Sonic Mania remixes the franchise’s legacy with creative surprises, like a DJ breathing new life into a classic track with modern elements. The game is peppered with quirky choices, but the one moment that has stuck with me is an inspired boss fight. The fight plays on decades of Sonic games, subverting expectations while also rewarding folks like me who remember the series’ many diversions.
[Spoiler warning: If you haven’t played through the second act yet, you might want do that, then hop back into this post, since I’ll be ruining the surprise!]
The game’s first level, Green Hill Zone, put me right into the comfortable embrace of nostalgia. By the end of the act, I had regained the muscle memory of classic Sonic games. I ran through loops, jumped through piranhas and bulldozed over a Dr. Robotnik contraption, the game’s first boss encounter. The first act felt a Sonic cocktail, all the familiar ingredients shaken up to feel new again.
The second area, Chemical Plant Zone, similarly tweaked and polished my favorite classic Sonic stage. The game seemed to have established a rhythm of introducing familiar spaces and playfully improving upon them. Then I was blindsided.
While traveling through a tunnel toward the end of the stage, I dropped into a recreation of Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, a puzzle game Sonic spinoff based on Puyo Puyo from 1993. Then it dawned on me: This is the boss fight.
Instead of fighting my enemy with Sonic’s bounce attack, I had to face off against Dr. Robotnik in a versus battle taken straight from Mean Bean Machine. I found myself quickly changing gears, as the controls switched from an action game to a fast-paced puzzle game.
Sonic Mania’s first level set up the expectation that in these remixed classic levels, you’d experience familiar areas and bosses in new ways. But by the end of the game’s second act, it felt I was playing an entirely different Sonic game altogether, a sort of collage of the entire franchise, not just the core entries.
Other levels had me battling bosses in inventive ways: I chased enemies down highways and fought Dr. Robotnik with one of his own machines. One fight even threw in references to obscure characters from Sonic the Fighters, a 1996 fighting game.
Innovative boss fights were never the series’ strong suit. But what makes Sonic Mania so special is how it challenges the past games’ legacy with boss fights that are as satisfying and inspired as the levels that precede them. Previous Sonic games have the odd flow of hurrying through acts to an awkward conclusion. In Sonic Mania, that destination is just as enjoyable as the trip itself.