Sonic Mania

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Sonic Mania
Sonic Mania (artwork).jpg
Packaging artwork, featuring Sonic, Tails and Knuckles
Developer(s)
  • PagodaWest Games
  • Headcannon
Publisher(s) Sega
Director(s) Christian Whitehead
Producer(s) Lola Shiraishi
Designer(s) Jared Kasl
Programmer(s)
  • Christian Whitehead
  • Simon Thomley
Artist(s) Tom Fry
Composer(s) Tee Lopes
Series Sonic the Hedgehog
Engine Retro Engine
Platform(s)
Release Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • WW: August 15, 2017
  • JP: August 16, 2017
Microsoft Windows
  • WW: August 29, 2017
  • JP: August 30, 2017
Genre(s) Platform, action
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

Sonic Mania[a] is a side-scrolling platform game published by Sega. An installment in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, the story follows Sonic the Hedgehog and his companions Tails and Knuckles as they venture to defeat their nemesis Doctor Eggman and his robotic henchmen, the Hard-Boiled Heavies. The game commemorates the original Sonic games released for the Sega Genesis, and features redesigned versions of stages from previous games alongside original ones.

The development team was composed of members known for their work in the Sonic fangame and ROM hacking community. Development began after lead developer Christian "Taxman" Whitehead, who was previously contracted by Sega to develop enhanced mobile ports of Genesis-era Sonic games, presented a playable prototype to Takashi Iizuka, lead producer of Sonic Team. Art, level design, audio, and additional programming support was provided by independent studios PagodaWest Games and Headcannon. The team built the game using Whitehead's Retro Engine, and aimed for a graphical quality between that of Genesis and Sega Saturn games.

Sonic Mania was released worldwide for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Microsoft Windows in August 2017. Reception to the game was positive; critics praised its presentation, level design, music, and faithfulness to the early Sonic games. Many saw it as a return to form for the series following a number of poorly-received Sonic games released after the 1990s, though it received some criticism for its lack of originality.

Gameplay[edit]

Gameplay screenshot showing Sonic in Studiopolis Zone, one of the original levels created for Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania is a sprite-based, side-scrolling, platformer action game in the style of the early Sonic games released for the Sega Genesis. Players select one of three playable characters, each with their own unique abilities: Sonic can perform a "drop dash" which sends him rolling in a dash after a jump,[1] Tails can fly and swim,[2] and Knuckles can glide and climb walls.[3] As with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992), players can either play as Sonic and Tails simultaneously, or allow Tails to be independently controlled by a second player.[4] The game features unlockable gameplay modifiers, including the option to use Sonic's abilities from Sonic CD (1993) and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) in place of the drop dash, and "& Knuckles" mode, which allows simultaneous control of any character and Knuckles.[5]

Sonic Mania takes place over twelve levels, called zones; the game features eight "remixed" zones, such as Green Hill Zone from the original Sonic the Hedgehog, alongside four original zones.[6][7] Remixed stages consist of both new elements and recycled gimmicks and ideas from other past Sonic games. Each zone is divided into two acts, in which the player must guide their character past various enemies and obstacles to reach the end. At the end of each act, the player takes part in a boss battle against Doctor Eggman or one of his robots, including the Hard-Boiled Heavies, elite henchmen based on the EggRobo enemies from Sonic & Knuckles (1994).[8][9] The player can collect golden rings, which serve as a form of health; players survive hits as long as they have at least one ring, but their rings scatter and disappear after a short time. Television monitors containing rings, elemental shields, or power-ups such as invincibility and faster running speed are scattered throughout each level.[10] Similarly to Sonic & Knuckles, the game's story is told via short in-game cutscenes at the end of some acts.[11]

Giant rings hidden in each act, a feature of the original games, lead to pseudo-3D special stages similar to those in Sonic CD.[7][12][11] In the stages, players dodge obstacles and collect colored spheres to increase their speed, allowing them to pursue a UFO carrying a Chaos Emerald; collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds allows players to use their character's super transformation and unlocks the game's true ending.[13][6] Players' ring counters slowly decrease during special stages and must be continually replenished; if the player runs out of rings before they catch the UFO, the special stage ends.[13] The "Blue Sphere" bonus stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 also return, accessed by entering a portal that appears when the player passes a checkpoint while carrying 25 or more rings. Completing bonus stages earns the player a silver or gold medal depending on their performance; collecting medals unlocks features such as a debug mode and sound test.[13][6][5]

In a time attack mode, players must complete levels as quickly as possible, with the best times included on an online leaderboard;[13] players can instantly reload a level to restart a stage and try again at any time.[13] A split-screen competitive multiplayer mode allows two players to race to the end of a level, similar to those of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.[14] Players can also unlock "Mean Bean", a two-player minigame based on the 1993 spinoff Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine.[5]

Plot[edit]

Following the events of Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic and Tails receive a powerful energy reading from Angel Island and board their biplane, the Tornado, to investigate. However, Doctor Eggman sends an elite group of EggRobos to reach the signal before Sonic and Tails. The EggRobos excavate the source of the signal, a magical gemstone called the Phantom Ruby, just as Sonic and Tails arrive. The EggRobos gain new powers from the ruby, becoming the Hard Boiled Heavies, and send Sonic, Tails, and the island's guardian, Knuckles, through places they have previously visited where they pursue Eggman to prevent him from using the ruby's power for evil, clashing with him and the Heavies along the way.

Sonic and his allies discover that Eggman has used the Phantom Ruby's power to retake control of Little Planet from Sonic CD. They board Eggman's robotic fortress, defeat him and the Heavies, and escape just as it explodes. If all seven Chaos Emeralds are collected while playing as Sonic, the Phantom Ruby transports Sonic and Eggman to another dimension. There, the Hard-Boiled Heavies' leader, the Heavy King, betrays Eggman and takes the ruby, imbuing himself with power; Eggman attacks the Heavy to try to reclaim it. Sonic uses the Chaos Emeralds to become Super Sonic and fights Eggman and the Heavy to keep the ruby out of the possession of both. After the battle, the Phantom Ruby reacts with the Chaos Emeralds, creating a wormhole that engulfs itself and Sonic as Little Planet vanishes.

Development[edit]

Sonic 2's unfinished stage Dust Hill Zone (top) served as inspiration for Sonic Mania's Mirage Saloon Zone (bottom)

Development of Sonic Mania began in 2015, led by Australian programmer Christian "Taxman" Whitehead. Whitehead was a prominent member of the Sonic fangame community, and had previously been contracted by Sega to develop remastered ports of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Sonic CD for mobile phones.[15][11] After developing the game for a few months, Whitehead presented a prototype, which he called Sonic Discovery, to series producer Takashi Iizuka.[11] Iizuka approved the project, and suggested that it should include old levels from the early Sonic games it was inspired by, "remixed" in a way that felt new.[15] He also gave it the working title of Sonic Mania, which stuck after no one suggested a better one during development.[15] The title referenced the development team's "maniacal" fandom for the series; Iizuka described the project as being made "by the mania, for the mania", and as a "passion product" driven by the fans' love for the early Sonic games.[15][11][7][16]

Sonic Mania was developed using Whitehead's Retro Engine, a game engine tailored for creating two-dimensional games, which he also used for the enhanced ports of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, and Sonic CD.[17] The team also included programmer Simon "Stealth" Thomley of the independent studio Headcannon, who assisted Whitehead with those projects and on various Sonic fangames and ROM hacks,[18][19] as well as level designer Jared Kasl and art director Tom Fry of PagodaWest Games, who had previously independently collaborated on an unofficial high-definition remaster of Sonic 2.[20] Iizuka described the visuals as a cross between the graphical capabilities of the Sega Genesis and Sega Saturn, comprising mostly pixel art with some polygonal graphics.[15]

The developers modeled the gameplay on Sonic 3, with each zone consisting of two acts and boss fights at the end of each. For returning stages, the designers made the first act feel familiar, and introduced new elements in the second act.[21] The first original level designed was the Hollywood-themed Studiopolis Zone.[22] The desert-themed Mirage Saloon Zone was inspired by the unfinished Sonic 2 level Dust Hill and the Monument Valley region of the United States.[19][21] The special stages were inspired by more recent games such as Sonic Rush (2005) and Sonic Colors (2010).[23] The game features animated opening and ending sequences led by Tyson Hesse, one of the artists of the Archie Comics Sonic comic book series.[11][24] It also features an optional CRT graphical filter,[7][16][25][26] and supports the enhanced features of PlayStation 4 Pro, outputting at native 4K resolution.[27][28]

Music[edit]

The musical score of Sonic Mania was composed by Tee Lopes of PagodaWest Games, consisting of rearranged pieces from previous Sonic games alongside new material.[20][29] Lopes was chosen due to his popularity on YouTube for producing arrangements of various Sonic tracks, and for his work on the Sonic 2 HD project.[30] Lopes initially wanted his score to resemble the Sonic CD soundtrack, trying to imagine what a sequel to it might have sounded like.[29] As development progressed, he took inspiration from several other older Sonic and Sega games, such as The Revenge of Shinobi and Sega Rally.[29][30] Lopes also looked to popular music from the 1990s, such as the work of Michael Jackson, for further inspiration.[29][30] The game's opening theme, "Friends", was composed by the electronic music group Hyper Potions.[11][24] A vinyl LP featuring Lopes' original tracks was published by the music label Data Discs in 2017.[31]

Release[edit]

Sonic Mania was announced alongside Sonic Forces during the twenty-fifth anniversary Sonic event at the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) event in July 2016.[32] The game was also featured at South by Southwest (SXSW),[33] the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3),[34] and SDCC in 2017; at SDCC 2017, attendees received a promotional instruction manual for the game.[11]

Sonic Mania was released digitally for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in North America and Europe on August 15, 2017, and in Japan the following day.[35][36][37] Tantalus Media helped develop the Nintendo Switch port of the game.[38] Four days before release, Sega delayed the Microsoft Windows version for another two weeks for further optimization, releasing it on August 29.[39] As compensation, those who had pre-ordered the game received a copy of the original Sonic the Hedgehog on Steam.[39]

In addition to the standard digital release, a Sega Genesis-themed collector's edition was also released, containing a 12-inch (30 cm) Sonic statue atop a model Genesis, a game cartridge cast with a golden ring, and a metallic collector's card with a download code for the game.[40][41] To promote the collector's edition, Sega released a retro-styled infomercial featuring former series art director Kazuyuki Hoshino and social media manager Aaron Webber, based on an American television commercial for Sonic 2.[42]

Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
Aggregator Score
Metacritic PS4: 86/100[43]
NS: 86/100[44]
PC: 84/100[45]
XONE: 83/100[46]
Review scores
Publication Score
Destructoid 8/10[47]
EGM 9/10[48]
Eurogamer Essential[49]
Game Informer 8.5/10[50]
Game Revolution 4/5 stars[51]
GameSpot 9/10[52]
IGN 8.7/10[6]
Nintendo Life 9/10 stars[53]
Nintendo World Report 9/10[54]
PC Gamer (UK) 82/100[55]
Polygon 7/10[56]
VideoGamer.com 7/10[57]

Sonic Mania was announced following years of mixed reception for the Sonic franchise.[58] According to the International Business Times, the series had been "tarnished by years of sub-par games with only the occasional gem";[58] Sega's approach of releasing Sonic Forces and Sonic Mania in the same year, catering to new and old fans, could repair the series' reputation and lead to a "Sonic renaissance".[58] Several critics expressed excitement for a game that returned to the style of the early Sonic games,[59][16] and wrote that Sega's previous efforts to develop games in the "classic" style, such as Sonic Advance (2001) and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010), had been disappointing.[59][60][61] At E3 2017, the game was nominated for "Best Platformer" and "Best Nintendo Switch Game" by IGN, though it lost both to Super Mario Odyssey.[34]

According to review aggregator Metacritic, Sonic Mania received "generally favorable" reviews.[44][45][43][46] It became the best-reviewed Sonic game in fifteen years,[62] and several critics described it as one of the best games in the 2D platformer genre.[52][63][64][65][66] EGM commended it as one of the "purest and most enjoyable" Sonic games, expressing excitement for the future of the series.[48] IGN wrote that Mania was the "classic" throwback longtime series fans had been clamoring for since the 1990s, but also recommended it for people new to the franchise.[6] Nintendo World Report called it a "must buy" for fans of the older Sonic games, praising its level design, soundtrack, and visuals.[54] Waypoint compared the game favorably to Donkey Kong Country Returns, describing it as a game that knew "what was fun" about its predecessors.[67] Nintendo Life felt that Mania represented "a true return to form" for the series was a contender for the best game in the series.[53]

The presentation attracted wide acclaim. USGamer described the graphics as the "pinnacle" of the series' pixel-era career.[68] COG Connected wrote that although pixelated 2D graphics are "inherently nostalgic", the older Sonic games had never looked "quite this good".[69] GameSpot praised the animations and detail as superior to the original games, writing that they added an extra layer of personality.[52] Cubed3 described the levels as stylish and vibrant.[70] Critics also praised the Sonic Mania's attention to detail to its source material. Game Informer wrote that its gameplay was "nearly indistinguishable" from its Genesis predecessors, but with "extra polish".[50] Easy Allies wrote that the game emulated the original games "exceptionally", and that "running, jumping, and spin dashing all work exactly as well as you would hope".[71] Twinfinite praised game's references to older Sonic games without "beating fans over the head with it".[72] Metro wrote that the game was filled with fanservice, and likened it to a school project "gone wild, something enthusiastic kids have made while the teacher was away and which far surpasses anything they were actually supposed to be doing".[73]

The level design and music also received praise.[54] Hardcore Gamer wrote that the remixed versions of older stages felt fresh while staying true to the originals.[74] Game Informer wrote that the new stages matched the quality of the stages from early Sonic games, and that they captured the spirit of what made the original games so well received.[50] The A.V. Club praised the detail and content in each level.[75] Venture Beat praised the replayability of the game, saying that branching paths make multiple playthroughs "fresh".[76] On the soundtrack, PlayStation Country wrote that composer Tee Lopes "absolutely nails" it, comparing it positively to the soundtracks from Sonic CD and the Saturn version of Sonic 3D Blast.[77] EGM wrote that the soundtrack was "completely fantastic" and felt nostalgic and new at the same time.[48]

The game also received criticism. Polygon cited frustrations with controls and enemy placement as examples of Sonic Mania's dedication to the original games to a fault.[56] AppTrigger wrote that though Sonic Mania brought the series back to its 2D roots, it also brought problems with 1990s 2D platformers.[78] VideoGamer.com wrote that the game relied too much on nostalgia, with minimal innovation and too few original stages, but was a good proof of concept that the development team could expand upon.[57] The PC version on Steam received criticism for its implementation of the digital rights management (DRM) software Denuvo, which some thought to be the real reason behind the two-week delay.[79][80] The game could not be played offline on launch day; Sega stated this was a bug unrelated to Denuvo, and released a patch the following day that fixed it.[81][82]

Sales[edit]

Sonic Mania topped the best-seller's list on Nintendo Switch, selling more than the previous holders Minecraft and Overcooked: Special Edition.[83] The game heavily increased the profit of Sega's third quarter for 2017.[84]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sonic Mania (ソニックマニア, Sonikku Mania)

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