So there are two kinds of kids in this world who are of a certain age now: Those who had a NES/SNES and those who had a Genesis. But there was sharing in this world, and often I would trade systems with friends to experience other games without renting a system. (Yes, anyone under 25, that existed!) So my first experience with Sonic The Hedgehog came in the summer of 1991 when I traded systems for a weekend and I was instantly sold. This was an amazing game and I was sad I had to return it in two days, so I beat it by Sunday and I was hooked on the series.
The original set of Sonic games were amazing, and then… things got weird. Then terrible. Then horrible. You know what, it's probably best for everyone that we say nothing about the past two decades worth of Sonic games as a whole. Let's skip to last year when Christian "Taxman" Whitehead decided SEGA should go back to the good ol' days of Sonic and built a prototype that would become Sonic Mania. I've never seen Sonic fans freak out more on Twitter than when this game was announced. So does Sonic Mania live up to the nostalgia and hype? We got a chance to try this out on both PS4 and Nintendo Switch to see.
Sonic Mania is designed to have the look, controls, music, and overall feeling of the first four games in the series. It starts out relatively familiar, picking up a bit where Sonic & Knuckles left off as you get into Green Hill Zone. But things quickly become a bit of a miss you discover Dr. Robotnik tapping into a new source of power that sends Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles back through time. Things in this universe are not as they seem as many of the levels you knew and loved have now changed, and it's up to the trio of heroes to stop Robotnik and his robots before they change history for good.
The game is comprised of twelve levels where you'll be using all three heroes to run, fly, climb and glide your way to the end of each level where you'll spin the traditional sign or beat a new boss. You're in familiar territory and the controls don't need a ton of explanation, even when you find the bonus areas where you chase down UFO's or change all the ball colors to pick up a chaos emerald or unlock features in the game. We played two versions, both on the PS4 and the Nintendo Switch, and they work absolutely fine with the control schemes and button combinations. (Even when you disconnect the Joy-Cons and battle.) The real challenge is navigating the levels (like Stardust Speedway, Chemical Plant, and Lava Reef) which have been made longer and have a few new tricks up their sleeves. Not to mention new ones (Mirage Saloon, Studiopolis, and Press Garden) that will test your skills in areas you're not used to.
One of the best things about Sonic Mania is that they were able to extend the levels and add new traps and toys without making it feel modern or ruining the nostalgia. These feel like additions that if they appeared in the old games, they'd just feel a part of it. There's also some nods to SEGA as a company that actually fit in pretty well. At one point, I got stuck in an area where I had to battle Robotnik in a game of Puyo Puyo. But the game isn't without nostalgia as you still have Time Attack and Competition Mode, both of which need to be unlocked. You have the option of playing every level as the individual character, which you'll need to find all the secrets and get every emerald to get the true ending of the game.
Getting into the graphics and music, Sonic Mania may look like the old game, but the graphics have had a bit of a tweak and pop on the screen. This is particularly evident in the Nintendo Switch version more than the PS4 from our playthrough. Everything from the old levels looks amazing and true to form, while the new levels feel like they could have just been sitting on a designer's desk all these years and spruced up to be in the game. The music is astounding, everything sounds like it should from the classic tracks, and the new ones match the tone perfectly. You could have made a brand new Sonic game out of the new levels alone and they would have been amazing by themselves.
Sonic Mania is an absolute blast. Very few retro games these days live up to the hype, but this one certainly did for me. Are there some drawbacks? Yes, there are a few that may take people out of the game or remind them of how bad certain mechanics are, but considering the time and effort that went into making a good Sonic game this time around instead of another weird one where the game is broken or just unplayable, those old problems can be easily overlooked. I would much rather try to master being on Tales' airplane than being stuck in a poorly rendered wall or fishing for a frog with a purple cat. This is a perfect nostalgia act and I don't believe fans could have asked for anything better. Doesn't matter what system you used to own, this is a must-buy for everyone.