When Sonic Mania originally released last year I was ecstatic. Sonic The Hedgehog’s fortunes had been a little mixed over the last few console generations, so to finally have a true sequel to Sonic and Knuckles was amazing (yeah, we had Sonic 4, but it didn’t re-create the magic of the Mega Drive era). Fortunately, the game played superbly too, as you’ll find out in this review…
SEGA could’ve just left it at that and fans would’ve been happy, but no – they weren’t finished yet. Thus, we have Sonic Mania Plus, a new release that includes the original Sonic Mania but with some all-new additions including extra characters to play as and a whole new game mode.
Throughout this review I want to avoid as many spoilers as possible, with Sonic Mania Plus offering some genuine surprises that really brought plenty of smiles to my face. Outside of nods to the classic games, it also does some new things that were fantastic to play through – however, mentioning them here would ruin it for anyone who hasn’t played the game. Avoiding spoilers means that I can’t talk about a lot of what makes Sonic Mania Plus so damn good, but in doing so I’m making sure that your experience of the game will be as refreshing and rewarding as mine was. YOU’RE WELCOME.
One of the best parts of the classic Sonic games was that there wasn’t some overly convoluted story – there was just a hedgehog who wants to recover the mystical Chaos Emeralds and defeat the evil Dr. Robot- I mean, the evil Dr. Eggman. You know what, this is a throwback to the 90s so I’m calling him Dr. Robotnik!
Well, it’s the same case in Sonic Mania Plus. You won’t find Sonic snogging humans, wearing a stupid scarf, or transforming into a werehog here; this is a simple affair that prioritises all-out action-packed gameplay rather than a silly over the top narrative. It makes for a better experience overall, with no cringe worthy scenes that’ll have you wincing at each interaction Sonic has.
What this means is that you’ll be speeding across complex 2D levels that look like they’ve come straight from the Mega Drive. I mean, seriously, the visual style features cleaned up sprites and environments that look like they belong in the original game as well as its sequels. It’s not just that the levels look familiar because of their graphic style though, but a lot of them are actually based upon the stages you’ve sped across in the past.
Whilst it has its fair share of original levels across all-new environments, Sonic Mania Plus also puts you in levels that are remixed versions of those in the classic games. The first level you play feels exactly like the original Green Hill Zone from the very first game to begin with, though it won’t take you long before you see a variety of changes have been made. It makes everything feel both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, with the game pulling at your heart strings with its all-out nostalgia but also giving you something completely fresh in the process.
There are elements of Sonic Mania Plus that you’ll only fully appreciate if you’ve been a long term fan of the series though. A lot of the levels and environments are remixes of classics after all, so if you haven’t already played through them a hundred times before like most gamers you won’t be able to appreciate the changes that have been made. Sure, it does mean you’ll get all-new levels to try out instead, but I feel a lot of what makes Sonic Mania Plus so special is the fact that it’s more of the same but… well… newer. Even minor little nods like the classic SEGA logo reveal as you boot up the game won’t be as appreciated for some, which is a crying shame since it brought back so many childhood memories for me.
I think everyone will be able to appreciate the fantastic boss encounters though. I can say with complete confidence that not only does Sonic Mania Plus have the best boss encounters out of any of the classic Sonic the Hedgehog games, but also out of any 16-bit style platformer I’ve ever played. They’re so entertaining and incredibly varied, with the game constantly challenging you to do something different. Don’t get me wrong, they could be predictable at times and will never really push you as far as their difficulty level is concerned, but the game is second to none in providing entertaining showdowns against a myriad of foes (including good ol’ Dr. Robotnik time and time again). As mentioned, I won’t spoil anything so I can’t go into too much detail about the boss encounters, but I can certainly promise you that you won’t be disappointed.
With Sonic Mani Plus, you’re not only able to play as Sonic, Tails, Sonic and Tails, and Knuckles, but also two new characters: Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel. Whilst playing as the likes of Tails and Knuckles already added a fair bit of variety to the experience when Sonic Mania originally launched, the all-new additions of Mighty and Ray essentially re-invent the formula again.
Mighty is all about toughness – he is an armadillo after all. This means he has an extra bit of protection from some of the game’s spiky hazards, but he’s also able to unleash a powerful ground-pound that can damage enemies and get rid of obstacles in his path. Whilst Mighty is all about strength, Ray is all about manoeuvrability. He’s a flying squirrel, which means, of course, that he can glide his way across levels. It’s much more effective than Tails’ attempts at flying in-game and opens up all new ways to approach some levels. Both characters feel balanced though and don’t feel like they break anything as far as general gameplay is concerned – sure, Ray could make it a little easy to bypass tricky areas of levels at times, but they never felt out of place. They’re just a great addition to the classic formula.
Whilst everything that Sonic Mania Plus offers is superb for both veterans and newcomers to the series, it would be all for nothing if it didn’t *feel* like a classic Sonic game to play. Thankfully it plays just like it did all those years ago, with the controls feeling tight and giving you the sense of freedom that makes you feel in total control of each character’s actions. Sonic has always been all about speed, but you’ll always be the one doing the running; scenes where the game seems to play itself for you because of its outright speedy nature aren’t as present here as in newer releases, so everything always comes down to your skills and what you’re doing.
You’ve got all of the classic moves too, with the spin dash allowing you to literally rev Sonic up as you smash your way through enemies and across incredible heights. There’s also the addition of an all-new move, with Sonic’s new drop dash allowing him to blast off as a spinning ball from mid-air. It actually feels like it adds something unique to the game instead of being there for the sake of adding something new, with the move giving you a lot more flexibility with Sonic’s manoeuvrability without forcing you to come to a complete standstill.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sonic game without a myriad of special stages to race across, and Sonic Mania Plus includes what I’d consider to be one of my favourites out of all of the 2D games. Basically, you’re left chasing down what looks like a UFO that’s carrying a Chaos Emerald across 3D race track environments – it’s a bit like Sonic CD’s Special Stages in that respect, but a bit more intricate and with just the one UFO to hunt down. In order to speed up, you need to collect the countless blue spheres that are littered around each area. Once you get enough you eventually pick up the speed needed to catch the UFO. You’ve got a time limit though, with the collection of rings boosting your remaining time up a second per ring. These levels are incredibly fun, offering something that felt different to the classic special stages whilst still maintaining the charm that made them so endearing to begin with. Be warned though; they can get pretty tough, so don’t be surprised if you miss out on a couple of Chaos Emeralds during your first run through of the game.
Outside of the main game, Sonic Mania Plus also features a Time Trial mode as well as a Competition mode that allows you to face off against your friends in local multiplayer action. They’re nice additions to have in the game and will certainly give you something else to strive for after beating the main single player component, but the multiplayer is slightly let down by the lack of online play.
The new Plus release also brings with it the Encore mode, which is a surprising amount of fun to play through. It sends you across altered versions of the game’s levels, but this time you find different characters through each stage and swap between them through specific points on each level in a party-like system. It’s a simple formula, but it actually works really well and gives you a chance to give each character in the game a spin. Admittedly, it would have been a lot nicer to have a bit more freedom as far as swapping characters is concerned, but it didn’t deter from the experience too much. It even comes with a Sonic Spinball-inspired bonus level, which is something I can appreciate – even if I didn’t really get on with the game when I played it when I was younger…
Sonic Mania Plus has also brought a few additional changes here and there, with a new boss battle, minor changes on levels, as well as a few tweaks to how the game plays. I spent a lot of time with the game when it released in its original form and in honesty I didn’t notice the changes too much (bar a few neat surprises), but it’s good to see that SEGA have worked at ensuring newer players get the smoothest experience possible.
Sonic Mania was already a superb game without the additions that Plus brings, but the new characters, game mode and all of the little tweaks somehow manage to make the whole thing better. Sure, newcomers to the franchise who weren’t around for the 16-bit days still might not appreciate it as much, but those who have been with Sonic since the ‘good old days’ will be in awe.
Honestly, Sonic Mania Plus is just a gem of a title and one that belongs in any Switch owner’s library. SEGA have tried to go all out in offering an experience that’s not only fun but full of nostalgia, and boy have they succeeded. It’s simply brilliant.
Developer: Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games, SEGA
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC