Sonic Mania Review

Version Reviewed: Xbox One

In the opening cinematic to Sonic Mania, a countdown timer goes from 1 to 2 to 3 then Knuckles before arriving on Mania. Sonic 4 (both episodes), the plethora of 3D adventures and werewolves are left at the door. The question everyone wants to know upon this games’ release; is this really the successor to the evangelised – by some – Megadrive games?

Upon booting up Sonic Mania, the nostalgia strings of your heart are pulled. The game, which begins the only way it can, follows Sonic (with or without twin-tailed sidekick) hunting Dr. Robotnik across a mix of newly created zones – some based on themes from earlier games. Hydro City- one of my most despised Zones from Sonic 3 – is present yet feels completely different from its 16 bit ancestor. As with all of the ‘remixed’ zones there are familiar traps, architecture and enemy placement which rekindle forgotten memories of yesteryear. Each feels fresh and exciting whilst have a warm sense of happy familiarity. 

The moment to moment gameplay is exceptional for two reasons. Firstly, the game understands what makes Sonic fun. When uncertain of the road ahead the blue blur throws caution into the wind and speeds towards adventure whilst never feeling on-rails. Secondly, the game removes many of the grievances of past Sonic games. Our hero’s struggles in 3D aside, the Megadrive games have not aged well – particularly the pace and structure of the levels. Sonic Mania rectifies this by ironically taking a few lessons from the Mario school of game design. In the same way the environments in Mario guide and teach you the rules of the world, Mania’s subtle design choices do the same. In one zone, Sonic can be frozen in an ice cube which can be shaken off with a few presses of the jump button or moving. Instinctive, yet a puzzle in this level requires you to use the ice to forge ahead. There’s a cleverness and confidence in the level design which has been missing from many of Sonic’s 21st Century outings. Plus it excels in one area more than others.

Without spoiling the best parts of this game, the boss fights are inspired. Fan favourites – and we mean hardcore fans’ – return in unexpected places with possibly the most creative, smile-spreading end of level battles ever created. To give examples would rob you of this but trust us; they are good! As with Sonic 3 and Knuckles, each act has a boss. Each level has you sat on the edge of your seat waiting to see what concoction of terror awaits; like a furry, sugar coated My Little Pony/Saw mash up.

As with Sonic 3 and Knuckles, players can choose different combinations of the three (best) Sonic heroes to play as. The game plays homage to the above games’ special stages and the ‘UFO’ style stages from Sonic CD. These help to vary the gameplay though it is always welcome to return to the main body of the game. Also, if you remember the Sky Chase Zone from Sonic 2 or Sonic Adventure, a brief homage is made in the Mirage Saloon Zone. Again it looks like we remember Sonic 2 but upon closer inspection extra details and better animations are present. In this review, I’ve tried to steer clear of comparisons with previous Sonic games but this is perhaps unavoidable; this is the best Sonic game to play today. 

Every corner of this game oozes with the developers’ love and passion for this series. Despite the 16 bit stylings, the game is anything but. Like Shovel Knight, the animations are detailed and sleek. The original music and backgrounds have added layers which pop in 2017 HD. Added visual effects like fallen rings hurtling in and out of the screen add to the high production values in this game. Having recently revisited Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Xbox 360/One, PC and Nintendo DS, it is worth identifying that Mania’s controls are tighter than its predecessors. No death feels unfair – another stark difference to the Megadrive games. Again akin to Shovel Knight, the addition of further remixed stages to play through as Knuckles adds value to what is already a substantial package – the game is much bigger than Sonic 3 FYI…

Having spent much of 1993 reading Sonic the Comic or Mean Machines SEGA gawping at screenshots of Sonic 3, I remember scraping enough money through odd jobs to buy the game on its release. The same buzz of popping that game into my Megadrive is felt when loading up Sonic Mania. It understands why that era of gaming is special. There is something about Sonic which appeals to the child at heart. Playing Mania for review with my 1 year old son, he too was mesmerised by every loop, spin and dash. Sonic Mania is a masterpiece which is successful in every goal it has set out to achieve. It is the Sonic 4 fans have dreamt of for decades. In the same way many DC fans say Batman V Superman is the perfect film for them, there is no better reward for Sonic-ites hungry to see his return to glory. And crucially, at under £20, it is outstanding value for money. Highly, highly recommended. If you owned a Megadrive, this game is essential! 

Netflix

Castlevania the (albeit brief) Netflix series is fantastic. My interest in the franchise has been tepid to put a label on it but last weekend I took a leap of faith (drops breadcrumb) and decided to watch episode 1. This is the kind of thoughtful, takes-itself-seriously video content that games have been crying out for. So, which other games are crying out for streaming serialisation; either animated or live action?

Bioshock – Already a movie project which mirrors Rapture and Columbia’s descent into chaos – Bioshock as a franchise has so much potential. “There’s always a man and there’s always a city” we learn at the end of the appropriately named Bioshock Infinite. Those familiar with Once Upon a Time may see the analogue in a character like Emma with Booker – both fish out of water trying to grasp the rules of the new worlds they find theirselves in. Undoubtably this would have to be an animated production due to the fantastical settings but if nothing else it might give us chance for a new Bioshock game. 

Fallout – A post apocalyptic setting would too demand animation over live action and there is lots of scope for an engaging, mature story. The standard ‘man out of time’ would also be relevent here as the viewer would learn about the world along with the character. Although it would definitely need to be for grown ups only. The series could follow the same structure of the Pokemon anime; loosely tracing the journey in the games. Flashbacks optional.

Metal Gear – Despite cricism by some fans, The Phantom Pain did the right thing by reducing the focus on story. The convoluted, complicated storyline of Metal Gear requires research and note taking to even scratch the surface. Perhaps it is time to collate these and produce it as a coherent (as much as possible) narrative. 

For many, the series truly began with the PS1 classic Metal Gear Solid however this game had many, many callbacks, nods and winks to the original 8bit games. The relationship between the ‘modern’ Metal Gear storyline and the era Big Boss was more prominent lends itself to an Arrow style structure. Season 1 could be Solid Snake on Shadow Moses with flashbacks to Zanzibar – showing how the lessons he learned in the latter impact on the former. Potentially – due to the slower paced story telling – this could be live action. All you would need is an abandoned industrial plant of some kind, a bandana and a gimp mask…

The Legend of Zelda – Recently rumoured to be in existence, this series is ripe for an adaptation. Since the so-90s-it-hurt Super Mario Bros movie, Nintendo has been reluctant to outsource its AAA characters – especially in other forms of media. The recent masterpiece Breath of the Wild is perfect for this with much more story content than previous Zelda games. Time travel is an interesting concept retconned into the series and the multiple timelines would be a unique rabbit warren to tumble down later in the series. Perhaps ‘our’ Link and Zelda could end up in different Hyrules; meeting their counterparts. This could lead to some Toy Story style Buzz meets Buzz shenanigans. Yes, Link may have to speak (note: he does actually speak in most of the games but you just don’t hear it). Either live action or animation is possible too. Hopefully the success of as well as respect shown to Castlevania will give Nintendo the confidence to give us what we want.

Speaking of leaps of faith (picks up breadcrumb), an Assassin’s Creed series is on the way in addition to Season 2 (which is longer!) of Castlevania. The games-to-series trend has started strongly. Let’s see it done justice now! 

The Top 10 Games 2017

Back in the N64 era, I noticed my games collection was slightly imbalanced. The vast majority of games on my shelf were football titles. My teenage self set the target of addressing the balance and making sure I had – in loose terms – one of each genre. What resulted was a mini-golden age of gaming. I could only have one shooter (obviously Goldeneye), one football game etc etc and through trading in and careful curation I made sure I only had the cream of the crop. I have 188 games on my PlayStation 4 through carried over purchases from PlayStation 3 and Vita, PlayStation Plus and hoarding in flash sales. In the download era it would be impossible to purge these games from my account but it got me thinking; what are the best games to play today? Top ten/hundred lists usually start getting predictable near the top, dominated by the likes of Mario 64. So, we are aiming to do something different. What are the best games to play in 2017? Nostalgic feelings and historical impact (we’ve got another list for that) on the industry are not applicable. Yes, San Andreas was important in 2004 but we’ve come a long way since then. Genres are defined by pennilessdads and we’ve also ignored sports titles as we felt that was too broad a heading. We aim to update this list at least 3 times a year. Some genres are unrepresented – sorry in advance!

2D era inspired game – Shovel Knight

The last ten years has seen a resurgence of 2D games and the tip of the spear is Shovel Knight. Riffing on sooo many games of yesteryear, this polished platform – which now has 3 campaigns – is great value. We await to see if August’s Sonic Mania can challenge Shovel Knight’s title. 

First person shooter – Destiny

Since 2014, the question I have asked when playing every game with a hand and a gun is: does it feel like Destiny? This is testament to the quality of Bungie’s epic online playground. As the journey of the original Destiny comes to an end, there’s one last chance to experience this great, genre defining experience. Will Destiny 2 overthrow it?

Racing – Mario Kart 8

Once upon a time, racing games like SEGA Rally, Daytona, Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer were tentpoles of console line ups. These days ‘serious’ racers are no longer at the forefront. The Forza series is arguably the best of these but the Switch’s recent deluxe version of Mario Kart 8 conquers all.

Story based action game – The Last of Us Remastered

There are so many games which could feature here. However, The Last of Us is a standout title and perhaps the game which elevated Naughty Dog to the highest tier of games designers – keeping company with the creme de la creme of games developers.  

3D collectathon platformer – Super Mario Galaxy 2

Following last gen’s trend of semi-sequels, an uncharacteristic Nintendo sequel to the fantastic Super Mario Galaxy is a varied collection of creative challenges which will change the way you think of a Mario game. Yes, Super Mario Odyssey will probably knock Galaxy 2 off its perch but we’ll have to wait until October for that. 

Crafting game – Fallout 4

Controversy! Minecraft inspired this element in many, many games but Fallout 4 has a – much maligned- base crafting feature which gives a nice change of pace with the rest of the game. Every settlement in Fallout 4 I come across now has a much refined plan to create an armoured, impervious foretress (concrete block the perimeter, guns intermittently around, robot protectors). A great aside to a great game which has unfair criticism in my humble opinion. 

High fantasy adventure – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It was a three horse race between this, Skyrim and Witcher 3. BotW changes everything. This is as close to a perfect game as there has ever been. The end. 

Puzzle – Puyo Puyo Tetris

Harking back to the Gameboy game which catapulted tetrominoes into popular culture, this quirky crossover has a great array of modes and a manic story mode. Multiplayer puzzling has never been as much fun. An honourable mention would be The Witness. 

Turn based role playing – Persona 5

Final Fantasy 13 ushered in a lapse in quality of Square Enix’s epic series. Persona saw the gap at the top and grasped the opportunity. The latest Persona has caught public opinion dominating conversations in and around various games podcasts. Style and substance combined make this the current pinnacle of JRPGs. 

Horror – Until Dawn

The 32bit era sewed the seeds of survival horror with Resident Evil, refining it the point of (then) perfection in the fourth iteration in the next generation. Between 2005 and 2015 though, the genre suffered as the balance between action and scares became more one than the other (clue: it’s not horror). 

Enter Until Dawn. Recently available on PS Plus as one of the free games on PS4, this seemingly by the numbers teen horror movie matters so much more when you’re calling the shots. Within five minutes of starting, you’re already wishing one of the douchebags dead. A great twist on the Telltale style experience and great for couch co-op. 

Mike drop…

If you disagree, correct us in the comments on the site or on Twitter @pennilessdads

Top 5 Ways Nintendo Should Use Amiibo

We shouldn’t be surprised really that Nintendo would stand to be the (likely) survivor of the toys to life boom. The vanishing act of more sophisticated NFC toys/games like Disney Infinity disappointed many including us here at pennilessdads. Despite their endurance, Nintendo’s amiibo have been integrated quite passively. Their initial features linked to Smash Bros – training a character and saving to the figure – seem to be a high point. Subsequent games have not gone beyond cosmetic features. One criticism of Nintendo has been the rumours surrounding the Metroid 2 remake on 3DS; pay-walling a hard mode behind amiibo. 

On one hand, amiibo are great figures with fun yet forgettable in-game features whereas on the other, they are lumps of plastic bumping the price of downloadable expansions up. How could Nintendo moving forward integrate amiibo more effectively and make them more attractive to consumers? 

1. Super Mario 64 DS HD Remake

Anyone remember what set this apart from the N64 original? You start the game as Yoshi but you eventually unlock Wario, Luigi and – of course Mario – to explore the castle. Each character had slight variations in power, speed and abilities etc. Your Mario series amiibo could drop the character into the game and give you a fresh perspective on a game which has been explored to the nth degree. Perhaps new challenges could be added for each of the compatible amiibo.

2. Pokemon Stadium Switch Edition

There are already specific Pokemon amiibo but a figure for all however-many-hundred there are is unrealistic to purchase (“challenge accepted!”). Cards could be an option but what we’re interested in is a simple Pokeball or Pokemon trainer amiibo. Train your squad up in the base game, write to the amiibo from it or Pokemon Bank then load up to Stadium on Switch. High pitched “I choose you!” battle cries are optional.

3. Hyrule Warriors 2

Breath of the Wild has changed everything. The next Zelda game is going to have a lot of weight to carry. Why not sidestep the main series and release a follow up to the (excellent) Wii U and (fairly stuttery) 3DS game? Simple concept; when your chosen hero falls in battle, tap an amiibo to replace them. The original game already features multiple Links and a wide supporting cast. The RPG and weapon customisation elements could also be saved to the toy. 

4. Amiitopia

During the 3DS’ unexpected stay of execution, a flurry of games have turned the event into a party instead of a funeral. Miitopia, Metroid and new Pokemon sequels should keep Nintendo’s highly successful console alive for a bit longer. Miitopia – demo available on eshop btw – casts your long forgotten Miis in traditional RPG character types. Simply swap out the eclectic cast of Miis to amiibo. Need a Mage character? <taps Yarn Yoshi amiibo> There we go! Need an evil Overlord? <taps Luigi amiibo> You get the picture! 

5. Nintendoland 2

Instead of a Mario or Toad imitating Mii, tap your amiibo and Chase Mii (Chase Amiibo?) becomes a bit more interesting. Yes, the asymmetrical gameplay of the Wii U version would be compromised but I’m sure Nintendo could find a workaround – like the ‘essential’ second screen in Splatoon. Let every character tap a different amiibo character and off they go. Imagine how much life could be in this game if Bayonetta, Cloud Strife and a Bokoblin were chasing Shovel Knight…Add in new worlds based on the likes of Splatoon and Pokemon etc and a forgotten celebration of Nintendo could return to life.

Honourable mention:

Any multiplayer game needs to have F-Zero GX/AX style functionality. In 2003 – 14 years ago – you could unlock customisable parts for your ship, save your amazing, bespoke creation to a GCN memory card then upload it to an arcade cabinet. Arms, Splatoon and Mario Kart all need this feature as standard.

To conclude, Nintendo has sold nearly 5 million Switch consoles. Amiibo sales in the same time are less than 2 million. Availability has been an issue but the useful-ness of these figures is perhaps are more pressing one. Will amiibo evolve or will they follow LEGO Dimensions and Disney Infinity to the bargain bin? 

Follow us on Twitter @pennilessdads

Mario Allstars 2017

How awesome would a Mario collection be? In lieu of Virtual Console, how about sticking everything on one cart? Or as AllStar-style collections?

Super Mario Allstars Vol 1

  1. Mario Bros
  2. Super Mario Bros
  3. Super Mario Bros. Lost Levels
  4. Super Mario Bros 2
  5. Super Mario Bros 3 
  6. Super Mario World
  7. Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2
  8. Super Mario Land
  9. Super Mario Land 2
  10. Super Mario RPG

Super Mario Allstars Vol 2

  1. New Super Mario Bros
  2. New Super Mario Bros 2
  3. New Super Mario Bros Wii
  4. New Super Mario Bros U
  5. Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga
  6. Mario and Luigi Partners in Time
  7. Mario and Luigi Bowser’s Inside Story
  8. Mario and Luigi Dream Team

Super Mario Allstars Vol 3

  1. Paper Mario
  2. Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door
  3. Super Paper Mario
  4. Paper Mario Sticker Star
  5. Paper Mario Colour Splash

Super Mario Allstars Vol 4

  1. Super Mario 64
  2. Super Mario Sunshine
  3. Super Mario Galaxy
  4. Super Mario Galaxy 2
  5. Super Mario 3D Land
  6. Super Mario 3D World

Each game in HD with leaderboard, online multiplayer (when applicable) please! 

Top 10 GameCube games we want remade in HD on Switch

  1. Super Mario Sunshine
  2. F-Zero GX
  3. Luigi’s Mansion
  4. Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door
  5. Metal Gear Solid the Twin Snakes
  6. Viewtiful Joe
  7. Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg
  8. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
  9. Zelda: Four Swords
  10. Mario Kart Double Dash

Honourable mentions:

  • Zelda: Wind Waker (give us the HD Wii U version)
  • Resident Evil 4
  • Metroid Prime 1+2 (widescreen as in Wii versions)
  • Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2 and 3

Switching Lanes

More and more devs are Switching (shnarf!) to Nintendo’s new console. Rocket League, FIFA 18 and rumours of Overwatch have raised optimism for the home/handheld hybrid. But what is missing from Switch’s lineup and what would elevate it to truly compete with Xbox One and PlayStation 4?

Injustice 2

The sequel to Nether-realm’s DC toy box fighter was released earlier this year on the two main home consoles. It featured deep customisation options as well as -like the original – a wacky, original story. Injustice 1 was released slightly down-scaled on PS Vita so there is no reason the sequel couldn’t be ported to Switch. With Arms, Ultra Street Fighter 2 and a possible Smash game, Switch could become the place for grappling fans. Arms sold more in its first week than the latest Tekken and Street Fighter did on X1 or PS4…

Crash Bandicoot N’Sane Trilogy

Recently released as an ambiguous PS4 ‘exclusive’, Crash would be at home on Nintendo’s portable paradise. The game updates the graphics and some gameplay elements to drag the bandicoot into the 21st Century. Reviewing well on PS4, a system with this, Yooka-Laylee and Mario Odyssey would rubber stamp the mini-renaissance of collect-a-thon platformers. Now we just need Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg!

Speaking of which…

Sonic Classic Collection

Last year, we got this as a humble bundle on PC for about £11. It included Sonic 1, 2, 3, Sonic & Knuckles (all with lock on compatibility), Sonic Spinball, Dr. Robotnik’s (not Eggman…) Mean Bean Machine and Sonic 3D from the Megadrive/Genesis. Also: Sonic CD, Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Lost World, Sonic Generations, Sonic and SEGA Allstars Racing and its sequel. Missing in action were the Wii Sonic games: Secret Rings, Black Knight, Colours and the 2006 360/PS3 garbage truck on fire Sonic the Hedgehog. Put them all together though and there’s a whole lotta game there. Put it in the £30-£40 bracket and we’d be sold!

Metal Gear Solid

In the Wii era, I was convinced there was going to be a Twin Snakes-engine-with-waggle-controls remake of Metal Gear (Solid Snake v Big Boss). The HD collection from last generation was a success – particularly on PS3 where you could play all the games in the series. Konami likes money – as we know – so a Switch MGS would be an easy way to make more of it. A port of Phantom Pain (it came out on PS3 and X360 remember), a HD bundle or something new would all be welcome to play at home or on the go.

Destiny

Why can’t Destiny work on Switch? The game can be scaled as we have seen with the PC and X1X versions. Even if Switch players had to play on their own servers or had limited functionality it would be a success. Destiny takes over lives and this can be a problem in a busy household where tv rights are at a premium. We’d even take a complementary experience to play alongside the full-fat versions elsewhere. With Microsoft’s willingness to work alongside Nintendo (Minecraft, cross platform play) you never know. We might be striking and raiding in the living room before heading out to patrol missions at the bus stop.

Which games would you like to see on Switch?