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A spirit that is not afraid

Games on The Plains: 'Sonic Mania' somehow succeeds

As a kid I was raised on Nintendo and Playstation, meaning my early gaming heroes were Mario and Crash Bandicoot. I’d missed the Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo Era, and no one in their right mind had a Dreamcast, so Sonic the Hedgehog was a character I’d only experienced by box art and the occasional gaming magazine.

It wasn’t until my dad installed the 1996 game “Sonic 3D Blast” on our family PC that I was formally introduced to the character. I loved it and played it almost obsessively, but that came from a combination of me not knowing any better because of never playing the originals and the fact that I was a 5-year-old.

Critically, Sonic’s first attempt at 3D – and every attempt after that – was met with little praise.

The fast pace of the games didn’t mesh well with 3D environments, creating frustrating and slowed-down gameplay that couldn’t compare to other 3D platformers like Super Mario 64.

Since then, Sega has tried time and time again to reinvigorate the “blue-blur,” every time landing somewhere between horrendous, ala 2006’s attempted title reboot “Sonic the Hedgehog” and just ok, like the Wii’s surprising “Sonic Colors.”

Fans never gave up on their favorite hedgehog though, and when “Sonic Mania” was announced last summer as a return-to-basics remix of the classic 2D Sonic games they were filled with just as much excitement as they were familiar trepidation

Developed by career Sonic fan Christian Whitehead with help from Headcannon and PagodaWest Games, “Sonic Mania” serves as a proper 25th year celebration of the character, not only because of its emulation of classic Genesis graphics but also because it’s a surprisingly great game.

“Sonic Mania” succeeds because it focuses on what made Sonic fun in the first place: going fast. The branching levels and ever-ticking-timer encourage the player to go through the levels as quickly as possible, only slowing down for the occasional power up or challenging platform.

Players have three options for control. Sonic provides a classic experience, Sonic+Tails adds a helicopter-jump to reach higher up secrets and power-ups, and Knuckles, while moving much slower, can glide, stick to walls and, of course, punch through enemies.

The main game is composed of thirteen zones, five of which being remasters of classic levels, that each has 2 acts. Throughout these zones are hidden Special Stages and Bonus Stages that pay homage to games of old. The whole game really seems like a well-made homage to the past, combining old ideas with new set-pieces, challenges and areas to explore.

And explore you will, as the visuals and sound of “Sonic Mania” are something to behold. All of the zones, old and new, are accompanied by music that can only be described as nostalgic; starting off with a familiar sound in the first act that gets remixed in the second.

Although using the sprite-based art of the classic games, “Mania” adds subtle animations and moving parts that just wouldn’t be possible on old consoles.

Saying that an awesome Sonic the Hedgehog game released in 2017 is strange, but it’s here, and with a $20 price tag it definitely gets the Games on The Plains seal of approval.

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