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Game review: ‘Sonic Mania,’ modern take on nostalgic series is fun but has some flaws

By David Wolinsky common Sense Media (Tns) - | Sep 8, 2017

Parents need to know that “Sonic Mania” is a downloadable arcade-like action game. Players can take on the role of Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails the Fox, and Knuckles the Echidna, three mainstay characters from this long-running “Sonic” series. Although you play as animals, you spend most of your time running around to hit machinery and robots. Otherwise, there’s no inappropriate content.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

“Sonic Mania” doesn’t have much of a story at all. What can be gleaned from the short, wordless vignettes between stages is series antagonist Dr. Eggman is unleashing a horde of robot assistants to wreak havoc. You’re never really given context or a reason why you’re running from level to level, but this is also a standard characteristic for the series. You race from set piece to set piece, collecting rings, beating bosses, and embracing the sheer amount of momentum the levels allow you to harness.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

After nearly two decades of misfires for this storied series, this new entry is both a return to form and an attempt to assert a 21st century identity for a 20th century gaming icon. “Sonic Mania” can be completed in three or four hours. It starts off conservatively, but as you get deeper in, it reveals some surprising takes on the familiar 16-bit action. It doesn’t sound like much, but the game’s new wrinkles include zip lines, twisting pipes, and sticky platforms. For a series that has always been about moving from left to right as fast as the camera can keep up, these new additions represent a willingness to change up the formula somewhat.

But this title is intended as fan service and as such, newcomers will likely be more frustrated or unimpressed than anything else. The “Sonic” games have always been about building up as much speed as possible while avoiding enemies. Because of how lacking “Sonic” can be in nuanced controls during platforming sections, and rollercoaster-like parts of levels where the game more or less plays itself, there can be an overall disjointed feeling to the game where neither half is all that satisfying. It also doesn’t help that occasionally there can be game-ending bugs. There’s a time-trial mode, and also a limited multiplayer option (a second player can take control of Tails, but the camera will always follow Sonic), but neither adds much in the way of shelf life. But, if you want a modern take on a classic series, “Sonic Mania” proves to be a serviceable check-in.

RATING AND CONTENT

Recommended for ages 10 and older

Quality: 3 out of 5

Positive messages: 1 out of 5

Positive role models: 2 out of 5

Ease of play: 2 out of 5

Violence: 1 out of 5

Sex: 0 out of 5

Language: 0 out of 5

Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 0 out of 5

Consumerism: 2 out of 5 (Are products/advertisements embedded? Is the title part of a broader marketing initiative/empire? Is the intent to sell things to kids?)

GAME DETAILS

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Price: $19.99

Developer: Sega of America

Release date: August 15, 2017

Genre: Arcade

ESRB rating: E for mild cartoon violence

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Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.

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