Sonic the Hedgehog on the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive is one of the most iconic games in the industry, as it helped SEGA find footing in the console space against Nintendo’s SNES back in the early 90’s. Sonic is still around today but he had humble origins with his very first adventure.
Sonic was made to be anti-Mario and was built to have speed-focused level designs. It resulted in one of the most iconic gaming characters being created and many love the series to this day.
We covered the series many times on 3WIREL but I feel like today is a great day to dash through his Genesis adventures back-to-back. Lets take a look at the game that started it all and see if the game holds up today as a fun action/platformer.
Lets roll into action and see what Mr. Needlemouse has to offer in his very first adventure!
Sonic’s story is very simple; an evil doctor named Robotnik (called Eggman in Japan) is turning animals into robots and Sonic is out to save his forest friends using his super speed. Sonic’s fight against Robotnik continues through six zones until you reach the ‘Final Zone’ where you take him out for good.
The plot is quite simple but the story is told in smart ways. As you play through the different zones, each one gets progressively more industrial before finally ending in a dangerous factory-like location. It tells the story with theming and that was a nice move on Sonic Team’s part.
The Gameplay & Design
When Sonic sets off on his quest to stop Robotnik, your moveset is very simple. Sonic can run left and right, jump like every platforming hero but he can also roll when near inclines. This builds up speed and allows Sonic to move very quickly through the different zones.
Levels are built in mind with this rolling through, as loops and inclines are built within level design. It leads to really great moments being pulled off like Sonic flying out off a hill after building up a lot of speed and collecting a bunch of rings. Speaking of rings, those are Sonic’s life source as he can withstand any hit if he carries one ring. Collecting 100 gives you an extra life by you want to hold on to 50 of the shiny objects, as you will need them to access the ‘Special Stage’ at the end of every act.
These special stages are very trippy visually but they are built like a maze. Sonic must use his spin jump ability to break crystals blocking his path while avoiding glowing red balls (which will force him to leave the special stage). The special stages aren’t that difficult but they are a fun challenge, more so if you can try and get continues if you get enough points.
Standard stages are called ‘Zones’ and they are split up into three ‘acts’, with the third act having Sonic fight Dr. Robotnik. This structure is nice, as the levels gradually get more difficult, having a good sense of level flow. But the biggest issue with Sonic 1 is the pacing.
Levels do not always push Sonic’s speed and this leads to cases where you have one Zone like Green Hill that has a nice mixture of platforming and speed but then go to Marble Zone that is more focused on basic platforming. There is nothing wrong with this, as you go back to levels that focus on speed and platforming often enough. But there are zones like Labyrinth that can be really annoying with slow moving water sections and speed not being present at all.
To be fair, later Sonic games in the Genesis era have more balanced level design but this is still an issue and should be called out. Level design in Sonic 1 as a result is strange; one moment it is amazing blending speed and platforming but then it goes right back to ‘basic platformer’.
Sonic 1 released on many different consoles after the Genesis and each version offers something different. The Master System/Game Gear version is a completely unique game that has original level designs and zone themes. But other versions are more similar to one another. Sonic 1 saw release on the Saturn through Sonic Jam and it contained the Spin-Dash and easy mode but was still faithful to the original release.
It also saw release on the Dreamcast, GameCube, PS2, Xbox, PS3 and 360 in various combinations. While emulation wasn’t equal across all versions, some releases like the PS2, Xbox and PS3/360 versions of the game supported save states.
Two of the best versions of Sonic 1 can be found on mobile devices, as the 3DS version offers 3D support and save-anywhere support. You can even spin-dash in the 3DS version. The iOS/Android release has playable Tails & Knuckles, the Spin-Dash and wide-screen support. While there are other portable versions, they are either in collections (PSP & DS) or really bad ports that should not be named (GBA).
To this day, Sonic 1 looks fantastic as through detailed level backgrounds and expressive sprite work, Sonic and company look alive on the screen. Animations are also quite detailed, with touches of personality being embedded within the game. One famous example is putting the system down, as Sonic will start looking at the screen wondering ‘Why aren’t you moving?’ with a annoyed expression.
Music is quite catchy, avoiding the Genesis ‘twang’ sound for nice instrumentation with powerful melodies that are still fondly remembered today. Green Hill Zone’s level theme is one of gaming’s most iconic musical tracks, as is the Boss Encounter theme. Both are hallmark examples of Sonic 1’s strong musical score.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5
Sonic 1 is a strong platformer that I can recommend to any fan of 2D platformers. Kickstarting the Blue Hedgehog’s gaming career, it does a lot right despite a few problems with level pacing and some design elements holding it back a bit. It’s on everything at this point, so if you love 2D platformers, consider picking up the 3DS (has the spin-dash) or iOS/Android versions.