I never thought I’d see the day that a Sonic game would be as highly praised as Mania, and probably more shocking, I never thought I’d see the day a Sonic game wasn’t insanely divisive among players. I feel as if it was the break the blue blur needed to show that he could be relevant beyond memes and petty internet disputes among fans. The moment I fired it up and heard that iconic “SEGAAAAAAA” chant, I felt like a second grader with no responsibilities all over again and that’s a feeling that stuck on almost every playthrough of the game I’ve done since Sonic Mania’s release last year. Needless to say, when it was announced that the game would be getting a physical copy and some DLC that provided even more fan service than what the main game offered, it was an immediate day one purchase. I’ve held off on this review for a bit due to the fact that I wanted to truly milk this additional content and do not only a 100% run of Encore Mode, but full 100 % playthroughs with the additional characters before doing a write-up to assess all that’s changed and the amount of value it adds to the main package. I won’t be discussing the four player competition mode however, as I’ve not yet been able to test it.
The most pertinent addition (besides Mighty and Ray, of course) that comes with the $5 upcharge (or your sleek new physical copy) is Encore Mode. Lives are no longer a part of the equation in this mode as you’ll need to “collect” other characters and they’ll more or less serve as your life counter. One character will follow behind you as Tails would with Sonic in the main game, and should you die, you’ll “lose” whoever you’re playing as and have to reclaim them from either a monitor or the new pinball bonus stage. Lose them all, and you’ll have the game over screen to deal with (though there are now continues!). For those inexperienced with Sonic Mania, this can make for a more challenging game overall, although the stages themselves only have minor tweaks here and there to make them a bit more difficult.
The real challenge, par for the course with many of the classic Sonic games, is obtaining all seven chaos emeralds through a brand new set of UFO Chase special stages unique to this mode. If you thought the original set was difficult, you’re in for a rude awakening. Not only have the ring locations changed drastically, but the stages themselves are far more difficult than any of the ones in the vanilla game. Even though I’ve probably completed Sonic Mania no less than 10 times since August of last year, the last one took me over an hour of retries to reach. If I’m honest, I wish that this difficulty spike would have been rationed off to the main game rather than these clunky, pseudo 3D special stages that feel more like a necessary evil for completion rather than something that’s genuinely satisfying to conquer.
While Encore Mode doesn’t feel like a truly new experience, I still enjoyed finishing it and taking on the new incarnation of Metal Sonic on my path to Metallic Monarch. I just wish that the effort that went into making the special stages super challenging would have found its way into the core game play, as the game is still relatively just to finish unless this is your first time picking up Sonic Mania.
Mighty and Ray in Mania Mode
You’re also free to play as Mighty and Ray in Mania Mode, which is probably the best way to experiment with their distinct abilities since you won’t always get to play as them in Encore. Ray plays similarly to Sonic, with the exception of being able to take the skies since he is, y’know, a FLYING squirrel. Fortunately, Whitehead and his team opted to make this ability handle more like Mario’s yellow cape ability in Super Mario World rather than the silly gliding of a certain wisecracking bobcat who made an attempt at being a third-rate Sonic in the 16-bit era. It’s a blast to mess around with, and even though none of the levels have been tweaked to suit this ability, it works surprisingly well in most areas and isn’t game-breaking.
As for Mighty, he handles like a bulkier Sonic (perhaps thanks to that added layer of protection…get your mind out of the gutter) but comes with a couple of perks. First, spikes and most enemy bullets won’t cause Mighty to spill rings. Second, he has a stomp ability that will allow him to bust open crates and rocks and also deal damage to enemies in close quarters. There aren’t nearly as many opportunities experiment with Mighty’s moveset as there are for Ray, but I feel as if the added perks could make Mighty a great first choice for starting out since running smack dab into spikes or enemy fire tends to go unpunished.
One last, relatively minor addition to Mania mode that’s been carried over from Encore is that the game will tell you the amount of time it took you to clear each Act and your total play time. I imagine this will be valuable to speedrunners!
Options and Filters
One criticism that I’ve seen others make towards the level design of Sonic Mania is that the stages are a bit on the lengthy side, which of course makes it difficult to truly explore the game thanks to the timer killing the player should ten minutes pass on any given act. It seems as if that complaint has not gone unheard, as there is now an option to disable the timer. In addition, you can toggle the debug mode, &Knuckles, and Sonic’s moveset without the added penalty of being unable to save. Keep in mind that you’ll have to toggle these features on and off every time you start up your save file, though. While small, these tweaks no doubt enhance the overall game and are thoughtful quality of life improvements for those who really want to sink their time into the game.
Last, but not least, are the screen filters. If you desire to make the game look as if it’s playing on a CRT, there’s now an option for that. The screenshots I’ve provided here use the CRT Sharp filter, although I found the effects were just a tad more noticeable during actual gameplay. Again, it’s small, but I just LOVE things like this to help make the experience feel all the more ’90s without having to go through the technical wizardy to get a modern system going on a legitimate CRT.
In conclusion, for the price of a burger and fries, the Sonic Mania Plus DLC gives a considerable amount of bang for your buck. The Encore Mode may only make the game marginally more challenging (and that’s mostly due to the special stages), but it’s still just as fun as Mania Mode and being able to play as Mighty and Ray outside of this mode is just icing on the cake. The new pinball bonus stage is also enjoyable, and if you’ve gotten gold medals on all the special stages, it will take the place of those nasty blue spheres in Mania mode and give you chances for bonus lives (hence, my higher than normal stockpile in some of these screenshots) and shields. Last, but not least, disabling the timer and adding other modifiers to Mania mode without having to use a “No Save” file and the CRT filters are nice touches. It’s hard to be disappointed with a $5 add-on that brings this much to the table, even if the main entree (Encore) doesn’t drastically alter the level design outside of special stages and ring locations. Most developers would charge double, or perhaps even triple for this amount of additional content. That said, if you loved Sonic Mania, the Plus DLC is an easy sell. And, if you’re picking this game up for the first time because you’d rather have it physically, you’ll definitely be set for a while since the Plus DLC is included.