This review was published on 01/04/2007.
Sonic the Hedgehog was Sega's answer to Mario during the clash between the SNES and Genesis in the 1990's. Sonic had a certain appeal that Mario did not. Sonic had style. His games were always "hip" and "cool," featuring fast paced game play, explosions, zones with industrial themes, and some pretty great music. The term "Blast Processing" was also coined to denote that Sega could coin cool sounding terms to intimidate their competition. To be fair, I think Blast Processing does in fact exist, and refers to the way in which they handled sprites whenever Sonic ran at full speed. I never spent too much time examining this myself, but I think all of the sprites stop their animations while you are running at high speeds, to free up some load on the processor so that it could increase the rate at which the game scrolled. Whatever the case, it is clear that with Sonic, Sega meant business; serious business.
Fortunately, Sonic had far more than just style. The level design is well thought out and the environments are a blast to run through. The name of the game is momentum, and your success in Sonic depends on how well you handle it. Having momentum play a key part in the game play of a platform game was not an uncommon thing, but Sonic 1 pushed this idea to new bounds. In just the first level, there are areas which require Sonic to roll into a ball form to smash certain walls. Upon moving Sonic down a slope and holding down on the D-Pad, he rolls into and destroys these foul obstructions of justice. The same thing works to destroy enemies. Sadly, I haven't found many other areas in the game which had breakable walls. I may just be missing something, but it seems a little strange that such a beautiful use of momentum doesn't appear beyond level 1. Taming the momentum was a big part of the challenge in the game, to be sure. There's no run button like in the Mario games, so Sonic's speed is determined by how long he's been moving in one direction. In fact, all the buttons on the controller perform the same function; jump. Which button you decide to use is entirely up to personal preference. Sonic the Hedgehog is the epitome of simplistic control design.
The music is quite memorable, and the graphics pushed the Genesis to new heights. Unlike most heroes, Sonic does not have a life meter. Instead, he collects rings in order to keep himself alive. I'm not sure about the logic behind that, but Sonic can take as many hits as he has rings. Sonic loses all his rings when he gets hit, though, so it doesn't matter how many rings you collect before taking a hit. The only benefit to collecting more rings is that it's easier to pick them up again when you have a bunch, as they bounce all over the screen. Theoretically, you can collect the same ring over and over and essentially be invincible, but sometimes that last ring will fall somewhere you can't get to, so it can be risky to rely on just one ring. The ring mechanic gives Sonic a casual atmosphere, because there's a lot of room for error. There are also shield power ups hidden in levels that can grant the hedgehog an extra hit even if he has no rings. At the end of the day, there is some solid platform game play behind that fast and furious exterior. A couple of nice details is how the power ups are encased in CRT Monitors that depict on their screen what power up they granted, or how you see the helpless forest animals freed upon the demise of an enemy robot. These small details do not directly impact game play, but they add flavor to the game's personality.
Sonic's main adversary in the series is Dr. Eggman, or Dr. Robotnik if you go by the U.S. game manuals at the time. Eggman is a mad doctor of some sort and he uses woodland creatures to power his robots. His name is derived from the fact that he's shaped like an egg. Sonic's job is to stop Eggman's nefarious plan for world domination. A mad doctor bent on world domination, huh. I haven't heard that one before. Fighting Dr. Eggman is always a vastly entertaining thing to do. The boss fights with the notorious Doctor are frantic and always involve one of his ingenious inventions. Upon his defeat, his wonderfully egg shaped works of art combust in a sea of flames while he angrily flees the scene. You can tell he was quite upset by how his face turns beet red. In this iteration of Sonic, Eggman's machines aren't terribly menacing or imposing, but then again, he's usually pretty easy in most of the games. That doesn't stop the battles with him from being incredibly fun, though.
Collecting 50 or more rings and holding onto them until the end of the act makes a giant ring appear. These giant rings teleport Sonic into a bonus zone when he jumps into them. These bonus zones are heavenly areas adorned with gems of all shapes and sizes. Sonic floats around trippy backgrounds in this strange, alternate dimension, and you must guide the spinning hedgehog to the master prize; a Chaos Emerald. It's interesting to note here that there are only six Chaos Emeralds in Sonic 1. Getting all the emeralds in Sonic 1 serves no other purpose than to give you the best ending. This ending isn't very different from the normal one, so you can just forego the Chaos Emeralds altogether if you find them too bothersome. It's just not worth the trouble. Still, the bonus areas are simple enough to get into and oddly entertaining to complete, so I'd say give it a shot. Just don't worry about it if you miss a few.
Ultimately, Sonic the Hedgehog amounts to an entertaining and challenging platform game, which was the start of stardom for the blue hedgehog. Despite that, it is easily bested by the vast improvements made in Sonic 2 and up.
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