So you may have heard there’s a new Sonic
the Hedgehog game out.
You may also have heard certain people say
that it’s good, slightly inarticulately through
mouths muffled by fursuit fabric and cocks.
But maybe you’re a savvy consumer who recognises
this for the usual beginning of the Sonic
game post-release cycle.
It always starts with the Sonic fans going
Sonic’s good again!
Fuck you, mum, I was right to paint my tits
blue and wriggle around on the Chesterfield!”
But then as the weeks unfold reality inexorably
sinks into the resistant minds of the public
like a lead weight on a jelly.
“Well, I guess it wasn’t perfect.
Room for some improvement.
Quite a lot of improvement actually.
Still better than Sonic 2006!
Actually you know what let’s just stop talking
about it HOLY SHIT THEY ANNOUNCED ANOTHER
MUM, BUY MORE BLUE PAINT!
THIS’LL BE THE ONE!”
So savvy consumer that you are you’ve come
to me for the brutal lowdown.
Well, first of all there’s definitely something
different about Sonic Mania, which might be
something to do with Sonic Team’s logo being
conspicuous by its absence amid a dense cluster
of developer idents I’d mostly never heard
of, and thus did my subconscious scream out
the words ‘Elevated Fangame.’
Sonic Mania is a deliberately nostalgic sightseeing
tour through several old Sonic Games, which
was also the premise of Sonic Generations,
which did it as part of the Sonic franchise’s
much needed effort to figure out what the
fuck’s been going wrong all these years.
You may recall that Sonic Generations rather
ill-advisedly attempted to celebrate the latter
day Sonic games as well, which came across
like a toddler beaming with pride at you because
they managed to smear a turd all the way across
the playroom wall.
Sonic Mania isn’t making the same mistake
and is only concerning itself with the Sonic
games that can be uncontroversially described
Unsurprisingly, then, it’s entirely 2D and
looks like a Sega Genesis game.
Still, the commitment on display is admirable.
There are bits and pieces from Sonic 1, 2,
3, And Knuckles, Sonic CD, there’s even a
bit where you have to play a round of Dr.
Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, which feels
rather drastically out of place but we made
a pledge to reference every 16-bit Sonic game
and by Tails the fox’s implied second butthole
we’re damn well gonna do it.
The plot is a little bit hard to follow but
anything else might have required the characters
to have spoken dialogue so let’s not mess
It’s basically the usual arrangement, Dr.
Robotnik steals the magic gems, decides to
individually store them in abstract racing
challenge levels rather than buy a fucking
He could at least store them in challenge
levels that don’t play to Sonic’s strengths,
like a bake off or a cryptic crossword.
Still, say what you like about Dr. Robotnik,
at least he’s a hands-on employer.
A lot of managers would delegate the boss
fights, but not him.
He wouldn’t ask those kidnapped and enslaved
baby rabbits to show more faith in his contraptions
than he’s prepared to demonstrate.
Anyway, Sonic Mania consists of a handful
of original levels packed alongside faithful
recreations of old ones visited through some
handwavey time travel flappery, albeit jujjed
up with extra features and more elaborate
But this is where the prickly spider of modernity
starts to venture from beneath the comfortable
toilet seat of nostalgia, because a fancy
elaborate multi-stage boss fight is all very
well if the level didn’t have a ten minute
time limit, and we hadn’t already spent nine
minutes of that getting boinged up the wrong
tube over and over again.
See, I don’t remember the ten minute time
limit ever being much of an issue in the original
games, unless you were in the Casino Night
Zone and had a compulsive gambling problem,
but in trying to impress us these extra long
levels have suddenly made it a problem.
The new boss fights are of a more modern style
in that they gleefully piss you about making
you wait for the brief vulnerable moment when
as long as you could reach the buggers you
could bounce on the old boss fights at your
leisure and bring them off with eight well-timed
Besides that it’s an almost totally faithful
recreation of a Genesis Sonic game, but that
being the case, why was I finding it so annoying?
Could it be that a popular retro game from
the 90’s might actually have been more dodgily
designed than we thought and at the time we
were all blinded by lack of alternatives and
its obfuscating air of 90’s ‘tude?
Help me out, here, why exactly was there an
arbitrary ten minute time limit on every level
in the first place?
Was it just because adding an extra digit
to the onscreen timer would’ve been a bridge
too far for the Genesis processor?
I’d like to digress if I may and examine the
old Sonics from which Sonic Mania takes inspiration,
along with several hundred art assets.
The very first Sonic game, Sonic The Hedgehog,
back when he still went by his full name and
before the title of every single game was
the word ‘Sonic’ followed by whatever was
on Sega’s Word of the Day calendar.
Things were a little bit wobbly straight off
because we hadn’t quite come to terms with
the whole ‘gotta go fast’ remit.
It was still a little too mired in the general
standards of what a platformer was, a little
too much accurate jumping in cramped hazardous
tunnels where the only people who gotta go
fast were the profoundly bored with life.
That underwater ruin level in particular was
like having to push a tomato through a tennis
Sonic 2 and 3 and and Knuckles brought the
going fast and the obligation thereof to the
forefront, you were traversing huge sections
of maps so fast you couldn’t tell where the
fuck you were going and you were afraid to
press anything in case you accidentally jumped
up the dilated exhaust pipe of a giant robotic
And what lets these games down and by extension
Sonic Mania is that the levels are very annoying
Easy to get to the end of, sure, just hold
right and press jump every time you stop going
But if you want to explore, and spoiler alert
you do because that’s how you get the chaos
emeralds and avoid the post-credits screen
with Dr. Robotnik provocatively waving his
bollocks at you, then you have no way of knowing
if a given path will take you to some lovely
secrets or will lock you into a gun barrel
that fires you halfway across the map, through
nine loop-the-loops and the intestinal tract
of a whale before slamming a point of no return
door shut behind you with a great big middle
finger painted on it.
This is one thing the first game got right
– get 50 rings by the end of the level, bam,
Having to find the secret stage is like finding
a speck of lint in a candy floss machine.
Alright, well, before all you fanboys start
impotently tugging at my jumper while making
noises like the last squealy fart of a dying
manatee, yes, the Sonic games are rightly
well regarded for their characteristic style,
the whole drop the rings thing is actually
pretty ingenious design and hauntingly familiar
to those kids who used to get their lunch
trays knocked out of their hands by school
bullies, but that style was definitely papering
over some cracks.
And I wish they’d picked a jump sound effect
that didn’t grate after a while.
Like the sound of a set of bagpipes being
dragged across a chalkboard.