Last summer’s Sonic Mania was the feel-good gaming moment of the year: a love letter to the Sega Genesis generation of Sonic games, Mania proved there was still life in the fastest thing alive yet. The team, comprised mostly of longtime fans and Sonic ROM hackers was fan service in the best way possible, but most importantly, it was a really fun game.
This year, Headcannon and PagodaWest Games prove that they can even do DLC right with the release of Sonic Mania Plus. Paid addons are usually the bane of gamers’ existence, but Plus has a low price tag of five dollars, and packs so much into a game that was already considered a masterpiece that it should be the model for all game publishers going forward.
Before we even get into what you’ll get for spending $5 on the Plus upgrade, patch 1.04 was pushed to all owners of Sonic Mania, and includes several critical bug fixes — such as fixing the frame rate issues in special stages on Nintendo Switch — the addition of cutscenes in between every zone (the original game had many of them, but some transitions were missing), and some tweaked bosses (or in some cases, completely changed bosses). Even if you don’t spend another dime on Sonic Mania, if you already own the game, you’ll get an enhanced experience the next time you turn it on.
If you do decide to fork over the Lincoln for Plus, though, you get a whole lot more than that. The most obvious addition are two new playable characters: Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel. Keeping with tradition of packing this game with as many obscure Easter eggs from Sonic’s past, Mighty and Ray made their first appearances in the forgotten 1993 Japanese arcade game, SegaSonic the Hedgehog. They both also made appearances in Sonic Generations, and Mighty was a core character in the 32X game Knuckles’ Chaotix.
Both characters are extremely fun to play, and hilariously game-breaking in their own ways. Mighty’s special ability allows him to slam down to the ground at high speed mid-jump — essentially, he always has the water shield ability. He has another unique trait, though: his hardened shell allows him to take a hit from spikes and not die or lose rings, making some boss battles completely trivial. Ray the Flying Squirrel, as his species would suggest, has the ability to fly. Well, sort of — think less Tails and more the cape power up from Super Mario World. Ray can take flight at any time, and use his momentum to bounce in the air, attaining new heights. Like Ray, this can completely break some boss battles, and is absolutely addicting to perform. Ray also boasts some of the best animations in the game, from the way he climbs the monkey bar-type handles in Flying Battery to the flight form itself.
Ray and Mighty are unlocked the first time you play the new Encore Mode, which starts off with a nostalgic run through Sonic 3‘s Angel Island. It’s only the first half of the first act, which seems like an odd decision as I would have loved to play more of it, but it is sufficiently remixed and I’m glad to have seen it included at all. You can finally play Angel Island without having to look at the hideous Sonic 3 Sonic model!
There’s a lot more to Encore Mode than just that, though. Basically, the mode has you play as two characters, just like you can choose to play as Sonic and Tails in Mania Mode (Or Knuckles and Knuckles in & Knuckles Mode…say that five times fast). The difference here is that you can switch to either character at any time by pressing the X/Y/Triangle button, and there are power-up boxes throughout each level that randomize which characters you’re controlling. For instance, you could be playing as Sonic and Mighty, hit a switch power-up, and bam, now you’re Knuckles and Tails. Since each character comes with unique abilities, this helps keep the game fresh, increasing the replay value of a game that was already chock full of it.
Not every character is available right away, though — you have to find most of them. Thankfully, that’s pretty easy to do. It can done through another addition Plus brings: the replacement of the Blue Sphere bonus stages with an all-new pinball stage. For the people who love Blue Sphere bonus stages, I’ll pour one out for you, but I am not one of those people. Before Plus came out I generally actively avoided the bonus stages altogether because it just wasn’t fun — I missed the gumball machine of Sonic 3 or the casino of Sonic 2. Thankfully, Plus‘s pinball stage is actually pretty fun, and can net you some great rewards. Once you unlock all the characters, you can get rings, shields, or extra lives. The pinball machine is rendered a lot like the special stages are, so they’re…not pretty, but charmingly not pretty? It also brings back memories of Sonic Spin-Ball, which is always a plus. Characters can also be found in power-up boxes throughout every level.
Sonic Mania Plus brings tons of changes to the levels themselves, and some of them are almost entirely new. Mirage Saloon, for instance, does away with the plane in the Sonic and Tails version of the level, and gives every character the ability to play the vastly superior Knuckles version.
The last thing worth mentioning is that Sonic Mania Plus brings a proper physical release for the game, which was missing in the original version. The best part about this physical release is that the cover is reversible, turning your game case into a Genesis (or Mega Drive, for the Europeans) blast of nostalgia. It also comes with a 32 page art book, making this a must buy for fans of Sonic, even if you bought the original game.
Seriously, Sonic Mania on its own was an absolute masterpiece, but Sonic Mania Plus manages to improve upon that rock solid foundation in almost every conceivable way. Annoying bugs were fixed, frame rates were smoothed out on the Switch port, levels were remixed and added, and Mighty and Ray are impossibly fun to play. I was skeptical of the DLC for this game as I almost always am with DLC, but I’d gladly give this team five bucks just as a thank you for creating the best Sonic game since 1993. The fact that I’m getting hours upon hours of fresh gameplay out of the game as a result is just gravy.
Not enough can be said about this game. If you had even a passing interest in the Sonic franchise at any point in your life, buy Sonic Mania Plus right now. You absolutely won’t regret it.