My relationship with Sonic the Hedgehog is… complicated. I was an SNES child, so my mentor growing up was Mario, but my cousin had a Genesis, and I spent many mornings over there diving into his games. It was the 90’s, and we were told that Sonic was cool, so I was, of course, obediently enamoured.
I don’t recall when I began to sour on the series. Perhaps it was after I got a Genesis of my own in adulthood and dove back into the series, but something was missing. I wound up more taken in by the other games I was experiencing on the system, like the mouth watering Rocket Knight Adventures. Sonic and his other games just didn’t excite. Maybe this was simply because I was so familiar with Sonic already that there was no thrill of discovery. Regardless, I started to look at the series in a more negative light.
Which isn’t to say I wanted to hate it. On the contrary, I wanted nothing more to love it like I used to. I’ve gone back to it countless times in hopes to find that spark that reminds me what’s so genius about the series and why it’s so revered and influential. However, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
Which brings us to this attempt. I am finally going to make an earnest attempt to play through the entire Genesis series, plus Sonic CD. And we’re starting right here with Sonic the Hedgehog.
HOGGING THAT HEDGE
Hold on, let me get my instruction booklet out here. Okay, so that was amusingly 90’s, but also unenlightening. It basically only says that Dr. Robotnik is turning animals into robots, and you need to stop him. I think there’s supposed to be something about collecting Chaos Emeralds, but that’s not really stated anywhere.
What it all comes down to is going from left to right until you hit the end of the level, but the neat thing about Sonic games is that their levels aren’t built in a linear configuration, and instead give you the option of multiple routes as you travel. Some require you to be moving at Sonic’s blast-processing infused speed. Along the way, you hop-and-bop your way through a variety of different robot enemies.
The other wrinkle is that you technically die in one hit, but if you’re carrying any rings on you, you can absorb the hit at the price of sending you precious ring collection flying in all directions. It makes it so you can be a little reckless in speeding ahead, but you still need to be careful, as ending a level with 50 rings in your pockets will put you through a bonus stage with a chance at collecting a Chaos Emerald. What do the Chaos Emeralds do? You need all six to get the good ending. That’s about it.
That’s kind of lame, really. It’s doable, but getting to the end of the game, just to have it taunt you because you didn’t topple six bonus stages is kind of lame. Lamer is that you can’t get into bonus stages on the last level for no real reason, robbing you of additional attempts to collect them all. Yeah, I learned that on my first time through the game, and I’m a bit bitter. Do you know how hard it is to get through one of those last stages with 50 rings still in
Speaking of which, while Sonic is a character known for speed, in this first game, there’s a strong emphasis on careful platforming. There are a lot of open areas where you can let loose and stretch your legs, but being to reckless in some areas can result in frustrating deaths where you get squished or fall into a bottomless pit. It’s a pretty reasonable mix, and the level design does a decent job communicating when you’re allowed to just go full throttle and when you need to be careful.
THE BLUE BLUR
It’s also kind of a tricky games, and it makes no apologies. There’s a certain amount of memorization required to get through some of obstacles, and it doesn’t really give you much of an opportunity to do so. There’s a limited number of continues, or rather, no continues; you have to earn them from the aforementioned bonus levels. Once you start to get better at the bonus levels, it becomes easier to accumulate continues, but that means you don’t have much of a chance starting out.
This at least gives you a reason to stress out, not that Sonic has any shortage of those moments. There are times when you’re stuck without rings, looking around frantically to try and find one that will give you some breathing room. Speaking of breathing room, this is the first game where that horrible drowning music makes its appearance. Those horrible pulsing stabs that make it sound like you’re being murdered by the Jeopardy theme. If nothing else, Sonic knows how to flaunt its challenge.
I AM THE EGGMAN
It’s hard, and probably also pointless to really review Sonic the Hedgehog. If you haven’t played it, you should. It’s not a matter of whether or not it’s a good game, it’s a landmark title that is required reading if you have any hopes of understanding the Bit Wars era. It positioned Sega as a true competitor to Nintendo’s throne and even helped define 90’s pop culture.
As a game, however, it’s fine. It’s pretty good. It’s enjoyable. Its more open level design helps it stand out, but it was largely outdone its predecessors, as well as some other games on the Genesis. It’s kind of unfriendly, especially with its limited continues and hefty requirements to get the true ending, but it’s a fun enough experience to warrant the multiple replays that are required to truly conquer it.
This review was conducted on a Sege Genesis Model 2 (Rev VA3), with an original cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.