Sonic has undergone many changes over the years, but ironically all SEGA had to do to make him relevant again was go back to his roots with Sonic Mania.
Sonic Mania is a celebration of everything you loved about the Hedgehog during the all-important 16 Bit Era and the most recent DLC pack rounds out and compliments an already sensational package.
A DLC, interestingly, that was never meant to happen.
Hedgehogging their bets
Sonic Mania originally featured the trio of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles in familiar and new zones as you once again try to thwart the dastardly plans of Dr Robot … err … Eggman.
The characters had old and familiar traits as well, such as Tails being able to fly and Knuckles climb, but also added a new Drop Dash ability for Sonic, enabling them to access new secrets.
Sonic Mania Plus adds to that even further with the inclusion of Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel, two highly requested additions to the game. Why? Because of their relevance to the Sonic World.
See, Mighty was actually an original concept for Sonic before SEGA finally decided upon the Hedgehog, but the character was well-rounded enough that it would later become a series regular. Before Mania, he originally appeared in SegaSonic the Hedgehog, then featured in Sonic Generations, Knuckles’ Chaotix, and even the comic books.
Mighty has fantastic defensive abilities due to his hard, armadillo shell, which can actually protect him from some enemy attacks and even spikes. He also has a devastating ground pound Hammer Drop which turns him into a missile-esque projectile that slams down into his opponents. Mighty certainly makes some of the tougher levels much more manageable in Sonic Mania.
But Ray the Flying Squirrel also offers a new way to play. If Mighty makes things easier, it can be argued Ray makes them tougher. Similar to Knuckles and Tails, Ray can sail through the air using an Air Glide, but you can actually change the direction by using the D-Pad. So you could opt to sail straight back down with a nose-dive after a jump, or try to keep your elevation by holding back, almost parachuting to the ground. Inevitably, this means he will reach greater heights than any other character in the game, though.
Ray, meanwhile, has had less of a presence in the Sonicverse. He has popped up in Sonic Generations and the comics, and, of course, was one of three characters in SegaSonic the Hedgehog, but his arrival in Mania certainly is more of a surprise.
Both characters offer significant tactical changes to the game and bring something different which merits at least a second playthrough. But adding the Encore Mode gives you something else entirely to sink your teeth into.
Think of Encore Mode as Sonic Mania remixed. The aesthetic has changed, the levels have been tweaked and in some cases redesigned to suit the new characters’ abilities. There are new secrets and perhaps most excitingly, the ability to ‘tag between allies’. So you could have a dream fighting machine of Knuckles and Mighty, or compare aerial hang-time between Tails and Ray.
Encore Mode starts you off with Sonic on Angel Island and tasks you with busting Ray and Mighty out of one of Eggman’s animal capturing machines. Once you do, you have to make a choice of tag team partner to bring along with you. The good news, though, is that you’ll eventually be able to have both Ray and Mighty in your team and this is done by smashing a special box. Grabbing the box adds members to your team so that when one of you dies, another will replace you. That means one death doesn’t signify the lost of a life.
It’s a simple addition to Sonic Mania, but arguably it is the most essential inclusion into any Sonic game in over twenty years.
Encore Mode also looks different, with Green Hill Zone now set at night and Chemical Zone having a much more bitter, menacing appearence. But there’s also brand new bonus stages, including a pinball table that harkens back to the good old days of Sonic Spinball. What I wouldn’t give for a new take on this on Switch.
Speaking of Switch, never did I expect to say that SEGA’s infamous mascot runs best on a Nintendo platform. Because it does. Handheld Sonic Mania Plus is just delightful and arguably, the best way to experience the game. It’s so smooth and slick, with all the high speed and drama you’ve come to know and love from Sonic.
As if that’s not enough for the £4 price tag – no, seriously, £4! – Competition Mode now supports four player splitscreen, which is just so suited to JoyCon, on the go, it’s not even funny. Whether you’re doing time trials, races, whatever. It’s a blast.
Sonic Mania was already a great game when it launched last year, so it’s hard to believe SEGA not only made it better but did so with content that could have stayed on the cutting room floor. The only reason we have Plus is because of the overwhelming demand for a physical release and the need to fill out the package with more content because of the price tag.
Sonic Mania Plus is a perfect example of how the best DLC is made. Not only is it cheap, it fundamentally changes the way the game is played, offers up the potential for multiple playthroughs, providing lastability with broad multiplayer possibilities.
Sonic Mania was already a must play. Plus makes it essential.
+ Ray and Mighty add exciting new ways to play
+ Encore Mode is a smart reimagining
+ Bargain price point
+ Multiplayer bigger and better
+ Runs like a dream on Switch
– Tough challenge for some may be offputting
Sonic Mania Plus
9.5 out of 10
Tested on Switch
Game purchased by Expansive