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Sonic Mania

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Sonic Mania
The official art of Sonic Mania. It shows Sonic, a cartoonish blue hedgehog with red shoes; Tails, a cartoonish, yellow, two-tailed fox; and Knuckles, a cartoonish red echidna with big fists against a yellow background. The words "Sonic Mania" are seen above the characters.
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 PS4, Switch, Xbox One
  • WW: August 15, 2017
  • JP: August 16, 2017
Windows
  • WW: August 29, 2017
  • JP: August 30, 2017
Sonic Mania Plus
  • WW: July 17, 2018
Genre(s) Platform, action
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

Sonic Mania is a 2D platform game published by Sega worldwide in August 2017 for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows. Produced in commemoration of the Sonic the Hedgehog series' 25th anniversary, 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 homages the original Sega Genesis Sonic games, featuring speedy, side-scrolling gameplay. It takes place over twelve levels, including eight redesigned stages from past games.

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 Sonic games, presented a playable prototype to Sonic Team producer Takashi Iizuka. Art, level design, audio, and additional programming 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.

Many journalists saw Sonic Mania as a return to form for the Sonic series following a number of poorly received games released after the 1990s. Critics praised its presentation, level design, music, and faithfulness to the early Sonic games, though some had reservations over its lack of originality. Several called it one of the best games of 2017 and one of the best 2D platform games. Within a year, it had sold over one million copies worldwide across all platforms. Sonic Mania Plus, an enhanced version with additional characters and other content, was released in July 2018.

Gameplay[edit]

Sonic, a cartoonish blue hedgehog with red shoes, runs at high speeds and breaks windows in Studiopolis Zone, one of the levels in Sonic Mania.
Gameplay screenshot showing Sonic in Studiopolis Zone, one of the original levels created for Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania is a side-scrolling platformer action game similar to the early Sonic the Hedgehog 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 play as Sonic and Tails simultaneously, or a second player can control Tails independently.[4][5] Unlockable options include 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, including himself.[6]

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.[7][8] 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).[9][10] The player collects golden rings, which serve as a form of health; players survive hits as long as they have at least one ring, but, if hit, 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.[11] Similar to Sonic & Knuckles, the game's story is told via short in-game cutscenes at the end of some acts.[12]

Giant rings hidden in each act, a feature of the original games, lead to pseudo-3D special stages similar to those in Sonic CD.[8][13][12] 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.[7] 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. The "Blue Sphere" special stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 also return, repurposed as bonus stages that are 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.[7][6]

In a time attack mode, players must complete levels as quickly as possible, with the best times included on an online leaderboard; players can instantly reload a level to restart a stage and try again at any time.[14] A split-screen competitive multiplayer mode allows two players to race to the end of a level, similar to those of Sonic 2.[15] Players can also unlock "Mean Bean", a two-player minigame based on the 1993 spin-off Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine.[6]

Plot[edit]

Following the events of Sonic 3 & 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, negating Sonic's super state and creating a wormhole that engulfs itself and Sonic as Little Planet vanishes.

Development[edit]

Top: a mockup image of a desert-themed level, intended for inclusion in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992). Bottom: a similar level in Sonic Mania. The developers used an unused stage from Sonic 2 as inspiration for Sonic Mania.
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 2, and Sonic CD for mobile phones.[16][12] After developing the game for a few months, Whitehead presented a prototype, which he called Sonic Discovery, to series producer Takashi Iizuka.[12] Iizuka was receptive, and suggested that it should include old levels from the early Sonic games it was inspired by, "remixed" in a way that felt new.[16] He also gave it the working title of Sonic Mania, which stuck after no one suggested a better one during development.[16] 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.[16][12][8][17]

Sonic Mania was produced in commemoration of the series' 25th anniversary.[18] It 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.[19] 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,[20][21] 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.[22] Tantalus Media helped develop the Nintendo Switch port of the game.[23] Iizuka and the rest of Sonic Team provided Sonic Mania's development team guidance and helped ensure the team "[didn't] go off the rails into something that doesn't feel like Sonic".[24] 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.[16]

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.[25] The team cited Sonic CD and Sonic 3 as major influences on the level design for their "big, wide open" and "streamlined" designs, respectively.[24] According to Thomley, the team typically decided what elements to include in the returning stages prior to designing them, but sometimes came up with new ideas or change them based on how the development progressed.[24] The first original level designed was the Hollywood-themed Studiopolis Zone.[26] 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.[21][25] The special stages were inspired by more recent games such as Sonic Rush (2005) and Sonic Colors (2010).[27] The team felt proud of their recreation of classic Sonic gameplay.[24]

The game features animated opening and ending sequences led by Tyson Hesse, one of the artists of the Sonic comics by Archie Comics.[12][28] It also features an optional CRT graphical filter,[29] and supports the enhanced features of PlayStation 4 Pro, outputting at native 4K resolution.[30][31] The musical score was composed by Tee Lopes of PagodaWest Games, consisting of rearranged pieces from previous Sonic games alongside new material.[22][32] 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.[33] Lopes initially wanted his score to resemble the Sonic CD soundtrack, trying to imagine what a sequel to it might have sounded like.[32] As development progressed, he took inspiration from several other older Sonic and Sega games, such as The Revenge of Shinobi (1989) and the Sega Rally games.[32][33] Lopes also took inspiration from popular music from the 1990s, such as the work of Michael Jackson.[32][33] The opening theme, "Friends", was composed by the electronic music group Hyper Potions.[12][28][34]

Release[edit]

Sonic Mania was announced alongside Sonic Forces during the twenty-fifth anniversary Sonic event at the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) convention in July 2016.[35] The game was also featured at South by Southwest (SXSW),[36] the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3),[37] and SDCC in 2017; at SDCC 2017, attendees received a promotional instruction manual for the game.[12] The game was announced with an intended release window of the second quarter of 2017, but Sega announced at SXSW that it had been delayed to allow for more development time.[38]

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.[39][40][41] Four days before release, Sega delayed the Windows version for another two weeks for further optimization, releasing it on August 29 as a download on Steam.[42] As compensation, those who had pre-ordered the game received a copy of the original Sonic the Hedgehog on Steam.[42]

In addition to the standard 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.[43][44] 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.[45] The music label Data Discs published a vinyl LP featuring the game's original music in late 2017.[46] An expanded soundtrack was released on digital music distribution platforms on January 17, 2018.[47]

A series of animated shorts, Sonic Mania Adventures, premiered in March 2018 on YouTube and ran for five monthly episodes leading up to the release of Sonic Mania Plus.[48] The series depicts Sonic's return to his world following the events of Sonic Forces, teaming up with his friends to prevent Eggman and Metal Sonic from collecting the Chaos Emeralds and Master Emerald.[49] The shorts are written and directed by Hesse, with animation production by Neko Productions and music by Tee Lopes.[50]

Sonic Mania Plus[edit]

An expanded version of the game, Sonic Mania Plus, was released at retail and as downloadable content for the original version on July 17, 2018.[51] It adds playable characters Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel from the 1993 arcade game SegaSonic the Hedgehog, each with unique abilities: Mighty can slam the ground and is immune to spikes, while Ray can glide without losing altitude.[52] Plus also adds an "Encore Mode" with remixed levels, a pinball bonus stage, a four-player competition mode, more cutscenes, and a reworked Metal Sonic battle based on his appearance in Knuckles' Chaotix (1995).[53] The physical version was released with a 32-page art book and a reversible cover in the style of the Genesis covers.[54][55]

In an interview with Famitsu, Iizuka explained that Sonic Mania was not intended to have a physical release; Sega staff requested one, but a retail version would have presented a challenge for the production schedule. After the game launched, fans also expressed interest in a physical version. As a retail release would cost more than the downloadable version, the team added value with new content. Mighty and Ray were included because they were rarely featured in games; to accommodate them, level designs had to be altered. Multiplayer was updated because there were more characters to select.[56]

Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
AggregatorScore
MetacriticPS4: 86/100[57]
NS: 86/100[58]
PC: 84/100[59]
XONE: 83/100[60]
Review scores
PublicationScore
Destructoid8/10[61]
EGM9/10[62]
EurogamerEssential[63]
Game Informer8.5/10[64]
Game Revolution4/5 stars[65]
GameSpot9/10[66]
IGN8.7/10[7]
Nintendo Life9/10[67]
Nintendo World Report9/10[68]
PC Gamer (UK)82/100[69]
Polygon7/10[70]
VideoGamer.com7/10[71]

Sonic Mania was announced following years of mixed reviews for the Sonic franchise.[72][73] According to the International Business Times, the series had been "tarnished by years of sub-par games with only the occasional gem"; 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".[72] Several critics expressed excitement for a game that returned to the style of the early Sonic games,[74][17] and wrote that Sega's previous efforts to develop games in the "classic" style, such as Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I in 2010, had been disappointing.[74][75]

According to review aggregator Metacritic, Sonic Mania received "generally favorable" reviews.[58][59][57][60] It became the best-reviewed Sonic game in fifteen years,[76] and several critics described it as one of the best games in the 2D platformer genre.[66][77] At launch, the game topped the best-seller's list on Nintendo Switch, selling more than the previous holders Minecraft and Overcooked: Special Edition.[78] The game heavily increased the profit of Sega's third quarter for 2017, with Sonic Mania credited for Sega selling nearly double the amount of packaged games the company sold in their third quarter from the previous year.[79] By April 2018, it had sold over one million copies worldwide across all platforms.[80]

The presentation attracted acclaim. USGamer described it as the "pinnacle" of the series' pixel graphics.[81] GameSpot called the animations and detail superior to the original games, writing that they added an extra layer of personality.[66] Cubed3 described the levels as stylish and vibrant.[82] Critics also praised the attention to detail in recreating its the early games. Game Informer wrote that its gameplay was "nearly indistinguishable" from its Genesis predecessors, but with "extra polish".[64] 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".[83] 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".[84] Nintendo World Report praised the game for avoiding the physics problems from Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, and wrote it managed to successfully recapture the spirit of the 16-bit games.[68]

The level design and music also received praise.[68] Hardcore Gamer wrote that the remixed versions of older stages felt fresh while staying true to the originals.[85] 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.[64] The A.V. Club praised the detail and content in each level.[86] IGN praised the game for its replay value, writing they replayed its stages many times.[7] Venture Beat praised the replayability of the game, saying that branching paths make multiple playthroughs "fresh".[4] EGM wrote that the soundtrack was "completely fantastic" and felt nostalgic and new at the same time.[62] Nintendo Life called the soundtrack "one of the best" of contemporary times.[67]

The game received some criticism. Polygon commented that frustrations with controls and enemy placement present in the original Sonic games were still present in Sonic Mania.[70] 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.[71] Nintendo World Report's complained about the boss fights, which they found too easy and not well-executed.[68] The Windows version was subject to review bombing due to its implementation of the digital rights management (DRM) software Denuvo, which some thought to be the real reason behind the two-week delay.[87][88] 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.[89][90]

EGMNow commended Sonic Mania as one of the "purest and most enjoyable" Sonic games, expressing excitement for the future of the series.[62] IGN wrote the game was the "classic" throwback longtime series fans had been clamoring for since the 1990s, but also recommended it for people new to the franchise.[7] Nintendo World Report called it a "must buy" for fans of the older Sonic games.[68] Waypoint compared the game favorably to Donkey Kong Country Returns, describing it as a game that knew "what was fun" about its predecessors.[91] Nintendo Life felt that Mania represented "a true return to form" and was a contender for the best game in the series.[67]

Accolades[edit]

At E3 2017, Sonic Mania was nominated for the "Best Platformer" and "Best Nintendo Switch Game" awards by IGN, though it lost both to Super Mario Odyssey.[37] The game was also nominated at The Game Awards 2017 for the "Best Family Game" award,[92] at PC Gamer's Game of the Year 2017 Awards for "Best Platformer",[93] and at Destructoid's Game of the Year Awards 2017 for "Best PC Game".[94] The game was also nominated for "Best Platformer" at IGN's Best of 2017 Awards,[95] although it did win the People's Choice award for "Best Original Music".[96] Giant Bomb classified the game as a runner-up for "Best Surprise" at the Game of the Year 2017 Awards.[97] The game was also nominated for the Central Park Children's Zoo Award for Best Kids Game at the New York Game Awards 2018.[98] In addition, it was also nominated for "Control Precision", "Game Design, Franchise", and "Game, Franchise Family" at the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards.[99][100] Entertainment Weekly ranked the game ninth on their list of the "Best Games of 2017",[101] Eurogamer ranked it 27th on their list of the "Top 50 Games of 2017",[102] and EGMNow ranked it 13th on their list of the 25 Best Games of 2017,[103] while Polygon ranked it 29th on their list of the 50 best games of 2017,[104] and The Verge named it one of their 15 Best Games of 2017.[105]

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