A POLARIZING ICON
There are a few icons people can immediately associate with video games, especially if they grew up in the late 80's and through the 90's. Mario and his brother Luigi, Donkey Kong, Sweet Tooth the mad cackling clown with a head of fire, and that's just to name a few. But there is one more, and perhaps the most polarizing icon of that time period. One who is fondly remembered for his first few games, and then loathed for many of the more recent entries. Sonic the Hedgehog, the blue-haired, body spinning, "gotta go fast" meme inspiring king-of-sprint. It could be argued his games are literally set up to be speed runs, with an emphasis on going as quick as possible in style.
But as I mentioned, Sonic has had a much rougher run of things with many later entries in the franchise being polarized as love it or hate it affairs. Do you remember Sonic's 2006 entry? I try to forget it too, don't worry. Thankfully, there was an intense turn around last year with the initial release of Sonic Mania. Harnessing the best aspects of the series' 2D entries and bringing it to life on modern consoles and PC, Sonic Mania killed hours upon hours of my free-time when I picked it up for my Nintendo Switch last year.
This year, Sonic Mania is back again with Sonic Mania Plus Encore which includes all the content of Sonic Mania, plus, the new DLC Encore. This time around I got to check it out on PC and I was eager to see if it maintained the charm and fun factors, and if the new DLC is worth it.
For those who haven't played Sonic Mania, the premise of the game combines the concept of taking the old and making it new and then making the new feel old again. How's that for a confusing sentence? Sonic Mania aims to have all the good parts of nostalgia, while getting rid of the rose tinted glasses syndrome that many of our fond memories of old games tend to suffer from.
Sonic Mania is incredibly successful at doing this, launching players into re-imaginings of old levels from earlier entries in the series and redesigned just enough so you won't know all the tricks of the trade right off the bat. It takes everything you loved, and gives you more depth to it. Visually, Sonic Mania is peak 90's gaming aesthetic with the cartoon-retro feel distributed across the entirety of the game. At first glance, you'd even think it's just like you remember. On the contrary, it's far more crisp than anything that could be accomplished back then. Characters, environments, and the enemies that dwell within them are updated substantially but unless you're looking at old games side by side with Sonic Mania you wouldn't notice right away. It's a subtle approach that pays off.
Gameplay wise is what you'd expect from the old-school Sonic games, only a bit more polished for the modern era. Levels play out with a mix of traditional platforming, full-on sprints, head-over-heels loops, and plenty of boss-fights to go around. The polish though is in the input response time. Go back and play nearly any early 90's game today, you'll wonder if you're starting to get bad with your timing. What's more likely is that you're more used to the quicker input speeds of modern gaming. The input on Sonic Mania doesn't feel sluggish because it only looks like a game from the early 90's. As I said earlier, it's all the nostalgia and none of downfall of rose-tinted glasses. It's a great game on its own.
For returning players, the new Encore mode brings in some new characters to the roster, Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying squirrel, who like the rest of the iconic cast have their own unique abilities that alter the way you play the game -somewhat- but not enough for a drastically different experience.
Encore mode itself is an additional campaign, with a bit of a twist. There aren't extra lives anymore! Now don't panic, this isn't Sonic's take on an extremely hard mode. You aren't going to be having traumatic visions of the countless rogue-likes that are intent on murdering your face. No, instead of extra lives you'll now cycle through characters you have available. It puts the pressure on quite a bit more, but not in a way that detracts from the fun of the game.
As a campaign, Encore isn't bad by any means but it also doesn't jump out as much as the original Sonic Mania does; especially considering the maps are just remixes of the maps from the main game. It's entertaining, and the character swap addition instead of lives is a welcome change-up, but I still feel most of the game's fun and value is in the main game itself.
If you missed out on Sonic Mania last year, then now is the perfect time to jump into Sonic Mania Plus Encore. For those who already have Sonic Mania, but want to check out the Encore DLC, it's available for a small fee of $5 which is more than worth it. Sonic Mania, as well as Sonic Mania Plus Encore, are exactly what the Sonic franchise needed to breathe some life back into it. The ball is in play, and it gives fans hope for the series to improve going forward.
Takes the retro vision of Sonic and successfully modernizes it with crisp controls, nostalgia and new characters, a unique twist by replacing lives with characters available instead.
The Encore campaign isn't as exciting as the main campaign.