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.

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The Timeline

Be prepared to ask yourself: “Is that really how it happened?” To celebrate the release of Sonic Mania, I’ve published a new page on the website; the Sonic the Hedgehog Timeline. This page attempts to set straight the many events, historical and modern alike, that have occurred in the Sonic Universe, including events from The Chaos Project. This timeline is not official, nor canon, but explains the timescale as it is used in the story. It was constructed using a combination of specific dates mentioned in-game, extrapolation of approximate time between games, and plenty of wild guesses.

Preview: Season 0, Episode 21

With one week remaining until my promised time of next publishing, it’s finally time for the usual preview. Also exciting this week is the release of Sonic Mania! (Dang, another distraction to stop me from meeting the deadline.) This episode is unrelated though. I promise. Though, that doesn’t mean there won’t be references in the future…

Anyways, here it is.

Eggman crouches over the hunk of meteorite at the center of the crater. “You’re certain this was the source of the readings? It’s just an old rock!”

Orbot answers from next to the parked Eggmobile, “Yes, sir. There was a large spike in Chaos energy readings at this location when the meteorite struck the earth.” He and Cubot both join Eggman at the crater.

“Then why is there nothing here?”

Cubot picks up the rock. “Maybe it’s just hidden underneath!”

Orbot tries to take it away. “Put that down, you might damage it!”

“Give it back, I saw it first!”

“Actually, the Doctor saw it first!” The two continue to struggle back and forth, until the rock breaks in two, causing them both to drop the pieces.

Cubot looks up to Eggman, and points to his companion. “Orbot did it.”

Eggman is too distracted examining the newly exposed sides of the meteor. One of them holds a glowing drop of light. “What’s this…?” He reaches out for it. Suddenly, the drop leaps from the rock to Eggman’s hand. “Argh! What is this thing!? Get it off me!”

“Oh no, the Doctor’s under attack!”

“What do we do!?”

Orbot and Cubot run around in senseless panic as Eggman tries to flick the substance off. After a few tries, he is successful, and the light splatters back onto the ground. Almost instantly, it starts to bubble and increase rapidly in size. It quickly takes on a large humanoid shape, somewhat similar to Eggman himself. But then it starts to thin out into more normal human proportions.

Eggman takes a step back to look at the back of the new person standing in front of him. He wears clothing similar to Eggman’s, though colored only yellow, white, and gold. Eggman questions, “And just who are you supposed to be?”

The person turns to face Eggman. He has no mustache, but a full head of blond hair. Despite bearing a vague resemblance to Eggman, he might be described as handsome. He speaks, “Your heart is disgusting.”

“What!?”

“Unfortunately, I have need of this…unsightly form.”

“I’ll have you know, I am Doctor Eggman, world-renowned scientist, and you–”

“I suggest you enjoy your final days in this world, villain. Your kind will soon be obsolete. Now, I really must be on my way. It’s vital that I locate the Controller.”

Who is this strange, handsome, blond-haired man? What does he have to do with the living murals that attacked Sonic? And what ever happened to the strange Moonstone-turned-hedgehog? Find out this and more, as the Dawn of Chaos arc continues.

Opinion Piece: Sonic Forces

The name is real! Today, a panel was held for Sonic at SXSW (South by South-West), where details were revealed for Sonic Mania, and, more importantly, this game. The game formerly known as Project Sonic 2017 now has the official name of Sonic Forces, which I believe refers to a battle between the forces of good and evil. But that wasn’t the only news announced today, and I’m here to talk about what we now know.

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In addition to the logo pictured above, we also had a full reveal of a previously shown (but cropped) concept art, pictured below. Nothing too far beyond expectations based on what we already knew, the same dark, fiery, destructive theme. It was pretty obvious before, but it was confirmed early in the reveal that the game’s plot does involve the existence of the Eggman Empire “…as I always dreamed it!” (Quote from Mike Pollock, voice of Eggman). Also clarified information that we had before, this was confirmed as a game in the style of Sonic Unleashed, Colors, and Generations. If they think that they can get an Adventure lover like myself to love that formula, I’m glad to see them try. But as it stands, I currently and always have felt like watering down Modern Sonic’s gameplay with the 2D sidescrolling that we already get from Classic Sonic is just a bad idea, plain and simple. But once again, I could certainly learn to love the high-speed boosting style of gameplay if they execute it perfectly.

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Now, on to the real news. 3. I’m not talking about a certain non-child-friendly game series that will not be mentioned here, nor about any conspiracy theories. Three playstyles. That’s what they said this game would have. Modern Sonic. Classic Sonic. And a third. I don’t even want to begin at guessing what that third style is, for risk of disappointing myself in the future. But, needless to say, that leaves potential to include the style of gameplay which I have been sorely missing for over ten years of Sonic games, in which case I would be perfectly fine with the overuse of 2D in the other 2 styles. I would also mention that, in describing the title of the game, the words “Sonic and friends” were used, inferring that this third slot could be filled by a character other than Sonic. But that’s just a theory. A game

The video above was also unveiled at this event. The main theme of Sonic Forces. The rumors have been flying around for over a year now that Crush 40 would be performing music for this next Sonic game, though Johnny Gioeli (lead singer) confirmed in an interview some time ago that they hadn’t been in any way contacted about it or otherwise involved in it by that point. However, before this theme was played, they stated that it had only just recently been recorded, meaning that something could very well have changed since that interview, and finally come to fruition. Now, as you’ve probably listened to and heard, the above song has no vocals. However, it was confirmed that the real theme song does have vocals, and that this was merely an instrumental version. Now, let’s be honest here. The song doesn’t quite line up with Crush 40’s usual style. The guitar doesn’t even come in prominently until over 15 seconds in, and even then, it isn’t nearly as pronounced as I would expect. This probably isn’t a Crush 40 song, though I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely impossible. What the musical style does remind me of, however, is that of Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Lost World, the final boss fight theme of the latter in particular. And Lost World had a pretty good soundtrack. It’s not like a Sonic song has to be composed by Jun Senoue (lead guitarist of Crush 40 and music director of the Sonic series starting with Sonic the Hedgehog 3) to be good. I am actually quite fond of “Endless Possibility,” the lyrical theme of Sonic Unleashed. But as a Sonic fan of the Adventure era, anything that can make this game feel more like what I know and love can be a good thing. Now, I suppose I haven’t said what I think about the song itself yet. I’ll admit, I am very happy with it, and the piano at the end got me feeling really emotional. It feels way too upbeat given the tone of the game as we’ve seen so far, but it’s still a good piece of music.

Most importantly for today’s reveals, some brief footage of gameplay. Now, around this time, they also talked a bit about the gameplay in general. They confirmed that this game runs on the entirely new “Hedgehog Engine 2.” It looks very pretty, but in all honesty, I didn’t notice anything that made it clearly superior to the old engine. The gameplay style appears exactly the same as you would expect based on how they explained this game’s relations to old ones. Though I would point out that they did not showcase any 2D sidescrolling, which could be a very good sign for me. Of course, it could just be that they didn’t want to bother showing it because it doesn’t look nearly as pretty or exciting. We’ll have to wait and see. What we don’t have to wait for is the confirmation that Wisps are indeed returning to this game. Sigh. Wisps were a very clever and creative gimmick for Sonic Colors which did a good job in tying the gameplay together with what little story that game had. Their return for Generations was perfectly normal, in fact, the Colors levels would have been rather empty without them. Then Lost World came around. The inclusion of Wisps in Lost World was ridiculous, senseless, and, quite frankly, wrong. The end of Colors clearly established that the Wisps were gone, returned to their home planets. Now…the possibility exists that Lost World actually takes place in the Wisp galaxy (or solar system or whatever), since literally the only thing we know about the Lost Hex is that it is a “floating continent.” (Honestly, it really irritates me how little we know about that entire story.) It could be a continent floating above an alien planet, no one said it had to be above the Earth we know. I probably would’ve been satisfied with that explanation. But there was no explanation, forcing us to assume that these creatures we thought were aliens also happen to live natively on a floating continent above the planet, which, apparently, no one ever noticed. And now, here the Wisps are again, not just on this distant, almost planet-like continent, but now also on what we can only assume to be the surface of Sonic’s Earth. They fuel his boost gauge, though they don’t appear quite like the same white Wisps we saw in Colors. Since it seems like this game might have an actual story, unlike what we’ve been getting recently, I really, really hope that they actually take a whole 20 seconds out of their way to explain why the heck the Wisps are still here.

Conclusion
I can no longer say that this game has the potential to be the absolute perfect game, in my opinion. But the outlook isn’t so bad. This game could still shape up into the absolute highlight of the Modern Sonic era. The soundtrack is looking good so far, they have a chance to perfect the gameplay style, and the story is looking like it might be the best we’ve gotten in ten years. I’m still looking forward to seeing what’s in store for that third playstyle, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high. All in all, I’m still very excited for this game. Though I am more worried than ever about it stepping on the toes of my story.

-Until next time, remember to live and learn every day!
(Couldn’t come up with a good “forces” pun.)

Edit: It has been confirmed that characters including Knuckles, Amy, and unspecified members of the Chaotix appear in the game, including dialogue spoken to Sonic over a radio during gameplay. It has also been confirmed that none of these characters are playable, and that Modern Sonic gameplay does include 2D sidescrolling “occasionally.” Just because these other characters aren’t playable doesn’t mean that they have no role in the story, which is a lot of what I care about. If they acknowledge the existence of these characters in the Sonic universe in a capacity greater than the normal pathetic cameo roles, I’ll be very happy. The sorts of roles these side characters had in Shadow the Hedgehog (2005), minus the second-player playability of course, is the kind of thing I’m talking about, where we simply come across the characters doing exactly what one might expect them to do given the situation. And of course, just because these specific characters aren’t playable, doesn’t mean that some other character won’t be. As for the 2D…meh. If the 3D is good, then having the 2D certainly won’t ruin the game, it will just mean having less time enjoying the maximum that the game has to offer. I expected as much.

Opinion Piece: Sonic Mania

I rather enjoyed writing the opinion piece on Project Sonic 2017, so I thought that I would do another one, this time on the other game announced at the same event. Once again, watch the below trailer first if you haven’t already.

This paragraph is mostly a rant, so skip to the bottom if you want to get to actual discussion about the game. Since I started the last one with a thank you to developers for including Nintendo, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to start here by expressing my strong disapproval at this game’s nonexistence for any Nintendo platform. I don’t necessarily have any outright dislike towards X-Box or Playstation. In fact, I still own my old PS2 slim, the console on which I first started playing Sonic games with Sonic Mega Collection Plus. But as a not-particularly-wealthy gamer, I don’t have the luxury of simply getting every gaming technology available in the world. I had to make a choice between the primarily M-rated market of X-Box and Playstation, or the primarily family-oriented market of Nintendo. I chose Nintendo. It is my honest belief that Sonic as a series fits far more homogeneously with Mario, Zelda, and Animal Crossing than it ever could with Halo, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto. That being said, I still think that it’s unfair to Sonic fans to put Sonic games exclusively on Nintendo systems. What they did with Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog, I believe, is by far the best option, developing games which can play exactly the same no matter what system you own. Sonic Unleashed was also adequate, but it is unfortunate that some players (such as myself, who got the cheaper PS2 version) had to settle for non-optimal versions of the game. Anyways, what seems likely to me is that the slew of third-party developers which worked on Sonic Mania simply had a bias against Nintendo, as most third-party developers do. I find it hard to believe that a game meant to play exactly like games for the SEGA Genesis could possibly be unable to be handled by a Nintendo handheld, let alone the Wii U.
In short, when it comes to platforms of release, Project Sonic did it right, Sonic Mania did it wrong.

SM

Now, to the actual game. Unlike Project Sonic, we’ve actually been treated to a considerable amount of information about the game this time around, including the gameplay of two levels, Green Hill Zone and Studiopolis Zone (NOT pronounced “studio-opolis” as Gamexplain would have you believe). Overall, I was quite satisfied by Studiopolis. I thought that its design really did capture the feel of those classic Sonic games, particularly Sonic CD and a little bit of Sonic 2. The aesthetic background elements had exactly as much detail put into them as I would expect out of a classic game. Green Hill Zone, on the other hand…well, let’s just say that it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Rant alert! Right at the moment where the preview level transitions from an exact copy of the original level into new territory, I felt the time and effort put into that classic level just slip away. To use a quote from the 20th Anniversary book, The History of Sonic the Hedgehog,

“The level was remade countless times. It was modified and restarted again and again, and was finally completed after almost eight months of work…Sonic Team wanted to make sure that this first level portrayed their hero in just the right way.”

That’s the kind of effort that I’m talking about. That’s the kind of effort that I felt was missing from the second half of the new level. One of the wonderful things about the real Green Hill Zone is that it gives off the feeling that, in some perfect world, it is a place that could somehow really exist. That feeling is completely shattered when that spring at the middle of the level suddenly bounces you up to a huge land mass that’s just kind of chilling up there in the sky, not supported by any sort of cliff like the real level does for its highest areas. Of course, there are floating platforms in the original, but they are tiny and add to the magical feel of the place. But this particular breach of physics serves only to shatter the illusion that this is a reality which is only just out of reach. End Cluck Alert…uh, I mean, rant alert. As for the rest of the level design, it felt like it probably would have been more homogeneous in Sonic 2 than in the original, but I suppose that that much is excusable. It does, after all, have that faster-paced feel that the original Sonic the Hedgehog was a little bit lacking in, all things considered.

Next up, the music. I was really expecting something that sounded like it might have come right out of the Genesis, I was looking for a few of my most nostalgic instruments in particular. Instead the music is a little more reminiscent of Sonic CD, sort of classic-sounding in the way that it’s composed, but with no actual recognizable sound quality limitations. Below is an example, the Studiopolis theme. It’s a pretty good theme all around, but apparently I’m not as impressed as most of the vocal Sonic community, and once again, I would have rather it had Genesis sound quality to match the graphics.

Last to discuss is the entire idea of the game as a whole. I’m going to be frank here. As I’m sure you can tell, if nothing else than by the banner of this very website, I do have a thing for sprites. I find them to be quite charming, and it’s very interesting to see how much expression can be packed into so few pixels. But above all else, they are easy. Infinitely easier than full-quality artwork, at least in my opinion from my experience. And that’s why I’ve always had trouble accepting modern games which purposefully use sprites. It makes me feel like they’re being lazy, not doing as much work as they possibly could to make the game look good and professional. But that’s what makes this so weird. Sonic already tried to go back to a classic feel without sprites, in the form of Sonic the Hedgehog 4. And for some reason that I fail to comprehend, those games were apparently a failure (though I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason were that Episode 2 never came to a Nintendo system *cough* looking at you Mania *cough*). I felt that Sonic 4 was a great way to satisfy the Sonicwunners (to borrow a term from Pokémon players in reference to Genwunners who only like the original games) who demanded that Sonic be in 2D. As we’ve been seeing in the past few Sonic games, when those people aren’t satisfied by spin-offs, their needs instead infiltrate the games that would otherwise be entirely in 3D like many other fans (like myself) want. Anyways, I enjoyed Sonic 4, and I’m sad that Episode 3 (& Knuckles?) will never come. But, back on topic, I understand that if Sonic 4 won’t do it, this is the only way to keep die-hard fans of the classics happy. In short, the sprites, just because they’re easier to do, aren’t necessarily done out of laziness, but out of necessity.

Final Conclusions: some people think that Sonic needs a game that can restore him to his “former glory,” and this could be it. It’s not the ideal game for me, but it very well could be for others. If any Sonic game could ever be out of my playable reach, I suppose that I’m good with it being this one. Of course I would rather play it than forever go without playing it, but then, I feel the same way about Sonic 06. If this game is what it takes to keep everyone happy, then I shall embrace it with open arms.

– And until next time, you too should open your arms, and open your heart!

Edit: Direct encoding of videos, a few typo fixes, and the addition of a missing tag.