Sonic Mania Plus (Playstation 4 Review)
A franchise that is both experiencing some long unseen highs and the usual bumps in the road, Sonic Mania has gotten a cheap and cheerful DLC expansion simply named “Plus”. The blue blur is continuing to ride the wave of success from the original version of Mania whilst also licking his wounds from the extremely mediocre reception of Sonic Forces. The main focus of Mania Plus’ additions is the Encore Mode, which also continues the oddly tied canon of Mania and Forces. Sonic (the classic incarnation of him) returns from the Modern universe after the events of Forces to immediately find and give chase to the Phantom Ruby again. After a brief pursuit on Angel Island, Sonic comes across the imprisoned Mighty and Ray, who haven’t been seen since Knuckles Chaotix and SegaSonic the Hedgehog respectively. The reunion is cut short when one of the Hard Boiled Heavies grabs the Phantom Ruby and uses it to revive the rest of the villainous group; as well as reversing time to repeat the events of the original Mania.
Encore Mode will see you using all of the playable heroes, controlling one while the other functions as support in a similar manner to Tails in Sonic 2. You can switch between the point characters when they are generally idle, but to do so with any of other “benched” characters requires you to smash a “Switch” or “Random” power-up. You will lose access to your point character by whichever means of death and have them immediately replaced by the support character, who will then be replaced by the next benched character. You can also hit a “life” power-up to regain any of the lost characters, but this means the peak of your life counter in Encore mode will go no further than five. Naturally, if you lose all characters you’ll get a Game Over or be asked to use up a Continue.
The stages in Encore Mode are generally fairly similar to their Mania Mode incarnations, the main differences being the obvious change of colour in them, and how special stages work. If you pass a checkpoint with 50 rings or more, you can enter a Pinball-themed special stage. This will give you chance to gain more rings, power-ups and most importantly any characters you don’t have in your current party. Unlike Mania Mode’s checkpoints, which could be ignored if you weren’t pushed about getting the modifiers, the Encore Mode’s checkpoints are much more imperative to keeping yourself alive. The UFO chasing special stages make a return, albeit much more difficult to complete and even to find, with the special stage rings being moved to even more obscure locations. With all these changes to Special Stages and how life works, it should come as no surprise that Encore Mode provides much more of a challenge this time around.
The other focus of Mania Plus is the two new playable heroes of Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel. Mighty definitely lives up to his name by being arguably the strongest of the Mania cast. While his ground pound is decent for smashing objects below him and keeping him close to enemies by cancelling the pushback of his spin attack, what makes Mighty a beast is his shell armour. This allows him to take a hit from most spiked or piercing attacks, with the effect returning after a brief recovery. Certain stage hazards and some bosses become water on a duck’s back to Mighty when his shell armour is effectively exploited. Ray, on the other hand, could possibly be the weakest of the cast. His ability to fly is a very welcome nod to the cape power up from Super Mario World, but is hampered by handful of variables. To get some good height with the flight ability will require Ray to get some fast momentum on the ground before taking off, and keeping him airborne can be problematic with how quickly he descends and that he’s completely vulnerable to enemies. In more narrow sections of Sonic’s stages, the flight ability can be almost useless. At the very least Ray is animated excellently compared to Mighty, with the former using his tail to hang and climb through hanging bars.
Overall, while Encore Mode is an interesting spin on an increased difficulty mode, some of the parameters show their flaws within the context of Mania’s gameplay. Boss fights are a prime example; where if your previous character is knocked out, the replacing character more than likely will have no rings, and this can result in your entire team dropping like flies against a boss. While the gimmick alterations and colour changes to the stages are certainly welcome, I was left wanting for something extra for them to feel refreshing, like some OST remixes for example. Asides from the brief teaser of Angel Island and a reworked version of Mirage Saloon Zone’s first Act, they are no new stages in Sonic Mania Plus. This might be asking for a bit much, considering Mania Plus’ DLC is cheaper than some lunch deals, but I honestly would have payed more money if it’d mean some more content, such as additional levels.
For what it’s asking, Mania Plus is a highly generous addition of some more replay factor to an already fantastic re-imagining of Sonic’s Megadrive days. A better investment than “Sonic Forces Plus” would be, for sure.