Are you sure we’re not back in the ‘90s?

With everyone playing Crash Bandicoot, Wipeout and a spiritual Banjo-Kazooie successor, we're starting to wonder whether we somehow passed out in a DeLorean during the New Year’s celebrations.

Most interesting of all these retro rebirths, though, is Sonic the Hedgehog. He was one of the biggest stars of the decade, but ever since? He crashed harder than Macaulay Culkin. That’s not down to any lack of trying on Sega’s behalf, either. We’ve seen Sonic undergo more reboots than Batman and James Bond combined.

But now, it seems Sega (with the help of developers Handcannon and PagodaWest Games) has finally figured out the best way to get their mascot running at full speed again – return him to his Mega Drive origins.

Dash from the past

From werehog curses to swinging swords, Sonic’s gone through more oddball phases than a hormone-high teen. Thankfully, he finally appears to have resolved his identity crisis.

Mania cuts out all the gimmicks. In fact, it plays identically to Sonic games of old.

For starters, Sonic Mania shares the exact same controls: use the analogue stick to move and almost any button to jump or dash – and that's basically it. A new Drop Dash helps keep momentum going, but otherwise “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” was clearly the mantra here. 

Even the retro 16-bit graphics were retained, doing their best to get you reminiscing for those good ol’ Mega Drive days. Not that I’m complaining – Sonic still looks better than ever thanks to an upgrade to 60fps.

But as successful as Sonic Mania is at creating those nostalgia feels, its dedication to the past is also its biggest downfall - rarely offering anything new to the now-26-year old formula. At the very least I’d have appreciated a new move to vary combat.

Back in the zone

We’ve had plenty of Sonic the Hedgehog remakes over the years, and 30 minutes into Mania I was thinking it was yet another, just with a 'remixed' spin.

This is mainly because most of the 12 zones have already appeared in previous Sonic games. Sure, levels like Green Hill Zone have been 'remixed' with new map layouts, but a couple still feel overly familiar.

Later levels offer more innovation, but even these feel a little recycled. The underwater sections of Hydrocity are tense as you race to avoid drowning, while the airborne plane ride of Mirage Saloon offers a refreshing change of pace to the usual sprint-focussed stages. These aren’t new ideas for the series, but there are enough tweaks here to keep them feeling fresh.

Despite a couple of completely original zones and boss battles, it’s difficult to view Sonic Mania as an entirely new entry to the series. Rather, it's an accumulation of some of the greatest maps and ideas of previous 2D Sonic games.

Think of it as a “best of” album, and you’ll begin to get a clearer image of what Mania has to offer.

Stuff says... 

Sonic Mania review

The best Sonic 2D-scroller in absolutely yonks, but it might stick too closely to the original formula
Good Stuff 
Faithful to the Mega Drive originals
Abundant with content and replay value
Smart and fun level design
Bad Stuff 
Lacking any truly 'new' ideas
Dated features