(Sonic The Hedgehog does not have an ESRB rating.)
Gotta go fast.
That’s the standard go-to when asked to define a Sonic game. “You go fast.” And yes, Sonic is fast, and his games are built around his speed (Blast Processing at it’s finest!). But there is more to the story than “hold right on the D-Pad until you get to the end.” I braved the Choppers in the Green Hill Zone, outran the Marble Zone’s molten inferno, and found my way out of the Labyrinth Zone for this review of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Plot - The Story
Dr. Ivo Robotnik (known in Japan, and more recently in America, as Eggman) has captured your animal buddies and turned them into evil robots to use them to steal the six Chaos Emeralds. Sonic must save his furry friends and stop Robotnik’s nefarious scheme.
Playability – How The Game Feels In Your Hands
The game is, like I said, to some degree designed around Sonic’s speed. Dodging obstacles is hard at high speeds, so solid controls are a must. Luckily, Sega does not fail to deliver on this front: the controls are firm and respond accurately, and the game even features a bit of physics – Sonic moves faster running downhill and slower when heading uphill. Further, he doesn’t immediately start moving from a standing stop, or instantly turn left after you’ve picked up speed heading right. He actually has to slow down a bit before he can start going the other way. This offers a bit of contrast to the “simply holding right until you win” generalization that many people claim the game adheres to. If you’re running at top speed and find yourself jumping off a cliff, you probably won’t have enough time to turn around and get back onto the ledge. Suprisingly you don’t want to blast through most levels at top speed, instead taking care to avoid a bed of spikes or that bouncing fireball. Thankfully, the game’s controls are well geared for both speed and control.
Presentation – How The Game Looks And Sounds
Sonic the Hedgehog really showcases the power of the Sega Genesis. Bright and vibrant worlds accompany colorful and detailed sprites, and the game features parallax scrolling, making objects in the background scroll much slower than objects in the foreground, creating a sense of depth the NES couldn’t produce. Jumping up into the air in the Green Hill Zone and seeing the vast ocean rise up behind you really makes you feel like you’re in Sonic’s world. Alongside the outstanding visuals is a solid audio score; Sonic the Hedgehog really makes use of the (albeit inferior, if we’re comparing to the SNES) sound card. Strong bass notes and crisp highs fill the soundtrack, and the sound effects have real impact. Each stage has it’s own musical track, and it helps sets the mood – Green Hill Zone’s theme is light and happy, seeming almost to encourage you. (“Jump over that rock, and run through that waterfall! You can do it!”) The next stage, Marble Zone, features a track that instills more of a mysterious vibe, with a slower beat and more mellow sounds. This time, the created effect is almost to say, “Sure, you could run under these lavafalls, but have you considered what could be above them?”
Performance – The Sum Of Its Parts
Booting up my Genesis to hear that familiar “Sega” chanted eased my soul. Nostalgia washed over me like a tidal wave of childhood fun and joy. But, that being said, it was purely nostalgic – I hadn’t actually played the game in years. Does Sonic still have enough ‘tude to stand amongst the many other games vying for my attention?
The answer is, emphatically, yes! Sonic the Hedgehog is still fun, and has aged well. The game is still a fair challenge, even more so if you try to collect all of the Chaos Emeralds. Fun platforming challenges, unique boss battles that will keep you on your toes, and the variety of levels and challenges you face makes the game a good experience overall, as long as you don’t start the game with the goal being “run through everything at breakneck speed.”
“Wait, what? This is a Sonic game. Of COURSE you go fast,” I hear you thinking. Yes, Sonic is well known for his fancy footwork, but this game seems to have missed the memo. During the first stage, Green Hill Zone, you can usually win by simply holding right and jumping a lot, completing each level in easily under a minute. However, once you enter the first Act of Stage 2, the Marble Zone, that’s all thrown aside in favor of platforming and puzzles. You still CAN go fast – but this makes everything much harder than if you take your time and tread lightly. If you get past the “This is a Sonic game, I wanna go fast” mentality, you’ll find that it’s still a great game with a lot to offer.
Postlude - Final Thoughts
Sonic has come a long way these last 23 years. We’ve watched him climb the great ladder of victory, basking in the well-deserved glory of such titles as Sonic 2, Sonic & Knuckles, and Sonic Adventure. We’ve seen him faceplant into the gutters with Sonic the Hedgehog (2006, commonly referred to as Sonic ’06), Shadow the Hedgehog, and Sonic Free Riders, to name but a few. And lately, he seems to have dusted himself off and cleaned up his act, with Sonic Generations and the reasonably well-received Sonic: Lost World. Only time will tell what’s in store for our favorite spiny blue hedgehog, but no matter what the future holds, it’s reassuring to know we can always boot up one of Sonic’s classics and still have a good time.