“This is 'Sonic,' pure and distilled.”
August 14, 2017 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Sonic Mania: The Return to Form You've Been Waiting For [The Verge] “For years, Sonic has been in need of a shake-up. Ever since the 16-bit era ended, the iconic mascot has struggled through one console generation after another. Some of his post-Genesis adventures were terrible, a handful were good, but most were aggressively mediocre — a sorry state for one of the biggest names in the medium. While Super Mario evolved over the years with inventive new takes on platform games, its longtime rival stagnated. Sonic has remained an enduring brand, thanks to comics and cartoons, but it hasn’t been an important force in gaming for some time. Sonic Mania has been billed as a return to form for the series. It’s far from the first game to claim that mantle, so it’s easy to be skeptical. But Mania is different than its predecessors. Most notably, it brings the series back to what made it so popular in the first place: blazing-fast side-scrolling action.” [YouTube] [Trailer]

• “Sonic Mania is a celebration, a digitized block party of blistering speeds and bright worlds.” [Kotaku]
“Much of Sonic Mania’s success is owed to the many fans turned designers attached the project. In seeking to produce the best retro remix possible, Sega recruited well-known modders and hackers. Christian Whitehead, known for porting Sonic games like Sonic CD to new platforms and Simon Thomley, a modder who worked on the topsy-turvy ROM hack Sonic Megamix, worked on the project, and their enthusiasm is clear. Level designer Jared Kasl’s work is arguably the most noteworthy. There is extreme care built into every loop, spring pad, and corkscrew. The disparate pieces all mesh into remarkable experiences. A remake of Sonic 3 and Knuckles’ Lava Reef zone gleefully takes the original level and stitches it together with enemies from both Sonic 2’s Hilltop Zone and Mystic Cave Zone while adding the dangerous traps of Sonic the Hedgehog’s Marble Zone. Long-time fans will undoubtedly be pleased with these mixes, while newcomers will enjoy some of the best elements from the series’ highest moments. All of this is further boosted by a bouncy soundtrack that takes famous tunes and adds bolder baselines and powerful percussive embellishments.”
• “They've given it to the fans.” [Polygon]
“That feeling of barely controlled speed is Sonic's original schtick, and it's leveraged for everything it's worth here. Levels feel much bigger than they were in the Genesis games, with many, many more paths to barrel down, even as many enemies and bits of scenery hit your sense of nostalgia like a bucket of ice. When it's working, this speed is exhilarating, and remarkably, no other game has ever managed to capture the same lightning in a bottle that Sonic did. Sonic Mania, more than any Sega-led project of the last 20 years, feels exactly the way I remember the original trilogy. As I made my way through the revamped, reimagined Green Hill Zone that starts the game, it was hard not to feel a little giddy — could someone have made a Sonic that feels as good as I remembered the originals feeling? As it turns out, Sonic Mania is maybe too faithful. Sonic & co. are capable of incredible speed, it's true, but there's a sluggishness as they work their way toward it. It's not just stopping that takes a long time, which, hey, at least that makes sense. There's a windup to just about everything, from movement to jumping.”
• “1992 is alive and well. Christian Whitehead and team turn in a beautiful rewrite of the 16-bit Sonic games with all-new stages.” [Eurogamer]
“It's representative of a project that doesn't merely restore the past with the care of a museum curator touching up a faded portrait, but also twists and expands it, to create an experience that is equal parts nostalgia pang and giddy excitement. To put that in slightly less grandiose terms, Mania is Sonic without 20-odd years of slowly accumulating bullshit. The wider pantheon of sidekicks - Shadow, Silver, Big the sodding Cat - have been cast headlong into the screaming cosmic abyss from whence they came, reducing the playable line-up to the Holy Trinity: Sonic himself (who can use each shield power-up's special ability), long-suffering fox acquaintance Tails (who can fly and swim) and beefy echidna rival Knuckles (who can smash through certain walls, climb and glide). The game's 12 zones mix comprehensive, extremely playful reworkings of classic levels from Sonic 1 through Sonic & Knuckles with three brand new stages - all designed by Whitehead, fellow Sonic guru Simon "Headcannon" Thomley and Major Magnet studio PagodaWest using the Retro Engine, a proprietary technology built specifically to support features from the 32-bit console generation and before.”
posted by Fizz (49 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
As my grandmother was wont to say, "Well, if that don't sound like tryin' to and can't."
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:33 PM on August 14, 2017

*eats chili dog*
posted by Fizz at 7:34 PM on August 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

I played it twice at comic con (the line was short). It feels pretty much just like playing classic Sonic, but with new game play mechanics and enemies and obstacles. It looks and sounds gorgeous.
posted by sleeping bear at 7:39 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

This brings back fond memories of playing Sonic on the Genesis with my kids. So much fun.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:40 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

From the trailer I was hoping it would be the cartoony version with the 16bit graphic scenes being used as nostalgia generators for the purpose of the trailer but it looks like it is a 16bit retro game. I am sure the gameplay is great and the lower-end graphics helps keep development costs down but a beautiful cartoony Sonic with the same super-fast gameplay sounds kind of nice (although who am I to say anything, I've never bought a sonic game in my life).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:47 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here we go, enjoy: Top 10 WORST Sonic the Hedgehog Games EVER!
posted by Fizz at 7:54 PM on August 14, 2017

Jim Sterling gave it a glowing 9.5. I'm intrigued. I loved the Genesis Sonics and was kind of cool with the first Sonic Adventure, but the more recent ones haven't done anything for me. The last Sonic game I played was something on the DS that just felt super annoying to play.

Not sure I'll grab this at the current price, but it's probably worth dumping on my Steam wishlist for a sale later on.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:55 PM on August 14, 2017

Sonic Colors was pretty amazing. I think that's the game you're referring to @tobascodagama. I loved it, lots of variety in its levels and it had that super fast chaotic action that I love when it comes to a Sonic game. I do wish it was on a larger screen like the Vita or a regular TV/PC monitor, so maybe that's where that annoyance was coming from.
posted by Fizz at 8:02 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sega's downfall in the late 16bit era cannot be attributed to Virtua ON! or Knights into Dreams. Those games were the goddamn business. The only Sonic game they made for Saturn sucked, and they did not pick up the slack once Dreamcast hit, and even Soul Caliber and Panzer Dragoon could not save the Dreamcast without a solid Sonic offering. None was forthcoming. And then Sony and Microsoft decided to stick their... business... into console games and ruined everything forever.

Sonic Mania could have saved the Saturn if it looked and played like that... a half-step behind the times, but a decade ahead at the same time.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:04 PM on August 14, 2017

Sonic Colors was pretty amazing. I think that's the game you're referring to @tobascodagama.

Either that or Sonic Rush, which I loved. Really utilized the 2 screens nicely.

Looking forward to playing this on Switch, seems like a marvelous combination.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:16 PM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I can't believe you missed the most important review of Sonic ever made: SERIOUS SONIC LORE ANALYSIS

death is certain
posted by Panjandrum at 9:13 PM on August 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Huh. Sega has been super quiet about how many new stages there would be in Sonic Mania, and I guess if the answer is three out of twelve then I can see why.
posted by one for the books at 9:21 PM on August 14, 2017

Sonic Mania could have saved the Saturn if it looked and played like that... a half-step behind the times, but a decade ahead at the same time.

It wouldn't have saved the console in the long run, but if someone had said "we can't compete in 3D, let's make the most gorgeous 2D games possible" and release Sonic and Streets of Rage 4, it's possible it would have sold a bit better. They still did it with a few games (Story of Thor 2, for instance) but for the most part, there was little carried over from the Mega Drive to the Saturn.
posted by lmfsilva at 9:35 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been a Sonic fan all my life, way back to my days as Mach Hedgehog on alt.fan.sonic-hedgehog and it amazes me that it's taken until the Year of our Lord 2017 for Sega to finally deliver on the two most obvious things people want:

1) A worthy throwback to the 16-bit Sonic games fans enjoyed as kids
2) A Sonic game where you can play as your shitty Sonic OC

Sega has tried to give fans what they wanted in the past, like Sonic 4, which was Awful, and Sonic Generations, which was Mostly Awful. I had high hopes for Sonic Mania and I'm glad to see it getting reviewed well. So many games since the 16 bit era have tried to do what Sonic Mania has accomplished, and most fail because the level designers failed to achieve the flow of the original levels. Games like Sonic Advance and even Sonic Rush to a degree all had too many bottomless chasms and dumb rails you grind across vast empty spaces. I would bet good money there's no fucking rails to grind on in Sonic Mania.

Sonic Forces, well, I've yet to find a 3D Sonic game that feels genuinely good, but at least instead of "Play as our shitty friends of Sonic" it's "Play as YOUR shitty friend of Sonic"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:43 PM on August 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I loved Sonic Adventure. The beach town aesthetic was fun, the 'home in on your enemy' mechanic worked pretty well. Taking trains was cool as hell. The NIGHTS casino stage is a game I would have paid cash money for on its own. They did fine there.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:31 PM on August 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Huh. Sega has been super quiet about how many new stages there would be in Sonic Mania, and I guess if the answer is three out of twelve then I can see why.

Don't be so sure. There might be stages in this that at first look like Green Hill, Chemical Plant, Lava Reef and others, but do some exploring and you'll find that there's ton of stuff added: new routes, new places to go, new enemies, new gimmicks. These zones really have been remade, with care taken to pay homage to the originals but also doing lots of new stuff.

Let me tell you something. I've been working on books on romhacks lately (one is in the current Storybundle), and one of the things I did to research them was a deep dive into the world of 16-bit Sonic hacks. Thus, I managed to see the scene that Christian Whitehead and Stealth drew from for inspiration for Sonic Mania.

The Sonic The Hedgehog hacking scene is amazing. I consider that there are five primary hacking "scenes" out there around specific series, being Super Mario games, Metroid games, Zelda games, Sonic games and Mega Man games. The Sonic one is usually the most amazing, partly because not only is there a good level editor for it, but fans have made commented disassemblies of all the 16-bit Sonic titles. This has produced amazing and hilarious things like Yoshi in Sonic 2, The "Ride the Rings" series, and Sonic Omochao Edition, which started as a joke on Sonic Adventure and then basically became its own gameplay variant, among many others.

If you like the miscellaneous other characters in Sonic (I'm actually not opposed to most of them! Amy, Big and Vector are cool by me!), practically every one of them has been hacked into at least one of the Sonic games, complete with character-specific moves. A couple even adapted characters from the cartoons.

I could go on and on about Sonic hacks, but there's going to be a large section of them in the second book, due out in November....
posted by JHarris at 10:46 PM on August 14, 2017 [20 favorites]

I have a lot of excitement for this, but my main initial thought is I really, really love what they've done with the soundtrack. The music is just amazing.
posted by naju at 11:04 PM on August 14, 2017

Dunkey gives it a thoroughly sincere 5/5 review [NSFW audio, duh]
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:34 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

The only things I liked about Sonic on the Genesis (and still do) were the soundtracks. The rest of the game just went too fast for old (21-year-old) me.

I got a Genesis at a yard sale in 2001, and my son (6 at the time) cut his teeth into it and never let go. I saw him playing it on his Xbox 360 recently. I cannot deny it's a great game. Just too fast for my brain.
posted by not_on_display at 11:35 PM on August 14, 2017

*Return* to form? It never had form. Was always uncontrollable shit with none of the charm and genius of Mario.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:10 AM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mario is like the goddamn Godwin's Law of Sonic discussions. Sonic the Hedgehog isn't Mario. Sonic the Hedgehog has never been Mario. Their games are superficially similar but they have fundamentally different goals and aesthetics. The only time they've ever been close was 2002, when they were both in gimmicky 3D platformers with bad camera control.

Nobody ever dunks on Earthworm Jim for not being sufficiently Mario-like, or Megaman, or Castlevania, or Metroid, or Rayman, or any number of other games where you jump around a level fighting enemies and collecting things, yet somehow every time Sonic the Hedgehog comes up some wiseacre feels compelled to say "Mario is better than Sonic" like a necromancer resurrecting their fourth-grade playground thesis. The whole thing is a dumb false dichotomy from a 25 year old console debate, and it's so very, very tired. I get it, you're not a fan, but if you want to drive by and call Sonic the Hedgehog garbage then you're simply wrong, objectively wrong.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:57 AM on August 15, 2017 [32 favorites]

One thing I find really interesting about Sonic Mania is how accurately it looks and sounds like how you remember Sonic sames looking and sounding, rather than how they actually were. Smoother animations, CD-style audio, etc. Neat trick.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:23 AM on August 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

Nobody ever dunks on Earthworm Jim for not being sufficiently Mario-like, or Megaman, or Castlevania, or Metroid, or Rayman, or any number of other games where you jump around a level fighting enemies and collecting things

There's a little more similarity between Mario and Sonic than that, though - they share the 'jump on enemies' mechanic where all the other described platformers are more in a run-n-gun style, as well as Mario and Sonic having a much more happy, upbeat, friendly aesthetic than the rest, as well. I agree completely that the two are still absolutely doing different things, but it's easy to see how the comparison to Mario is made more often for Sonic than many other games of the era.
posted by Dysk at 2:57 AM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

if you want to drive by and call Sonic the Hedgehog garbage then you're simply wrong, objectively wrong.

This bit is just unadulterated gospel truth, though.
posted by Dysk at 2:58 AM on August 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

What? Kim & Thurston bury the hatchet?

...... mumble, mumble ......

posted by chillmost at 2:58 AM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

MetaFilter: Uncontrollable shit with none of the genius of Mario.
posted by StephenF at 3:23 AM on August 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

Colors was good, yeah.

I'm gonna reach for the stars
From here they look pretty far
posted by freecellwizard at 4:14 AM on August 15, 2017

I had high hopes for Sonic Mania and I'm glad to see it getting reviewed well.

I know invoking the Sonic Cycle is the other Godwin for Sonic game threads, but I've run around that ring too many times to let myself be hopeful anymore. I'll at least give it a try, but even if it's awesome and has huge sales, unlike Sonic CD, it can't go back to fix the past to ensure a good future.

Also, the link for the video of worst Sonic games up above, reminded me I just came across this video of the most obscure Sonic games the other day, so I might as well share.
posted by radwolf76 at 4:47 AM on August 15, 2017

Ah hell, of course this comes out on a day when I left the Switch at home.

I was always more of a Sonic fan in the 90s: the unhinged speed seemed, to me, more like video games "ought to" play. I can't remember the last time I played anything especially twitchy, though, so this could be a disaster. It sure looks and sounds great, though.

(And now I will be hearing the Green Hill Zone music all day long.)
posted by uncleozzy at 5:19 AM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm pleased that it will be out on PC in two weeks. While lacking a controller, this plus Hellblade have given me two games for the month.
posted by Hactar at 5:27 AM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

sonic adventure and sonic adventure 2 were not bad games - if you want to see bad, play the games that came after those.
posted by Veritron at 5:49 AM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

even if it's awesome ... it can't go back to fix the past

MetaFilter sets a high bar for success.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:45 AM on August 15, 2017 [13 favorites]

Mario is like the goddamn Godwin's Law of Sonic discussions. Sonic the Hedgehog isn't Mario. Sonic the Hedgehog has never been Mario. Their games are superficially similar but they have fundamentally different goals and aesthetics...

Nobody ever dunks on Earthworm Jim for not being sufficiently Mario-like, or Megaman, or Castlevania, or Metroid, or Rayman, or any number of other games where you jump around a level fighting enemies and collecting things

Come on, this is silly. You know why this happens: in the 90s these two characters were the mascots of their respective companies and were placed directly against each other in advertising all the time. "Mario vs. Sonic" was Nintendo vs. Sega. That rivalry is burned into the collective culture and will never go away, no matter how little the actual games those two are in have in common. The other characters you listed are fun but they were never on the same level, or had the same connection, as the two company mascots.

Mario also has the unique distinction of being The Video Game Character in the collective culture so everything gets compared to him.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:23 AM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Of the few computer games I've enjoyed Frogger and Sonic were standouts. Somehow that character is such a cyberpunk.
posted by Twang at 12:24 PM on August 15, 2017

I think the point of "why the fuck does everything need to be compared to Mario?" is less to ask a genuine question (everybody who lived through the 90s and anybody else with a passing knowledge of 90s consoles knows the answer to it anyway) and more to kind of gently say, "hey, maybe not every two things are the same just because they have some gross similarities, can we stop acting like they are?"
posted by tobascodagama at 12:51 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

*Return* to form? It never had form. Was always uncontrollable shit with none of the charm and genius of Mario

I don't even know how one person can be so wrong
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:53 PM on August 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

One of the reasons Mania is better than previous attempts to revive Sonic in 2D is because it's the first official game since the Genesis to reproduce the classic physics system.

Sonic has a precise way of moving in the original games. At a standstill, he's actually pretty unmaneuverable. Like how Mario is actually slightly unwieldy to move around, but Sonic is even slower to accelerate, and has no B-button run! Before the spin dash was introduced in Sonic 2, to get moving quickly you had to jump, because Sonic's air acceleration is actually greater than his ground acceleration! But this allowed players to make use of the terrain to build up speed -- when Sonic jumps, he doesn't jump up, but at an angle perpendicular to the ground. So if you're going downhill, you gain much more speed by jumping, while if you're trying to go uphill, you're better off retreating to flat terrain and jumping from there.

These things make moving Sonic around effectively and quickly a process that actually requires skill, rather than just holding the controller to the right. Once you're moving, you have to rely on reaction speed and memory of the course layout to keep Sonic speed up, because the slightest collision with a wall will bring him to a halt.

Then we come to rolling into a ball. Sonic is defenseless when unrolled, but even less controllable when rolled up. But Sonic gains an important, subtle advantage when rolled into a ball: his speed cap is disabled. When running on feet, Sonic can accelerate a bit, but has a certain top speed. When rolled into a ball, Sonic can barely accelerate at all (ground friction is greater than his acceleration!), but if he's rolling downhill, there is no limit on the speed he can gain! He can even get moving faster than the screen scroll! In fact, he seems to gain a bit of extra speed at the moment he rolls up, which enables some neat tricks like gaining height on halfpipes. (This can be observed easily in the first game's Spring Yard Zone.)

When Sonic jumps, he automatically rolls into a ball, which is good, and gets his air acceleration rate, which is better. If he lands on an enemy, he then bounces up. Of particular interest is the fact that, if you keep the jump button held, Sonic always bounces up to slightly above the top of the height he fell from. There are a few places in the classic games where this can be used to get to places otherwise unobtainable.

All of these things are aspects of the original Sonic engine, and most of them are things that don't work in any of the subsequent 2D Sonic games... until now.
posted by JHarris at 1:13 PM on August 15, 2017 [27 favorites]

Wow, that makes Sonic's movement out to be as considered and strategic as, say, Portal's physics mechanics. Fascinating! A far cry from "uncontrollable shit", at any rate.
posted by naju at 1:40 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sonic 1, especially, was besieged with the internal contradiction of having speed- and momentum-based gameplay combined with levels that had a lot of fiddly platforming runs (like the Marble Zone). With Sonic's sluggishness from a standstill and the generally short and abruptly terminating speed runs that were available, I can see why someone would come away pissed off from that game, but IMO Sonic 2 and later on the Genesis did a much better job of letting that mechanic be as fun as it should have been. Sonic 2 is a great game.
posted by invitapriore at 2:01 PM on August 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also, for anyone who wants a deep dive on Sonic the Hedgehog history, Retronauts has a wonderful podcast episode. It's a solid 1.5 hours of Sonic and Sega game history.
“Ah, Sonic the Hedgehog: a designed-by-committee character born out of pure cynicism that nonetheless won over a generation and continues to be extremely popular today. Despite the brand's notoriety throughout the 21st century, Sonic earned his place in gaming history with the three-and-a-half Genesis releases that made him a household name. On this episode of Retronauts, join Bob Mackey, Jeremy Parish, Ray Barnholt, and Tim Turi as the crew explores Sonic's origins and the brief period where he shone the brightest.”
posted by Fizz at 3:23 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I can't help but be disappointed by the remixed Chemical Plant theme song because the original is so 💯 (bonus smooth mcgroove with bonus cat), but this looks hecking fun as heck.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:54 PM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

(like the Marble Zone)

I found out recently that it wasn't originally supposed to be the second zone -- it was supposed to be Labyrinth. I can't tell if that would have been worse or better, but putting Marble Zone second was definitely a choice.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:00 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

So another really neat trick about Sonic Mania I've noticed is that Act 1 of each zone feels a lot like the older game, but with a couple of minor changes here and there (a Sonic 3 shield here, a blue ring monitor there), with the music just being arranged to sound like something from the Sonic CD soundtrack. Act 2, though, has entirely new gameplay elements and mechanics, and remixed music to match.

Also, I really like the boss fights in this game. It's really clear that the maker loved Sonic CD (even if I didn't) from how much creativity there is in all of the many, many boss fights.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:29 PM on August 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

And then there's this: Sega's Sonic 25th Anniversary Shitshow Supercut [YouTube].

And this line from the uploader, kind of says it all:
“Well, "that" famous press conference from Konami has finally been topped. This is the most gloriously terrible event I've seen a game publisher put on.”
posted by Fizz at 11:31 AM on August 16, 2017

I think the design by committee origin of Sonic invites comparison to Mario. "Hey, Mario has platforms like this, we need platform sections but let's do this. Mario does this, so let's do that." Between the design and the marketing it was very clearly that Sega was trying to both replicate and replace Mario. It wasn't until his sequels that he really started his own legacy.
posted by dances with hamsters at 8:03 PM on August 16, 2017

I tried the game out last night. As soon as I ambled slowly into a spike, lost all my rings, then bumped into the spike a second time while trying to get the rings back, I felt like I was seven years old again.

When I lost my second life, my childhood best friend burst impatiently into my apartment, wrestled the controller away from me, and told me to go get some pretzels while he "got [me] through this part."

posted by Iridic at 9:26 AM on August 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

Having watched a few Lets Play videos of this, I will admit to being impressed at the density of the fan-service and callbacks. Clearly it's a labor of love by the Ascended Fanboy teams that came together to work on it.

Which makes me madder than anything that the PC version has been saddled with Denuvo copyright protection, that in addition to sapping performance, refuses to work in Steam's Offline mode.

I won't be buying it until they remove that, and in truth, after seeing the game played, I was really really wanting to buy it.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:57 PM on August 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I joked on Reddit that I'm kind of glad this has Denuvo on PC, because it gives me a good excuse to play other stuff on my backlog while I wait for it to be removed.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:24 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

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