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Yahtzee reviews Sonic Mania.

Transcript Edit

So you may have heard there's a new Sonic the Hedgehog game out; you may also have heard some people say that it's good, slightly inarticulately through mouths muffled by fur-suit fabric and cocks. But maybe you're a savvy consumer who recognizes this for the usual beginning of the Sonic game post-release cycle: it always starts with the Sonic fans going, "It's good! Sonic's good again! Fuck you, mum! I was right to paint my tits blue and wriggle around on the Chesterfield!", but then, as the weeks unfold, reality inexorably sinks into the resistant minds of the public like a lead weight on a jelly. "Well, I guess it wasn't perfect. Room for some improvement. Quite a lot of improvement, actually. Still better than Sonic 2006-- Actually, you know what? Let's just stop talking about it. Holy shit! They announced another Sonic game! Mum, buy more blue paint! This'll be the one!"

So, savvy consumer that you are, you come to me for the brutal lowdown. Well, first of all, there's definitely something different about Sonic Mania, which might be something to do with Sonic Team's logo being conspicuous by its absence, amid a dense cluster of developer idents I've mostly never heard of. And fust if my subconscious scream out the words "elevated fangame".

Sonic Mania is a deliberately nostalgic sightseeing tour through several old Sonic games, which was also the premise of Sonic Generations, which did it as part of the Sonic franchise's much-needed effort to figure out what the fuck's been going wrong all these years. You may recall that Sonic Generations rather ill-advisedly attempted to celebrate the latter-day Sonic games as well, which came across as a toddler beaming with pride at you because they managed to smear a turd all the way across the playroom wall; Sonic Mania isn't making the same mistake, and is only concerning itself with Sonic games that can be uncontroversially described as "good".

Unsurprisingly, then, it's entirely 2D and looks like a Sega Genesis game. Still, the commitment on display is admirable; there are bits and pieces from Sonic 1, 2, 3, & Knuckles, Sonic CD. There's even a bit where you have to play around in Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, which feels rather drastically out of place, but we've made a pledge to reference every 16-bit Sonic game, and by Tails the Fox's implied second butthole, we're damn well going to do it!

The plot is a little bit hard to follow, but anything else might have required the characters to have spoken dialogue, so let's not mess with success. It's basically the usual arrangement: Dr. Robotnik steals the magic gems, decides to individually store them in abstract racing challenge levels rather than buy a fucking safe. He could at least store them in challenge levels that don't play to Sonic's strengths, like a bake-off or a cryptic crossword. Still, say what you like about Dr. Robotnik; at least he's a hands-on employer. A lot of managers would delegate the boss fights, but not him; he wouldn't ask those kidnapped and enslaved baby rabbits to show more faith in his contraptions than he's prepared to demonstrate.

Anyway, Sonic Mania consists of a handful of original levels packed alongside faithful recreations of old ones visited through some hand-wavey time-travel fuckery, albeit zhuzhed up with extra features and more elaborate boss fights. But this is where the prickly spider of modernity starts to venture from beneath the comfortable toilet seat of nostalgia, because a fancy, elaborate, multi-stage boss fight is all very well if the level didn't have a ten-minute time limit and we haven't already spent nine minutes of that getting boinged up the wrong tube over and over again. See, I don't remember the ten-minute time limit ever being much of an issue in the original games, unless you were in the Casino Nights Zone and had a compulsive gambling problem, but in trying to impress us, these extra-long levels have suddenly made it a problem.

The new boss fights are of a more modern style in that they gleefully piss you about, making you wait for the brief vulnerable moment, but as long as you can reach the buggers, you can bounce on the old boss fights at your leisure and rim them off with eight well-timed thrusts. Besides that, it's an almost totally faithful recreation of a Genesis Sonic game, but that being the case, why was I finding it so annoying? Could it be that a popular retro game from the 90's might actually have been more dodgily-designed than we thought, and at the time, we were all blinded by a lack of alternatives and its obfuscating air of 90's 'tude? Help me out here; why exactly was there an arbitrary ten-minute time limit on every level in the first place? Was it just because adding an extra digit to the on-screen timer would have been a bridge too far for the Genesis processor?

I'd like to digress, if I may, and examine the old Sonics from which Sonic Mania takes inspiration, along with several hundred art assets. The very first Sonic game, Sonic the Hedgehog, back when he still went by his full name and before the title of every single game was the word "Sonic" followed by whatever was on Sega's word-of-the-day calendar, things were a bit wobbly straight off 'cos we hadn't quite come to terms with the whole "Gotta go fast!" remit. It was still a little too mired in the general standards of what a platformer was, a little too much accurate jumping in cramped, hazardous tunnels where the only people who "Gotta go fast!" were the profoundly bored with life; that underwater ruin level in particular was like having to push a tomato through a tennis racket. Sonic 2 and 3 and & Knuckles brought the "going fast" and the obligation thereof to the forefront; you were traversing huge sections of map so fast, you couldn't tell where the fuck you were going and you were afraid to press anything in case you accidentally jumped up the dilated exhaust pipe of a giant robotic arse.

And what lets these games down, and by extension, Sonic Mania, is that the levels are very annoying to explore. Easy to get to the end of, sure; just hold "Right" and press "Jump" every time you stop going right. But if you want to explore - and, spoiler alert: you do, 'cos that's how you get the Chaos Emeralds and avoid the post-credits screen with Dr. Robotnik provocatively waving his bollocks at you - then you have no way of knowing if a given path will take you to some lovely secrets or will lock you into a gun barrel that fires you halfway across the map, through nine loop-de-loops and the intestinal tract of a whale, before slamming the "point-of-no-return" door shut behind you with a great big middle finger painted on it. This is one thing the first game got right: get fifty Rings by the end of the level, bam! Secret stage! Having to find the secret stage is like finding a speck of lint in the candy floss machine.

All right, well, before all you fanboys start impotently tugging at my jumper while making noises like the last squealy fart of a dying manatee, yes, the Sonic games are actually well-regarded for their characteristic style, and the whole "drop the Rings" thing is actually pretty ingenious design (and hauntingly familiar to those kids who used to get their lunch trays knocked out of their hands by school bullies). But that style was definitely papering over some cracks; I wish they'd picked a "Jump" sound effect that didn't grate as much after a while, like the sound of a set of bagpipes being dragged across a chalkboard.

Addenda Edit

  • Gotta go measuredly: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • It's easy to get up a giant dilated robot arse but the hard part is getting out again
  • Who the fuck is "Jeed" anyway
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time

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