In order to move forward to the future, to grow and improve, it is sometimes necessary to take a step back and see how it all started. This is exactly what Sonic Mania sets out to do. Slated for a Spring 2017 release on PS4, XB1 and PC, Sonic Mania is a classic, Genesis style Sonic game in every way, right down to its aesthetic.
Sonic Mania is being developed in collaboration by Sega of America, Christian “Taxman” Whitehead, Headcannon, (aka Stealth), and PagodaWest Games. Taxman and Stealth are names that should be familiar to every Sonic fan, as they are the ones responsible for the Retro Engine that was used in the 2011 remaster of Sonic CD, as well as the ios and Android releases of Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2. However, PagodaWest is name that only those of you that are huge fans of mobile games will recognize. Based in Portland, Oregon and London, PagodaWest Games is a small team that was founded in 2011, and has made a handful of successful mobile games such as Major Magnet and Circle Frenzy. I have no idea how and why Sega decided to partner with a developer that has exclusively produced mobile games, but they do seem like a good team. It’s likely that Whitehead and Headcannon are handling the bulk of the work, with PagodaWest handling things such as asset production and sprite work.
Over the past few years, Sega and Sonic Team have really played up the nostalgia for the Genesis days, but most of it has been superficial. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a classic game in name only, while games like Lost World shamelessly use the classic Sonic aesthetic without the gameplay style to back it up. Sonic Mania shows them going back to basics in the right way, pixel art style and all. In their press release for the game, Sega markets Mania as a game that represents the franchise had it stayed 2d after Sonic 3. The series has gotten many complaints over the years for clinging to the “glory days” of the 90’s, and that is a valid point. Heck, I’ve done plenty of complaining about that myself. But when things get rough, it’s a good idea to go back to square one, study what made something great in the first place and try to grow and evolve from there.
Sonic Mania is so much more than a celebration of classic Sonic, it also aims to be a continuation and evolution of the 2d series. With updated sprites and an aesthetic and level design clearly inspired by Sonic CD, (right down to the rockin’ piano chords in the soundtrack), Mania is definitely hitting all the right notes. Just to briefly talk about that Sonic CD point, that game’s influence is all over Mania. Studiopolis is a big, veritcally expansive stage, similar to the ones found in CD. But I find Mania’s level design to be a bit more focused when compared to its predecessor. Judging by the trailer and the gameplay videos that have been released, Mania looks like it plays almost exactly the same as the Genesis games. Classic physics seem to be perfectly intact, which is to be expected of a game being developed using the Retro Engine. Also, we’ve already got confirmation of elemental shields, special stages, Tails and Knuckles being playable and a new drop dash ability for Sonic. Who knows, maybe they’ll also give Sonic his Insta-shield and Super Peel Out. I also wonder if Tails and Knuckles will have any new abilities. It’s been a while since they were playable in a 2d game, so I’m sure the development team has some cool new moves planned for them as well.
In addition to all new stages such as Studiopolis, (which is the name of the studio that most of the series voice actors work for), there will be reimagined versions of stages from Sonic 1, 2, CD and 3 such as Green Hill Zone. It is a little weird to take this approach to stages after Sonic Generations, but I’m willing to accept it for this game because of its premise. I mean, it’s at least a little better that how Sonic 4 did it. I’m super interested to see the rest of the new content in the game. Studiopolis looks like an awesome level, and it’s packed with tons of Sonic and Sega related easter eggs. A movie/tv show set is also a really cool theme for a level in a platformer, and Mania seems to be getting everything they can out of it. Whitehead has also confirmed that every stage will have its own boss, just like Sonic 3. Will there be a new type of special stage, super forms or shield power-ups? We’ll just have to wait and see. Oh yeah, and the famous “Sega” jingle will be in the game, this time by the crowd that was present and that San Diego Anniversary party.
Sonic Mania looks to be the 2d Sonic revival I’ve been waiting for, (more on that soon). Gorgeous sprites, awesome tunes, playable Tails and Knuckles and accurately replicated physics, I couldn’t possibly ask for more out of a classic styled Sonic game. I’ll no doubt be getting the game on release, and I’ll hopefully have a review ready to go shortly after. Really quick, how awesome is the music in that trailer? Seriously, HyperPotions does great work.
EDIT: After I wrote this article, I came across a bit more info concerning PagodaWest Games. A few members of the team actually helped with the development of the fan project Sonic 2 HD, and with the mobile ports of Sonic 1 & 2. And the soundtrack is being done by PagodaWest’s in-house composer, Tee Lopes, who has done some amazing renditions of songs from the Genesis games.
Are you as pumped for Sonic Mania as I am? What returning elements are you looking forward to seeing in the game? Be sure to let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow me on Twitter to stay updated on all the latest posts. Thanks for reading, and be sure to have an awesome day!