Sonic Mania Review

Sonic Mania

In recent years, Sonic as a franchise has been out of its prime. The last main game was Sonic Lost World, which wasn’t that great. To makes things worse, SEGA then released a new version of the series called Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, which was critically panned. Things started to look up last year in July when two new Sonic titles were announced. One of those titles was Sonic Mania. Similar to the underrated Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Mania was going to bring Sonic back to his Genesis roots. Mania took it one step further than Sonic 4, using the retro art style and sprites. The game saw release this year, and it ended up being a nice nostalgic trip reminding players why they fell in love with the franchise in the first place.

Mania has an impressive 13 zones. Eight of those are remastered while five are new. First, it was an interesting idea to remake old zones and even remix the themes. It’s nice to hop right back into Green Hill Zone and Flying Battery Zone. Stardust Speedway is iconic, but like in Sonic CD, it’s still a little uneven. Oil Ocean was intense, as it forces Sonic to watch out for the smoggy atmosphere that takes over the screen. So, it’s fun seeing some of the old zones back. At the same time however, it would have been great to see more original zones. In a new game, there should have been more original zones. Generations already had the idea of bringing back older zones. But, this isn’t a make it or break it deal as the old zones are still fun to play through, and the new ones are well made. Mirage Saloon Zone is a highlight.

Like the Genesis games, Mania puts an emphasis on speed. The player will be blasting through at many parts, but there’s also careful platforming. Getting squished is easy if one isn’t careful. The last zone, (not counting the secret final zone) Titanic Monarch, has plenty of platforming, forcing the player to slow down and carefully navigate the area. It’s a tough balance the Sonic games have to maintain, because on one hand the player wants to zoom through as the fastest video game character alive. On the other hand, just blasting through would make the game easy and quick. Mania nicely balances sonic-speed gameplay and platforming.

Boss battles in the Sonic series have been more on the challenging side. (Who could forget the Death Egg Robot at the end of Sonic the Hedgehog 2?) It’s the same with Mania; each boss is well designed and provides a quality challenge. One highlight is the encounter with Metal Sonic at the end of Stardust Speedway. It’s fast paced and intense, especially if you’re not able to hold on to your rings. Another highlight is Heavy Magician at the end of Mirage Saloon, where it impersonates classic Sonic characters Fang, Bean, and Bark. Oh, one can’t forget playing a round of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine against Eggman himself at the end of Chemical Plant Zone. Multiplayer is a nice feature, and Mania also has a competition mode, which is always welcome. The soundtrack is fantastic, from the remastered themes to the original ones.

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Overall, Sonic Mania does a stellar job bringing back the original Sonic style of gameplay. It looks and plays like a Genesis title. It’s evident from the start that the developers care a great deal about the franchise. Though there’s too many old zones in comparison to new ones, they are almost all a blast to run through. Acquiring the Chaos Emeralds is a hard endeavor, so those wanting to get the true ending are in for a genuine challenge. If you’ve been absent from the series for awhile or just want some classic Sonic, Mania is worth the purchase. Sonic is finally back with a title worthy of his 25th anniversary, which looks to continue later this year with Sonic Forces.

8.5/10

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

Zelda Breath of the Wild

When one hears the name “Zelda,” one thinks of a princess, adventure, and dungeons. There’s also another word, and that’s “quality.” Since its inception in 1986, The Legend of Zelda has cemented itself as one of the greatest in the adventure platformer genre. Every main 3D console game has received critical appraise, from Ocarina of Time to Skyward Sword. The small console ones have too been well liked. The latest game, Breath of the Wild, had been highly anticipated since its unveiling. It looked to be the first game in a long time to shake up the core gameplay. Sure, every game has its unique gimmick, but Breath of the Wild looked to overhaul a lot of key things. It’s one of the most ambitious games Nintendo has ever produced, and one of the company’s finest.

When talking about some of the core concepts about Breath of the Wild, Director Eiji Aonuma in an interview with The Verge, stated that “…from the very start of Breath of the Wild, we wanted to, and set out to, create a world that wasn’t only vast, but where everything was connected. So you really could freely explore the world, without these barriers or gaps imposed.” These comments sum up what makes Breath of the Wild unique among Zelda titles: the vast open world. It takes Termina Field from Majora’s Mask to another level. It is such a great concept: if you see something in the distance, you can actually run to it and climb it; it’s not just decoration for the background. One can spend hours running around the map. In fact, it’s possible to not even explore the whole thing if the player is just set on following the core narrative. Nintendo succeeded in delivering a world that encourages players to check every inch of.

The Zelda series is known for its epic storylines, and Breath of the Wild continues in like manner. Hyrule was ravaged by “Calamity Ganon” 100 years ago, and Link has finally awakened from his slumber. Now Link has to take back the four Divine Beasts, eventually battling Ganon and freeing Princess Zelda from her burden of sealing the villain at Hyrule Castle. It’s a similar storyline, but also different and engages the player from beginning to end. It really feels like you’re part of something big as you hear the backstory from Impa early in the game.

After talking to Impa, the core part of the game begins: going to different areas and freeing the Divine Beasts from Ganon’s control. It’s smart how Nintendo did this; each area is placed far away from each other on the map. This forces the player to explore Hyrule. So, if players for some reason had no intention of exploring, they would still get much sightseeing.

As for knowing where to go, there are yellow indicators pointing Link to his destination. This was welcome, because sometimes in Zelda it can get a bit confusing where to go next. Breath of the Wild is more straightforward than Ocarina of Time. However, it’s not linear like a Crash Bandicoot level. Instead, Breath of the Wild almost perfectly balances having the player figure out what to do and being straightforward. Yes, there is an indicator on the map of where to go. But it’s up to the player to maneuver around obstacles and plan how to traverse tall mountains. The only part I was confused about was getting to Goron City. Link would soon heat up upon entry without the right clothes. I would be burning up looking for the shop at the city, where I would purchase the right attire to actually be able to live in the area. That worked, but it didn’t feel like that’s what the game wanted the player to do. Or maybe it was. Either way, getting to the different areas tested the player’s ability to plan on the go.

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The dungeons are of shorter length than the average Zelda dungeon. This is a good thing, because it can take awhile, almost 40 minutes even, to get to the next area. If the dungeons were super long as well, that would have been too much. The dungeons instead are just the perfect length. The length also doesn’t affect the level of brainstorming players must do in order to complete the dungeons. Zelda games are known for its dungeons and forcing players to consider how to use the tools at their disposal. Each dungeon in Breath of the Wild makes the player think, and every time a breakthrough would occur, it was a truly happy moment.

There’s a boss at the end of every main dungeon. Breath of the Wild isn’t the easiest game out there, and the bosses are evident of that. They are genuinely challenging. (One won’t forget facing Waterblight Ganon.) Arrows are a key aspect in facing these bosses, and that’s another thing making this Zelda game unique among other entries. Link can find arrows out in the open (of course, he can also purchase them) and also weapons. These weapons, from a woodcutter’s axe to tree branch, eventually break. It would be a shame to have everything break or run out in the middle of a boss battle; that’s why players want to stock up and carefully use different weapons throughout the game. This adds another layer of strategy as players trek through the 30 hour story.

As for Link himself, he plays similarly to previous incarnations. The biggest difference is that he can now jump. It’s a little strange to see him jump after all these years. (Then again, he’s always been able to jump in Super Smash Bros.) Another change is that Link has unlimited access to bombs, and can even stop some things from moving. These are nicely implemented for puzzles and boss fights. On the giant map there are many mini-dungeons called Shrines, which also serve as checkpoints Link can warp to. These are great because running back and fourth across the map would grow tiresome. Entering and completing these mini-dungeons are optional, but doing so will eventually give Link more stamina and hearts. Those things are important, so they’re a good incentive for players to complete the Shrines. Another new feature is cooking food. There’s a lot of food in the open to replenish hearts, and cooking adds special benefits. It’s an interesting feature that, once again, adds a layer of strategy.

The final boss battle is epic and provides a satisfying finale. The award to greatest Ganon boss fight still belongs to Twilight Princess, but Breath of the Wild’s was well done as well. (The final Light Arrow shot won’t soon be forgotten.) Actually getting to Ganon is one of the most well done parts of the game. Getting to the top of a ravaged Hyrule Castle with some of the classic Zelda theme playing was intense. Unfortunately, acquiring the Master Sword is optional. Characters make mention of it, but it’s a side quest. It should have been a main quest because completing the game without it just doesn’t feel right.

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Overall, Breath of the Wild lives up to its grand presentation. The open world is one of the best, encouraging players to run around and see what they can find. The story is enthralling and full of memorable characters. The soundtrack is also great. There are many variations on the Zelda formula, but they never feel out of place or different just to be different. That’s because there’s a level of quality and class to the gameplay and story, as one would expect from a Zelda title. Link’s mission to take back Hyrule from Ganon is epic. Breath of the Wild makes the case for game of the year. Though, with Super Mario Odyssey coming out in October, Breath of the Wild is going to have big competition.

10/10