Review: 'Sonic Mania Plus' (Switch)

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Sonic Mania was released last year to rave reviews, including from our own site, and now the game has returned with more content in the form of Sonic Mania Plus. This new version of the game comes in a physical format for the first time, but it also brings new game modes and new special stages, and it revives two long-list characters from the Sonic franchise. Is the new content worth going back, for those who have already completed the game?

At its core, this game is still Sonic Mania; the core gameplay remains intact, and the game is just as beautiful as it ever was. For a more in-depth review of the gameplay, stages, aesthetics and more, check out our previous Sonic Mania review. This review is going to focus mainly on the new additions to the game - in particular, Encore Mode.

Encore Mode is a new game mode that takes place after the main game, and it is definitely for more expert players. It introduces part of a new stage, beginning with a revisit to Angel Island Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, before it proceeds with the rest of the game, starting with the famous Green Hill Zone. Each of these zones has been remixed to a certain degree, even further than they are in the game's main Mania Mode. Environments are different (Green Hill Zone now takes place at sunset, for example, which aesthetically is a nice change of pace), and the level layouts have received some slight changes as well. For those who have played through Mania Mode a few times, they'll feel very familiar, but also just different enough to be worth going back to. The game also has a bit of a focus on speedrunning, as when you beat the final boss, you'll be shown a screen with your total times in every single zone, as a challenge to improve your times further.

The main draws of Encore Mode, however, are the two new characters that have been added - Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel (both of whom appeared originally in the arcade-only SegaSonic the Hedgehog - that's a real blast from the past). Both characters have your basic Sonic-style jump and spindash, with standard jump heights, but each one has its own unique mechanics as well. Mighty, appropriately, has a super-strong outer shell, and while he's rolling or jumping in ball form, he will repel projectiles and minor enemy attacks; he also has a downward dash attack that will destroy pretty much anything underneath him. Ray, on the other hand, has the ability to glide upward and downward through the air. This is not easy to learn how to do, and it will absolutely take some practice to master his flying mechanics; this is an expert-level character, to be sure. Once you master flying with him, however, you can travel extremely long distances and make absurd jumps that no other character can. He's now my favorite character to play as, and I'm always looking for new opportunities to fly and find shortcuts. And of course, all the characters have a Super form.

That said, Encore Mode is definitely an expert mode in general, for more practiced players of the game. You no longer have extra lives; instead, you play as all five characters (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Mighty and Ray), and each one has one life. You have two characters onscreen at any one time, and you're only controlling one of them, though you can switch between the two whenever you're both on level ground. In order to switch your active characters, you need to find item boxes in the world that will swap out one or both characters; additionally, you only start out with two, and you need to find the other three in item boxes or bonus stages. Each time you die, you immediately start as another character at the last checkpoint you hit; if you're in a boss battle, though, you'll immediately swap in another character. You effectively don't have much say in which character you're playing as, so you'll need to be good with all of them. Once all five characters are dead, it's an immediate game over, and it is entirely possible to lose all five characters in one difficult boss battle, which happened to me once. You're going to need to be careful, or you'll have to get really good at bonus stages.

In Encore Mode, when you pass a checkpoint with 50 rings and jump into the bonus stage, you'll no longer play the Blue Sphere mini-game from Mania Mode. Instead, you'll enter a pinball-based bonus game, which gives you the opportunity to pick up new items, but more importantly, it gives you the opportunity to get all five of your characters back if you are skilled enough. By launching the pinball to the top of the stage, you'll start playing a claw game, and if you have good aim, you can get bonus shields, rings, or characters. At first I wasn't too impressed with this pinball game, since it's a little bit basic and the rewards aren't great, but when I started running low on characters it became a godsend. Having the opportunity to get all of your characters back if you're skilled enough is a very enticing proposition, and I love how it affects the game balance of something that could otherwise be quite unfair.

It's not only the bonus stages that have changed, though; Encore Mode brings a collection of seven new special stages, as well, and they do not mess around. The special stages in Mania Mode could become difficult at times, but the Encore Mode special stages are downright sadistic. You need to be extremely precise in order to make the turns and jumps of the more difficult courses, and you need to collect spheres and rings very strategically in order to survive long enough to catch the UFO and collect a Chaos Emerald. Even when I had the opportunity to do nothing but grind out special stages, it took me over two hours to complete all seven of them; the difficulty is absolutely through the roof, and I nearly gave up at times. It is pretty satisfying when you complete them, but be prepared for pain if you try.

Those aren't the only changes that have been made to the game, though. The base game has been upgraded in some ways, as well. One notable change is that every single stage now has transition cutscenes from one to the next; in the original release, they were missing between several zones, but now they're all there, and some of them are actually really cool, showcasing some great art. One boss in particular, which was highly infuriating in the original game, has been changed to be more reasonable, which I appreciated. Competition mode has now been upgraded, and up to four players can now play at once, all on the same screen (though it's best that you use a TV for this). Also, going back to Encore Mode, there's one notable boss that has received a major change, and it was a very welcome surprise. On the other hand, some things are still the same that shouldn't be; in particular, there is still a persistent bug that can cause a stage's music to cut out entirely. This bug is more likely to happen when the game has been on for a long period of time, and I was very disappointed to see that this has not yet been fixed.

As I mentioned, Plus is the first version of the game that has had a physical release, and if you pick it up it's a pretty nice package. The Switch game case has a reversible cover, with the other side looking for all the world like the cover of an old-school Sega Genesis case; this was a blast from the past, and a delight to see. The package also comes with a 32-page art book, which I enjoyed flipping through as it has lots of hand-drawn art from such people as Tyson Hesse, who animated the game's intro cutscene, as well as taking the lead on the Sonic Mania Adventures video series. It's nothing you need to get, but if you feel like getting the special edition, it'll probably give you your money's worth.

Sonic Mania Plus is unquestionably the best edition of the best Sonic game in decades. Encore Mode is heavier on difficulty than the rest of the game, and you'll need to keep your wits about you to complete it, but it's worth the price of entry for the new characters alone. If you already have Sonic Mania, it's definitely worth the $4.99 to upgrade your game, and if you don't have it at all, then you'll want to buy the complete Plus edition without hesitation. A fantastic game has been made even better, and every Sonic fan should not miss out on this opportunity to play as Mighty and Ray.

Final score: 9.3 out of 10

A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.

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