Opinionated Review: Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania is now 1 week old. Yeah that’s right. Sonic Mania. Last I really spoke on this topic, I did nothing but whine and complain that “indie” developers are biased against Nintendo, and wouldn’t make a game for the Switch as a result. I still don’t have a very high opinion of indies, but since that time, they not only announced that it would come Switch, not only that the Collector’s Edition would come to Switch, but I, being the Sonic nerd that I am, couldn’t resist buying said Collector’s Edition (it’s pretty nice, but I’m a little disappointed in the statue. Its chin is totally flat, it barely looks like the picture at all! And then, why wouldn’t they let you put the fake Mania cartridge into the fake Genesis? Seriously. Such a wasted opportunity. I also wish it came with a soundtrack, but now I’m just rambling). So, I’ve got it, I’ve played it, and I’m prepared to make a full, detailed review, from a perspective that you shouldn’t expect to find anywhere else on the internet. I am one of an insanely small handful of people, probably in the world, who can appreciate the classic games, not hate on them just for being old, while also not being completely and utterly blinded by nostalgia. Be warned if you haven’t played the game, as the following review contains immense spoilers. It is also very long, so click the “Read More” tag to show the content.

The Review System:
This game, and any future games that I may review, will be divided into five categories, each evenly weighted and scored out of ten. These scores will be amalgamated into a final score out of 50, or a percent if you’d prefer. The categories are: Gameplay, Plot/Character Presentation, Music/Sound, Graphics/Aesthetics, and Overall Quality/Appeal. Each will be explained in detail.

Gameplay Score: 6.5/10
When the advertisements say “pixel perfect physics,” they don’t lie. This game unquestionably plays exactly like the real classics. I can also say that the level design was definitely trending far in the positive. And, judging by these factors alone, this category would score quite highly. But it’s not the 90’s anymore. Obviously, I can’t compare the game to Sonic Forces, but this is a game being released in the modern day, and has certain responsibilities to the modern player. I’m not talking about holding your hand the whole way through, but merely making the most important content reasonably accessible to a player who can’t call themselves an expert. It’s nice that the bonus stages can offer some degree of challenge to expert players, but at the same time, that degree of challenge looks more like giant, impassable wall of challenge from the bottom. The final boss, the resolution of everything that’s happened in the game, is practically inaccessible to those less skilled in the specific style, even if they are well able to deal with the challenge of completing the regular game, despite the troubles of restarting the entire zone upon a game over instead of just the act, and working under the same time constraints that the much smaller levels of previous classic games had. And that challenge of the regular game is pretty severe as well. After game-overing 3 or 4 times on the PTSD-inducing boss of Metallic Madness Act 1, I finally managed to beat it with a single life remaining. All it took was one slip up, one time getting accidentally crushed by a moving platform in Act 2, and then I had to go through that torture all over again. It would be much more appropriate if one could restart the Act after a game over, instead of the Zone. But then, all of a sudden, the Act 2 boss of Titanic Monarch, the faux final boss of the game, felt perhaps a bit too easy. That whole Zone was a little lacking in challenge, ignoring the time constraints. I also find it rather silly that a proper level select is practically impossible to find on one’s own accord, though the Zone select unlocked after beating the game is probably good enough. Also left to talk about is the Dropdash technique. It’s very useful for speedrunners, and practically useless for a casual player. And that technique is all I can really point to that is a clear “evolution” of gameplay mechanics from previous games. So, in terms of creativity, the game doesn’t score many points in this department.

Plot/Character Score: 5/10 (to be reconsidered)
This isn’t about a story that is “too flat” or “not complex or enriching enough.” Comparing the mere complexity of the story to other classic games would, once again, score pretty highly. This game loses a lot of points in terms of presentation. The opening scene is…confusing, but comprehensible. I really didn’t get it though, until I happened to stumble across an online manual (here’s a link) that actually explained what the heck was going on. Explaining the story through a manual worked just fine in the Genesis days. Even back on the Wii U, most games came with digital manuals that were easy to access. But now, you’re telling me that in order to understand the story of the game I purchased, I have to look it up online? That defeats the entire purpose! But, in a way, even that is forgivable. With a continuous tale being told all the way from the opening scene through Flying Battery Zone, I had high hopes for the game. And then, suddenly, it was dropped. Finish Flying Battery? Boom, now you’re in Hydrocity. Finish that? Boom, now you’re in Press Garden. Skip ahead a bit. Boom, now Knuckles is flying on your plane, even though he’s yet to appear in this story. And don’t even get me started on Metal Sonic. Even just a colorful flash like what you see between the first couple Zones would have been appreciated, just to know that there’s dimensional weirdness going on and that’s all there is to it. But there wasn’t even that much. It was only in the ending animation after I beat Titanic Monarch that I realized the weird thing I saw on Eggman’s screen was actually the level I had just been playing. I still don’t know what the “thing” is called, it’s like a cross between the Death Egg and the Little Planet. Maybe that infers that there isn’t dimensional weirdness going on anymore, since we saw a place and then went there later on? Am I supposed to believe that Metallic Madness on the Little Planet is seamlessly connected with Lava Reef/Hidden Palace on Angel Island? (Edit: Apparently, the thing actually is the bad future version of the Little Planet? I guess…the idea is that after Lava Reef the opening scene of CD happens again where Sonic [and friends] run up the chain to the Little Planet [which admittedly can be seen in the background of the aforementioned level], except that they go straight to Metallic Madness this time? That still doesn’t explain Stardust Speedway. And then, does that mean that the Titanic Monarch elevator runs through the core of Little Planet? Because it was my assumption that it was the elevator that brought you there in the first place. Oh, and by the way, what the heck is up with the Titanic Monarch itself? I was assuming the ginormous robot in the background of Act 1 would be the Super Sonic fight, but it’s completely unrelated. Now I’m getting flashbacks to Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, where you’re teased with an army of giant robots that never do anything. *shivers*) It’s all just disappointing. But the worst part is that the gorgeous opening animation has absolutely nothing to do with the game’s actual plot. It’s the perfect setting to tell a more comprehensible story, and they completely blew it. There is a similar animation for the end of the game, but it lasts maybe 10 seconds tops, another complete waste of a way to resolve a story. Though I suppose it’s for the best that the Magic Mania Elevator in the opening scene is non-canon. As for character, Sonic had a few good moments, and the Heavies were…expressive, I suppose, if a bit clichéd. Gave me too many flashbacks to the Deadly Six from Lost World. I appreciated the character presentation for Metal Sonic, but that was short-lived. Now, note the “to be reconsidered” note. That exists for two reasons. One: I haven’t played Knuckles’ story yet (otherwise, I would have complained that Angel Island was on the ground for no apparent reason). The one week since the game came out was only just enough for me to finally get the Chaos Emeralds and beat Egg Reverie as Sonic. Two: Sonic Forces hasn’t come out yet. This score is made under the assumption that Sonic Forces begins with Classic Sonic hopping out of a portal, no questions asked, thus ending any connection between the two games. However, if the plot of Forces continues to explore the nature of the Phantom Ruby (one of the biggest disappointments of Mania: I had no more idea what it was at the beginning than I do now), or ties the games together in some other way (perhaps Heavy King joining Infinite’s all-star villain team?), then the clear setup for a greater plot would be enough to up this given score.

Music/Sound Score: 7/10
Tee Lopes, the composer for the game, certainly has talent. There were many excellent remixes and catchy original tunes. In particular, Green Hill Act 2 was nailed to absolute perfection. It’s hard to make a good Green Hill remix. Add too many drums, or increase the pace too much, and you lose the calm, natural feel of the level. Slow it down too much, and you lose the happy, upbeat feel of the level. Change too little, and you’ll end up with something that just isn’t as good as the original. But Tee Lopes did it. However, there are a fair number of tracks which, as I said above, simply aren’t as good as the original, and original tunes that just aren’t memorable. Even the main theme of the game, “Discovery,” is just okay, which is kind of sad because you hear it so much throughout the game. It follows the same rhythm as comparable classic themes, but some combination of the instruments used and the specific pattern of notes simply doesn’t appeal to nostalgia in any successful way. Even Sonic 4 did a far better job. In fact, the Sonic 4 soundfront in general was far more successful in terms of nostalgia. I can’t really get behind this game’s soundfront. If it’s okay to modernize the music of the game, why isn’t it okay to modernize other aspects of the game? It would have been hilarious and fun to see, let’s say, a full high-definition 3D special stage. On the opposite hand, if you’re going to religiously keep the game classic, why modernize the music? A Genesis soundfront would have been great for nostalgia. It seems silly to me that they didn’t pick a side. Also of note here, mostly because it doesn’t fit anywhere else, is a funny but extremely annoying glitch I encountered, in which the jump sound effect was replaced by the ring-collecting sound effect. Every time I jump, every time Tails jumps, regular game or special stage, it plays the wrong sound effect, and it got very, very annoying. I’ll also take this moment to whine and complain about the complete exclusion of the US Sonic CD soundtrack. Metallic Madness Present and Stardust Speedway Good Future are two of my favorite tracks in the entire classic series, and having multiple acts with different tracks was the perfect way to show love to fans of both soundtracks. But no. Instead, I have to go cry in a corner.

Graphics/Aesthetics Score: 7.5/10
Not a whole lot to say here. I’ve given my opinion on sprites before, and, although they aren’t highly appealing to me, I am able to appreciate them. The 60 fps animations looked very, very good, almost uncanny good, and most of the level backgrounds were nice, though the top level of Lava Reef reminded me of Space Invaders, which is pretty bad. I suppose this is best place to mention the hilarious fact that no one anywhere can really seem to agree on what color Classic Sonic is. The sprites in the game are quite clearly lightened up as compared to their real classic game counterparts, perhaps to fall in line with Generations? Meanwhile, the Classic Sonic model for Forces has been darkened to better line up with the original classic games. Official artwork for Mania has him even darker than that, almost Modern Sonic-level dark. Then there’s the Collectors Edition statue, which lies somewhere right in the middle of all of this. In my personal opinion, Classic Sonic should hardly be any lighter at all than Modern Sonic, so the light sky-blue color in Mania bothered me throughout. It’s true that Sonic’s fur was darkened for the Adventure redesign, but then it was lightened right back up for Unleashed onwards, so there should be very little difference.

Overall Quality/Appeal Score: 5/10
This is the most opinionated category of all, and it can make or break the game. In terms of quality, I encountered a relatively large number of glitches (mostly sound-related, and most of them only after my initial playthrough. Serious oversight though, if you go to the pause menu at any time in Egg Reverie, all of the colorful Ruby energy attacks turn the same grey that the rest of the game does on the pause menu, and remains that way until you die or restart the level). However, there was only a moment or two when I felt like I encountered poor level design. Compared to expectations, this game was pretty much what I thought it would be in terms of quality, but failed to surpass or significantly impress me. Replay value is fine, maybe even slightly superior to previous classic games, but the value only applies if you actually feel the desire to replay it, which I’m barely even feeling now, and probably less so once I beat Knuckles’ story. There’s pretty much zero chance of doing a Tails playthrough anytime soon. On a different note, I honestly feel that the developers of this game had a duty to prove to me that they were more than just fan developers working on a fan game, and I can’t really say whether or not they did that. Factors such as the inclusion of Mean Bean Machine, Sonic the Fighters characters, and Sonic riding in the Eggmobile dropping bombs on Eggman, were fun, had me laughing in the moment, but also felt kind of unprofessional. In terms of overall appeal, this game is little more to me than a neat little distraction while I wait for Forces.

Final Score: 31/50, or 62%
Yeesh, I didn’t mean to be quite that harsh. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy the game, it was absolutely worth buying, and that’s coming from an Adventure fanatic. But, when you get right down to it, the name of the game is Nostalgia. And I’d say that 62% defines how much nostalgia I felt pretty well. Simply put, if you are just getting started with the Sonic series, this is not the game that I would suggest getting first. But keep in mind: this is all based on my perception. If someone else gives the game an 86%, they aren’t lying, they aren’t being mind-controlled by their own nostalgia, because that number would legitimately reflect how much they enjoyed the game. As I said from day one of this game’s announcement, Classic Sonic really isn’t my cup of tea, even if that’s what I started the series with. And if this game is what it takes to appease those who feel the opposite, then I proudly support this game for giving Sonic a positive name again. For that, I’d say the game deserves 10% extra credit.
Revised Score: 72%

-So until next time, always live for Discovery!

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