By now it’s probably very clear that we here at Obsev have a soft spot for Sonic the Hedgehog. Especially if he’s voiced by Urkel.
Last year, “Sonic Mania” gave stalwart fans of the character plenty of reason to be optimistic. At last, the game series returned to its roots and delivered a classic instalment of 2D platforming action.
Now, the game’s had a bit of an overhaul, in the form of “Sonic Mania Plus”, a physical release that also comes with some intriguing new DLC. Two obscure characters from the series’ past have returned with new gameplay mechanics. A brand new Encore Mode remixes the entire game to take advantage of their abilities.
Going into “Sonic Mania Plus”, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had the suspicious feeling that the game’s expansion wouldn’t really add anything to the core experience.
I also felt myself feeling acutely aware of the fact that “Sonic Mania” lacks its own original flavor. I’m a very big “Sonic” fan, and I’ve never really stopped playing the old Genesis titles. “Mania” is built primarily out of levels from older games. It feels like a mishmash of nostalgia rather than a new experience in its own right.
Original levels are few and far between. As much as I love this game, I wish there were a little more in the way of unique ideas to go around.
Imagine my surprise, then, when Sonic Mania Plus delivered exactly what I was hoping for.
Gotta Go Fast
The big change in Encore Mode comes in the form of character swapping. Instead of picking Sonic or one of his buddies at the beginning of the game, the player regularly rotates through characters, almost at random, so that the mechanics of playing the game never stay the same for very long.
This completely changes the way the game is played, and adds the fresh originality that I’ve been looking for.
The levels are all slightly tweaked – their design is changed just enough to make the experience feel new without providing too drastic of an overhaul. As someone who played a lot of vanilla “Mania” last year, I really appreciate what is essentially a new game built from the parts that made up the original. It’s like the “Sonic Mania” remix of “Sonic Mania” itself, if that makes sense.
Not Quite Perfect
I’d love to say that the game is perfect, but alas, there are flaws in Encore Mode’s formula.
Of the two new characters that have been introduced to the game, only one actually feels like he makes any kind of difference. Mighty the Armadillo’s tough shell allows him to bounce over spikes, which can mean skipping over hazards that would otherwise be deadly.
Ray the Flying Squirrel, though, is kind of a poor man’s Knuckles or Tails. Technically he can fly, but the bouncy mechanic by which he does this is fiddly and difficult to use. I get that his inclusion makes sense from a legacy perspective, but he doesn’t really bring anything new and fun to the table.
I’m also a little frustrated that among the five playable characters in the game, none of them are female. Gender diversity shouldn’t be that hard – especially considering that the classic “Sonic” games have a female character that could have been included somewhere in here. Amy Rose could have added a third new playstyle, and would have arguably been more or a worthwhile inclusion than Ray.
I’m also aware that there are problems with Encore Mode’s lives system. Die too many times and you have to replay the entire zone over again. This is a pain if you get to a big boss fight before wiping out.
More Than Nostalgia
In spite of these small frustrations, I get the feeling that “Sonic Mania Plus” will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the original “Sonic Mania”.
This oldschool platforming experience may be difficult for newcomers to master. Back in the day, we learned to play “Sonic” games by memory because we didn’t really have any other entertainment options. In the modern era it’s a lot easier to get distracted by other titles.
The audience for this new DLC and physical game package probably isn’t series newcomers. This is all about giving fans of the original game a little bit more to enjoy. In that respect, I wholeheartedly recommend Encore Mode and everything else that “Plus” brings to the table.
Despite being a massive “Sonic” fan, I honestly didn’t expect Encore Mode to be this much fun. My expectations have been exceeded yet again.
That’s no small feat considering just how much I care about the classic Genesis games.
Now if the inevitable sequel could throw Amy Rose into the mix somewhere, I’d be completely, perfectly happy.
Full Disclosure: this review was conducted on a PlayStation 4 copy of “Sonic Mania Plus” that was provided for review purposes.