Sometimes you just feel like the universe is spoiling you. As if it’s not enough that the games industry feels like it’s been targeting you directly through a constant barrage of releases that look a hell of a lot like the release schedule from your childhood, but now they keep releasing DLC for these things! Stormy Ascent for Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy, not to mention Future Tense, but now even Sonic gets something cool for itself: Sonic Mania Plus.
Sonic Mania Plus is a new version of Sonic Mania from the original creators, Pagoda West Games and Headcannon. It comes with a bunch of new features, including new characters, gameplay tweaks and a new game mode to add some longevity. There has even been an entirely new hand-drawn cutscene produced for the game in the same style as the original animation in the game’s opening.
The main star of Sonic Mania Plus here is the inclusion of two new playable characters. Over the years there have been a lot of complaints from critics that the Sonic games started to focus too much on the side characters and didn’t really give the Blue Blur enough screen time or presence in the games that bear his name. Primarily, the reasons behind this is that as time went by, the characters got more and more annoying in the personality department, and they either didn’t have unique abilities that changed the way the games were played, or their abilities were not designed for how the levels were laid out. So this is a perfect opportunity to see if this comparatively new team of devs could better implement multiple characters.
Luckily, the new developers have proven themselves in spades with these new characters. Both were taken from the 1993 arcade game SegaSonic the Hedgehog, and in the case of Ray the Squirrel, Sonic Mania Plus is the only other game he has been featured in to date. Ray the Flying Squirrel is a bright yellow flying squirrel who can glide without losing altitude, in fact, he can actually glide upwards if you know how. Mighty the Armadillo is a bright red armadillo who can roll himself up into a ball to prevent himself from taking damage from a lot of attacks and damage enemies with spikes, and he can shunt himself downwards, either breaking through holes in the ground or smashing into the floor and doing a small area of effect attack.
At first glance, Mighty is the better addition to Sonic Mania Plus when compared to Ray. His ability to shunt downwards adds some verticality to the way you explore the levels, much more so than is possible with Tails or Knuckles. On top of that, his ability to protect himself from damage adds a new tactical dimension when facing some of the more annoying enemy types. For instance, the buzzsaw-wielding boss gets ruined by Mighty’s tough hide, making him that much easier to deal with. Ray can be a bit harder to figure out. While his ability to glide can help him climb like Tails, it is really fiddly to use. You have to rock the stick back and forth in a certain rhythm to make him increase his altitude, which isn’t easy to get used to. Once you get the hang of it though, he is much, much faster at ascending than Tails and can present access to new areas without having to compromise on momentum. Also, he has some cool new animations featuring his prehensile tail, so that’s fun.
The levels have had some slight redesigns, in part to make it so that the new characters’ abilities feel at home within the levels. There are plenty of small areas that you can only reach as Ray by performing his strange glide, and there are a fair few areas and even items that you can only get by smashing into the ground as Mighty. In general, you tend to find yourself coming across this hidden segments pretty naturally as you’re likely to be using the new characters’ abilities to get around anyway, and the natural design of the levels means that you can stumble across areas without even realizing that you were exploring something new.
Other than the two new characters, the main draw of Sonic Mania Plus is the brand new ‘Encore’ mode, which you must complete to gain access to the two new characters in the normal ‘Mania’ mode. Encore mode features some very interesting mechanics seemingly inspired by Knuckles’ Chaotix. As you play through the game, you don’t have lives in the traditional sense. Instead, you unlock the 5 different characters by coming across boxes with their faces on the side. Once you have the characters unlocked, you can switch between your two active members at will, meaning that you have access to several special abilities at the same time. When you hit certain boxes or lose a life, a new character comes out from the bench and partners up with your surviving character, and this continues until you run out of characters completely and get a game over.
This Encore mode is a hell of a lot of fun. Zipping around levels and then switching to your secondary character to quickly gain access to a hidden area, then bashing a switch box and ending up with a different character combo adds a new level of excitement to the proceedings. The different characters all have interesting match-ups. For the most part, Ray pairs best with either Sonic or Mighty because his ability to glide upwards works well with either Sonic’s forward momentum or Mighty’s downward momentum. Obviously, certain characters’ abilities are too similar to make a good team (Ray and Tails, for example), but it’s great that there is a gameplay mode where this sort of experimentation can be tried out, and the Encore mode proves that this sort of thing works well in the old school style of Sonic games.
There have been a few minor tweaks to the levels other than those to accommodate the new characters. There are some new giant rings hanging around that you must go through in order to get the Chaos Emeralds, making acquiring the emeralds even harder than usual, and it should also keep you on your toes if you’ve already completed the game 50+ times. The easiest change to notice is probably the redesign of the Metal Sonic boss fight at the end of the Stardust Speedway Act 2. Instead of fighting a regular-sized Metal Sonic, you instead face off against Giga Metal, a giant mega-droid-esque robot that is 400 times your size and is trying to destroy you. The new boss fight helps to shake things up a bit and also makes Metal Sonic appear slightly more powerful, which is good too considering how much of an important villain he has been for the series over the years. On top of all that, you can now also play multiplayer with up to 4 people, so now everyone gets to fight over their favourite character in glorious multiplayer stages.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 17th July 2018
For more information about Sonic Mania Plus, you can check out the website here.
This is a review of the new content in Sonic Mania Plus. Check out our full review of the original game here.