So, I’ve been waiting a long, long time for this one.
Sonic Mania came out today and…well, I’m gonna get the bad out of the way first. The main thing is that unannounced, it comes with Denuvo DRM which currently stops you from playing if you’re not online. This is apparently a bug and should be usable off-line. In addition, they only put up a notice in the store that the DRM was in it after the game was available for release. Putting aside strict DRM matters like this, the absurdity of a game built by developers who earned their Sonic cred by ripping apart previous games to learn, hack and modify them having this is straight up stupid.
There’s various other technical issues too; I did a full run-through and had no achievements pop, despite definitely meeting the credit for several of them. There’s some collision issues on pieces of terrain here and there and some dubious movement related collision in the special stages. Fortunately, the game does run stable. Who knows how much better it would perform without Denuvo though, almost assuredly the reason it was delayed on PC for two weeks.
Anyhow, technical moans out of the way, the game is fantastic and joyous to play. There’s a few things that are slightly frustrating, from a couple of overly long levels and those that are a bit visually busy, as well as some uneven boss fights (some are really good, a couple pathetically easy and others either drag on far too long or are very scrappy). That said, they meet the challenge that the overall game encompasses, never really letting you let up, but seldom punishing you harshly; I had a couple of crush deaths, one of them due to a collision issue, the odd boss fight death (including the final one, unfortunately, but just one!) and some your regular running out of rings and hitting enemies. For a first run-through on unfamiliar terrain, I’d say that’s pretty darn good.
The level variety is great, lots of different aesthetics in play keep it fresh, until nearer the end where it becomes more mechanised and metallic, albeit still keeping up variety. There’s some exquisite zone gimmicks that I wouldn’t dare spoil, but the penultimate zone definitely takes the cake for a flawless execution of its one. Although some older locations or ideas are re-used, they’re all freshened up or used with interesting approaches. The same goes for specific map details as well; one early zone had a special stage ring where in its original incarnation was a 1-up box. There’s those nods for the Sonic historian, but new or old they’re fun treats for looking around.
Naturally it’s just the first play-through and it was mostly about getting to the end. The next run through will be exploration based, so I imagine it’ll be a lot slower. Whilst I did find enough special stage rings to theoretically get all 7 chaos emeralds, I was hung up on a couple enough times to make sure Super Sonic has to wait a bit. The bonus stages were a different tale, many re-used from the Blue Sphere game of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, perhaps given an odd twist and many of the new ones fall in line difficulty-wise; mastery over the returning stages will almost equally translate to the new ones, but again there’s some neat challenges in them that meant they weren’t push-overs, but very rarely unfair.
I could make paragraphs detailing how phenomenal the overall presentation is, both the visuals are stunning and the music unfairly good in the way Sonic games traditionally are, but I’ll keep it brief there because really, each zone boasts some gorgeous stuff. So on a simple Sonic-only play-through done, but not completed, there’s still a hell of a lot left to do with the game. But it’s good. Very, very good. Could do with some mechanical tweaks and when Mania 2 hopefully happens, based on the critical and sales reception I’d say/hope that’s quite likely, there’ll be some further level design iteration, but the complaints I have are largely very particular to being very experienced with Sonic.
Oh man, I haven’t even spoken about the Drop Dash, allows you to charge a speed-proportional spin dash mid-air so you can keep on going when you hit the ground, is a fantastic addition to Sonic’s move-pool in a way you wonder how on earth it wasn’t ever in beforehand. So Sonic Mania, more to come from me on it, but it’s thumb’s up. But screw Denuvo, seriously.