As we close in on the one-year anniversary of its original release, I’m not sure there’s much need to reiterate how good Sonic Mania was. (You can always check out my review if you do want that, of course.) Coming as a collaboration between Sega and a development team comprised of talented longtime fans of the blue hedgehog, the game served as both an homage to the 16-bit era of the series and a path forward for those still wanting Sonic to stick to his 2D roots. Sonic Mania maintained an outstanding level of quality almost consistently from beginning to end, bringing smiles both to a whole new generation of Sonic players and longtime fans like me who had gotten lost along the way.
If there’s any game that really wasn’t in need of an expanded rerelease to fix or add on to what had come before, Sonic Mania would be near the top of the list. And yet, here we are, nearly one year later, receiving Sonic Mania Plus.
Before anything else, Sonic Mania Plus serves as a way to bring what was previously a digital-only title to store shelves, something 2D Sonic’s return without question deserved. However, Sega and the teams involved weren’t satisfied with just slapping the original game onto discs (or cartridges), packaging it with a mini art book and calling it a day, so Plus also brings us a handful of smaller—but really appreciated—changes. Funny enough, the one I was most looking forward to was the addition of the stage transitions missing from the original. Sure, they were a small aspect that had no real effect on gameplay, but they were part of the overall sense of care and attention given to Sonic Mania that then felt strangely incomplete. Well, they’re all here now, and I’m satisfied—mostly. There’s a transition or two that still feels kinda lazy compared to the others that we get, but at least everything is now consistent.
Stage transitions aren’t what’s most exciting about Sonic Mania Plus of course, so how about two brand-new characters instead? Joining Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles in this expanded version of the game are Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel. While they have elicited cries of “who?” from some, they’re pretty interesting additions given that—with their debut in the 1993 arcade release SegaSonic the Hedgehog—they are some of Sonic’s earliest, yet most forgotten over time, playable friends. Each brings his own unique twist to Plus: Mighty can drop out of a jump with an enemy-crushing ground pound, block projectiles while crouched, and survive one bounce on spikes; meanwhile, Ray—my personal favorite—can glide through the air without losing altitude (like Knuckles does).
To help encourage players to give the adventure yet another go with the duo, Sonic Mania Plus also offers up Encore mode. On the surface, Encore mixes up the game’s thirteen zones with tweaked visuals and environments, while also adding in Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s Angel Island. (Just, trust me, temper your excitement for its inclusion.) We also get an all-new type of checkpoint bonus stage: a sort of pinball-esque mini game, no doubt inspired by Sonic Spinball’s own bonus stages. Given how much I loathe the typical blue sphere challenges, I was stupidly excited when I first discovered this new alternative. After giving them a shot, I do feel like the idea is a tad underdeveloped—but I’d still rather have them than not.
Encore mode then offers up one other big gameplay twist. After starting off as Sonic, you rescue either Mighty or Ray (your choice) in the first act, and from there, you’ll always play as a duo, with the ability to switch between your two active characters at any time. Instead of additional lives, 1-up monitors will “rescue” one of the other characters which you can swap out of reserve and into your current playable pair through the use of special monitors. When one character dies, another jumps in to take their place, with a full game over occurring once you’ve killed off every member of your current stock. I wasn’t at all expecting this aspect when giving Encore mode a go, but it’s a neat idea which helps encourage replayability—even for those who have already played the original Sonic Mania to death at this point. It’s also nice to have a team option for those (like me) who may not be into the Sonic & Tails duo—or, uhm, that Knuckles & Knuckles nonsense either.
Beyond that, Sonic Mania Plus brings a number of other smaller examples of polish to make the original game’s shine even more brilliant. Time Trials now offer the ability to save and playback replays, Competition mode boosts the possible player count up to four, and Korean and Chinese have been added to the language options. Best of all, the previous “secret” gameplay options (such as unlocking the Sonic CD peel-out dash) are available even for your saved games. Oh, and—to the utter delight of some of you out there—there’s even the ability to completely turn off the stage time limits.
There is one change that appears in Sonic Mania Plus that I’m not a fan of, but it’s a change born from good intentions. One of the complaints about Sonic Mania was that some of the bosses were too easy, and while that hasn’t been fully addressed to my liking, I do think their level of difficulty feels better now. In rebalancing these encounters, though, one of the bosses was completely altered from what they were before, and it’s a move that feels lateral. Sure, the original battle was something of a letdown given the importance of the character in question, but honestly, so is this. The boss’ rework feels like a wasted effort to me, a comment I can’t make about any other piece of the game.
One iffy decision doesn’t even begin to negate all of the wonderfulness that Sonic Mania Plus brings with it, of course. Even as a game not in need of fixing, it’s hard to deny that it does now feel like a more complete and polished product. If you’ve been dragging your feet on picking up Sonic Mania or were waiting to see if a physical release would eventually come, then it’s time to finally experience the joy and splendor that Christian Whitehead and friends have given us. And, if you already own the game’s original release, I’d consider the $5 it’ll take to upgrade your copy a no-brainer.
Somehow, Sega, Christian Whitehead, and the development teams behind the original Sonic Mania have found a way to make the best Sonic game in years even better. Sonic Mania Plus is now nearly everything it could and should be, with new playable characters, modes, options, and polish sure to please fans. There’s a small handful of areas in which the game could still be improved, but really, this is just about as good of a Sonic adventure as we could ever have hoped for.
Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games, Tantalus, Hyperkinetic Studios
E – Everyone
|Sonic Mania Plus is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Primary version played was for Nintendo Switch. Product was provided by Sega for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.