Capsule Review: Sonic Mania Plus
Sonic Mania Plus, a sort of overhauled and expanded version of last year's Sonic Mania, offers performance improvements, new animations, redesigned UI, a new boss fight, and four-player support for Competition mode, among other small highlights. But of course, the new Encore mode is Plus’ main attraction. As Mania mode allowed you to race through remixed stages as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles, Encore mode (re)introduces deep-cut characters Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo, along with further remixed level design, palette-swapped art in every stage, and a new lives system that offers ever-rotating use of all five playable characters.
Whether in Encore or the vanilla Mania mode, using Ray’s glide ability (similar to Mario’s cape in Super Mario World), Mighty’s ground pound, and Tails or Knuckles’ existing flight and climbing abilities feel like the definitive way to replay these classic Sonic stages. After most will rush through their first run of the game as Sonic, these sidekicks’ superior mobility allow them to more easily unlock each stages’ secrets on the second attempt.
But let's talk about Encore mode's new take on Sonic's limited lives system, which is likely to trip up a lot of first-time players. Because Sonic Mania Plus features an ensemble cast, you no longer collects lives for a character. Instead, you'll start a stage with one hero, and you'll occasionally get to add any of the five speedsters to an inventory, where they can be semi-freely swapped with. These characters still die when struck while holding zero rings, leaving another character to spawn in their place... without a single ring. You can easily have all your “lives” instantly wiped out this way, thanks to a moment of unlucky positioning. Again, veteran Sonic fans might actually enjoy this slight difficulty increase. But it makes this take on retro Sonic even less accessible to non-diehards.
To be fair, for $25 (or $30 for a physical copy), this is a rather small investment considering the amount of well-polished pixelated content on display. The visuals are smoother and more complex than they ever were on the Genesis or Sega CD. The soundtrack is as top-tier now as it was in the ‘90s. Sonic boasts his new “drop dash power,” and there are even more secrets and abilities hidden behind menus, collectibles, and the use of No Save mode. There’s a Time Attack mode. There are multiplayer races, and what game isn’t more fun with more people? Encore mode swaps out the Blue Sphere bonus stages for a new pinball minigame that replenishes spare characters. If you’re in the market for old-timey Sonic, this package feels like the best deal.
Considering the low bar set by every 3D Sonic title, Sonic Mania Plus is by default the best, most complete Sonic game ever made. But don’t expect to be eased into the experience. Sonic Mania Plus is perfectly designed to please old-school Sonic fans, but perhaps only them.
Yes for retro fans; Probably Not for anyone else.
Main takeaway: If you’re in the market for old-timey Sonic, this package feels like the best deal.