Updated: Nov 26, 2020
Gotta go fast… When you can anyway
Platform: PlayStation 4
Released: August 15, 2017
I think I have about 50 or so PlayStation Plus games, most of which I haven’t even so much as downloaded, let alone even attempted playing. I figured that even if I don’t play these games right away, it’s a great idea to build a catalogue that I can at any time dig into. One game however which immediately grabbed my interest, was Sonic Mania. The premise of the game was enough for me to pick it up straight away - A classically styled Sonic game, with re-designed old levels and new ones included? Sonic, Tails AND Knuckles as playable characters?! This is what would have happened if an 8 year old me somehow got control of the Sonic franchise. I had not played a Sonic game of any description in years and after seeing this listed as a PlayStation Plus game for June 2019, I was all in, hook, line and sinker, my body is absolutely ready for this. So I downloaded it, started playing it, and…
Am I rusty, or officially getting old?
Wow, is the game actually THIS difficult or am I seriously out of practice with these kinds of reaction-based games? I didn’t want to be too alarmed, and decided to persevere and try and get through it. I decided to do a dry run of sorts and replay the first act of famed Green Hill Zone repeatedly, just so I could get a feel for the game, and hope that in the deep recesses of my mind, the muscle memory from my youth would kick in and enable me to get through it. After a few attempts at this renowned level, I felt I warmed up enough so that I could play the game “for real”. As expected, I got through both acts of Green Hill Zone with little trouble, I didn’t lose any lives and even had some rings at the end of the zone. So far, so good. While the first zone turned out well, it struck me that I had no idea what was ahead. Sonic Mania is a greatest hits compilation of sorts, it's a collection of great levels from previous games, with some new ones thrown in for good measure. Any zone could be next, and oh how unprepared I was for what came next.
My powers have (not) doubled since the last time we met…
Chemical Plant Zone. Those words strike fear into the hearts of men. Especially this man, and his younger self. It was a bittersweet surprise to see Chemical Plant Zone show up. I have fond memories of this zone - the music, colours, enemy types. It’s a really iconic level in the Sonic fandom for a reason, it is exceptionally memorable but the other side of this is that despite it originally being the second zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I always remember it being really difficult. I could always get through it pretty well, maybe a few mistakes losing rings here and there but that would be about it. That is of course until you reach a major obstacle. That part where the chemicals rise, and you need to slowly platform on moving blocks before you drown? Yeah, that part. I’ve completed Sonic games start to finish before, and there was no reason why this should halt my progress now as a grown man, but I was so very wrong. I tried and could not pass this obstacle, until it occurred to me - Knuckles. I was playing as Sonic this entire time, and as great a character he is, Knuckles has extra abilities in the form of gliding and climbing. This was my “easy mode”.
Side note, was it just me that found Chemical Plant Zone difficult, or does it have a reputation for this? Let me know your experiences with it.
I decided to knuckle down (pun VERY intended) and try out using Knuckles from the start. Green Hill Zone went smoothly as I was well-practiced with this level, so I swiftly managed to move on to Chemical Plant Zone. I was progressing without issues, and could see the benefit of the extra abilities provided by Knuckles already, progressing through sections quickly with gliding, and managing to traverse awkward platforming pieces through the use of climbing. Finally the major obstacle was upon me, but this time it was different. In one attempt I managed to get through this unmercifully awkward section and I felt liberated, I could actually continue playing and enjoy this experience.
At the moment, I’m on the fourth level, Flying Battery Zone. This is another classic zone, originally found in my personal favourite Sonic game, Sonic & Knuckles. In case you haven’t noticed I have a particular fondness for Knuckles, not just his extra abilities, but he’s red and spiky and a bit of a tough guy - Something that I’m sure appealed to many a kid and not just me, while growing up and playing these games. The obvious appeal of these games is the nostalgia factor, and Sonic Mania has this in spades. This doesn’t feel like a cheap cash-in however, as new life is brought to classic levels, the addition of new zones, and huge replayability due to the options of playing as Sonic, Tails or Knuckles There is a lot of value to be derived from this collection, especially if you reaped the benefits of PlayStation Plus and downloaded this as part of the June 2019 lineup. This is a wonderful entry in the series, and useful as a means to take a trip down memory lane or simply to play a very well made entry in this beloved franchise. I had stopped playing Sonic Mania for a few weeks until recently, after seeing the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie, which was a surprisingly funny movie despite it’s well-documented issues with the main character’s design. After seeing this, it kicked the nostalgia levels into high-gear to the point where The Blue Blur was calling to me to play again, so I dove in and here I am now, currently trying to navigate the tricky parts of Flying Battery Zone.
Is it difficult or is it difficult?
It’s a strange style of gameplay that I have yet to see really recreated in any meaningful way. It is ostensibly a platformer, but the focus on speed is what turns it on it’s head. You jump and bounce around levels, negotiating different terrain and fight bosses, but progress can be halted really at any stage - Running into an enemy or a well placed spike trap. It takes a keen eye to pass through these stages with little issue and commands strong focus, or otherwise face losing lives and ultimately restarting the whole zone or game, depending on which iteration in the series it is you’re playing. With all this said, I don’t feel these sudden roadblocks while racing through a level are in any way cheap. While you may not be able to see it coming every time, as long as your undivided attention is focussed on what’s ahead, you will mitigate the challenge. It’s not something I feel you see much of these days, where your full focus is required to progress. In the advent of the open world game’s modern popularity, there is ample opportunity to relax in sections of games and idle freely. Games like the Sonic series apply plentiful pressure to progress, and in turn creates a sense of satisfaction that is hard to replicate.
So far I have very much enjoyed my nostalgic trip with Sonic Mania and will continue to do so. I can foresee myself jumping back in and out of it for some time to come, using the different playable characters and dare I say purchasing the Encore DLC, which would no doubt extend it’s longevity even more so. Quite simply this is a fine collection that is anything a fan of the classic games could want in a modern entry - Recognisable visuals, some dazzling effects and a soundtrack that will live in your brain for weeks.
Play this game if…
You like (mostly) fast-paced platformer action
You like the bright, luminous presentation of the games of old
You like infectious soundtracks
You like saving darling critters from evil human and robotic overlords
You like twitchy, reaction-based gameplay
First image taken by the author, art seen purchased from BeadArtCork
Remaining images taken from the SEGA website here
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