In July of last year, we posted the debut trailer for Sonic Mania, a brand new game in the Sonic franchise that was a throwback to the speedy blue mascot’s glory days of the 16-bit era. While the game wasn’t officially announced for mobile, there were a couple of reasons I wanted to share that trailer with our audience. First, I’m a huge Sonic fan and simply wanted to make sure other huge Sonic fans saw the news. Second was that it felt like the fitting next chapter to a saga that really began on mobile in the first place. Heading up the Sonic Mania development was Christian Whitehead, a long-time Sonic fan and prominent member of the Sonic fan community who really became known outside of those circles when he unveiled a prototype for a mobile remastering of Sonic CD way back in July of 2009.
We interviewed Whitehead about his process and the technology behind his remastered Sonic CD prototype, and it got Sonic fans so excited it felt like there was no way Sega would not want to officially green light the project. Well, as many feared, the project went completely silent and it looked like Sega did indeed pull the plug on the whole thing. Then, more than two years later in August of 2011, we got the incredible news that the Sonic CD remaster project was back on! Not only had Sega not pulled the plug, but they struck a deal to work with Whitehead in an official capacity to create the remastered version of Sonic CD. Just a few short months later and Sonic CD (Free) released on iOS in mid-December of 2011, and it was absolutely fantastic.
The great reception and sales of Sonic CD led to Sega doing even more with Whitehead. He joined up with another long-time Sega fan community member Simon Thomley and together they created remastered versions of both the original Sonic The Hedgehog (Free) and its sequel Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (Free). Both were just as fantastic as the Sonic CD remaster, and both went on to garner huge critical and commercial success. The logical next step would be to have the team give the remastering treatment to Sonic The Hedgehog 3/Sonic & Knuckles, and in fact they even began building a prototype of that very project even without Sega’s consent just to show its amazing potential, but tragically Sega has not yet given the go ahead for a Sonic 3 & Knuckles remaster for reasons (mostly) unknown. Let’s pour one out for the Sonic 3 & Knuckles remaster that never was.
Anyway, that little history lesson is a means of bringing things full circle as both Whitehead and Thomley, in partnership with PagodaWest Games, are the creators of this latest game Sonic Mania, which has launched on consoles today. I even woke up early today just so I could squeeze in some Sonic Mania on my Nintendo Switch before heading into the office, and since I figured there were so many mobile ties with the developers of Sonic Mania and because I have all my fingers and toes constantly crossed that we’ll see a mobile port of the game someday, I figured I’d share my brief first impressions from the Switch version with you all.
Sonic has had exactly 2,873 new games since those original ’90s glory days, and while there have been some decent entries among those none have ever been able to recapture the magic that made the original games so beloved. Sonic 4 looked to be that long-awaited return to form when it was first announced in early 2010 with classic 2D platforming and slick modern visuals. Unfortunately, while I don’t HATE Sonic 4, the fundamentals were really out of whack. The movement and physics didn’t feel right, the level designs were a far cry from the original games, and a heavy emphasis on a new lock-on targeting system made them feel almost like completely different games wrapped up in some Sonic dressing. It was a disappointment to say the least.
Sonic Mania immediately dispels any fears one would have of a repeat of Sonic 4’s performance. This game feels exactly like its classic siblings. The jumping, moving, spinning, and everything feels just as it did in the Genesis era. Sonic Mania is also interesting as it’s a love letter to the original games and even features some of the same levels, but even those feel fresh with completely new areas and routes and quite a few new surprises in store even if you’ve memorized every square inch of every classic Sonic game. Plus there are entirely new levels and many new mechanics thrown in that all feel like they’d be perfectly at home if this game had been released in the mid-90s as the actual Sonic 4.
That’s not to say there aren’t modern touches in Sonic Mania. While it retains the 16-bit visual look overall, there are many graphical flourishes and many more frames of animation that just wouldn’t have been possible on the hardware of Sonic’s original outings. It reminds me a lot of Rocketcat’s Wayward Souls ($6.99) in that you can look at a screenshot and think it’s simply yet another throwback pixel art game, but when you actually see it in motion and play it firsthand you realize there are so many neat graphical tricks going on that it’s really a game that couldn’t have existed in that form on the older game system hardware. It’s like the developers have captured the essence of what made the original Sonic games great and brought forth a brand new, but also familiar, experience that feels like a modern game.
That’s really the bottom line with Sonic Mania for me so far: This is for all intents and purposes the Sonic 4 we’ve wanted for the past 20+ years. This is it. It might not be perfect, but neither are the originals. And if you didn’t like those original games then Sonic Mania likely won’t change your mind. But for fans of classic Sonic who have yearned for more, your moment has finally arrived. Plus Sonic Mania seems like a pretty big game too, and I have no doubt there are many secrets waiting to be revealed over the coming weeks, months, years, and maybe even decades. It’s already dumped all sorts of awesome nods and easter eggs to the entire previous Sonic games library, and I’m only a couple of hours in so far.
If you’re a classic Sonic fan, even partway through this game I can tell you you should pick up Sonic Mania on whatever platform you can. It’s totally worth the measly twenty bucks to be transported back into my childhood. It’s on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch today and will be on Windows PC on August 29th. The big question is, will it ever come to mobile? Well, as Sonic 1, 2, and CD have already shown us, these games can play just fine with virtual controls, and the only reason I could think of to NOT bring Sonic Mania to mobile is because Sega somehow hates money. It wouldn’t be the first weird decision Sega has made, that’s for sure. That said, I’m pretty confident Sonic Mania will make its way over eventually, after the console and PC versions have had their time in the sun. And if and when it does that will be a joyous day and I won’t ever ask for anything from Sega again. Well, except that Sonic 3 & Knuckles iOS port. C’mon Sega, make ALL our dreams come true!