Sonic Mania Review


Sonic Mania was a game that immediately peaked my interest when its first trailer appeared. I took one look at it and said "Fuck yeah, this is exactly what I want!!" - A Sonic that harkens back to the 16-bit titles directly. It wasn't until I played it that I remembered I had never finished a game in the series before. Why you ask? Because they play like garbage! I did however manage to finish Sonic Mania.
 
Before progressing, it's important to remember that Sonic Mania is a brilliant 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 splashed on my display and impressed me with giant pixels spinning around, trying 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 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 Sonic Team — but by a group of dedicated members involved in Sonic's fan-game community; Christian "Taxman" Whitehead, Pagoda West Games and Headcannon. I suppose this should've been obvious as the game isn't a disgrace.


Anyway, I blasted right into Mania Mode. A cut scene began which I couldn't have cared less about and I was then thrown into the game.

Boy was I pumped and ready to run through this game as fast as I could, annihilating and dodging anything in my way! 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, 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. After those ten blissful seconds, I hit the 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. The problem here is that the 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 speed carrot in front of you the entire time. If you take the bait, you're fucked.

Blast those speed block rocks!


 
This is a core flaw of the Sonic DNA and Sonic Team's burden. It can't be denied that the developers have admirably tried to allow Mania to flow as much as possible though. However Christian Whitehead is not off the hook. This could've been an opportunity to revolutionise 2D Sonic instead of allowing us to hit the Nostalgia Bong. Because once that juicy toke wears off, all those classic flaws are more apparent as ever.

One thing that needs to be increased is the field of view. I understand the attempt to make the game a classic rendition, 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 obstacles avoidable and going faster enjoyable. Fuck you for that Christian Whitehead!

This leads to the horrible controls and physics. Not only was I dealing with Sonic's incoherent level structure but also constantly fighting with the flat out unresponsive and inconsistent controls! Again it's a design decision to stick with the old titles, but sometimes things are better left in the past.


This is apparent as you continue to progress further in the game. Obstacles and enemy placement become completely unfair when precision is required more than ever. The anger is amplified because the frustration isn't from genuine challenge, but by measures out of your control. There are even bullshit environments that deliberately hamper your movement further like in Hydrocity.

'Luckily' there are also bonus stages secretly scattered throughout and they look fantastic with their retro 3D art style. The objectives of the bonus stages may vary, but the challenge is truly beating the woeful movement and controls. If controllers weren't so expensive these days I would have broken a few with Sonic Mania.

The next 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 throwing your TV out the window 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. Missing hits or being unfairly hit by enemies is also a huge problem.

I stole this image from a google search.



The whole game is 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 attempts to engage the player by keeping the flow with cool environmental contraptions, but after consistently getting screwed over with cheap shots and obstacles that remove all control from the player, I just wanted this game to end. This resulted in multiple deaths as I ran through levels as fast as I could. I mean what a fucking huge contradiction. You're supposed to run fast in Sonic games!

I did eventually 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.

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: