Sonic Mania Review

Sonic Mania was a game that immediately peaked my interest when its first trailer appeared while I was typically wasting my life on Facebook. I took one look at it and said "Fuck yeah, this is exactly what I want!!" - A Sonic the Hedgehog game that harkens back to the original 16-bit titles almost directly. It wasn't until I actually played it that I remembered I had never finished a single game in the series before. Why you ask? Because they are designed and play like absolute garbage! I did however manage to finish Sonic Mania. I wish I could use that statement as a sign of the games' quality but it just means that I'm mentally deranged in the head!

Before progressing, it's important to remember that Sonic Mania is a brilliant Sonic game and entry in the series. Looked at with its own merits though, It's a mediocre 2D platformer. For someone like myself who has predominantly played Super Mario Bros. throughout their lifespan, Sonic's pedigree unfortunately means fuck all and my perception looks directly at Sonic Mania in its own right.

Now that's all out in the open, let me share my experience of being raped by Sonic Mania.

I was still young and naive when the beautifully colourful title screen splashed on my display. I was very impressed with all the giant, colourful pixels spinning around in an attempt to replicate that 16-bit blast processing. Sprites, pixels and retro gaming in general are the buzz of the industry right now, so it was a somewhat correct decision for Sega to choose this art style. But hilariously enough, despite being considered a direct entry in the series, this game was not developed by Sega. It was in fact developed by a group of dedicated people heavily involved in Sonic's fan-game community; Christian "Taxman" Whitehead, PagodaWest Games and Headcannon. I suppose this should've been obvious as the game isn't a complete disgrace, which would've been the result if Sega were directly at the helm.

Anyway, I blasted through the very colourful but limited menu's and jumped right into Mania Mode. A cut scene began which I could not have cared less about and I was then thrown into the game. Man was I pumped up! I was ready to run through this game as fast as I could, ready to zip through and annihilate anything in my way and blitz past all obstacles. After all, speed is the name of the game in Sonic the Hedgehog. I pushed right on the d-pad and Sonic began to run faster and faster as I jumped through the first couple of obstacles. I eventually hit full speed and I was ready to climax, with adrenaline pumping through my veins like I had just munched on a couple of MDMA caps. "Fuck Nintendo!!" I shouted at the top of my lungs. This was surely the pinnacle of gaming I was experiencing. Nothing was going to get better than this shit. Then after those ten blissful seconds, I hit that first deliberately placed obstacle that fucked me over. It all changed from there.

I could explain in every little detail on how I was violated by the design of this game but that would require me to go back to rehab. What I'll do instead is rant and explain the positives and negatives as they flash back to memory.

Sonic the Hedgehog is renown for allowing the player to go fast. This is everyone's favourite aspect and if it's not then you have some serious issues dude. The problem here is that the core design directly punishes you for doing so. As soon as I started to go fast, I'd lose all control of the character. With the placement of enemies and obstacles being so deliberately placed, it's inevitable that I was going to be hit. This happens with every attempt at gaining speed in Sonic Mania, just like its predecessors. The developers dangle the delicious carrot of speed in front of you the whole entire time. If you take the bait, you're fucked.

Why is that rock placed there? To slow you down and piss you off of course!

The crazy thing is, this problem is not the current developers creation. It is obvious that this issue is a core flaw of the Sonic DNA and there are several instances where the developers have done their best to circumvent it by allowing Mania to flow as much as humanly possible. This is Sonic Team's and SEGA's burden. Christian Whitehead is not off the hook though. I blame him for deciding to use the old games as a direct blueprint. Sonic Mania could've been an opportunity to start a new foundation and revolutionise 2D sonic instead of allowing us all to take a huge hit from the Nostalgia Bong. Once that juicy toke wears off, all those classic flaws re-appear and are more apparent as ever.

The biggest thing I would change is the field of view. There is no reason why there could not be a bigger FOV in Sonic Mania. I understand that they attempted to make this as close to the classic Sonic titles as possible, but this should've been an exception. Processing power is no longer an issue and if I could see further ahead of me, it would make going faster so much more enjoyable and make more obstacles avoidable. Fuck you for that Christian Whitehead!

Another huge issue that needed to be rectified is the controls and physics. They are horrible. The whole entire time I was playing, not only was I dealing with Sonic's classicly shit level structure but also constantly fighting with the controls! Once again it's a design decision to stick with the old titles, but sometimes things are better left in the past. Video games have progressed and this aspect really needed to get with the times. They're just flat out unresponsive and inconsistent.

This is particularly apparent as you continue to progress further in the game and the level design begins to frustrate you. Obstacles and enemy placement increasingly become more unfair and precision is required more than ever. It's a shame that the controls are so atrocious that there's nothing more to do but build up that rage and let it explode into a genuine temper tantrum. The anger is amplified by the fact that the frustration isn't from genuine challenge, but by measures that are completely out of your control and unfair. There are even zones that deliberately hamper your controls further due to the environment like Hydrocity. You can imagine how much that pissed me off!

Classic controls, physics and core gameplay elements are by far the biggest issues with Sonic Mania during the act phases. "Luckily" there are also bonus stages scattered secretly throughout. The bonus stages look fantastic with their retro 3D art style but it's a shame that the difficulty lies within the controls and level design once again. The controls are pathetically bad. The objectives of the bonus stages may vary, but the challenge is truly beating the controls. If controllers weren't so expensive these days I would have broken a few with Sonic Mania.

The next core component which - surprise - fucking sucks, is the boss fights. At the end of each act you're tasked with defeating some annoying prick which varies from incredibly easy to jumping off your balcony hard. (I'm looking at you Oil Ocean Act 2 Boss!!) The rules are inconsistent or sometimes impossible to figure out and it's just a guessing game to understand what is necessary to complete the level. The hit detection is woeful which adds to that feeling of being cheated as well. Missing hits or being unfairly hit by enemies is a huge problem (which originated from the classics) and carries on into the other facets of the game too, but it's particularly seething in the boss fights.

I stole this image from a google search.

This whole game is a giant clusterfuck and counter intuitive. You've been trained to run fast but you'll die if you run fast. Play slow and you'll run out of time. Follow the perceived rules and be fucked over with inconsistencies. I began playing Sonic Mania forgiving its flaws and enjoying the developers attempt to engage the player and keep their flow with cool environmental assets and contraptions, but as the levels became more challenging and unforgiving due to the same typical series pitfalls, I became angry. After consistently getting fucked over with cheap shots and obstacles that frustratingly remove all control from the player, I just wanted this game to be over and done with. This resulted in me constantly dying as I ran through levels as fast as I could, resulting in more screams of agony. I mean what a fucking huge contradiction! You're supposed to run fast in Sonic games anyway for fucks sake!!

I did eventually persevere and complete the game however. I just couldn't let that fat fuck Eggman win. Sadly I did not enjoy it one bit. I can guarantee you I won't be coming back to collect those missing Chaos Emeralds. Fuck the true ending! This game is one of those titles that falls under gaming torture. It's a game you only play to completion just to say you've beaten it so you never have to return.

What the fuck were Sonic Mania's game testers thinking? There are so many problems that could've been rectified which is the main reason why the frustration burns so deep. Were they too scared to say anything? Just rampant Sega fanboys that can't admit Sonic is and always has been fucking shit?? (Wanna fight bro?) Luckily I'm not either of those things and I've used my connections at Era Error to reach Sonic the Hedgehog's original Lead Designer Yuji Naka for a quick interview:

EE: Thanks for making yourself available for an interview Naka-San,

YN: Would you please make like blast processing and get on with it? *laughs*

EE: Yeah, good one. Sonic Mania has several fundamental flaws due to its relation with older titles in the series. These issues are making players like myself incredibly frustrated and angry. Would you have changed them if you were at the reins of the project.

YN: Oh you're one of those guys. You see the core issue here is that yourself and all the other players of the game who are struggling to play well just simply fucking shit at the game. The game was designed around people who have actual skill, which it sounds like you are lacking. No one in Japan has ever had trouble playing any Sonic game. It's only a select few whiny Westerners who can't handle the heat when it's thrown at them.

You know it really gets me fired up when people blame the level design or development decisions in Sonic games, because as far as I'm concerned every game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series is fucking mint A-grade! You are all inferior of understanding why Sonic is fundamentally the best game series of all time.

EE: Even Sonic 06?

YN: Especially Sonic 06. I mean he kisses a fucking human woman! I thought that's what you Western white dudes were into. It's what all the creepy white males seem to be interested in when I see them over here in Japan at least. Fucking freaks. I based that whole bestiality decision around those people.

EE: Let's end it there. Thanks.

Ko Shiota

As much as I want this article to be of a typical AVGN knock-off in nature, I do have to admit this game has many positives. The retro graphics are gorgeous, there's super detailed sprite animations, the music is spot-on, the mash-up of old and new levels is superb and the game looks great when you're capable of motion. Which brings me to my last point. I never played Sonic the Hedgehog much as a kid. I was a Nintencunt. When I saw footage of classic Sonic on the internet, I always creamed myself as it looked like a blast. That's the thing though. It's amazing to look at. Fucking horrible to play. The best parts in Sonic Mania are when the game literally plays itself for you, letting you reach super high speeds and theatrics. It looks fantastic. It's a shame that Sonic Mania is Video Game where you're supposed to fucking play because that's where it fails - GAMEPLAY!

Sonic Mania's fundamental problem is that it is far too true to the original 16-bit titles in nature. It brings all the positives from those titles, there's no denying that; but it also brings the vastly larger list of issues with it. With some pretty simple improvements, this series could reach new heights and reduce some heart rates. As for now though it stands as: