Sonic Mania (Sniper)
Genre: 2d platformer
Developer: PagodaWest Games
Publisher: Sega

Like the product of some 32X-Sega CD-Saturn conjoined hardware not of this dimension, Sonic Mania does more than just cop the look of a game running on Mega Drive-vintage Sega gear, but adds to it full scaling and rotation, a zillion frames of animation for most actions, extensive color palette usage, and even incredible Saturn-style low-poly bonus stages. Releases of this type are the epitome of game graphical design, and Sonic Mania is the new pin-up model.

Alarm bells went ringing in this reviewer's head upon taking in the chippy hipsterville noise-that-passes-for-music animated intro accompaniment, but thankfully the actual RedBook-styled stage music, provided by someone named Tee Lopes, is full of faithful-- if not a little too busy in parts-- remixes, and even some brand new material, which succeeds at creating smile-inducing moments. The sound effects are mostly repurposed from the Mega Drive originals, and that's no bad thing.

They may be refreshingly low on cheapshots, and they may be impressively sprawling in a "Sonic 3 & Knuckles" kind of way-- but the problems with Sonic Mania's stages are that they have way too many "Super Mario Maker Don't Move!"-style parts, and that they like to flood the player with new mechanics, yet only use them once or twice in the entire game, versus stretching and exploring them fully. But traversing the levels is a treat thanks to the returning original trio of characters, riding around via Christian Whitehead's reverse-engineered marvel of an engine.

The worst parts of Sonic Mania-- "Stardust Speedway" with its "what were they thinking boss", and the wonky "understeers like a Toyota Camry" special stage physics-- were inspired by the wretched Sonic CD; why take inspiration from such a calamitous source? The rest is hard not to love though, and is riotous fun even as it banks a bit too heavily on fan service. The biggest question to emerge: does Whitehead's Wonder do enough to unseat "Freedom Planet" as the best contemporary Sonic title? This reviewer says "not quite"-- but it's at least in the calculation.

Sniper's verdict: