They took the best Sonic game in decades and made it even cooler.
When Sonic Mania came out in the summer of 2017, it was a breath of fresh air for the Sonic series. Made essentially for fans by fans, the downloadable title revamped and remixed classic 2D Sonic gameplay into a beautiful modern spectacle. At launch, our resident Sega superfan Jared Rosenberg loved it. Now, almost a year after launch, the download-only game is coming out as physical release in Sonic Mania Plus, an embellished game that includes extra content that is coming to the original download game as DLC.
The Encore additions are focused around two new characters: Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel. I know - more of Sonic’s friends are usually a bad thing for the franchise, but here, Mighty and Ray are brilliant additions that tease out more fun and depth to the branching levels. Mighty is a bruiser and can charge straight down with a second tap of the jump button in the air. Ray requires a little more finesse as his novel twist is that he can fly in a way reminiscent of Mario’s cape power-up from Super Mario World. Mighty is generally a very helpful character to play as but Ray is a lot more fun to tool around with. Much like how you could break old Sonic games by throwing Knuckles into them, Ray feels like a fun way to explore each area.
In addition to the new characters, every level has an Encore Mode that changes up the levels slightly. The general flow and layout is mostly the same, but a few new obstacles and ways to make use of Mighty and Ray’s abilities are included. Having not played Sonic Mania since last fall, the differences were mostly something that I had to replay the original versions to really notice. You can also play through the game in Encore Mode, which loses the concept of lives and instead you rescue the five different characters and cycle between them, hitting a game over when all of your heroes are defeated. It’s a harder, slightly more punishing twist, but it’s perfect for people who want to check out Mighty and Ray but might not want to just replay the same old game.
Those aren’t the only changes, though. Some of the ornery boss fights in the original are a little less absurd and the multiplayer Competition mode can now handle up to four players, which makes the race to the finish wacky. Lastly for the Time Trial mode, replays can be saved. The original Mania mode still relies on an outdated yet nostalgic lives mechanic that, frankly, doesn’t need to be there. Encore’s more punishing design does not make up for that and Sonic Mania as a whole would be a way more pleasant and accessible experience without game overs.
Sonic Mania Plus took a well-made game and made it even better, with two interesting new characters and remixed levels. The new content seems a little more geared for the superfan rather than the newcomer, which at the end of the day, is totally okay because whether you bought Mania last year or you’re only just getting to it now, it is still worth checking out. It still feels very weird to say that I like playing as Ray more than playing as Sonic because it’s so much fun flying around levels as a flying squirrel.