Sonic the Hedgehog has had a rough go of it in recent years. After debuting as SEGA’s de facto mascot in the 1990s, the blue speedster tried to follow Mario’s journey into various other genres of games. But unlike Nintendo’s main man, Sonic ran into trouble when converted to 3D adventures, or RPGs, or when the formula that made Sonic the Hedgehog a SEGA Genesis system seller was changed. Turns out gamers really enjoy running exceptionally fast in a side-scrolling level and collecting rings. Now, developers Headcannon and PagodaWest Games have created Sonic Mania, which brings Sonic back to his roots, creating one of the fastest games I’ve ever played — so fast that my eyes can barely keep up with the pixelated blur on-screen.
The Need For Speed
Sonic Mania leaves two decades of Sonic spin-off games in the dust, as it brings back the side-scrolling, ring-collecting, animal-freeing adventures of Sonic, Tales, and Knuckles. The 16-bit-era graphics and classic MIDI music and sound effects do absolute wonders to create a loving throwback to an iconic game and franchise. The character models are pixelated, and they look absolutely great on HD TVs. The colors just pop off the screen — when you can take them in, because Sonic Mania is insanely fast.
I freely admit that I can barely make out what is happening on screen, because everything is happening so fast. When Sonic has a full head of steam, he zips, flies, jumps, and crashes into enemies at a speed I’ve never seen on a Nintendo game system. And the Switch’s power processes this speed with ease, creating a fun and difficult game that conjures nostalgia.
Sonic Mania has a few game modes, including a campaign, called Mania Mode, a Time Attack, and a co-op/Competition mode, which allows two players to have a go at the same time, and the game never drops below a blinding 60 fps, even with two players and the split screen. There’s even an online leaderboard so you can measure your skill against the rest of the world.
We’ve Been Here Before
There are 24 acts, spread over 12 classic zones that have been reimagined for Sonic Mania. Green Hill Zone still leads off the game, but then Sonic and friends travels to Oil Ocean Zone, Casino Night Zone, and even Chemical Plant and Stardust Speedway. Each level feels bigger, with more secrets to uncover. And hidden spheres open a mini-game that drops the character into an equally retro-16-bit-looking zone to try and collect Chaos Emeralds. This gives the campaign some much needed replayabilty — trying to find all the secrets and collect all the Chaos Emeralds. But aside from that, just zooming and collecting rings is still incredibly fun, and each zone ends with a boss fight that is rather too simple (jump, dodge, and hit) or complicated, as in dodging flying craft and forcing locked-on missiles back into the boss — all while running at full speed.
It must be said that Sonic Mania plays just as fast on the Switch when using the device as a handheld and as a table top console, in addition to the TV mode. The frame rate does not drop and the Joy Cons work well with the simple run and jump controls. Sadly, players cannot use a single Joy Con to play the game, as Sonic has some unique moves that can be triggered with the directional buttons in addition to the joy stick. We tried the game with both the combined Joy Cons and the Pro Controller, and both work well.
Fast Is As Fast Does
Sonic Mania does a great job of recapturing the nostalgic magic of the original games of the franchise, while still offering something new. The graphics and music and sound effects are all spot on, and the speed of the game is stunning. There was once a time that divided gamers argued about the processing speeds of the SNES and the Genesis, with the SNES being too underpowered to handle a fast game like Sonic The Hedgehog. That argument is now in the dust as Sonic Mania is the fastest game on the Nintendo Switch, and it is a must-own game for fans new and old. Sonic is back, and he’s faster than ever.
Sonic Mania is available now for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. This review is based off the Switch version, using a code provided by the publisher.
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