Sonic Mania

Sep. 3rd, 2017 04:14 pm
davidn: (Default)
[personal profile] davidn
Bloody hell, Sonic Mania is so good. As it's been ages since I wrote about a game, I wanted to try to put why into words, but I'm not doing a great job at it. Perhaps the best illustration would be to echo my fumbling write-up of Sonic 4 which teetered on "all right" but ended up being rubbish - the beginnings of both games evoke exactly the same feelings.


Therefore:

Games have now reached the age where nostalgia service is possible in them - from the start, when the chorus of "SE-GAAAA" booms out followed by the Megadrive-styled music accompanying the scrolling sea and wings logo on the title screen, this is taking great care to play in to memories of how amazing it was to see four-way scrolling levels speeding by on the Megadrive. Start it up and you're given a classic flying-text transition into Green Hill, populated with all the oddly rotating flowers, inexplicably chequered mountains and metallic enemies that you remember.

Then you start moving, and
it's absolutely fucking perfect. It's wonderfully responsive, momentum and physics work as you'd expect, it's just... so satisfying. Put alongside Sonic 4 and even the middling-to-okay Generations, it's just worlds apart, and seeing it in front of you, it's mystifying that Sega themselves couldn't get something as basic as this right over the last seven years. Indeed, the whole game feels like a bit of a middle finger to Sonic 4, not explicitly ever referencing it but in just existing as what a sequel to Sonic 3 should obviously have been (although people did notice that on the lift buttons that represent the games in the Mania trailer, the sequence goes 1, 2, 3, K, M and conspicuously misses out 4 entirely).

From that promising start, it's just what a Sonic game should be - you guide one of a trio of cutietums through a long run of rollercoaster/pinball worlds, you speed along tunnels and loops and tubes and smash robots. The real or imagined problem of Sonic games punishing the player for using their speed is something that I didn't see happening - if you bounce around with wild abandon all the time you're going to be wrecked, but the game does a great job of switching from the spectacle of the fast sections to places where more care is required. The levels keep being imaginative and varied despite the impressive length of the game - there are twelve zones and acts are typically huge (almost to a fault, as I found myself being Time Overed on a couple of them despite not feeling like I'd been dawdling). Nine of them by my count are enhanced remakes of zones from earlier games, but three are completely new.

I think that part of the game's ability to impress is in its caution to stay below what it can really do from the beginning. By starting you off in Green Hill with a stage that begins in a very familiar fashion, it gets you used to the idea that this is a lost game from the Megadrive era - though having said that, everything animates at a higher frame rate than it used to and it's an uncanny feeling the first time you see the whole thing moving. But as the game continues, it begins to pull out more and more tricks that break the Megadrive mould, one of the most notable being where you're punted into the background layer on one of the penultimate stages and continue the game from there until you find a way to launch yourself back.

Among Sonic 4's impressive array of mistakes was the way that it stuck so closely to the original games' levels and ideas, making it very obvious where they were being done much less well than they had been. Mania takes much the same approach - the remakes of the classic stages tend to stick close to the originals in the first act, but then introduce new elements and ideas for the second one - but avoids negative comparisons with the original games by just doing them right. Sonic 4 was immensely predictable - we'd seen all the bosses before, even before the game made us fight them all yet again in sequence at the end and then lazily faced you against that big egg robot from Sonic 2 with its number of hit points increased to about a million. In just one example of its collection of clever surprises, the same egg robot appears instead as Mania's very first end-of-zone boss instead, with familiar weaknesses but a completely different way of fighting it.

I don't know what else to say, other than to note the music's great as well (once again being close to the original game soundtracks for the first act and then venturing further for the second), and that there are a ton of secrets to find through the several types of bonus stage and minigames.

I'm going back to playing it now.

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