Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sonic Mania Review (Nintendo Switch)

Written By: Bernard Julius Paje

Title: Sonic Mania
Developer: Christian Whitehead
Publisher: SEGA
Genre: Action, Platformer, Arcade, Multiplayer
Price: $19.99
Also Available On: PS4, XB1, Steam

If there is one thing I have learned growing up, it is evident that all of us have unique preferences when it comes to practically everything. You can either be a dog person or a cat person, for example. Some of us like coffee over tea; black over white; savory over sweet--the list goes on. Heck, even the Splatfests of Splatoon, one of Nintendo's latest franchises, makes dividing the preferences of its player base a core gameplay mechanic. When it comes to games I myself have my own preferences of course. For RPG's, I like turn-based ones over real time action ones. I also personally prefer Nintendo’s family-centric game franchises over Sony’s more cinematic ones. And when it comes to classic gaming mascots, I actually prefer Mario over Sonic The Hedgehog. There, I said it!

But allow me to clarify one thing: Preferring one choice does not mean I do not like the other. I may prefer Mario's games over Sonic's, but I really enjoyed the latter's games back in the day. I also strongly feel that when it comes to Sonic games, the 2D-style games are more fun to play than most of the 3D ones. I had more fun playing Sonic's quadrilogy of 2D Genesis/Mega Drive games than any of his modern 3D outings. The later, modern 2D Sonic games (like the Sonic Advance trilogy for the GameBoy Advance or the multiplatform Sonic The Hedgehog 4) are also great games by their own right, but a lot of fans actually prefer Sonic's older outings.

Fast forward to now... After that long introduction, let me describe Sonic The Hedgehog's latest game: Sonic Mania. This game is literally Sega's love letter to Sonic fans who grew up playing the original games. The game's graphics look virtually identical to the 16-bit ones (albeit with overall better animation quality and no slowdowns). To mimic the old school, CRT TV effect of yesteryear on today’s LCD/LED monitors, the game has several video filters you can use. If you were also to hear the game's music and sound effects without seeing the graphics you would probably have guessed the original games are being played. On top of that, Sonic Mania actually reimagines several of the courses from the original games, like Green Hill Zone, Flying Battery Zone and Hydrocity Zone. Sure enough, these zones look exactly like the ones in the original games but all of them actually have brand new layouts. There are also a number of all-new, Sonic Mania exclusive zones though, so you will definitely experience some fresh gameplay (playing as Sonic The Hedgehog, Miles "Tails" Prower or Knuckles The Echidna) throughout the game's 12 enormous zones (double the normal number of zones in most Sonic games).

The Sonic nostalgia does not end there though, because Sonic Mania also includes bonus stages inspired by the ones found in Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and Sonic The Hedgehog CD. The two player head-to-head mode introduced in Sonic The Hedgehog 2 also makes an appearance here, which is a welcome addition. Considering this game has twice the normal number of zones when compared to classic Sonic games, there are also a lot of tough challenges in certain stages and dozens of bosses to battle. Speaking of bosses, there is a certain boss battle that features an awesome and unexpected nod to one of Sega's classic franchises (which I will not spoil for you). Its appearance will catch you off guard because it is kind of out of place in a Sonic game (but well within the confines of the Sonic universe). There are also a lot of unlockables, including the weirdly named "& Knuckles" mode, where your AI partner (normally Tails) is replaced with Knuckles. And yes, playing as Knuckles and having an AI-controller Knuckles partner is possible. Alternatively, a second player may take control of your AI partner at any time.

For this review I played the game specifically on the Nintendo Switch, and I feel that this version has a few distinct advantages over the other versions. Of course, the Switch allows you to play the game just about anywhere because of its portability. Also, the console is multiplayer ready by default, meaning you and a friend can play the main game (either cooperatively or competitively) as well as the mysterious boss battle minigame (which I talked about earlier) in an instant. All versions of the game run at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, so performance-wise no version of the game is better than the other. As of this writing, the Switch version suffers from a tiny bug where there is a slight delay going back to the main Switch operating system when you press the Home button, but I am sure Sega will issue a patch that fixes this minor hiccup soon.

Overall, Sonic Mania is a strong entry to the series. It breathes new life to Sega’s Sonic franchise (despite its classic-looking visuals) which lately has been getting games with mediocre reviews from critics and users alike. To be fair it is mostly the 3D entries that are getting flak from Sonic fans, leading many to think that Sega should ground The Blue Blur onto 2D games. I would say it depends on the game though because I think some of Sonic’s 3D games are great (like the original Sonic Adventure and Sonic Colors). Sonic Mania is definitely a prime contender for the title of Best 2D Sonic Game in my opinion, because it successfully melds both awesome 2D platforming goodness and fuzzy nostalgia in one package—especially that cool Collector’s Edition with the Sonic statue and Genesis replica. The game just by itself is also only $19.99 on the eShop, making the game super worth it for that price.

 REVIEW SCORE: 9.2 out of 10