With Sonic Mania, a modder was put in charge of creating a new Sonic game with official backing. Decades after Sonic the Hedgehog came to PC, the modding scene had shown some incredible creativity, from a version of Sonic 1 where Dr. Robotnik is capturing animals, to another where you go fishing. But one of the more popular mods came in the form of Sonic Megamix, which introduced new characters and moves. Its creator, Christian Whitehead, went on to create the definitive version of Sonic CD, but it's Sonic Mania that got Sega's nod, with the Plus add-on reintroducing some old friends.
It's no secret that Sonic has too many friends, but it's the ones that came with Sonic Mania Plus that really brightened my day. Ray the Flying Squirrel now glides like a fat plumber with a yellow cape, and Mighty the Armadillo drills through rock, while his armour protects him from spikes. This works so well with the level design in the brand new "Encore" mode, which changes up some of the level designs and revamps how lives work. This is on top of a game that's already fantastic fun and well worth checking out if you somehow haven't yet.
If I had one small caveat to recommending Sonic Mania, it's that the levels are still mostly modern reinterpretations of the classic levels. We saw something similar in Sonic Generations, so the impact was lessened. The four levels that are brand new (Studiopolis, Press Garden, Mirage Saloon, and Titanic Monarch) are some of the best designed Sonic levels ever. It's where the game feels the most fresh, and it lets composer Tee Lopes create probably his best music in the game. I could shout the game's praises like a town crier, but I've probably shouted enough.
Instead, I'll pose a question: What would I want to see in a follow-up? Well, more of what the dream team can create - but mostly new levels. We got a taste in Sonic Mania and frankly there's only so far mods can go. But what I'd like from the next 2D Sonic game is some sort of companion app that would get budding coders into making their own Sonic levels. After all, it was the modders who brought Sonic back to form, so maybe having easy-to-use tools could inspire the next generation of them.