball of anthropomorphic sass.
Sadly, after nearly 3 decades of titles, Sonic has struggled to find his footing. For every great game (Sonic CD, Sonic 4, the minigames in Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Generations), there were multiple flops (Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Adventure, Sonic Boom, Sonic: The Lost World, Sonic Unleashed, and whatever the hell Shadow the Hedgehog was supposed to be).
Hell, I'll come right out and say it: Sonic hasn't had a decent game since Generations.
Every new iteration brought on a level of apprehension: "maybe this one will be good," to no avail. All of us Sonic stans were almost universally saddened each time a broken game was released.
And then this trailer dropped:
Once again, there was hope. That familiar feeling of childlike wonder... "maybe THIS one will be good!"
So... does Sonic Mania live up to the hype?
The short, long, and unquestionable answer is "YES."
Sonic Mania is everything Blue Hedgehog fans have been craving since Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
The music, the level design, the art style, the controls... nearly all of them mimic the heydays of yesteryear with a blast of nostalgia.
In fact, many of the levels in the game are damned near shot-for-shot remakes of previous games... with a twist. Green Hill Zone Act 1 now features a few ziplines. Casino Nights has new enemies. And now, each stage's Act 1 features a unique miniboss.
And the SPRITES. Man, I never knew how much I missed those little pixelated blobs of colors. Sure, it *looks* retro, but stop for a minute and watch the way Sonic and Tails move. Each twitch of your thumb produces an incredibly smooth action. Look up or look down and watch Sonic's expression and position change fluidly. And it's not just the main characters, either. Check out the awesome enemy sprites and Eggman's movements... hell, even the environment's details are just perfect: spikes bounce menacingly, trees swish back and forth, lights flicker... it's just excellent design.
At one point, they do a throwback to one of my absolute FAVORITES from the Genesis Era: Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, an awesomely underrated Puyo Puyo-style game that was straight up murder-your-controller hard. It was just teeny tiny little nod in one level, but I may have squealed when it happened. There are TONS of these little eastereggs and references.
The music is spot-on. Sure, there are the original tracks that have been used and re-used again and again... but now, Act 2 of each Stage even offers a cool little remix of the original song. It's fresh. It's new... and most of all... it's fucking FUN.
That feeling of out-of-control speed from Sonic's earliest outings are back -- for better and worse. While the nostalgia factor definitely helps, careening around a stage with very little control (more like a Rube Goldberg Machine than other "classic" platformers) is chaotic and wild. It's still frustrating to be cannonballing around and then lose all of your rings to an unfortunately placed set of spikes. The game's instance on speed and acceleration is marred by enemy and trap design and placement. You can't just run your way to the end. You've gotta think quickly, backtrack, and time jumps and rolls just right to make it work.
It isn't nearly Super Meat Boy precise (and thank GOD it isn't. The controls are NOT designed to react in a tight fashion), but it's literally EXACTLY how the game played in 1991 -- again, for better and worse. Oh, and the water levels are still anxiety-inducing.
During the course of the adventure mode, you may remember that keeping a healthy stock of rings rewards you with bonus levels at checkpoints. That same mechanic is back, and again, there's a twist; The old school 3D ball capturing minigame from Sonic 3 is back, but instead of competing for chaos emeralds, these yield silver and gold coins, which unlock features, movesets (YES, they bring in moves from previous Sonic games!), and other extras. Oh, the Chaos Emeralds are still around. Remember the random oversized Ring portal things from Sonic 3? Yeah, those take you to yet another minigame for the Emeralds. Oh, and literally everything is couch-coop.
There's a time-attack mode, a challenge mode... and eastereggs, eastereggs, and more eastereggs. This is a Sonic game made for Sonic stans.
All of this is not JUST a return to form for Sonic. It's Sonic as he always should have been. It's the best $20 I've spent on a game in years.
9.5/10 "& Knuckles" jokes made
A quick note: I played this on Nintendo Switch, and there were a few issues. For one, the Switch's Joycons will occasionally not register an action (for example, pressing the "home" and "capture image" buttons occasionally just don't work), making some of the more hectic moments unnecessarily frustrating. It's not game-breaking, but it can be obnoxious.