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Sonic 3 & Knuckles was considered by most people the definitive Sonic experience for a long time; after those two games combined we didn’t have a proper title for the Saturn and with the Dreamcast they experimented with 3D games, which have now become the standard. Sonic Mania is representing the game that we should have gotten on the Saturn: after more than 20 years Sonic is finally back to its 2D roots, in what feels like the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Sonic 4. What are you saying? “A Sonic 4 already exists”? No, it doesn’t. We don’t talk about that game.
Let’s face it, the last attempts at making a good Sonic game were… not great. The game that was mostly appreciated by the community was Sonic Generations, which mixed gameplay of 3D and 2D Sonics, and it’s not a coincidence that the upcoming title, Sonic Forces, is really starting to look like a Generations 2. SEGA also finally decided to listen to their fans, giving the chance to independent developers, who had experience with fan games and remakes, to make their own return to the 2D roots. We’re talking about Christian Whitehead (also known as The Taxman), who managed to recreate perfectly the Sonic engine for various platforms and also recreated original games from scratch, Headcannon (company made by Stealth, a nickname also well known in the Sonic fan game community) and PagodaWest Games (another company made by people who also had experience on fan games). These people all love the franchise very much, and it shows: every pixel, every single soundtrack and game mode is a love letter to the older fans of the series and SEGA in general, who’ll be able to grab several references hidden in the game. Even Knuckles’ Chaotix wasn’t forgotten!
In Sonic Mania, which we review on PlayStation 4, there are some new zones and some older ones from the previous entries in the series, but there’s something we need to make clear: every level is new. Even the older ones have been hugely modified and expanded to account for the abilities of all 3 characters: Knuckles, for example, will start in a different location on Green Hill Zone, to make the players understand immediately what his features actually are. Since the younger generation hasn’t probably played a Sonic game before, the game also tries to help them by introducing a new feature, usable by Sonic: the Drop Dash. If you hold the jump button while in mid-air, Sonic will automatically spindash, making progress much easier and faster. It’s not necessary, obviously: I’ve personally completed the whole game without using it a single time, so you don’t have to worry about having to play differently. Special stages with blue spheres have returned as well, but this time they won’t award you with Chaos Emeralds, but with a special coin: the more stages you complete, the more secrets you’ll be able to unlock. To actually get the Chaos Emeralds, you’ll have to go into new special stages, where you’ll have to chase an ufo catcher while building up your speed, making sure to not lose all your rings in the process. After you collect all 7 Emeralds you’ll be able to go into a Super Form (And yes, even Super Tails!), which will allow Sonic to also defeat the true final boss (but only Sonic; Tails and Knuckles cannot reach it, not unless you use a cheat code).
Sonic Mania is a truly amazing for its proposed price, and every gamer out there should go and buy it. And I mean NOW. There’s a lot of stuff to unlock and fun to be had for only 20€. Even if you never played a 2D Sonic before, you don’t have to worry: a little trial and error and you’ll be fine. This game was made with such love and care that, in this era, would be a shame to not support. So go out there and do your part. And remember: GOTTA GO FAST.