Sonic Mania introduces brand new mechanics in its 12 old and new levels that improve upon the original 2D series that many believe has only now been lived up to. That begs the question: Do the bosses hold up? Trick question — Sonic Mania’s bosses don’t have much to live up to.
The video has visual context, but the content below was organized for your reading pleasure.
Content about a new game? Am I hip yet?
I’m gonna take a look at Sonic Mania’s bosses, including the mini-bosses, both the good and the bad.
First, I want to preface this by saying, with bosses, I consider reliability. The reliability of dealing damage safely without being hurt in the process. Not to be confused with being “easy” or the concept of difficulty in general.
Green Hill Zone
Act 1 – DD Wrecker
The first mini-boss is the DD Wrecker. The DD Wrecker is two miniature versions of the Death Egg that swing similarly to Eggman’s wrecking ball from the original Green Hill Zone. Why are Eggman’s massive space stations so small and swinging so carelessly? I don’t know, but it’s a cool nod to the Death Egg nevertheless.
As far as the boss itself, it dies quickly. However, it does add its own unique twists on the checkered ball swinging Eggman.
- The vulnerability alternates.
- It mixes up its moveset by spinning while invulnerable.
- When one Death Egg is destroyed, the last one standing starts bouncing.
DD Wrecker takes the simple Eggman checkered ball fight and adds variety that one can appreciate no matter how fast it dies since it’s the first Zone.
Act 2 – Death Egg Robot
The first boss is the iconic Death Egg Robot from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Quite surprising, really, but.. I guess it was kinda hinted at [Death Egg / Death Egg Robot].
Death Egg Robot isn’t nearly as clunky and slow this time. Elevation is needed to hit true, since hitting below can actually ricochet Sonic into the robot’s arms and so I don’t consider it a reliable option. The stage itself provides the needed elevation while Eggman crushes all within his path. You can also bait his drill arm that provides a platform — obviously more dangerous, but it provides the elevation you need when those Green Hills just aren’t available.
So it’s a risk vs reward type of battle, especially considering Sonic dies if he takes too long. Well, technically both Sonic and Eggman dies, but Sonic is the one who has to repeat history if he fails.
You gotta love how the game pushes you to your death if you try to survive the end of the stage.
Some of these fights are more fun with Knuckles because of his shorter jump, and this is one of them. It’s much easier to jump for the quick hit with Sonic, but with Knuckles, you have to be more cunning and quick on your feet.
Chemical Plant Zone
Act 1 – Chemical Ciller
The Chemical Plant Zone mini-boss takes the shape of Iceball from Sonic 3 and even has the spinning balls around it.
The Chemical Ciller splashes around in the chemicals and proceeds to bounce like one would expect from an Eggman creation. The trick with this mini-boss is to time your jump so that you damage the Ciller through an opening in the spinning chemicals, so it does help prevent spam attacking.
While the vulnerability points make this boss interesting, it simply becomes a waiting game as the Ciller soaks up the juices and bounces in a predictable yet uneventful pattern.
Not to mention it never even makes use of its holes. The droid never shot from below, or shot beams from the bottom two holes, or even better, have chemicals come out in a symphonic dance. It could be magical with the right music.
I’m an unrealistic dreamer.
Or perhaps the visuals were misleading.
Act 2 – Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
I can’t really say much about this boss. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a great game where you try to give the opponent as many Refugees as possible.
They’re called Refugee Beans, but that’s not as funny.
Act 1 – Heavy Gunner
The Heavy Gunner rides inside of a chopper, or rather, hangs off of it. It’s a high-speed battle punctuated with crazy antics that shouldn’t be on a highway, but it definitely gives the boss a more dynamic feel rather than immediately shooting more missiles. This boss is meant to feel more exhilarating because of the idea of battling it out on a stretch of highway, so by all means, punctuating the battle with small segments of what makes Sonic who he is helps with any potential mundanity.
The Heavy Gunner does a great job at telegraphing the missiles. Three are shot out and enough time is given to see the pattern clearly. The safe missile is blue, bulky, and there’s only one, and the unsafe missiles are red and pointy.
Of course the best kind of boss is one that tests the player on skills already obtained, as in we’ve yet to encounter a system like this in the game; however, the missiles’ indication is given in both color AND shape, making it quite clear what the goal is or at least what it could possibly be while maintaining that the only skill you really need to know is jumping and running. Making the blue missile a shape less associated with stabbing wasn’t necessary due to obvious color associations, but it’s a nice aesthetic touch and helps with the fact that the shape itself is less associated with harm.
The Heavy Gunner is a well-executed thematic idea based around Sonic’s concept of speed. Is it well-designed? For what it’s trying to accomplish: Yes. For a consistent challenge that elaborates and expands itself to always put the player on his or her toes: No.
Act 2 – The Weather Globe
The Weather Globe has potential but it just doesn’t work.
Sonic can just hit him eight times before he can do anything. That speaks for itself. It’s almost Sonic 2 Chemical Plant Zone boss bad. To give this boss the benefit of its poor design choice, Knuckles is considered since he can’t reach Eggman.
Let’s step through Weather Man’s forecast.
When it’s sunny: He lowers himself and allows Knuckles to hit him 3 times while providing no challenge.
When there’s lightning: There’s little challenge as you wait around for the next possible opportunity to hit him.
When there’s wind: This one is actually interesting, because while hanging onto the beams is easy, it offers a good, albeit risky way to deal damage to Eggman. Bounce off of Eggman or fall upwards and hit the spikes.
That nod to Sonic’s notoriously bad 25th Anniversary event was a great, unexpected surprise, though.
Flying Battery Zone
Act 1 – The Big Squeeze
The Big Squeeze is gonna squeeeeeeeeeeze out the same boss as Sonic 2 and 3’s Barrier Eggman. But hey, at least this boss doesn’t destroy itself.
Although it might as well, because all you have to do to beat this boss is to stand still, jump occasionally, and wait until the trash lets you reach the boss. The Big Squeeze can’t even manage to build any other baddy. This boss exists because of nostalgia.
Act 2 – Spider Mobile
The Spider Bumper Mayhem Madness, or SBMM, hangs from the air and shoots projectiles that actually requires maneuvering to dodge.
He occasionally falls because of faulty wiring. When he falls, he cannot shoot you and you cannot hurt him, but you can stun him and keep him down. If he’s climbing up or at his peak, you can spin on the columns to push him against the spikes.
So SBMM can be dealt with in a couple different ways, which already makes the boss that much more unique and interesting to fight against, especially for a Sonic game. Bouncing against him will keep him down, yes, but you risk bouncing into a spike.
You’ll occasionally run into walls that are nothing but spikes that increase the challenge so it’s not a simple rinse-and-repeat battle, especially since you are more likely not to risk bouncing into a spike.
So the risk is always there. Whether you’re keeping him down or he’s firing electric balls at you, there’s hardly any down time. Imagine if his giant red bumper didn’t do anything but knock you away. That would reduce its functionality and reduce the boss’ overall depth. The added functionality of keeping him down only works as a mechanic if there’s a risk involved since it doesn’t directly correlate with damaging him; in other words, it’s optional. As long as it doesn’t feel random, of course.
Spin Dashing can knock him into the spikes as well. It doesn’t hurt to have that extra method since it gives an extra option of interacting with the boss without changing the boss’ difficulty. If you want to risk it between those spike walls, why not?
Oh, and you can avoid SBMM’s attacks if you’ve survived the Act with the electric shield. That’s a real good feeling.
Press Garden Zone
Act 1 – Shiver Saw III
Shiver Saw the Third is a pretty basic mini-boss. Stand near green and gold crate, boss hits it, you hit the boss, rinse and repeat.
The introduction is worth talking about, however. When Sonic falls into the pit, Saw Man breaks his arm from one of those boxes, then proceeds to break the standard blue crates to confront you. This immediately teaches the player what to do, and in a safe environment, as I usually preach.
However, what happens once you see this? Well.. like I said before.. rinse-and-repeat. It’s a simple mechanic that can be figured out without getting directly in harm’s way, since he keeps his distance and has an obvious telegraph. So by adding that safe tutorial session, there’s no longer any ah-ha moment.
Of course, this is assuming it’s an interesting enough boss in the first place.
Act 2 – Heavy Shinobi
Heavy Shinobi is an excellent boss for a similar reason to Spider Mobile, and that is variety and a secondary approach to inflicting damage. This time, however, it’s a one-on-one battle. Timing your jumps through exploding ninja stars while trying to knock Shinobi down provides for a rewarding challenge. Sonic becomes frozen if he runs into the Shinobi, leaving Sonic to slide around trying to break out.
That alone would make for an alright boss. Decently fun, even if getting hit by those exploding ninja stars while frozen feels cheap.
Except that’s exactly what was accounted for.
While Sonic is frozen, he cannot be hit by the several thorny spikes flying about. Upon discovering this, if things get too hairy, the player can purposely jump into Shinobi and freeze, and it feels good.
Purposely freezing yourself to escape a tough situation is not only strategic, but it doesn’t negatively affect the boss’ difficulty because of the rate that ninja stars are thrown and the fact that Sonic cannot do anything productive while frozen. You’re using the boss against him, not in the asinine Sonic 3 Lava Reef boss way, but in a more roundabout, strategic way that makes the player feel good about their life decisions in that moment.
Stardust Speedway Zone
Act 1 – Hotaru Hi-Wattsup
Hotaru Hi-Wattsup is a giant Hotaru. They’re essentially lightbulb fireflies and they’re taken from Sonic CD. The first attack phase is taken directly from Sonic CD’s Hotarus that shoot beams at you right before the game’s final boss.
The rest of this mini-boss’ phases are an interesting expansion of how Sonic CD handled the Hotarus. Beyond that, it’s a waiting game. Literally a waiting game. You can stand to the side and never have to move an inch. The patterns are that straightforward and mind-numbingly easy to avoid.
Act 2 – Metal Sonic
Metal Sonic is the first multi-part boss we see in the game. But… the music. It’s the Sonic CD Stardust Speedway Bad Future Japanese Version. That’s quite the mouthful. Tee Lopes managed to take the iconic sound effect from that oldie and transform it into a more intense and overall better track.
Anyway, Metal Sonic is the first multi-part boss we see in the game. Sonic is notorious for having bosses that die easily, end too early, and overall don’t have much of the satisfaction that comes from a well-designed and well-paced boss battle.
So it’s quite refreshing to have a more drawn-out battle against Sonic’s superior.
Metal Sonic continues his tradition of battling Sonic while racing and it feels like a true rivalry battle till the end. (Although, I must admit the addition of the music definitely influences my opinion here.)
Despite Metal Sonic being his abnormally quick self, he does have clear telegraphs — both physical and sound. The stage itself has an exceptional amount of inclines that help guide the player to jump and hopefully help avoid Metal Sonic in the process. Utilizing Sonic’s drop dash definitely helps with the flow.
The last stretch of land leads to a device that Metal Sonic attaches himself to and starts shooting at you while Silver Sonics attack. Utilizing the Silver Sonics to bounce into Metal Sonic is a neat mechanic to work with and works well as a pit stop between racing that isn’t too underwhelming of a challenge. How Silver Sonic jumps into the air across the room is a clear hint at what you need to do without being too in-your-face about it.
A great moment is right after the pit stop. The place explodes and it shifts to you running at high speeds with Metal Sonic trying to take you down again. At the end, we reach a circular path. We start running around a statue of Eggman himself (obviously reminiscent of Sonic CD Stardust Speedway Bad Future), which provides a cool visual effect.
We now have to avoid a wall of spikes instead of Eggman’s laser as we battle it out with Metal Sonic. The only reliable way to damage him is to avoid his telegraphed attacks and then hit him once. Hitting more is possible, but the risk of getting hit by the spike wall is too great.
The only real challenges are learning how to manage damage and speed, and Metal Sonic’s electric balls (unless you’re Tails).
I guess Metal Sonic doesn’t need a huge machine to actually charge the electric balls as we were led to believe.
And of course, they kept the same dash he does in Sonic CD, and thus looks like a looming ghost that lost his day job.
So overall, Metal Sonic’s fight has great presentation and is one of the more pleasant bosses. Although I couldn’t help but wonder how much of a game changer it would have been if the stage was more varied and Metal Sonic’s attacks were more memorable.
Act 1 – I aM tHe BoSs
Hydrocity’s Act 1 boss is Sonic 3’s Doctor Robotnik’s Waterspout and Depth Charge Machine, except this time the tables are turned.
The concept of playing as the boss itself just isn’t realized enough in games. This was quite the shock of a boss to face, but it was a warm welcome. It personally reminded me of the good old days of Lord of the Rings: The Third Age — an RPG with a mode that allowed you to play as the freakin’ Wraiths.
Act 2 – The Laundry Mobile & Whirlpool Copycat
Hydrocity’s Act 2 boss is a two-parter. The first part is a new, original Sonic boss that takes place underwater. The Laundry Mobile chases Sonic down with his fan blades, although ironically enough, those same blades are pushing Sonic away. Eggman becomes closer as we run into blocks and other objects. We hit bombs to knock them into Eggman while making sure he lines up with the bomb’s trajectory. If we don’t, we drown.
So this boss has that sense of urgency from potential drowning while maneuvering through the underwater dangers. It’s also interesting how one of the bombs forces you to hit blocks that bring Eggman closer. It’s as if the game is trying to force that progression of danger, which is a dangerous hand to play for three reasons:
- The player isn’t going to want to go for the bomb since the risk is obvious and it reeks “don’t go for it”, especially since it looks like Eggman will hit you if you do go for it.
- If the player doesn’t go for the bomb, then the game essentially says, “Screw it, you’re gonna drown.” I managed a bubble right when the drowning music stopped.
- If the player is forced to commit such dangerous actions, it doesn’t necessarily feel rewarding, especially since missing said action could be unknowingly devastating. It just becomes trial and error at that point.
The second part is taken directly from Sonic 3 — the Whirlpool Machine. If they were going to take any boss from the previous games, why this one? Because of the nostalgia of spinning around helplessly while waiting to continue the boss battle?
So yes, it’s playing the waiting game. On top of that, the window for actually jumping over Eggman when he charges at you is unreliable — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The only reliable method would be to dash up the wall and jump off, but there’s no possible way of knowing which direction Eggman is going to come down. Luckily enough, it is quite easy to spin dash out of harm’s way.
Mirage Saloon Zone
Act 1 – The Hungry Little Caterkiller
The Uber Caterkiller jumps around as Sonic struggles to make even the slightest contact. The timing has to be spot-on. If you can’t get the timing down… well… the Caterkiller occasionally jumps from left to right and right to left which gives a clear shot of its head.
That’s it. Caterkiller is overall a very simple, waiting-game type of mini-boss that can drag on for too long if the player can’t seem to get that difficult timing down.
Well… unless you happen to get so lucky that the Caterkiller does nothing but jump back and forth, but then it becomes a waste of time.
Knuckles’ miniboss is the Caterkiller on the ground. It throws itself at you in a simple pattern that never varies. It’s quite obvious this was thrown together quickly for Knuckles’ only special stage.
Act 2 – Heavy Magician
The Heavy Magician uses illusions to take the form of Fang the Sniper, Bean the Dynamite, and Bark the Polar Bear. Each form is fan service that utilizes a single, simple attack that presents minimal challenge and lasts for two hits. The boss survives 8 hits, meaning Fang the Sniper gets recycled, which is just lazy.
This is a fight that could have benefited from a second phase since it’s a pretty bare bones fight.
Oil Ocean Zone
Act 1 – Meter Droid
C-3PO throws his wrenches and turns his valves. The wrenches are a simple dodge fest. The green platforms rise when Meter Droid turns the release valve and lead to two safe spots and four spikes. The lack of spike visibility is an obvious design flaw which spoils the entire boss since Droid Man is overall that simple and unintriguing.
Act 2 – Mega Octus
Mega Octus is a combination of Sonic 3’s Lava Reef Zone’s Heat Arms mini-boss and Sonic 2’s Submarine Eggman, down to the T. The pointed tip snake flying over the platform, the laser cannon firing very slowly and three times while scorching the ground, and the tentacles firing at the player. While the combination is unique, the nostalgia hits hard and the boss itself is cumbersome.
The main fault is the oil for three reasons:
- Once Sonic is down there, and you have to be down there if you want to get some hits in, then he’s down there. Getting back up onto solid ground is by chance.
- The oil slows Sonic down more so than his usual sluggish acceleration speed, meaning you become an easy target to the shooting Heat Arms, especially since you have to jump constantly if you don’t want to sink and die instantly.
- If you lose rings, you can’t recollect them since they fall straight through the oil.
Lava Reef Zone
Act 1 – Driller Droid
The Driller Droid isn’t a challenge, but a puzzle. It will follow a reticule on top of Sonic until it falls and digs into the rock, but it can’t be damaged yet. Three times and easy kill. But if the Driller Coid falls onto a spot already drilled, oh man, a spike ball falls from above on a predesignated spot unknown to the player! It’ll either break a wooden platform or bounce right into you. If it bounces, then it’s essentially a penalty almost certain to hit. So it’s a game show mini-boss, just like Egg Dealer!
Act 2 – Heavy Rider
The Heavy Rider is by far the worst designed main boss in the game. Sonic can stand still and the boss jumps over him. All Sonic has to do is wait until Heavy Rider charges and then time his jump — a painful waiting game.
Sonic could jump when Heavy Rider jumps hoping to hit her without running into the swinging spike ball, but that’s messy and unreliable.
Not to mention half of the stage isn’t even available since there’s not enough time to react if the fire spurts itself from above.
Act 2 – Heavy King
Knuckles’ boss isn’t Heavy Rider, thank goodness. A repeat of the Master Emerald incident from Sonic 3 occurs but with the Heavy King instead of Eggman.
The Heavy King charges himself per two attacks via Mecha Sonic’s Master Emerald method. He utilizes the extreme balance of movesets, where one attack is from below, one from above, and one is an all-around, direct approach.
Each attack is telegraphed with a distinct sound effect, since he’ll be off-screen part of the match. The attack from above is an idea centered around hiding underneath the Emeralds, although it proves to be unreliable and trial-and-error based.
The all-around, direct approach is an attack that, at first, proved to be a real challenge as the Heavy King came stomping from Emerald to Emerald and firing his energy balls. However, it ended up proving to be a satisfactory challenge that felt rewarding to successfully dodge, albeit Sonic controls have always been floaty and hard to design good bosses around.
Also, unskippable cutscenes have been a problem fixed long ago, especially if you’re designing a boss with a particular attack that takes practice to dodge but feels rewarding to do so. There’s really no excuse.
Metallic Madness Zone
Act 1 – Piston.. Madness?
We end up fighting Eggman in Act 1: the crushing piston final boss from Sonic 1, except this time there are 5 pistons instead of 4. The concept has always been a good one — Eggman has finally realized he can just crush Sonic.
While the energy balls take unnecessarily forever to charge and thus prove to be a nostalgic annoyance more than anything, the boss itself actually proves to be a well-designed throwback, especially because of the new second phase to the boss.
The second phase is where the pistons crush everything constantly and the energy balls no longer form. The pistons crush one at a time and prove to be a fun challenge where death feels fair.
Act 2 – Gashapandora
The Gashapon machine is nostalgia in a bottle that isn’t even blended. I know I frequently use that term, but I mean, come on, look at that: Sonic 1’s Marble Zone boss, Sonic 2’s first boss, and… Amy?!
You can make these miniatures pop out at whatever rate you please. The miniatures themselves provide no variety and a trivial challenge. After they’re all dead, Eggman flies down slowly, shooting bullets that I didn’t even realize existed when I first beat him, while Sonic pops him right out. Of course, that’s a nice touch, but the boss itself takes an interesting idea and only half-bakes it.
Titanic Monarch Zone
Act 1 – Crimson Tie
Crimson Rye is the same mini-boss as Red Eye from Sonic 3 (second phase changed).
The first phase requires Sonic to watch his footing as he hits the Eye. The rotating orbs move vertically and expand in an attempt to keep Sonic away. It feels fair since standing at the edges guarantees safety.
The second phase is when Crimson Eye breaks out of its cage. This is where the setting really shines — the elevator goes nuts, knocks Eye around, and affects Sonic’s gravity.
Elevator rising? Sonic can’t hit it and must time a jump when the gravity isn’t bearing upon him.
Elevator falling? Sonic can hit it but must watch out as it falls on top of him.
So there’s a balance between both elevator directions that capitalizes on the pros and cons of gravity. Unlike Red Eye, who wasn’t a challenge to avoid.
Crimson Thigh has that feeling of, “Oh crap this elevator shouldn’t be doing this we’re gonna die.” But you won’t. You’re safe in the arms of Sonic.
Act 2 – Heavy Man
Believe it or not, there’s not much to say about the Phantom Egg. It makes him look fat. Nothing new.
Phantom Egg is a waiting game. There’s nothing to do but run around as he bounces and electrifies cords that can be avoided by counting to three. What is interesting, however, is how he teleports you to different Heavies that require you to dodge, albeit poorly executed.
Rocket Man shoots rockets and you can knock a few back that are flying across the screen, but damaging Heavies does nothing in this boss so it’s an illusion.
Shuriken Man spins around and shoots his Sonic CD final boss blades. Stand in the middle and watch the extending arms try to reach you. This is one of those segments that feels like trial and error since you can’t know what he does before he starts rumbling you, especially since you’re placed in a spot where Shuriken Man can whack you if you don’t know what to do.
Magician Woman is plain unfair. Even if you know which hat she’s hiding in (which isn’t difficult), there’s not enough time to move underneath the correct one since Sonic’s acceleration is slow.
Motorcycle Woman is a series of jumps that otherwise stab you. Except that there’s no indication whatsoever of what’s going to happen, so it’s yet another unfair “mini-game”.
The developers have clearly never played WarioWare.
Egg Reverie Zone
With how epic this final spar for the Phantom Ruby is supposed to be, it turned out surprisingly dull and boring. The Heavy King turns into the Phantom King who surrounds himself with energy balls that bounce Sonic back and then fires them one at a time.
Alright, fair, but what isn’t is how absolutely ridiculous Eggman’s machine looks. Eggman obviously stopped trying long ago.
He shoots some kind of laser as well but it’s not even worth mentioning since this boss is so ridiculously easy that he never has the chance to even charge any laser he may or may not have.
Each of the two bosses has 8 hits and can only be hit once before swapping out, so this boss lasts longer than it should. It gets to the point where I’m wondering, “When is this going to end?”
And that’s all she wrote. Or.. I wrote.
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