Sonic has been around for ages, but most regard his best moments as the original Sega Genesis titles. The last decade or so has seen countless forgettable  Sonic games that sampled elements from the franchises legendary roots but have ultimately forgotten why Sonic was once battling Mario for center stage and what made fans have faith in the quality seal of a Sonic game. Now, with a ton of hype, comes the long awaited Sonic Mania. PagodaWest Games and Headcannon have finally returned Sonic to its 16-bit glory. Sonic Mania is a traditional 2D platformer that looks and feels like a vintage Sonic game. There are 8 remixed zones that are taken from the first three Sonic titles on the Genesis as well as Sonic and Knuckles. On top of that, five new stages have been specially designed for this game. There are plenty of new incorporations in Sonic Mania, but the mix of nostalgia, great level design, and modern implements all allow a much needed second wind to be breathed into this classic mascot.

Sonic Mania allows players to go through the adventure using any of the three original protagonists (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles). The game has no dialogue to speak of, but it begins with Eggman getting on with some dastardly plans to send out his minions to obtain a power created by an energy signal. The plot isn’t important, but there are awesome animations between stages (and sometimes within) that make the game feel like a classic 90s cartoon. Eggman can often be found somewhere in the level,–he’s riding a train and laughing it up as Sonic flies by in the eighth zone–and the animations are very well done. The crisp colors add to the fluid animations, and the cutscenes do add some continuity and amusing interludes that make the game feel more complete.

Finally, a new Sonic game feels like the original games. That is not to say it doesn’t evolve or add the franchise, but Sonic Mania keeps the original recipe that made Sonic great in the first place and just sprinkles in new ingredients. Fans have never really asked for anything more, and while it’s been too long since a truly great Sonic game, I am happy to tell you that Sonic Mania indeed fills in that void and that Sonic will be spin-dashing back into the heart of gaming. The game is 2D, fast paced, simple to play but very hard to beat, and it kept everything we loved–and admittedly a few things we disliked–about Sonic while bringing the series back to its roots. It does this with very strong level design, versatile platforming/boss fights, the right amount of difficulty, and fusing elements from many different Sonic games.

Sonic Mania nails it when it comes to great level design. Every level is drastically different from the others, and the difficulty gradually increases as the game wears on. Green Hill Zone is a relaxed warm up, but after that, each level has some very unique obstacles that mean that players can’t just shoot through the game without discovering and overcoming the fine intricacies of each stage. Every zone features two acts, and there is a lot of disparity, even between the first and second half of a zone. For example, Chemical Plant Zone stage one will feel a lot like a level you have seen before, but stage two features a ton of brand new elements such as needles that inject the water with chemicals that cause Sonic to hyper jump and DNA strands that launch Sonic to new platforms.

I found the new changes to be more interesting than the nostalgia twinged areas, and I loved that each stage felt like a new set of rules to play with. The level design is very innovative, and the fine mix of nostalgia, new elements, and ever changing platforming designs are the backbone to Sonic Mania’sgreatness.