Sonic Mania Plus | Principal Platforms: PC (Version Tested), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch | Developer: Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games | Publisher: Sega | Genre: Platformer | Year: 2018
Coming to PC owners as part of the “Encore” DLC, Sonic Mania Plus is a freshly updated version of the hedgehog’s latest adventure. Everything I said in my Sonic Mania review still stands, so expect a shorter rundown here as we focus on the updated content.
Front and centre is the new Encore mode, which allows players to experience the entire Sonic Mania storyline again, only with remixed stages, harder bonus levels, and special gameplay mechanics that are exclusive to this version. Each stage has been reworked using new colour palettes, and whilst these sometimes look gaudy when compared to the originals, stages like Lava Reef Zone look especially vibrant, with others now playable against a pleasant sunset or at night.
Blue sky lovers shouldn’t worry though, as a short recreation of Angel Island Zone has been added to the prologue. It’s during this sunny section that players meet their new playable characters, Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Squirrel. It’s been a long absence for these lesser known celebrities of Sonic fandom, and it seems the extended hiatus has given them a chance to develop some unique talents. Whether you’re blocking enemies as Mighty, or swooping through the air as Ray, what’s most notable about these returning amigos is how they bolster the roster.
In Encore mode you’ll get to play as all five characters together, with each one acting as a retry. If you lose all of your characters then it means using a continue, but thankfully hidden collectables and special stage bonuses allow you to recover missing team members. This creates an entertaining new gameplay loop where players must manage their character slots to achieve success in each stage.
Collect a Player Swap power-up, or get swatted by an enemy, and the ordering of your characters will change on the fly, so whereas before you only ever played as one character, now there’s the potential to play as several different characters in rapid succession. It can certainly feel a bit chaotic at times, but it is fun, and the pace of play is improved because defeated characters are simply replaced by those in backup without the game reloading a checkpoint. That is an excellent change.
There are a couple of negative aspects to the Encore system though. One is that it makes collecting rings feel more redundant (you can’t earn 1-ups in this mode), and the other is the disabled co-op play (because all characters are now controlled by the first player). Perhaps to make up for this, Sega have expanded the competition mode to allow four players to take part in split-screen action. You can’t play the Encore levels in this mode, strangely, though there are new screen options to help two players make the most of their available viewing space.
Other small changes help enhance what was already a rather handsome package. Mania mode’s annoying time limit can now be disabled, you can use unlocked cheat options on any save file, and the formerly taxing Metal Sonic battle has been overhauled in Encore with a surprising third phase twist.
Overall Sonic Mania Plus is a careful release, although it’s surprising how much replay value the developers have added considering their gentle retouching. Encore mode is a brilliant excuse for fans to revisit the dozen or so remixed levels, and even experts will gnash their teeth at those hellish special stages.
And if you’ve yet to play Sonic Mania at all, then this new edition is surely the ideal opportunity to experience the hedgehog’s return to 2D glory.
So, what are you waiting for?! …