"Sonic Mania... is now the highest-rated Sonic game in 25 years." Sonic Mania is the homage that Sonic fans have been dying for. It's also the perfect combination of old and new, taking the best elements from both worlds and combining them into one game so jam-packed that I literally cannot stop it playing (ask my wife). Sonic Team has been through some pretty tough times after the franchises' initial success (1991-1994). However, with addictive gameplay, silky smooth game design, and a great concept, Christian Whitehead (lead developer) and the Sonic Team really have outdone themselves in releasing Sonic Mania.
The gameplay alone is off the charts. Sonic Mania takes the best of the best from Sonic 1, 2, 3 & K, and Sonic CD. We'll focus on the first two levels; the iconic Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone start the game off right. That thought process right there is why the game is pretty much a perfect artifact. Thinking, "Let's take two of the most popular Sonic the Hedgehog levels ever, and start the game with those," not to mention the logical sequence they're presented in (GHZ, Sonic 1, Level 1 | CPZ, Sonic 2, Level 2).
On top of that, while the music from the original levels is the same, the production software, synth instruments, and therefore the audio quality is next level. As for other features, some of the games bosses are revisited and tossed in randomly (Green Hill Zone's boss is from the end of Sonic 2), some bosses are all new mini-bosses featured in part 1 of each level, and some bosses are brand new-new. Because Whitehead remastered the early 90's game series, he had a lot of assets to pick and choose from. The Special Stage (involving chaos emeralds) was plucked from Sonic CD, and the Checkpoint Stage was snagged from Sonic 3 and Knuckles. The Sonic series of yesteryear wasn't the only contributing factor from the past. Hints of Mega Man and Donkey Kong Country are sprinkled in some of the levels. Check out the badniks and design of Lava Reef Zone 1 and tell me that doesn't remind you of a Mega Man cave level. Thirty seconds into Lava Reef Zone 2 and I swore I was back in the echoey caverns of Slipslide Ride from Donkey Kong Country 1.
Speaking of design, the game art and design are what really tie the game together perfectly. The game begins with the iconic, updated, animation of Sonic waving his finger. Variations of this occur through Sonic 1, 2, 3 & K, and Sonic CD. In Sonic Mania, an additional intro animation plays after the into music ends. This animation is reminiscent of the Sonic the Hedgehog comic books, which feature some great art. So to recap, amazing music, amazing art, amazing gameplay- what more could you ask for? How 'bout an amazing concept for the win.
The concept of taking the backbone from the 90's 2D classics and filling them with updated, incredible script is ingenious. This isn't the first time Sonic Team has tried blending old with new. In Sonic Generations, classic 2D levels from the 90's series were entirely recreated in 3D, but the game felt goofy. Even with successful numbers, it wasn't what a lot of Sonic fans were looking for- Christian Whitehead, however, was. Whitehead successfully remastered Sonic CD (2011), Sonic 1, and Sonic 2 (2013) from scratch using his own game engine, Retro Engine. After proving to be worth his weight in gold, he was given the go ahead to develop Sonic Mania using an updated Retro Engine in collaboration with PagodaWest Games, and we are forever thankful.