In June, various celebrations marked the 25th anniversary of the release of the original 1991 Sonic the Hedgehog game. A key game on the Sega Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis as it is known in North America), Sonic the Hedgehog has sold over 15 million copies on that platform as well as spawning a large franchise which continues to this day.
Coincidentally, I recently picked up all of Sega's Mega Drive Classics on Steam. One of the 58 games contained therein is the original Sonic, allowing me to play the game for the first time since around 1998 or 1999. The crucial difference between playing on my friends' Mega Drives and playing the Steam version is the ability to save: something which actually enabled me to complete the game for the first time, and to share a few belated thoughts on our blue friend's big milestone.
The Game is Extremely Difficult
Playing today, the cruel fact of Sonic's difficulty stands out more than ever. In 1991, even those home console releases which were not ported from arcades still often retained their steep challenge. The original Sonic is a fine example, handing the player a very limited number of lives with which to tackle the seven diverse zones. I made very liberal use of saves to beat the game, with the Labyrinth Zone proving the most frustrating. Oddly, the bosses are actually very easy to defeat – it's the regular levels which are really tough. I think it's for this reason that the Green Hill Zone so dominates people's memories of the game: because it's a real trial to progress much further.
Sonic Is Only Really “Fast” in a Technical Sense
The core element of Sonic's character is his prodigious speed. It's something which has dominated a lot of modern games in the series, but which is barely a factor in the original game. Sure, in the Green Hill Zone players can zoom around loop-the-loops and play quite carelessly, but other zones require the kind of cautious play and intense knowledge of the stages which are more typical of other platformers of the time. However, the engine that Sonic Team devised for Sonic the Hedgehog was quite revolutionary in the speed of its graphics and animation. This is easily demonstrated by comparing Sonic with the original Mega Drive pack-in game, Altered Beast (1988).
Masato Nakamura's Music is Still Superb
Besides Sonic himself, the element of Sonic the Hedgehog which still stands up best today is its music. Composer Masato Nakamura was and remains a member of the Japanese band Dreams Come True, and demonstrated his mastery of the Mega Drive's on board sound generator chips. He returned for Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but sadly not for the third game due to a financial dispute with Sega. As was typical for platformers of the time, each of Sonic's zones has a distinct track and each has a genuinely unique and memorable personality.
Sonic the Hedgehog is clearly an enormously influential game – it cemented Sega as a major player in the home console market, and helped enable them to stand up against arch-rivals Nintendo and their own mascot character, Mario. However, I must confess that for me it doesn't quite stand up. The emphasis on crushing difficulty doesn't chime with the game's breezy concept and graphics, and I've had more lasting enjoyment from other games in the Mega Drive Classics. That said, with saves Sonic is still a good experience and there's still two more main games to explore.
Sometime film reviewer, Letterboxd user, novice Blu-Ray collector. Top 3 directors: Woo, Hill, Leone.
Henry V (UK, 1989) ★★★★½
The Fast and the Furious (USA, 2001) ★★★★
Goodfellas (USA, 1990) ★★★★★
[All Letterboxd Reviews]