So after blasting through Pathologic, I was pretty desperate to try out something a little less mentally and emotionally intense. What better series to approach than the king of blast processing himself,
Sonic the Hedgehog.
Weirdly, in all my years playing video games, I have never owned a Sonic game or even come close to beating one. I never really played Sega growing up so I think that Sonic Heroes on the Gamecube might have been the first one that I ever really properly sat down with, and to say that was a strange introduction is to underplay my reaction as I thought it was absolutely awful. Through university we’d regularly play Shadow the Hedgehog to laugh at how ridiculous the dark and edgy story was but we’d make almost no effort to actually progress through the game. Outside of those two games almost everything I know comes from internet memes or youtube playthroughs by Game Grumps which again, are mostly played to make fun of the series.
So it’s fair to say I didn’t have a massively positive view of Sonic or the series before going into this.
That being said, let it never be claimed that I do not have an open mind so I was interested to see if the original games that catapulted Sonic to stardom had some merit. After all you do hear lots of praise for the Genesis games and Sonic is a globally recognised mascot for a reason, right?
So first thing to note is I was playing this on Nintendo Switch, which I think is the perfect console to play old school games on. The screen is fantastic and the added portability makes such a difference when you can play in bed or sit on the sofa. Maybe it’s just me but something about the handheld mode is perfect for revisiting these old classics as many of the games are broken into bite size chunks by nature of their design so it’s ideal for short bursts rather than sitting down and marathoning.
In fact it would be pretty hard to marathon Sonic 1 as the game is pretty damn short. I think it took me a couple of hours to play through the entire game and that was with me getting a handle on the controls over the first few levels. I think an experienced player could easily clear the whole game in less than an hour and the world record speed run currently stands at 13 minutes…
I’m pretty sure this is meant to be counterbalanced by the game’s surprising level of replayability. In each of the levels you can complete it by simply getting to the end or you can go for the harder option of finishing it with 50 rings which gets you a chance to play a little mini game and get a chaos emerald. There are six in the game and I believe you get a better ending if you do manage to do it.
I didn’t really realise this was a thing until near the end of the game so I think I’ll go back and give this a shot. The individual levels, unlike other platformers like Mario or Megaman, can sometimes be tackled in a variety of different ways and some of the different routes you can take do genuinely make the levels feel really interesting and large. I can definitely see another play through to get all the chaos emeralds being good fun rather than tedious.
The levels themselves are pretty cool and mix up the gameplay quite a lot. There is the expected green leafy “tutorial” level, the lava level and the water level but there are actually quite a few interesting variations. Star Light Zone, for example, is based around lots of ramps and has lots of roller coaster sections that revolve around Sonic blasting along and require quick reflexes to avoid hazards.
There is a fair amount of underwater sections which require you to travel between air bubbles that Sonic needs to help him hold his breath. These sections could be a little frustrating, especially when you’d find a spot where a bubble should emerge but end up dying waiting for it to come out. Luckily they don’t really overstay their welcome as most of the stages are pretty short.
There is also the obligatory boss fight against the evil Dr Robotnik (or is it Eggman?) at the end of each stage and to be honest these are pretty disappointing. I think I beat all but one of them the first time with almost no difficulty. It’s extremely basic pattern recognition and compared to the boss fights in a series like Megaman, they are extremely lacklustre.
Controlling Sonic is probably the strongest part of the game. At first I thought it felt a little slippery which can be the death knell for a platformer but after a few levels I settled into the rhythm of running, jumping and dashing through enemies and obtacles. It seems silly to say about a game from 1991 but the levels of speed you can build up to are genuinely great fun and you feel awesome blasting through the game at full speed, dodging enemies and making jumps.
It’s no wonder that at the time Sonic felt so far ahead of the 8bit platformers people had been playing because everything about it still feels and looks great. The graphics are colourful and the levels feel really big compared to stuff we’d seen on the NES. The music absolutely bops and in particular the Green Hill Zone and Spring Yard Zone songs are absolutely fantastic, using the Genesis sound chip to its full capacity. In fact it’s amazing that more Genesis games don’t look and sound this amazing but it’s to be expected when it’s Sega developing for their own console.
So yeah, Sonic, I think I get it now, or at least I understand the love for the old original 2d games. I am a sucker for old school platformers and as a massive fan of Mario, Megaman and all the Nintendo classics, I think it’s safe to say that Sonic deserves to be in that category based on what I’ve played so far. Luckily for me the other 2d games are also on the switch so I’m pretty sure I’ll be checking them out. As for the 3d games – I think we’ll wait and see how desperate I am for more Sonic after I’ve finished these..