Available on Nintendo Switch (version tested), Xbox One, PS4, PC
Sega scored a slam-dunk with last year’s Sonic Mania. Here, after 20-odd years of poor, middling and occasionally half-decent Sonic games, was a 2D platformer that could stand tall with the series’ best.
Of course, you could argue that Sonic Mania was pretty much constructed from the series’ best, pulling its visual style, gameplay and even some of the basic-level design from the classic 16-bit Sonics. Nevertheless, Christian Whitehead and his team knew how to remix and augment the old material to build a game that felt both old and new. Unlike its dismal stablemate, Sonic Forces, Mania was a reminder of what a Sonic game could be.
Sonic Mania Plus is less a sequel or expansion than a victory lap. It’s a physical release for Sonic Mania, accompanied by an art book (small, but very nice), new playable characters, some minor enhancements and the all-new Encore mode. It isn’t exactly essential, as we’ll see, but if you want the definitive edition of Sonic’s renaissance, then this is it.
Encore mode is the big draw, remixing the existing Sonic Mania zones and changing how they’re played. There are new routes, new enemies, new sections and even new or revised boss encounters, with portions designed to give you room to exploit the abilities of different characters in the game.
Related: Fortnite Season 5
This matters, because Encore mode moves the focus from Sonic and drops Mania’s old-school Lives mechanic to have you working with a part of up to five Sonic stars – Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and new additions, Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the flying squirrel – and switching between them as you go.
You start off with two, grab the others from power-up TV sets and go to the next hero when you die. Run out of heroes, and it’s Game Over time, making it essential to keep replenishing your roster. And since you’ll need certain heroes to take certain routes, it only adds to the almost endless replayability of the game (although you can only switch between the two heroes who are on-screen at the time).
What do the new stars bring to the party? Well, Mighty has a downward smash and slam move that takes out enemies below and can smash through destructible surfaces.
Ray has a slightly odd glide move, where you can double-jump and twitch the stick in the opposite direction from the way you’re travelling to slow down and glide upwards, or push in the direction of travel to glide down and pick up speed. It’s a great flying mechanic, but not one that delivers a quick pass through the level. For one thing, it takes a while to master. For another, where the levels are particularly constrained or hazardous, it takes more skill than you’d think to push on through.
The good news about Encore mode is that it isn’t simply a harder version of Mania. In fact, some of the most frustrating stretches have been altered or removed. I wouldn’t even say that it’s better or worse than the standard Mania solo mode – just different. And, in a way, that’s a big compliment.
For me, Mania’s great achievement was in the way it married classic, responsive Sonic controls with superb level design that emphasised the speed and whizzy gadgets – the springs, tubeways, lave flows, pinball mechanisms, and so on – of the original Sonics. The new gizmos, such as the weird gels in the chemical factory, felt touched by genius.
Related: Octopath Traveller
At it’s best, Sonic Mania made you feel like you were playing your part in some intricate construction designed to move you through the level as quickly and thrillingly as possible. All you needed to bring was the right level of skill. Encore mode keeps pulling off the same trick, level after level.
That said, Mania had its share of difficulty spikes, and Encore mode is no different. Boss battles involving non-stop scrolling and insta-death are infuriating, and the whole roster mechanic only exacerbates the sky-high difficulty level. You can also refill your lineup and win continues and power-ups through a new Sonic Spinball-style bonus stage, but this can be even more aggravating in its challenge level.
Barring Encore mode, Sonic Mania’s other big selling point is a revamped Competition mode that now supports up to four players. It runs super-smoothly, even on the Switch, but you’ll need to gather a bunch of fairly committed Sonic fans to make it fly – especially if you’re playing on the harder levels.
Related: Best PS4 Games
If you loved Sonic Mania, then it’s safe to say that you’ll love Sonic Mania Plus. The only question is whether you’ll love it enough to make it worth buying.
For the more casual Sonic fan, the answer is probably no. Don’t get me wrong: you really should have Sonic Mania in some form, but if you have the original then Encore mode may not be worth the double-dip. Newcomers, meanwhile, will probably be happy with the cheaper digital download of the earlier version.
But if you reckon yourself a serious Sonic fan? Well, then the answer’s different. Sonic Mania plus provides a whole new way to enjoy the best Sonic Game since the 1990s and a fearsome new challenge. You might resent splashing out again for something that isn’t really much of a new game, but will you be able to resist? I doubt it.
Sonic Mania Plus isn’t a vast improvement on Sonic Mania, but given the quality of Sonic Mania, we’ll let that slide. Encore mode extends and expands the appeal – and the challenge – of one of the hedgehog’s finest outings, while the new characters and enhanced Competition mode are fun.
If you’re a casual Sonic fan then feel free to stick with the original Mania, but if you’re hardcore in your hedgehog loyalty, you know in your heart what you need to do.