Sonic Mania Plus/Encore DLC Review
More Sonic Mania is a good thing, but this add-on misses a few steps.
Last year’s Sonic Mania was a superb return to form for one of gaming’s most enduring icons, and Sega has now delivered even more Sonic in the form of Sonic Mania Plus, which you can get as either DLC – titled Encore – or a physical bundle that includes the main game, the DLC, and a 32-page art book. But before you get fanatical over the prospect of more Sonic Mania, temper your expectations: the new content isn’t all up to the same standard.
[Note: This review has been updated to clarify that the DLC upgrade is called Encore and the Plus bundle includes an art book.]
Sonic Mania Plus/Encore has a couple of major additions. The first involves a pair of vaguely familiar faces from an extremely obscure Japanese arcade game called Segasonic the Hedgehog: Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel. (Mighty was also in Knuckles’ Chaotix.) Like Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, the duo comes with unique abilities: Mighty has a ground-pound that can shatter barriers and bypass certain enemy defenses like bumpers, and his shell renders him invulnerable to spikes while attacking, making some prickly levels and bosses a fair bit easier. Ray has a gliding ability that allows him to soar over long stretches of a stage. It’s a neat ability – but it’s only really useful in more open areas because using it in more cramped, hazard-laden levels like Metallic Madness and Chemical Plant can often be quite challenging.
The other big addition, Encore mode, is honestly rather disappointing. The big change here is that you collect and cycle through the characters, acquiring buddies and swapping them out randomly through monitors in the level and switching off to the next critter in line if your lead dies. It’s a neat concept but flawed in a few ways, as now there are few benefits to collecting and holding onto rings without the rewards of extra lives and feature-unlocking bonus stages. You see, Encore mode has a new Sonic Spinball-flavored bonus stage that replaces the Blue Sphere challenges and yields continues, characters, and shield items as rewards. It’s cute at first but quickly turns into a war against some very irritating physics and obnoxious obstacle placement – I found myself frequently skipping it when I had a full character roster.
Encore mode is rather disappointing.
There’s not much new in terms of zones, either, save for a near-exact transplant of Angel Island Zone 1 from Sonic 3… though Mirage Saloon 1 sort of counts, since that stage for Sonic and Tails was an annoying auto-scroller that’s thankfully been changed. And annoyingly, you can only swap control between the two characters you have on screen even when you have a full cast in reserve, which limits exploration potential. Found a piece of ground for Mighty to burrow through? Well, if you’re stuck with a Knuckles/Ray combo, you’re out of luck!
Also, unless you know the original Sonic Mania stages inside and out, you probably won’t notice many big differences in the levels other than the placement of the special stage rings, which are still a total pain to find. And when you do find them, the special stages start out brutal from the get-go. The special stages in the original Mania Mode (which is still in the game) started to get really, really nasty with bomb, pit, and rough terrain placement around stage 5 or so, and with the stages proving very punishing for even small mistakes, getting a full set of Emeralds for the true final boss encounter meant a lot of grinding. Well, the Encore special stages start at this approximate level of challenge, so be prepared for a lot of frustration since you have to search for them again after every attempt.
There are a couple of other enhancements worth noting, though. Time Overs are a thing of the past, letting you explore the massive levels to your heart’s content. Certain boss fights have thankfully been tweaked to make it easier to understand how to do damage and avoid cheap deaths, which was a big issue with the original. Some boss encounters see very cool and quite significant changes we won’t spoil here. Competition mode now also supports anywhere from two to four players, leading to fast, fun multiplayer races with a roomful of friends.