Reviewing Sonic’s History Part 1: The ’90s
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Sonic’s outings have ranged from superb to ‘avoid at all costs’. With such an eclectic career behind him, and with two upcoming Sonic games approaching release during this year, it’s time to look back at just some of the spiny hero’s adventures, and discuss briefly what made each one the classic (or not so classic) it is considered to be today. Spanning over a twenty five year history, it is no surprise that such a humongous number of games flaunt the Sonic brand. As a result, a certain criteria has been established in order to streamline the quantity of games selected for this list. Based on said criteria, the games that will not be discussed are:
-Handheld titles, such as Sonic Advance, Sonic Rush and Sonic Rivals.
-Spinoff titles, such as Sonic the Fighters, Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic Boom.
With this in mind, let’s race forward and begin our list with the 1991 hit that started it all…
Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)
Sonic the Hedgehog is far from close to the perfect 2D formula that its sequels achieve, but still boasts memorable stages, boss battles, and music. From the funky quirkiness of Spring Yard Zone, to the mysteriously beautiful Starlight Zone, there is plenty to enjoy in Sonic’s first outing. It may lack the stellar set pieces and impressive scope of its sequels, but Sonic the Hedgehog certainly succeeds in priming the blue blur for future greatness.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)
The sequel to Sonic’s first adventure brings along a handful of brand new features which have since become franchise staples. From Sonic’s spin dash, to his trusty sidekick Miles “Tails” Prower, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 takes everything that was a hit about Sonic the Hedgehog and expands upon it greatly. Flaunting bigger and better stages and boss battles (including Casino Night Zone, which serves as a masterclass in how to implement fun and intelligently designed gimmicks into gameplay), and with a soundtrack even more infectiously catchy than its predecessor, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 cemented Sonic as a gaming icon for years to come upon its release.
Sonic CD (1993)
Released for SEGA’s Mega-CD (a disc-based add-on to the Genesis/Mega Drive that was eventually considered a failure due to its high price tag and limited library of games), Sonic CD takes advantage of the features that its cartridge counterparts cannot. Players are treated to fully animated opening and closing cutscenes, along with a soundtrack of higher fidelity than the 16-bit norm of its time. Sadly, these features are nothing more than pleasant novelties, and they unfortunately fail to alleviate Sonic CD‘s shortcomings within the areas that truly count. It features sloppy level design, gimmick oriented boss battles, and a soundtrack boasting only the occasional moment of greatness (on that note, the Japanese/European soundtrack is certainly stronger than the American one). On top of this, Sonic CD‘s time travel mechanic does nothing to change the way that you play the game itself, and instead confines itself to implementing an alteration within the stage which feels primarily cosmetic. As a result, it is a wasted feature that more than likely required a lot of hard work from the development team, all for underwhelming results. Sonic CD is not a bad game per say, but it doesn’t come at all close to the extremely high bar set by the previously released Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles (1994)
Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and its direct counterpart Sonic & Knuckles, are the two games that truly perfect Sonic’s 2D platforming gameplay formula. For naysayers of the hedgehog’s outings, these will be the two experiences to shatter your opinions. Full to the brim with everything that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 already achieved so well (excellent stages, boss battles and music), they make the additions of new character Knuckles, a save game feature, and one of the most incredibly tense and enjoyable special stages ever created, in the form of Blue Sphere. Finally, they offer the ability to play as three different characters (each of which features unique abilities differing from one another), and an ahead of its time lock on cartridge system that allows for the two games in question to be combined, unlocking expanded features and merging the two adventures together into one seamless experience. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles really are the best it gets when it comes to not only Sonic’s 2D platforming, but 2D platforming as a whole.
Sonic 3D Blast (1996)
Arguably the first entry within the mainline Sonic franchise that truly divides fans regarding its quality, Sonic 3D Blast is an odd beast. Its gimmick-themed gameplay is based around defeating badniks in order to collect flickies (small animals) that they leave behind. After depositing five of them into a golden hoop, you may proceed to the next area of the stage. This formula becomes monotonously repetitive and tedious very quickly, and much of the rest of the game is weighed down under a sea of clunky controls and peculiar pseudo-3D visuals. Despite this, Sonic 3D Blast at least succeeds in its excellent boss battles, music (the sublime composition of Diamond Dust Zone is deserving of a special mention), and special stages. For these reasons, it cannot be considered a complete misfire.
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE