I was fifteen years old when one of my close friends got a Super Nintendo for Christmas. I was blown away. The graphics, the graphics, the graphics!! Mario riding on Yoshi looked literally twice as good as my dull grey box, non-super Nintendo. I had to have me one, of course, so I started saving my allowances. At $5 a week and a $100 price tag, it took some time, and patience, and more patience, and more patience, and by the time I’d saved the money, I’d discovered Sega Genesis. I splashed the Benjamin, mailed in my proof of purchase (yes, that was a thing!!) to get a free copy of Sonic 2 to complement the original that came with the console, and four months later (a complete surprise considering I had completely forgotten about it—fifteen year old brain), got the freebie. For the next couple of years, I played countless hours of Sonic 1 and 2, the flow of the game and its music embedding themselves in my being forever. It was thus such a nostalgic joy to see a retro version—faithful to the original but new in content—appear on the PS4 in 2017, Sonic Mania.
A short review of Sonic Mania might thus run as follows: if you loved the original Sonic games on Sega Genesis/Megadrive and want more, no need to think twice, go get Sonic Mania. It scratches the itch (in ways you may have never known you were itching) in gushing, tributary, fresh fashion. From Green Hill Zone to the bell chimes of losing your rings, the *pop* of jumping on an enemy to the blur of whipping through an S-curve, it’s all wonderfully, gloriously, there. Buy it.
Taking a bit deeper look, I found parts of Sonic Mania difficult—an aspect the first two Sonic titles didn’t present (or perhaps I’m old). Rather than having what could only be described as a telegraphed moment to attack boss Eggmans at the end of levels, Mania requires quite a bit more trial and error to discover attack windows, and sometimes even where to attack. On the other side of the difficulty coin, Sonic Mania developers added more loop-de-loops and whirly-spinny courses. Where curling into a ball and going spinning through a series of tunnels and loops in the original Sonic games may have lasted a couple of seconds of super sonic fun, in Mania they are noticeably extended to sometimes double, even occasionally triple the length of the originals, which makes for super sonic speeding fun.
In terms of what new material Sonic Mania brings to the table, I would say it uses Sonic 3 as a jumping point (har-har). Taking the majority of what that game comprised and adding small new features, all of which fit the Sonic mold, Mania never feels like what the new Star Wars movies are in comparison to the first movies. Everything fits the original vision—the level design, the sprites, the “story”, the speed, the fun. There is (of course) a pinball level that adds features, some of which is new, but at the same time familiar given how they align to the first Sonic games. (Although it is a bit weird to have save points…) To put it another way, had Sonic Mania been released in 1996 as Sonic 4, no one would bat an eye, the transition indistinguishable.
If you love(d) the 90s Sonic games, Sonic Mania is literally made for you. Developers mining nostalgia gold in fresh form, the game pushes all the buttons original Sonic fans desire without soullessly copying content, adding incongruent extras, or milking the blue, spinning, white-gloved (?!?!?) hedgehog for money. With new levels to zip through, new bosses to jump attack, new chaos emeralds to chase, and more, it is Sonic as you remember it, from 16-bit graphics to midi music. I can only hope the developers are making another—Sonic Mania 2? Sonic Zania? Sonic Unleashed: The Eggman Cometh? Sonic the Walrus, Koo Koo Kachoo… I digress.