Sonic Mania brought back Sega's blue hedgehog in style, fully deserving of applause. Now it's delivering an encore performance as DLC today. Part of the new Sonic Mania Plus re-release, the Encore DLC lets us existing owners ride again. It features two new playable characters but the real main event is the titular Encore Mode. A remixed, re-lit and harder second trip through the game with some new story and surprises. I've played a few stages of it, and have had a ton of fun so far.
I always found Sonic Mania a bit easy. The levels felt designed to feel satisfying to speed through, but seldom challenging. While I'd not describe it as cruel yet, a couple zones in and Encore mode definitely feels like it's ramping up the hurt, featuring fewer rings, more traps and around twice as many enemies.
After a short new level set in Sonic 3's Angel Island Zone, Encore mode introduces a new twist. Once rescued, Ray and Mighty can replace Tails, and control can be swapped between Sonic and his new buddy of choice a button press. If you die with a new buddy, you're warped instantly back to the start of the level with them gone (until you can recover them via bonus stages) and replaced with Tails again. A fancy lives system, in effect.
There's a few extra surprises in there, including some entirely new routes for the new characters to open up. The old pseudo-3D maze bonus game is gone, replaced with a 3D pinball table that scrolls upwards through several sets of flippers. I've not yet managed to reach the top of it, but I'm eager to see if anything lurks up there. So far, Encore mode feels just fresh enough to make a second trip through Mania feel fresh again, and that's just fine by me.
Accompanying the DLC is the last episode of the charming little Sonic Mania Adventures animated series. Better still, Sega have smooshed all five episodes into the video above, so stay a while and watch some cartoons. I promise it's good, even if it does acknowledge (very briefly) that Sonic Forces is part of Mania's continuity.