What’s Old is New Again with Sonic Mania on Nintendo Switch [Preview]
Sonic the Hedgehog has been trying to recapture the glory days of old for a while now, with every new adventure of his either just falling short or completely missing the mark. Sega’s newest strategy seems to be “if it wasn’t broken, don’t fix it” with Sonic Mania, a full return to Sonic’s original adventures on the Sega Genesis. The game was featured at the Nintendo Switch hands-on event last week, and the demo leaves a very strong impression from pillar to post.
To the unknowing casual fan Sonic Mania could easily be confused for the original quadrilogy of Sonic games, as every element of th emulates that classic style. That was no more apparent than in the first half of the demo, taking place in the iconic Green Hill Zone from the original Sonic the Hedgehog. The stage was laid out exactly like it was in 1991, with three different paths through the level each with a different focus. Feel the need for speed? Stay up top. Want a little danger? Take the low road. I tried to take the high road, but quickly found myself falling to the bottom of the level. Ah, just like the old days.
This is not an exact copy of that classic level though, as Sonic Mania adds a few new things to the old formula. First and most apparent is the addition of power-ups throughout the entire Sonic franchise into every stage of the game, from the classic shield and boost shoes to the elemental shields from Sonic 3. Finding a Bubble Shield in the Green Hill Zone is strange, but it allows me to take a whole new approach to the classic stage and I love that idea. I also got a glimpse at a brand new boss, a pendulum machine with two metal orbs that temporarily glow red and become invulnerable. Each orb takes three hits to break, keeping with the "six hits per mini-boss" format, and after the swinging orb is broken the other orb bounces along the ground. It's not a difficult boss, but it's perfect for a first mini-boss in the Green Hill Zone. Mania’s success could hinge on how well it adds new things to the old format, and these additions to the first ever Sonic stage are a good start.
Core gameplay also gets a boost with the addition of the new Drop Dash mechanic. By quickly pressing and holding jump a second time after jumping, Sonic will quickly dash forward in a ball upon touching the ground. This is a good way to get a quick burst of speed when trying to get through a stage obstacle, and it could make taking the speedy top path a little bit easier for those like me who tend to drop quickly. At first it took a bit to get used to this new dash but before long I was implementing it as naturally as Sonic’s other moves, as if it had been a part of the hedgehog’s repertoire forever.
The final new piece to this Sonic Mania demo was the second level I ventured into, a brand new stage called Studiopolis. Think of the Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2 but with a TV studio theme instead of a casino, and that’s the vibe I got from this challenge. The new stage also features the three branching paths format as the classic stage, but with some new themed obstacles: at one point a satellite truck beamed Sonic through a few strategically placed satellite dishes before dropping him in a new area. (In a neat nod to Daytona USA, the truck happens to be red with the word “HORNET” written on the side.) There’s also new themed enemies in this stage, the most annoying of which is a snail enemy with a film reel for a shell.
A word of warning to those who eventually play this stage: the snail shoots four tiny squares of film that slowly fall, and they are active as long as they are on-screen. I must have gotten hit by the same enemy three times with one shot.
After some interesting forays into the 3D realm (some more successful than others, but all of them underwhelming to a point), Sonic the Hedgehog is returning to the format that made him famous in Sonic Mania. While there’s still more to discover before the game launches in the Spring, so far the game is shaping up to be a worthy successor to the Sonic games of old. An even mix of classic and new stages, coupled with the new additions being made, could bring former Sonic fans back to the Blue Blur as well as introduce him to a whole new generation of players. It’s still early, but Sonic Mania could be what the hedgehog ordered.
Sonic Mania is due out Spring 2017 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC.