Sonic the Hedgehog is Sega’s mascot answer to Super Mario. A red clad plumber in blue overalls and Sega’s blue hedgehog with red shoes. They’re almost one in the same. Where Mario has stayed in a realm of punching boxes and exploring down pipes, Sonic races through lush, beautiful environments with a few things found off the beaten path here and there.
Each zone consists of three acts and they’re all big and brightly colored. It made the game really stand out from the pack of other 2D side-scrolling platformers. Green hills of the aptly named Green Hill Zone. Cool purples with red hot lava of the mostly underground Marble Zone. Reds and glittering gold in the Spring Zone. Underwater blues and solid yellows in the Labyrinth Zone. Everything from the backgrounds the detailed sprites and animations really stick out and make it feel like a great game. These acts are so big, you’ll pass through several checkpoints. There’s also a lot of interactivity with each level. Crumbling platforms, breakable rocks, corks that float in water, switches to make things open and so on.
At the end of three acts, you’ll fight Dr. Robotnik again and again. He flies in some sort of hover pod that is different for every boss fight. The first battle has a singing wrecking ball. Another fight has a drill under Robotnik’s hover ship that will destroy the blocks to the platform Sonic is standing on.
Sonic is easy to control, because all three buttons on your Genesis controller do the same thing. Except for the start, that pauses. There’s no run button, its all jump. When Sonic jumps he tucks into a ball that can cut through robotic, metal enemies. Each enemy contains a happy woodland creature that you’ll liberate. Other than that, when Sonic gets up to full speed, you can press down, to curl him in a ball and protect yourself from enemies. Its a nice feature that keeps the game from getting frustrating when Sonic goes too fast for your brain to comprehend. The only drawback is that Sonic needs momentum and it can be tough to get him going to full speed enough to make it up a hill, a loop or a straight wall. Another nice touch is the up and downward camera control so you can see what’s above and below without risking a jump.
There are all sorts of smooth terrain that allows the game to really set itself apart from anything else out there. Instead of falling off a cliff, if there’s a slope he can smoothly run down the side. There are springboards everywhere to send Sonic either running or flying through the air. They go a long way to give a sense of speed and momentum.
Power ups come in boxes and they range from ten rings, to invincibility. There’s a bubble that allows the hedgehog to take another hit of damage without losing rings. Even super shoes that make the blue blur run even faster! You’ll always find an extra life here or there. Its a nice array of things to have and there are even hidden boxes that you can knock out of trees.
Along the way you’ll collect rings. Mostly for Sonic’s health. If he takes a hit, all of the rings shower out of him. If he’s caught without a ring and you take a hit, you’ll die. Death sends you back to the start of the act and death pits instantly kill you like all games. Collect one-hundred rings and get a free life, because you’ll need them by the end of the game.
Making it to the exit while carrying fifty rings lets you jump through a hoop to play a bonus round. Sonic will be stuck in a ball in a rotating world. You can jump, but you’re always a prey to gravity. Its one of the most unique things about the game. Your goal here is to collect a chaos emerald at the end. Before you reach the end, you’ll bounce off bumpers and slide along breakable tiles, even hit reversers that make the world slowly spin the other way. Its a gentle slow rotation and you’re timed, so you’ll need to make it there fast or collect things to increase your time.
I’ll always equate the original Sonic game to the original Mario. Sure they were released years apart, but Sonic just has his speed. There’s nothing that changes the pace except for bonus rounds at the end of each act if you’ve scored over fifty rings and manage to jump through the giant hoop. Even under water, Sonic doesn’t swim so much as he just moves slower. That’s what you want in a game that boasts speed and blast processing, the ability to go slower and need oxygen to survive.
While most think Sonic is about the speed, that speed really ends after the Green Hill Zone. A lot of the game consists of slow platforming. Sure Sonic does it better than most, but I’d rather have that sense of speed rather than waiting for crushing platforms or standing on top of floating platforms through lava.
There are a lot of spikes, traps and well placed enemies that break the flow when you’re going at top speed. A lot of areas will stop you with a wall, before ground spikes skewer you. Even ramps that launch you up only to have spikes where you land. These are hazards you’ll ultimately get used to.
Each level has a sense of exploration. You’ll find a few walls you can walk through or you can always spin and break through them. There are multiple paths and ways to take to reach the exit. The clock ticks upward, but if you get to ten minutes you’ll die. I’ve really only fell prey to the time limit when I’ve tried. Depending on your time, you’ll get a bonus at the end of each act, but without a high score or points giving you a free life, the system is useless.
Enemies have a rich diversity and variety. Everything from mechanical crabs that throw scythes that boomerang back to drill nosed robots that come up from the ground. There are plenty of hazards other than spikes. Well its mostly spikes, but there are the occasional spiked balls and spiked chains that circle around platforms.
The music has always been a high point of the Sonic franchise and the original game is no different. There are energetic, upbeat songs that really help cement this as a great game. Most of the songs are memorable and will stick in your head long after the game ends.
Sonic the Hedgehog was a great game to kick start the series, but it only gets better with future iterations. Future characters in Sonic 2 and 3 really spice things up with different ways to play.