Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog title screen
The title screen!

I’ll admit it: I was a Nintendo Boy. My first exposure to video games was from the venerable Nintendo Entertainment System, and once I got that taste, I never looked back. In my formulative years, various pretenders vied for Nintendo’s crown: NEC, Sega, and others, but none had the amazing quality of first-party games that the Big N’s system provided.

That’s not to say I never lusted after the exotic curves of the Genesis/Sega CD combination, or desired the back lit, color LCD screen of the Game Gear. Many a time I had wayward thoughts, and strayed from my Nintendo upbringing. However, the cold, hard reality of life kept me from enjoying alternative gaming experiences. My willpower to save money for the length of time necessary to purchase a Sega system was insufficient. When there were such great Nintendo games to be had, it was difficult to wait and buy another system.

Sega’s offerings seemed esoteric, as well. Since I had no exposure to the Genesis, it seemed to be a system that only crazy, fanatical die-hards would buy — not for a healthy, red-blooded, Nintendo-playing lad such as myself. When I finally met a kid who did own a Genesis and Sega CD, it turned out the only games he owned for it were obscure RPGs, which further cemented my view that Sega was only for the fringe.

Sonic running through a loop
One of Sonic’s trademark loops.

Imagine my surprise when one of my roommates recently produced an old, first-generation Genesis, complete with a collection of rather boring-looking games. At last! A chance to potentially play some of the classic games from another era! Sadly, the only game that looked to be worthwhile was a dusty, tattered “NOT FOR RESALE”-emblazoned copy of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Taking into account when the game was first released (1991), Sonic was a revolutionary title. Even the most colorful Nintendo games, such as Super Mario Bros. 3, looked drab and boring in comparison with Sonic’s rich palette and large sprites. A very catchy soundtrack enhanced the overall appeal of the game. After playing for a while, I was so hooked on the tunes that I downloaded the soundtrack to
enjoy during the monotonous tedium of work.

That’s all well and good, but how does the game play? How does one weaned on the teat of Mario (in a metaphorical sense, of course) handle the fast-moving hedgehog? As one looking in from the outside, I had always assumed that Sonic games were about speed: loop-the-loops and other such tomfoolery. This is true to an extent; however the game also delves into what I like to call
“bastard f___er” tricks — spikes or other dangerous obstacles placed at just the right places where you would run into them the first time playing through a level. Aside from this somewhat cheap mechianic, Sonic also introduced some new ideas, such as true curved surfaces (with corresponding physics) and the concept of being able to kill an enemy by leaping into it as opposed to
on top of it (blasphemy to a Mario player). The bonus levels were also interesting (similar to Camel Try), and showcased the power of the Genesis.

Sonic runs in the Marble Zone
Sonic runs along in the Marble Zone.

Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, and this includes the debut game of Sega’s mascot. The most noticable downside to Sonic is the length. Although there are 18 levels, each one is played through fairly quickly (especially levels where speed is emphasized). The result is a game that is able to be completed in well under an hour. Compared to many of the first-gen Super Nintendo games, Sonic barely registers as a “quickie.” Sonic especially pales in comparison to Super Mario World, Nintendo’s flagship offering, which contained 72 “true” levels (and numerous secrets), which made it a much more satisfying game.

At the end of the day, what is Sonic the Hedgehog to a modern gamer? An interesting, nostalgic trip back in time to the golden days of 2D platforming — all the more since Sonic became Sega’s mascot and spawned countless other games. When you see Sonic’s face plastered on lots of re-hashed crap on store shelves, sometimes it’s good to get some perspective, and see where he came from.

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