E3 2017 Hands On: Sonic Mania Restores Sega's 16-Bit Glory

The Sonic franchise has had a long, somewhat turbulent history as far as the reception of its many games has gone, and yet the iconic blue hedgehog has persisted. Long have fans of the blue blur clamored for a return to the classic style of Sonic–the roots of Sonic 1, 2, and 3, which are all beloved (though which is best depends on whom you as.) The return to that classic style has come before, but only in the form of Sonic 4, an episodic adventure that never panned out to its full potential and was met with mixed reception. The classic levels in Sonic Generations, also using this style, were marvelous, but made up only a portion of the game and remained fairly simplistic. The promise of a true return to form however, is finally here–and it’s name is Sonic Mania.

Sonic Mania returns to the core, classic game feel of the original Sonic games. The way your character moves and flows though the level, the familiar crunch of the environment falling apart around you, the jingle of passing through a checkpoint–all of it returns in full glory, and looks better than ever. The 16-bit aesthetic looks positively gorgeous on the HD consoles, with plenty of small, accented visual effects like the trail Sonic leaves behind him enhancing the game’s classic look. While Sega has released numerous collections and re-releases of their classic games, this is the first true, brand new classic Sonic experience built from the ground up that fully emulates the heart of soul of the originals.

New visual effects make Sonic & friends really pop.

Not everything in Sonic Mania is new, however, as the game presents select stages from classic Sonic games and remixes them in a way that keeps them familiar yet still fresh and exciting. I found Green Hill Zone to have lots of interesting new ways to interact with the environment and plenty of additional secrets ready to be uncovered. In particular, seeing the familiar spinning, spike log of Act 2 actually catch fire and burn up when it came into contact with my fire shield was stunning. On this front, Sonic Mania delivers the best of both worlds–allowing players to revisit their fondest Sonic memories with the addition of brand new twists on what you think you know. 

The game presents players with the option of choosing either Sonic, Knuckles, or Tails, bringing all three classic gameplay styles to life. Any character can be utilized on any stage, which offers a variety of different ways to experience each level. Despite Knuckles’ ability to climb walls and Tails’ flight, I never felt like I was going anywhere that I wasn’t supposed to or breaking the game in any way. Each level feels meticulously designed to work in a way that compliments the gameplay style of all three characters. In particular, the levels are very vertical and offer separate paths through the stage depending on how high you’re able to get with your chosen character. Sonic is certainly going to be the favored characters by speedrunners looking for the smoothest start to finish path in each stage–whereas Knuckles and Tails favor those who want to find every secret ring they can get their hands on. Mostly importantly, each distinct gameplay style felt just as fun and responsive as any other. I couldn’t wait to try each level over again with a new character.

The brand new stage I had the opportunity to play was called Mirage Saloon, a sprawling, western themed level. By far the coolest part of the game thus far, the level is lovingly and excitingly built with tons of gears and gizmos throughout to push you along as you rocket through the level at breakneck speed. Springs will shoot you up into the air, where you then have to bounce off bright, piñata-esque stars to get higher and higher into the sky to reap even more rewards. Clearly built by those with a ton of love and respect for the franchise, the level features “wanted” posters of classic, forgotten Sonic characters like Nack/Fang. The highlight of the level comes in the form of falling into a large, moving handgun that then fires you off in a direction of your choosing. The handgun is massive and the end product of some very stunning, meticulous sprite-work and animation that serves as a testament to just how much TLC this game is getting over at Sega. Mirage Saloon kept me wanting more, way more, by the time I was done with it–and that’s an absolutely great thing.

Sonic Mania's new western level, Mirage Saloon.

Any Genesis, Sonic, or 16-bit gaming fans are being given a dear gift this summer–Sonic Mania is not to be missed, and we’re chomping at the bit to play more new and remixed levels alongside the blue blur and his friends. Sonic Mania launches on August 15th, for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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