When Sonic Mania originally launched on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC, we gave it a 4.5 out of 5; it felt like SEGA finally decided to stop muddling their fan-favorite franchise and let it breathe in the hands of long time fan Christian Whitehead and company. Their efforts and understanding of what makes a good Sonic game made it an all-time classic, and possibly the best in the entire series. Fast forward to nearly a year later and the new physical release (or DLC if you own the game), Sonic Mania Plus, is here for those of us who still can’t put it down.
But let me clarify: I am not what you’d call a “Sonic fan”. I played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on my uncle’s Genesis at Thanksgivings, died horribly in Aquatic Ruin Zone, and that’s about as far as my fandom roots go. When I heard about Mania, it was like hearing my friend’s team won the Superbowl: happy, but more for the fans than anything. Needless to say, I can now beat Sonic Mania with around twenty extra lives, and I usually blast through it at least once every couple of weeks. It’s just that good. So when I heard about Plus, of course I was excited; I’d get to run through familiar levels with new twists and turns, and with two brand new characters. For $5 as DLC, or $30 as a physical box with a sleeve, reversible cover art, and a wonderful little artbook, there’s little question as to Sonic Mania Plus‘ value.
Let’s talk new characters: Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo. At first glance I thought they were fanfiction, sprung from the minds at Headcannon, but according to producer Takashi Iizuka they first made their appearance in a 1997 arcade release of SegaSonic the Hedgehog. As silly as they might look, they really mixed up the stages I’d been playing the same way for nearly a year. Ray can “glide” up and down, in my case usually into the nearest enemy. But if you shape your sine wave right you can soar above stages even longer before landing on a pit of spikes. This can also be useful for gaining just a little extra height on a jump if you get cheeky with it. Mighty might-ly be a bit overpowered, as he’s immune to almost all damage (including spikes) when he’s rolled up, and can smash downward for area damage. Like Ray, this can also be used for traversal; just down smash flush with a ramp and your momentum will propel you along.
New modes for getting around in a game that’s all about getting around makes it feel brand new, but that’s not all that’s been added. Encore mode, featuring remixed versions of every stage (and even a brand new minigame), has been added in Plus as well. After a soul crushingly short Angel Island Zone (seriously, it’s about half a minute long), you’ll partner up with either Ray or Mighty, breaking someone’s heart and beginning your adventure. The “new” stages have slightly altered palettes in case you forgot what mode you’re playing, but also new routes and altered level design. You know how sometimes people run a translator, then run the translation through a translator? That’s Encore Mode. Some stages are arguably improved over the originals, like Press Garden Zone which tutorials its ice-block mechanic at the beginning. It feels like a bunch of ideas the team had lying around that were excluded, but when the team is pure talent, even leftovers taste good. It’s a new way to play already fantastic zones if you’re bored of the originals, or are looking for a challenge.
But what made Encore mode my new favorite way to play was the way its lives and “switching” mechanics work. Instead of accruing lives when you collect 100 coins or score 50,000 points, you can only find them in item boxes and in the excellent new pinball minigame found at checkpoints. Here’s the twist: the lives you collect aren’t for the character you’re playing as. For instance, you can have lives for Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles – if one goes down you simply switch to the next. There are always two characters on screen, and you can switch between them on the fly by pressing Triangle. There are also special blocks can randomize both characters, meaning it’s a regular musical chairs of high-speed anthropomorphic animals. It feels like a true celebration of all Sonic Mania has to offer.
But even the brilliant studio behind the scenes know their original game wasn’t perfect. There are some minor alterations to a few of the game’s bosses, most notably that to the final stage of Metal Sonic and to the last Eggman fight. These play out a lot better pacing-wise, but I really wish they had tuned the final Oil Ocean Zone fight. Maybe it’s just a case of impatience, but I get squished by those stupid platforms at least once a playthrough. Regardless, the base game is better for these changes, and they’re 100% free to all owners of Sonic Mania.
Sonic Mania Plus is a generous offering of all the best parts of the original game and then some. Ray and Mighty are both excellent additions with obvious but unique mechanics, and even their appearance grew on me (especially when Ray straightened his faux-hawk at the beginning of Chemical Plant Zone). Encore Mode isn’t quite a Director’s Cut, but it’s enough to challenge seasoned Mania vets and allows for experimentation between characters. The physical edition is also one of the best I’ve seen at the price, if only because I’m an absolute sucker for a good art book. With some smart alterations to the base game provided free, and brand new ways to play both the original and new remixed stages, Sonic Mania Plus is a fantastic encore to one of the best platformers in recent years. This edition is perfect for those looking to give the game another spin.
This review is based on the Playstation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by SEGA.
With some smart alterations to the base game provided free of charge, and brand new ways to play both the original and new remixed stages, Sonic Mania Plus is a fantastic encore to one of the best platformers in recent years.