Content Type: Gaming Reviews
Date: September 3, 2018
Sonic Mania Plus is a side-scrolling action platformer available from retail stores and for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4. Sonic is a long-running franchise, essentially SEGA’s equivalent to Nintendo’s Mario that is a comparison that has prompted the two heroic icons to collaborate in sports themed games since 2007. Sonic the Hedgehog’s debut game released in 1991 on SEGA Mega Drive with over 360 million units said to have been sold prior to the release of Sonic Mania Plus. Sonic the Hedgehog has proved successful to such an extent that spin-offs have occurred in the form of anime, cartoon and even the longest running comic book adaptation of a videogame according to Guinness World Records; spanning 290 comics published by Archie Comics between November 22nd 1992 until December 28th 2016 before continuing with the same writer Ian Flynn at IDW Publishing commencing April 4th 2018. Sonic Mania was created rather inspirationally by a well known member of the Sonic gaming community named Chris Whitehead who originally titled it Sonic Discovery during its development cycle. Can Sonic Mania Plus continue Sonic Mania’s momentum in bringing back the best of Sonic’s side-scrolling platforming adventures?
Sonic Mania Plus is an expanded version of Sonic Mania that had released 11 months beforehand. Whereas Sonic Mania was a digital only release; Sonic Mania Plus has a collector’s edition styled retail release featuring a 32 page artbook, a reversible SEGA Mega Drive or SEGA Genesis cover (depending on European or US regions) and holographic packaging, although the Japanese retail release also includes a soundtrack album CD. Sonic Mania Plus’ in-game content is expanded upon by the inclusion of two returning characters from previous Sonic games in the form of Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel that made their debuts in the arcade cabinet SegaSonic the Hedgehog, alongside an all-new Encore mode. Sonic fans that had bought Sonic Mania can purchase the expanded in-game content digitally via the Encore DLC pack for £3.99 or $4.99.
Mania mode is the original mode from Sonic Mania containing classic zones from retro Sonic games, alongside new zones. Encore mode is exclusive to Sonic Mania Plus or the Encore DLC pack that remixes zones with altered colour palettes and alternative positioning of hazards and objects, alongside new areas. Time Attack mode allows the player to perform a speedrun in mania or encore gameplay variants on any of the 12 zones that you have unlocked with two acts per zone as any character in an attempt to climb the online leaderboards of the fastest speedrun times.
Sonic, Tails and Knuckles return from Sonic Mania, while Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel are introduced in Sonic Mania Plus which took a lot of effort in itself as Ray the Flying Squirrel did not previously have as much artwork and animations available; therefore a 2D character model and set of animations had to be effectively created from the ground up and the same can be stated for the 3D special stages that each character can appear in depending upon your chosen character. Each character has a unique ability that fundamentally changes gameplay such as Mighty the Armadillo’s ground slam technique that can be utilised against enemies but also uncovers some secret areas that would be unreachable with other characters in addition to being able to sprint through spike strip hazards when quickly rotating as a ball. However, Ray the Flying Squirrel certainly stands out as the character with the most unique ability within Sonic Mania Plus due to having the capability to glide high above the ground. Enemy design is of the same quality as classic side-scrolling Sonic games from the SEGA Mega Drive era as Sonic and his allies’ continue their long running battle against arch nemesis Doctor Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik accompanied by his robotic army, the Hard-Boiled Heavies who are up to no good once again. Boss battles occur at the end of every act including two rotating metallic boulders, Dr. Robotnik’s mechanoid suit and Metal Sonic, a mechanoid equivalent of Sonic created and controlled by Dr. Robotnik.
Environment design has always been of high importance throughout the Sonic franchise and Sonic Mania Plus is no different in that search for putting a new look on classic Sonic zones and creating new zones that ultimately stand head and shoulders with their inspirations. Sonic Mania Plus includes numerous zones comprising of a jungle with swinging vines and lush foliage in Angel Island that is exclusive to Encore mode re-imagined from Sonic the Hedgehog 3; hills set around a tranquil lake in Green Hill in a re-imagining of the zone from the first Sonic the Hedgehog; while an industrial plant with machinery and chemicals in Chemical Plant re-imagined from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Studiopolis is an entirely original zone that takes place in a huge urban city that plays host to film productions; explore the inside and outside of Dr. Robotnik’s massive metallic blimp in Flying Battery re-imagined from Sonic & Knuckles; Press Garden is another entirely original zone that begins in act 1 with Dr. Robotnik’s propaganda printing press with act 2 being a real standout in a snowcapped winter wonderland; and many more re-imagined and original zones and acts besides. Meanwhile, there are a variety of special stages from different camera angles such as a giant ring in Green Hill leading to chasing after a ship that moves faster than Sonic with the camera angle positioned directly behind Sonic, but can be caught by collecting blue orbs that gradually increases the mach speed that Sonic is capable of running at and Sonic pinball.
Sonic Mania Plus will not be receiving a Vita port, despite Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed releasing on Vita in 2012, while 2.5D racing platformer hybrid Sonic Rivals 1 and 2 released on PSP in 2006 and 2007 respectively, although there have been numerous Sonic platformers on Gameboy Advance between 2000 to 2004 as well as Nintendo DS and 3DS since 2010. Sonic Mania Plus’ remote play performance is excellent as the graphics, audio and general performance maintains the quality of the PS4 version, while there are no remote player control optimisations required as the control scheme focuses on the face buttons, d-pad and left analogue stick with no use of the shoulder buttons; therefore resulting in a comfortable and entertaining remote play experience.
The controls are appropriately mapped to the DualShock 4 controller with the control scheme and their reaction times feeling exactly the same as all other Sonic games on PlayStation consoles. The control scheme consists of pressing X or O to jump; pressing triangle to change characters in encore mode; changing the direction of the left analogue stick or alternatively pressing left or right on the d-pad to move your chosen character; pushing down on the left analogue stick or pressing down on the d-pad to crouch or spin; pushing up on the left analogue stick or pressing up on the d-pad to look upwards; pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu; and pressing the options button to display the pause menu. There is no touch pad support that could have provided an alternative to spinning by swiping the touch pad, while there is no light bar support that could have flashed orange when collecting a ring or reaching a certain quantity of collected rings, alongside a lack of vibration that could have vibrated when making contact with an enemy when your character is not spinning or landing on a hazard.
Graphically, Sonic Mania Plus is an excellent HD makeover of the original retro Sonic games facilitated by lead programmer Christian Whitehead’s custom developed Retro Engine that brings alive the redesigned stages complimented by great character animations in reaction to landing on a hazard or enemy and for each character’s unique ability. Meanwhile, there is a choice of multiple screenfilters including no screenfilter, a clean aesthetic and a sharp or soft CRT display. PS4 Pro support elevates the graphical fidelity from 1080p HD to 4K native resolution, while retaining a consistent 60 frames-per-second.
Sonic Mania Plus features an overhauled presentation in comparison to Sonic Mania with the menu selection moving from the centre of the main menu in Sonic Mania to the right of the main menu with gameplay relevant to that particular mode or option appearing to the left. Presentation is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the title menu, main menu, mania mode menus, encore mode menus, time attack mode menus, competition mode menus, extras mode menus, options menus and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad.
Voice-over announcer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi informs the player when they have reached the goal at the end of the level; having previously voiced the announcer in the Japanese release of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and Kage-Maru in Virtua Fighter 4, 4: Evolution, 5 and Project X Zone 2. Sound effects include running, jumping, collecting rings, utilising each characters’ unique ability, defeating enemies, losing every previously collected ring to making contact with an enemy while not spinning and more besides. The soundtrack is essentially classic Sonic; composed by Tee Lopes that also composed music for the Sonic Mania Adventures TV mini-series, alongside Niro Fun and Hyper Potions. There is no DualShock 4 speaker support that could have produced the voice-over announcer, sound effects or music.
The trophy list includes 18 trophies with 15 bronze trophies and 3 silver trophies, although there is unfortunately no platinum trophy. Easier trophies include the Superstar bronze trophy for spinning the star post, while harder trophies include the King of Speed bronze trophy for getting through Stardust Speedway Zone as quickly as possible; the Secret Sub bronze trophy for finding a secret submarine; and the Professional Hedgehog bronze trophy for achieving a perfect run. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 10 to 20 hours to 100% the trophy list.
Sonic Mania Plus retains the difficulty curve of retro era Sonic games as it is always hard to keep hold of collected rings as Doctor Eggman’s villainous allies and hazards such as spike strips and wooden splinters on horizontally spinning trees can quite easily catch out the player resulting in Sonic or one of his four ally characters losing their rings.
Competition mode provides split-screen multiplayer allowing up to 4 players to play competitively with customisation options including character selection; fixed, teleporters only or random items; match length and wide screen or 4:3 letterbox display. At first, only acts 1 and 2 of Green Hill zone is available to play in competition mode before unlocking further levels through progressing in other modes. However, it is not always the first player to complete the level who wins the round as multiple factors are considered including rings collected, total rings collected, items collected and the time the level is completed within when attempting to earn a greater score in comparison to your opponents. Competition mode can be played in a single round or two rounds worth of gameplay; however in the case of a draw, then a rather clever tie-breaker will occur in the form of a round of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine to decide the result of the match.
Elsewhere, there is also same screen co-operative multiplayer for two players in mania mode, although the camera only ever focuses on player 1’s character; therefore the same screen component does not really lend itself well to such fast paced gameplay as player 2 will find themselves being respawned almost frequently. Local co-operative multiplayer would have been much better if it had been split-screen multiplayer as it would have gave the second player freedom to explore the level independently of player 1, while a further improvement would have been to include split-screen co-operative multiplayer in encore mode.
Online leaderboards focus on the fastest times for each act completed within every zone in Mania or Encore variants of Time Attack mode in addition to a separate online leaderboard for each of the five characters with each leaderboard containing each player’s rank; name (PSN ID); and their fastest time, while players can compare their positioning on the leaderboards with top global players and finding your position within any given leaderboard.
Sonic Mania Plus’ replayability originates from all-new content comprising of encore mode and the inclusion of two additional characters Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel, while retaining mania mode, alongside providing a range of further excellent features including split-screen competitive multiplayer for up to 4 players in competition mode and same screen co-operative multiplayer for two players in mania mode, online leaderboards to compete for the fastest times in time attack mode and unlockable extras.
- Title: Sonic Mania Plus
- Developer: Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games, Hyperkinetic Studios and Tantalus Media
- Publisher: SEGA
- System: PS4
- Format: Blu-Ray Disc/PSN Download
- Cross-Buy: No
- Cross-Play: Yes (Cross-Save between Sonic Mania and Sonic Mania Plus)
- Players: 1-4 (Split-screen Competitive Multiplayer)/2 (Same Screen Co-operative Multiplayer)
- Hard Drive Space Required: 419.9MB (Version 1.04)