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Number 4: Sonic Mania

Sonic_Mania_(artwork)

Copyright Sega

2017 was a year of redemption and a year of best evers, but there was nothing that came out this year quite like Sonic Mania.  Despite what people say, there have been good Sonic games since Sonic 3 and Knuckles.  Sonic Adventure didn’t age well, but it was miles ahead of any non-Mario 3D platformer, and the Sonic stages are still pretty fun to play.  Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations are actually a lot of fun and decent games.  What is true, though, is that none of them lived up to the original four, 2D games.  Sonic Mania not only manages to bring the series back to its most glorious days, it’s also the best game in the series ever made.

Look, there is one major flaw in this game, that most of the games levels are remixes or remakes of levels from previous games.  However, that doesn’t really distract much from the greatness.  Each zone does something different, and plays to the strengths of a Sonic game.  It’s fast, but it knows when to slow down and let the speed build up.  It has some of the most inventive bosses in the series and some really complex and interesting levels.  Even the “remade” levels feel much more complex and interesting than their original counterparts, even when they steal sections from the original level wholesale.  Out of all 12 zones, only Chemical Plant Act 1 even feels like a retread in any sense of the word.  All of the others almost feel like completely new levels with old backgrounds stapled to them.

The game manages to make levels that I really didn’t like in their original games (Oil Ocean, Metallic Madness) work out really well.  I never thought, when I play the game, that I’d be really excited when I heard the old Oil Ocean music.  It gets even better with the second zone.  That’s impressive, because when I play Sonic 2, I tend to turn it off around then.

Gameplay wise, it’s the tightest the series has ever been.  Sonic and his friends move just as they did in the Genesis/Mega Drive era, with a few little extras.  Sonic has his new drop dash, probably the best ability he’s ever had, and that includes the insta-shield and homing attack, Tails can fly longer and faster and Knuckles finally has a decent climbing speed that isn’t too slow, but also manages to incorporate a sense of weight.  Plus, the level design works in a way to fix one of the biggest issues with the series, as it no longer punishes the player with spikes or death traps just for going fast and not having memorized the level.  Instead, the levels are set up in a way to make sure the players don’t careen into pits.  Even when there are traps, the level uses things like floors that collapse or enemies that show up with a delay, giving even unskilled or new players time to react instead of just hurling them into a pit.

Also, of course, the soundtrack is amazing, easily the best of the year.  I know, that’s unfair, since this is a Sonic game, and Tee Lopes is just fucking amazing, but this is also a year where we got a Persona game, a Zelda game, a Mario game, a Final Fantasy game (even if it is an expansion) and a hell of a lot of great games with crazy awesome music.  Even then, Sonic still kicks ass, and as good as the game is, the soundtrack, like any Sonic game, is the best in the series.

I can only hope that Sega allows Christian Whitehead and Simon Thomley continue to work on this series, because it’s the only way to revive Sonic.  Especially after how fucking awful Sonic Forces was.  3D Sonic can work, but until Sonic Team can pull its head out of its ass and actually make a decent game that works, we need games like this to make the series keep working.

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