This opinion piece is based on a preview build debuted at Summer of Sonic 2016, but also present at EGX 2016. A full EGX article will go up soon, and will be linked to here once completed.
Sonic Mania effortlessly harkens back to the early 1990s, where Sonic was the king in the rise of mascot platformers. If the need for speed is resisted, references to SEGA’s past can be seen as broadly as daylight, such as an enlarged SEGA Sonic popcorn machine. These throwbacks show that the people behind the project are big Sonic enthusiasts.
However, if you speed up, you can clearly see how these people are not new to the Sonic scene. Christian Whitehead (Taxman) and Headcannon Games (headed up by Stealth) work together once more, offering their completely accurate physics to the game, resulting in not just a half-hearted cashgrab, but a game made by fans, for fans. Sonic does not float. Nor will Sonic drop like a rock. Instead, he speeds up as he falls, just like how it should be.
The levels are packed with detail, and nothing is left behind. By pursuing a 32 bit artstyle, Sonic Mania is no radical departure from the Mega Drive games, but looks much cleaner and has a much richer colour palette that knows its boundaries. Sonic himself is a great example of this 16 bit difference; he animates quite fluidly, with these animates also effortlessly communicating his personality. It honestly feels like this was a game taken from the 1990s and is soon to be released!
The soundtrack so far is absolutely incredible. Lee Topes is the main composer, and if these two tracks are any indication, the tracks featured in this game will worm your way into your mind, and possibly permanently stay there. Green Hill Zone’s new score is a slight variance on the original theme, which clears things up and makes everything sound nice. However, Studiopolis’ music is so fantastic that it is quite difficult to explain how good it is, but I will attempt to. The music is upbeat and pumps you up for the stage, the instruments sound distinct yet come together into a fantastic package, and it is almost stupendiously fitting. I did not expect Topes’ score to be the highlight of Sonic Mania, but I am blown away by it.
Level design may actually exceed the originals in terms of being able to balance speed and platforming. There are the aforementioned two acts here, and the new sections of these zones offer many branching paths, shortcuts, and hidden away power-ups to search out. Your hand is never held in these new stages – I counted only one speed booster, which differs heavily from the booster abundance in Sonic the Hedgehog 4, which is a blessing. The levels here, unlike Sonic 4’s stages, will be as highly regarded as the classics, like Chemical Plant and Star Light.
All in all, Sonic Mania has came out of nowhere, yet has proven to me that, after just a seven minute session of playing, it will be a product of excellence. Excellent graphics, music, level design, and accuracy to the clsssics leave me assured that this is one to definitely look out for. In fact, it could even be my favourite game that I played at EGX 2016.