Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

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“If pain must come, may it come quickly. Because I have a life to live, and I need to live it in the best way possible.”
-Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

 

 

It’s not every day that one gets to experience for the first time a long-standing part of pop culture as an adult, having gone through an entire childhood of ignorance. This is the equivalent of a 30-year-old watching the Star Wars films for the first time or finding out after all your years of self-absorption and 1st-world-medicated narcissism that the world doesn’t really revolve around you at all. Granted, some adults don’t find this out until much later in life. Anyways, I had an experience such as this recently when I had the chance to play and complete a Sonic the Hedgehog game from start to finish for the first time ever. As I explained in my review of the (spoilers) excellent Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, I hardly touched Sega’s consoles as a kid.

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After having gone my entire life up to this point with this huge region of popular culture beyond my grasp, it turns out I didn’t really enjoy Sonic. I will certainly get as deep into that statement as possible but what an anti-climax. Someone asked on Twitter recently what my most disappointing retrogaming experience was and I showed no hesitation. Yes, I played Sonic the Hedgehog and I did not like it. Now I know Sega’s biggest (and only) major IP is a famed character, or at least he was. He has quite a secret cabal large and respectable following of decent and fair-minded citizens but if I stopped here at the end of the first game in his franchise, I wouldn’t understand why the character and his series became beloved at all.

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I don’t think it’s enough to dismiss my adverse reaction on the basis of this being Sonic’s first adventure. Some Sonic apologist out there may decry, “But this is only Sonic 1! You can’t throw an idiom-baby out with idiom-bathwater! Of course it was the least refined in the series, it was the first! [Inarticulate fanbase growling noises!]”

And do you know what? They’re right. Indeed a lot of first games in some franchises are rather poor in comparison to the heights they later achieved. But then again, that defense is flawed since there are a great many franchises that did begin with their best foots forward, as it were. Super Mario Bros., Pokémon Red/Blue, The Legend of Zelda, Tetris, Kingdom HeartsSuper Smash Bros.Marvel vs. CapcomArkham Asylum, and so on… they may not be the best games in their respective series but they were phenomenal opening acts to truly legendary adventures.

All these words being said, I fully expect the Sonic games to get better in my estimation and you can be sure I’m playing them in order by release. It’s my duty. I’ve already dabbled in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and it’s proving to be a much more enjoyable game that’s pure to its concept, curing most of what irked me about its predecessor in just its introductory stages. But that still leaves us with Sonic 1 to account for.

Let’s talk what this game is and then we’ll discuss how it came to be. It’s my opinion that the ugliness of that latter issue is at the root of what made Sonic so pointed, specific, limited, out-of-focus and over-the-top.

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No, YOU’RE too slow!

Sonic the Hedgehog is a high-speed platformer developed by Team Sonic which stars the eponymous character on a mission to save his animal friends and keep the Chaos Emeralds from the clutches of the rotund Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik. The mad scientist has imprisoned Sonic’s furry friends in mechanized automata to swell his forces against the hedgehog. Sonic can free them by destroying the robots with his singular, characteristic spinning attack. This spin can be executed both while running and jumping, turning an ordinary platforming leap into a weaponized maneuver: a stroke of genius.

Controlling Sonic at incredible speed is amazing, the kind of speed that was utterly inaccessible to me as a kid and which my adult-self had to focus on to get accustomed to. It is the most impressive thing about Sonic the Hedgehog. Indeed it was at the heart of the game’s concept and purpose. It was touted as the fastest platformer there was in ’91 and that was easily true. The paths and platforms of the various stages curve and loop to accentuate Sonic’s speed, making for some breathtaking visuals. No one had seen anything like it at the time and all these years later it’s still instantly iconic, memorable, and wonderful.

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The Sega Sonic Team pushed the Genesis hardware to its limits here, quite clearly. Though I’ve always held that the Super Nintendo was the superior console to the Genesis, especially in terms of versatility, the flat fact is there was no main platforming title on the SNES that came close to this frantic pace. Putting Sonic the Hedgehog alongside Super Mario World, which Sega actually did with comparison footage, it was obvious which game was for the hard-edged gamer looking for something new. Whereas I can defend Super Mario World as having better and more involved level design and gameplay, such things fall short of the immediate awe of Sonic’s speed. Mario’s looked like tame little kiddie games by contrast, something which Sega clearly wanted.

But the game can’t shake these comparisons. Sonic collects rings which serve a function similar to the Super Mario mushrooms and coins combined into one. When Sonic is hit by a trap or enemy, he’ll drop all of the rings he has collected. He can try to pick them up again but they’ll quickly disappear, forcing him to collect more. If he’s hit with zero rings in his inventory, he’ll lose a life. The rings therefore provide a damage buffer against most dangers like Mario’s mushrooms (excluding crushing walls or bottomless pits). Collecting 100 rings earns Sonic an extra life, like Mario’s coins. Other collectibles beside the rings include containers with extra lives and temporary shields and invincibility.

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The game is laid out on the structure of zones, the equivalent of “worlds”: Green Hill, Marble, Spring Yard, Labyrinth, Star Light, Scrap Brain, and the Final Zone. There is no backtracking so the progression is traditional. Each zone has three acts, three stages, which end with a boss fight against Dr. Robotnik riding in some kind of sluggish vehicle or contraption. After beating Robotnik, Sonic has the opportunity to free the rest of his forest friends before moving on to the next zone.

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If Sonic finishes the acts in a zone with over 50 rings then a huge ring appears at the end of the act. If he touches it, he’ll be transported to a special stage. These are whirling, swirling, psychedelic, acid-nightmares, mazes which are in constant rotation. Sonic tucks himself into a spin in these pinball-like stages and the objective is to navigate past bumpers and crystallize walls, avoiding the early exits, until you can reach the Chaos Emerald tucked away somewhere in the spiraling ether. There are six Chaos Emeralds to collect and there’s a unique ending if Sonic can get them all before beating the final boss. If you don’t get all the gemstones, then Dr. Robotnik taunts you like a big fat jerk.

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Though the game itself is notable for its clear influences and the innovative velocity of its titular character, Sonic the Hedgehog’s origins are much more intriguing to me. Maybe it’s the historiaphile in me that’s tickled but there are some juicy bits to be discussed.

Mr. Needlemouse, Sonic’s original name in development, was a pragmatic creation. I mean by that that he wasn’t created out of the desire to create, with all of the freedom which that allows, imbibes within a character. No, Sonic was born because his designers were told to create him. On some level this is true of any character in entertainment and gaming, since this is primarily a business industry we’re talking about, but with Sonic the lines are increasingly blurred.

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It’s my perspective that Sonic’s purpose as a mascot for a business superseded his significance as a creative character. Sega wanted a bigger piece of the gaming world, which at the time was dominated by Nintendo. Nintendo had revived the entire industry. Nintendo remains second to none in terms of mascots and Sega knew that in order to compete they would need to come up with an icon as recognizable as Super Mario. I can imagine the dejected Sega execs sitting around their conference room table, feet up, collars unbuttoned, throwing darts at a poster of Mario on the wall, crumpled pieces of paper with the faces of protagonists from Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, Ecco the Dolphin, and Altered Beast littering the floor.

Prior to Sonic, Alex Kidd was the mascot of Sega. Not too impressive. Kidd was also perceived by Sega as too similar to Mario. They needed something different, a face for a newer, edgier generation of gamers coming into their own, which Sega wanted to milk for all they were worth. The character needed to both encapsulate Sega’s marketing strategy toward older gamers and one-up Nintendo in one fell swoop.

Thus Sonic himself was born out of a business strategy and comprised from a bunch of bizarre influences with only popularity, besting competition, and money-making in mind. Sonic boasted controls that only require one button input while rival Mario required two. Sonic’s blue color was chosen to echo the Sega logo. Devs took the head of Felix the Cat (which I always suspected), the body of Mickey Mouse, the mechanics of Super Mario, the boots of Michael Jackson, the boot colors of Santa Claus, the screw attack spinning jump of Samus, along with all kinds of elements that didn’t make it past the cutting room floor which were designed to pander to youth culture: breakdancing, rock star status, a girlfriend named Madonna.

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I had to laugh aloud when I read that Sonic’s personality was based on the get-it-done attitude of former president Bill Clinton! Truth is stranger than fiction. What else could they have possibly done to make the character even more 90’s-cool? Portray Sonic indifferently watching Nickelodeon while wearing a denim jacket, a D.A.R.E. tee under that, and a slanted, neon ball cap, a heavy gold chain around his neck with a gilded dollar sign, an empty can of spray-paint at his feet, a Tamagotchi in one hand and Nirvana playing in a Walkman in the other, a Blockbuster Videos in the background?

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Sonic’s inception is itself interesting but even more so is the apparent petty disdain and single-minded focus that Sega put on tearing down Mario as the icon of gaming. Some examples I ran across: Sonic’s project code name was “Defeat Mario”. The character had to be “faster than Mario”. The Sega team assured others that it was going to be “better than Mario”. Sonic came into being because the market was being dominated “by Mario”. The comparison with Nintendo’s poster child was one which Sega had in mind from the very beginning.

Fast-forward a few decades and how did all of their attempted assassination and monopolizing turn out? As history has shown, the house of Sega has all but come crashing down. The Genesis saw early success against Nintendo’s SNES but things caught up quickly as the sizable library of their competitor began to win the day. It was all a downhill run from there. Sega accumulated greater and greater profit losses with each subsequent console they released until they dropped out of hardware development altogether, ending nearly a two decade run in the console business with their Dreamcast.

Sega Annual Net Income Loss

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Sonic, their champion, their messiah, their icon that the perfect engine of corporate pressure dictated into existence couldn’t save them. Unlike Super Mario 64, Sonic’s leap from 2D to 3D proved largely disastrous and Sonic has had a hard time adjusting to the change of the modern gaming world ever since. Perhaps they were so anti-Mario that they forgot to be pro-Sonic.

What goes around comes around, Sega.

Now that they’ve failed their way out of the console market, after years of throwing shade at their competitors and suffering speed bumps in the path of Sonic the marketing-whore, Super Mario is going strong and Sonic is steadily becoming as much an anachronism as Steamboat Willie and Bugs Bunny, relics iconic in a bygone age that were never able to catch on again. Mario has given us a variety of legendary games over the years. Sonic has given us… furries?

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Alright so Sonic was much more influential than that. He helped spread out ownership of the market and take gaming in a direction Nintendo never could. His value as a mascot for Sega was undoubtedly high. No survey of gaming history could fail to include him and his bundled game with the Sega Genesis. But where has their strategy left them?

Mario has enjoyed success with the best-selling game of April 2017, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and only time will tell if the upcoming Sonic Forces can redeem the blue blur. I find Sega’s previous behavior as reprehensible as I find their current situation laughable. Did they put all of their hedgehogs in one basket banking on a true Super Mario rival only to end up like this? Sega tried to take down Nintendo and here they are developing games for the Switch. Did they change things for gaming? Yes. Did they create a monster that could “defeat Mario”. No.

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The 8-bit Review
visual Visuals: 9/10
Sonic the Hedgehog’s visuals have been consistently applauded and for good reason. They are extremely bright and eye-grabbing. The backgrounds are varied and detailed with little drabness about them. The game runs at such a speed that you’d expect it to be far less smooth than it is. While the pace is something that you have to acclimate to, sometimes ironically slowly, it is no less impressive to watch Sonic roll into a ball without stopping and plow past hillsides and enemies. The way that Sonic could hug the curves of the levels wasn’t just sexy. It was unlike anything the gaming industry had seen before in platforming. In this sense, the gameplay itself accentuated the unique visuals.

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As incredible as Sonic’s graphics are, the one thing detracting from their appeal is the disorienting effect they can have, which they did have on me. And when I talk about disorienting I don’t mean they made me have seizures. I mean I sometimes had to squint or blink or look away because things were happening too fast. The special Chaos Emerald stages are the perfect example. The first time I hit one it felt like I’d been struck across the face. It’s pretty but there’s too much going on until the brain can catch up and try to make as much sense of it before your eyes turn into jello.

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All things being equal, Sonic 1 was a pleasure to look at even after all these years. It’s one of the best looking games from the earlier part of the 16-bit era and was the top of its class on the Sega Genesis. No dark outlines around the characters makes everything blend together a bit more so there’s less distinction but with the game’s speed, details are secondary.

 Audio: 10/10

 

My favorite thing about this game is its soundtrack. Nearly every song is inexhaustibly catchy. Good luck getting “Green Hill Zone” out of your head now. The music differentiated itself from the filler sounds that Sega was putting out with their myriad arcade ports, but it also sounded far less happy-go-lucky when compared with the typically (and strangely) Caribbean sound of a Mario game. It’s electric, industrial, modern, and sleek.

 

Masato Nakamura, who composed this sountrack, was a member of a J-pop band and I really think that musically influenced the percussive, upbeat sound of Sonic the Hedgehog. Despite the limitations of the Sega Genesis hardware and its occasional extreme tinnyness and scratchiness, this is a great soundtrack. No wonder its tunes have become so iconic.

 

 Gameplay: 3/10
Y’know, if the whole game was Green Hill zoned maybe it would’ve been great. Only the Green Hill Zone really preserves the concept of the game, that being high-speed platforming. Only Green Hill emphasizes Sonic’s speed because of its level design. There are straight paths, simple jumps and enjoyable loop-de-loops. Then there’s the next area, the Marble Zone…

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Sonic is immediately confronted with a set of stages that would be more appropriate for a character whose main draw was jumping, not running. There are pillars and columns that slowly raise up and down, blocks to push so you can slowly float over lava, horizontal chasms where you must slowly jump onto ledges while watching for traps, an undulating surface area where the ground slowly rises and falls. See any repeating pattern? Slow and Sonic shouldn’t go hand in hand because isn’t that why we’re playing this Sonic game at all. Why push “speed, speed, speed, Sonic is faster, faster, faster” in marketing if that’s not actually true?

Things get somewhat better in Spring Yard Zone, which has more curves and loops for Sonic to go crazy on, as well as springs and bumpers to keep up momentum, but the zone is still plagued by elevator-platforms that slowly shift, which will crush you if you try to rush through them. In Labyrinth Zone, the gameplay slows down to a painful crawl. Now I understand why people hate water levels. Nothing is worse than the promise of speed but then having to trudge your way through flooded dungeons in the Labyrinth Zone with a character who can’t swim.

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Star Light Zone doesn’t take us full circle back to Green Hill as there are some annoying fans, narrow hallways, bomb enemies, and annoying seesaw platforms to bog things down, until you reach Scrap Brain Zone and the game throws the last vestige of running at high speeds out the window as you’ve got to face tiny conveyor belts, trap doors, and hazards that are placed only to get in the way of Sonic’s speed. Boring. This is a shame because there are a lot of good elements to the level design such as their size, the multiple tiers and heights, the secret rooms. However, the way that Sega decided to put things directly in Sonic’s path to prevent him from maintaining high speeds feels like an insult. All I wanted to do was run, run, run but in this game that’s a good way to get the hedgehog killed.

 Accessibility: 4/10
Because of the placement of the game’s dangers, I feel that the accessibility of Sonic the Hedgehog is actually quite low despite his simple control scheme. This game demands that you be intimately familiar with its stages so there’s a lot of tedious trial and error coming in between you and enjoying the game in real-time. More on the unusual level of difficulty this generates below.

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diff Challenge: 6/10
A lot of the challenge in Sonic the Hedgehog seemed cheap to me. Is the game hard? Not really. The boss fights are particularly infantile, most of them, where all you have to do is find a safe spot and stand there while jumping now and then. Also, having a single ring in your pocket ensures that Sonic can survive being hit at least once without having to collect more rings. It’s not much harder than a Super Mario game. But whereas those relied on timing and physics, with Super Mario Bros. 3 being the perfect example, Sonic the Hedgehog rests heavily upon the player’s familiarity with the stages.

This is because you simply can’t see what’s in front of you travelling at top speed. Even once the running levels are behind you and you reach the last 85% of the game, the designers though it appropriate to put as many hidden dangers as possible just outside of the screen. My favorite catchphrase after playing Sonic was not “You can’t catch what you can’t see!” It was “Spikes. You’re dead.”

If the spikes shooting out of the floor at all angles don’t murder you, don’t worry. There are still guttering walls of fire, trap floors, swinging morning stars, crushing platforms, electrocuting electrodes, and hordes of slow-moving enemies all of which it’s very difficult to see coming if you don’t already remember that they’re there from a previous playthrough. This isn’t only due to speed but also due to the game’s very jittery camera. Looking up or down is disorienting. The way in which the levels mask the traps until you’re right on top of them is just an exercise in cheap shots since you can’t see them coming.

In Scrap Brain, you run across two trap floors only to hit a gout of flame. In Labyrinth, you travel down a horizontal corridor and get slammed by a huge spiked ball on a chain because the crystals and vines and the angle of the floor prevent you from seeing the trap until you’re right on top of it. This kind of thing happened constantly. Sure the challenge would’ve been significantly decreased had I had nostalgia to fall back on but the game is unnecessarily easy to lose lives in if it’s your first playthrough. It got to the point where I wasn’t running anywhere at all so that I had time to react to what was just up ahead and that’s self-defeating for a game that’s supposed to be about speed. And all of this should be said with this in mind that Sonic himself is only fast when his momentum is built up. He’s horrifically slow when trying to get out of the way of something while standing still. Feels like you’re wading through molasses.

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replay Replayability: 7/10
The big replay value comes from trying to get all of the Chaos Emeralds. I suppose beyond that that the zones themselves have many interesting routes to explore and several unusual and hidden areas within them. Sonic 1 is different than most of the previous Mario entries in that you can run backward and explore the stages in any direction you like. I will say that this gives the game a healthy amount of replay value, especially for its genre, though it’s not enough to make me personally jump back into the game, at least not right away.

unique Uniqueness: 9/10
Sonic the Hedgehog took many different “sources of inspiration” and slammed them all into one cobalt blue amalgamation. The result was a platformer that was quite unique for its time, though the symptom of all of its borrowing took the form of a game which was marketed on a concept (speed) but which operated on quite another (slow platforming). Trying to be so many things muddled what made Sonic special. As I’ve detailed above, this was my biggest complaint for the gameplay. They may have jettisoned a degree of refinement in Sonic 1 but they did get the distinct mascot that Sega wanted.

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pgrade My Personal Grade: 3/10
Now that I finished my review, I went ahead and read up on some others: both contemporary and modern reviews for Sonic 1. A lot of glowing praise went to the pace of the game but then I wonder if they played very far into its zones at all.

Sega did everything to try to make Sonic the Hedgehog better than Mario and his recently released Super Mario World. Since then Sega even went so far as to de-list from retailers some games in the franchise that got bad reviews in order to preserve the reputation of the Sonic brand. Yeah that really happened. They didn’t stand behind their own work because popularity was more important than the work itself. They tried to mechanize success and so they didn’t experience it organically. All for nothing. If ever there was a cautionary tale, this is it.

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In the end, their oneupmanship of Nintendo utterly failed. Sonic may have attracted an audience early on but that’s dramatically faded over time as his edgy/cool exterior becomes increasingly layered with cobwebs. I’ve met many a Sonic fan that sounded desperate to erase all connections Sonic has with Mario, but the truth is Sega was the one making such comparisons from the outset of their mascot. The hedgehog was conceived, designed, and marketed with Mario in mind. And maybe that’s why Sonic eventually failed: the character’s reach was only so far as Mario. You can’t build a house on mere competition. There has to be inspiration for there to be lasting appeal. And please don’t misconstrue my criticism to mean that I’m treating Mario as this kind of innocent saint without a smudge to his name, or that I think Nintendo is practically perfect in every way. This review just doesn’t happen to be about Nintendo any more than Sega made Sonic about beating Mario.

Sonic the Hedgehog may not be the best game in the polarizing, up and down rollercoastery franchise it spawned, and there were better gems to come, but there would be flops as well. It all started here, for better or worse, with a great idea, poor execution, impressive technology, cheap and small-minded envy, and a slick character design virgin-sacrificed to Sega’s lust for power.

Nintendoes what Sega don’t.

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Aggregated Score: 6.4

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53 thoughts on “Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

  1. Enjoying reading that! I’m a SEGA kid who grew up with Sonic, but can completely understand your criticisms.

    – The special zones are awful. Trial and error stages that will cause retina damage if you look at them for too long.

    – Labyrinth Zone…painful. I reckon there is a generation of gamers who fear water levels thanks to Labyrinth Zone. SEGA originally wanted Labyrinth Zone to be the second zone in the game, but realised it was too hard and switched it with Marble Zone. I’m glad they did that because Labyrinth Zone always makes me want to switch Sonic off.

    – Misuse of speed – agree on this too, Sonic is either racing like a maniac or as slow as a turtle, with little in between. When I think Sonic, I always think Green Hill Zone, a great use of speed in a game. Some of the later zones can be a slog…

    I think I like Sonic more than you did, but I can see it’s faults. I believe the Master System version is a slower, more considered platformer. I think I enjoy that version more to be honest, due to the lack of frustration.

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    • Thanks for reading and for leaving a thoughtful comment! I appreciate it. I gave Sonic my best but it didn’t click with me for the contradictory reasons I listed and you picked up on. I do have much more excitement for Sonic 2, which I hear streamlines the levels a lot better than the 1st game. Like I mentioned in the post, I didn’t grow up with Sega so there’s no element of nostalgia here for me. It’s a decent start for the franchise but clearly they didn’t put their best foot forward.

      What is your opinion on the direction of the Sonic franchise? What do you think about the nature of Sonic the Hedgehog’s inception with so much effort placed upon defeating Mario?

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      • Thanks! I’m not the biggest Sonic fan – I actually think the 16/8 bit originals were Sonic’s best, with the peak being Sonic 2 on Mega Drive. Sega has treated Sonic dreadfully since then. Sonic Adventure seems ok but I’d be hard pressed to name another decent Sonic game after the early 90’s. Simply put, Sega had no idea how to make 3D Sonic games, due to the speed issues you hit upon. Add the fact that Sega are adamant that every Sonic game must have all of Sonic’s annoying friends in (more marketing) and the poor hedgehog has been struggling for a while.

        I don’t have an issue with Sonic’s inception. Nintendo were number 1 so Sega had to take the fight to them and designing a new character who had different, more modern attributes made sense.It could have been worse…look at all the Sonic copycats that followed Sonic. Aero the Acrobat, Bubsy, Awesome Possum really were cynical marketing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I like the way you think, and I promise that has little to do with the fact that we mostly agree here! Coming into the Sonic franchise fresh will be interesting for me and I do plan to play all his games eventually but THANK you for mentioning that Sonic has annoying friends. I’ve really always wondered what the appeal was of so many of his supporting characters…

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          • No problem! I can assure you most people aren’t interested in Sonic’s friends. Sonic Heroes will be the proof of that, if you ever play it! 4 teams, Sonic’s only on 1, so that’s three teams worth of Gillian’s and characters no one is interested in…

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  2. I knew that Sonic’s main purpose was to be direct competition with Mario, but I had no idea it was that deep. Wow. I understand business can be cutthroat (yay capitalism), but I agree they should’ve accentuates the positive instead of focusing on defeating their rival. Emphasize what you love instead of deriding what you hate. Sonic as a character deserves better than that.

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    • Haha there’s some dirty crap that went down with some bitter sounding Sega folks. It’s to their shame but their competition in a free market created the greatest era of gaming, the 16-bit world, especially once Sony and Microsoft entered the mix later on. All the subterfuge and business assassination is on the wayward individuals who committed it, but in retrospect, we couldn’t have had Sonic and Mario and the PlayStation competing against each other and creating better and better games without their competition. Without capitalism, I couldn’t have my collection of a dozen consoles from Atari, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. Your comment made me smile because I often wondered what the industry would look like if this country was a socialist one instead of a capitalist one. What would socialist gaming look like? Homogeneity?
      Propaganda? What do video games look like in North Korea, Venezuela, or Denmark (which has only produced a small list of them)? Just one big company/publisher/developer churning out stuff without challenge? What would happen to the indie scene? This is a conversation I had with someone recently when we were saying Microsoft should drop out soon and bring back a rivalry between Sony vs Nintendo only. Head to head, they’d create even more incredible games, or if one of them broke, another company would rise up to take their place (which is doubtful now because of their size). You just gave me an idea for a future podcast: Gaming vs Socialism. Thanks! 😀

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      • I think about things like that, too. I thing competition is a good thing and capitalism encourages competition, but I’m not a huge fan of the fact that failure in pure capitalism could literally mean death (not having enough money equaling starvation and all). Hardship and heartache produces the best kinds of art, and this is something I think a LOT about, because I wouldn’t have written any of the novels I have without bad experiences, which other people can then relate to. Though arguably if no one has bad experiences than there’s no need for art showing such experiences, though it is arguably the best and most beautiful types of art. I haven’t been able to fully reconcile it.

        I’d love to hear that kind of podcast! I’ll have to think about this more, too, because you’re right; the competition between Nintendo and Sega created some stellar games.

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        • It’s a working theory at least but it could account for why the 16-bit era was so great. I think there’s a motivator for each age in gaming: the introduction of Sony in the early 3D era, Nintendo’s demand for quality control in the 8-bit era. I know socialism is a trendy hot topic right now so I’d love to capitalize (HAH!) on its popularity with an episode talking about it in relation to gaming. As for starvation, I guess we could say the same for pure socialism and use Venezuela as a case study. I’ve seen pictures recently of their leaders and Maduro dancing on the tele while outside their tanks run over the starving uprising. Yikes.

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  3. I have played this game. While I agree that the game was good when Sonic was travelling at high speeds, I also enjoyed the slower parts of the game, with jumping and standing on moving blocks. I did find the Special Stages disconcerting though, with the bright colours and constant spinning motion. This game also seems to be the most annoying to collect Chaos Emeralds as they only get once chance to enter the Special Stage during each stage. I do not agree that each boss was the same, I felt that the bosses were all different, each required a different tactic to use and used some interesting gameplay ideas (although some ideas did seem to be recycled for different games in the series). I also felt the use of rings was actually quite interesting. Rather than use a single use power-up for extra health, the player collects rings (which prevents death, allows the player to become stronger as they collect them and grants extra life if enough are collected). This game seems to be slightly different to the later games in the series due to altered character designs, non-descript shield power-up, lack of spin dash and a different colour scheme (I am not sure if the level designs in this game seem strange because they use darker colours or because a lot of purple is used). Some unusual aspects of the Sonic series is that most games seem to begin in a luscious, natural area (like the Green Hill Zone) and many (not this one) include Sonic visiting a Casino (despite being designed for children). I was also unaware of Sega’s actions and motives for creating Sonic, which seem overly commercially focussed and underhanded.
    Why did you award the game such a low score for the personal grade despite praising the visuals, soundtrack and replayability? What parts of the soundtrack did you enjoy? How do you find this game compared to the later ones?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! Thanks for the sizable comment, as always. I think I disliked the slower stages for a variety of reasons, though the deception of the game being about Sonic’s speed is on top of them. I disliked the slow stages because there were so many and because Sonic has takes a long time to get going from a standstill, not to mention the “ice level” slide in his walk. There are a lot of good gameplay ideas in Sonic 1 but there were also some major things that turned me off of it. Not having any nostalgic connection to the game aided that but I think its successors will refine it, as I’m expecting to discover as I play through them. As for the boss fights, they were typically all the same though the same could be said of the early Super Mario boss fights, as well, just jumping exercises.

      I awarded the game such a low score personally because I decidedly disliked it. I wouldn’t want to play it again. I think that one can appreciate the visuals and soundtrack and the game’s objective replay value (generally speaking) without actually giving the entire game as a whole a high score. The graphics were great but the gameplay leaved something to be desired, in my opinion. I liked pretty much the whole soundtrack, except for maybe just the boss music, so while there are some great elements there are a lot of sour notes, as well. As I mentioned in the review, this was my first Sonic the Hedgehog game I ever completed or played for any great length of time so I have no opinion on the next games in the franchise. But I’ll be playing them in order.

      Like

  4. Years ago, the nearby Dillard’s had a Genesis hooked up to a TV for anyone to play. Everytime I went to the mall, I had to play a bit of Sonic. Never got very far, but it was always fun!

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  5. Excellent review and thoughts on Sega. The only thing I have to add is from my own experience playing as a kid versus as an adult. We didn’t have a Dreamcast, but my friend did. I remember playing Sonic and being amazed at how smooth everything was. I gave my brother-in-law one of the mini Segas for Christmas, and he and I wound up sitting around playing on it… It was definitely a different experience as an adult than as a kid. Not bad, just the amazing impression of speed and agility wasn’t as sharp as it was before.

    I’m sitting here trying to think if Sonic could have ever toppled Mario. I want to say “If Sega handled him better…” But how? Running really fast lends itself to linear paths, and running really fast is Sonic’s whole shtick. How do you innovate or move forward with those constraints? I’ll have to think on that more.

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    • Hey thanks very much! I was thinking the same thing when I wrote this review of course and then again tonight. What could Sega have done differently with the character that might’ve changed his fate and slump? I think iplayedthegame left a pretty insightful comment on that about Sega reinventing the character too often and thereby Sonic losing his identity over time, but I’d add to that by expressing an observation I had tonight. At what point does Sonic just because a rail game? If he’s too fast, that’s what it seems like, yet if he’s not fast enough and there are too many obstacles then we’re left with the worst parts of Sonic 1. I rewatched the footage for Sonic Forces again tonight right before I received your comment and it seems to me that when the game hits its top speed, especially if it’s from a first-person POV then it’s going to feel like a rail game with auto-steering on, at least a little. The struggle of Sonic to really find his place has really said a lot about the character and his limited appeal. The original games are beloved, as are a few of the more modern titles, but there are so many horrible games in his library (in peeps’ opinion) that something somewhere had to have gone wrong.

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  6. I’m sure if I came to the original Sonic now, I’d be far more critical of it but at the time I was pretty in to it. I can certainly see your strikes against it though and it is notable that when most people think of Sonic, they think of Green Hill Zone which, as you said, is Sonic at its best.

    I do think you might be underselling Sonic a bit in terms of cultural relevance. While it never reached the heights of Mario, it has sustained itself quite well over the last 25 years to the point where kids coming in to gaming today know about Sonic.

    I’m not a fan of most of the most recent Sonic games but Generations and Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed are two excellent games. In fact, I’d say All Stars Racing was the best cart racer available on a modern system until MK8 came out on the WiiU.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi there! Thanks for commenting and reading! I’ve got to say that I love Oscar the Grouch, so I’m definitely going to respond as if you’re one of my favorite Muppets. I used to adore Sesame Street as a kid. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, isn’t it? I think that’s a benefit and a curse as we try to be as impartial as possible to these games. As a reviewer, I automatically divide them into favorites and non-favorites, and unfortunately the games I simply didn’t play as a child cannot be favorites. At least not nostalgic ones.

      That all being said, Sonic 1 in Green Hill Zone is a very enjoyable game that holds up well and then Marble… and then Labyrinth… it’s just so counter-concept I couldn’t see why they chose to design the game that way, especially after how hard they pushed the character’s speed. I’m glad you can see that strike.

      As for cultural relevance, there’s not a lot I can say on the matter. I know that Sonic was big news back in the days of my youth because he was often talked about and considered to be the character for the cool kids, but now? It seems to me now that he’s old hat except for within his dedicated fandom. We may run in different circles to account for this but I hardly ever hear anyone talk about Sonic, least of all kids, unless we’re talking about Smash Bros. Brawl, which wasn’t Sega anyway. My understanding on the franchise is it’s been a bumpy ride, so I’m delighted to be able to take the games one at a time as an adult and give them each my attention. I keep hearing about Generations, so I’m looking forward to that title. Likewise, there are a few I’m not exactly looking forward to at all…

      Thanks again! I appreciate the heartfelt discussion and you expressing your perspective. As another commenter said here: this is a divisive franchise.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Meant to come back to this earlier but Sonic has had a pretty successful run of cartoons, with Sonic Boom’s second season wrapping up in April of this year. I know that I’ve never pushed Sonic on my kids but they all know of Sonic from the cartoons, the iPhone endless runner, and from Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

        As for new games, I mostly stay clear unless I get good word of mouth on it from Sonic fans I trust.

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  7. Great review and a great insight on Sega and what they may have done wrong (or right), though you may have unleashed the wrath of the Sonic fans. I mean, these are the same people who do OCs (OK, not all of them), now there’s a game dedicated to that.

    Don’t worry yourself, the series gets better…technically…sort of…yeah, this series is a massive clustertruck of a series and I still admire it…when Sonic isn’t talking…I just like Classic Sonic is what I’m trying to say.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for commenting! I fully accept any wrath I garner for writing this but I’m going to stand behind my impression of Sonic 1. It trips over its own feet and doesn’t deliver on the speed that it was marketed on, in my opinion. Sega did a lot of things right and several things wrong, an unhealthy focus on tearing down a rival being one of them. I may enjoy future games in the series though!

      What are OCs? Guess I’m getting old.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It’s your opinion, as a Sonic fan myself, I can at least accept the fact that the series has had a lot of faults. Your insight on Sega is great. OCs are original characters…as in people of all ages taking a Sonic character, altering them and making their own dream character and the joke is “original character, do not steal”, but this is noted by the person who created said OC (ironic, I know). I wouldn’t mind OCs if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re usually emo, dark, brooding, desperately trying to be edgier than Shadow and by God is this comedy gold for the internet.

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    • Oh those nasty boys and their cruel ways… haha! This was back when you were younger that you beat Sonic 1, I presume? I’ve been meeting a lot of people who enjoyed Sonic from their youth but not a lot who disliked the first game after playing it as an adult.

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  8. I think they did create something that COULD defeat Mario, it’s just they didn’t know how to go about it. The problem really was that they were always trying to play catch up. Mario Party lead to Sonic Shuffle, Mario Kart lead to Sonic R, Mario 64 and Sonic Adventure. They weren’t leaders in developing their character and the games containing him.

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    • It seems like their vision was incredibly short-sighted, among other things. Sonic was pretty slick and even I thought he was irresistibly cool compared to Mario (maybe not to Samus or Link but Sonic was cool, nonetheless). But when we look at the way Mario and Sonic’s histories have played out, it’s clear that Mario has expanded and featured in some versatile and fairly consistently enjoyable games over the years whereas Sonic seems to have a drop in a bucket now and then. Further, developing the character and a surrounding cast seems like something Mario enjoyed but not Sonic. Playing Mario Kart 8 D it’s crazy how many supporting characters exist in the Mario universe. What would Sonic Kart 8 D look like? I mean I’m sure things will be more fleshed out in my mind as I proceed through Sonic’s history but he hasn’t reached the level of an icon that Nintendo’s IPs have. We could make comparisons with Legend of Zelda, too…

      Liked by 2 people

      • There was Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed that was pretty fun. It wasn’t really a Sonic cast though, rather lots of Sega characters. I heard something interesting on Podquisition this week, saying that Sonic keeps being reinvented. When they hit on a good style (like Generations), they insist on changing it again for the following game meaning it begins to lack identity.
        I’m hoping Mania will be fun at any rate.

        Liked by 2 people

        • See I’d suspected they’d taken the racing bait at one point. I also suspected it would be populated with non-Sonic characters, too, considering what we’ve been talking about. Podquisition? Sounds like something I’d be interested in looking up. A lack of identity seems to be a spot on assessment with the Sonic franchise. I want the character to do well because more competition between developers means better games for you and I. Hopefully Mania turns out great!

          Liked by 2 people

            • Thanks for the recommendation all the same. I’ve listened to a few vulgar casts before and sometimes I can ignore it, other times it really brings me down. I was listening to Fatman on Batman by Kevin Smith (not a fan of the dude but I love Batman) and Smith just has this horrific fetish for the f-word that eventually turned me off to his show. It’s a shame because the cast featured some industry influencers and leaders. It’s something I’ve taken note of for my own cast someday, not that I have a potty mouth but I’d like to be able to cut through a lot of the chatter of useless words.

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                • Thanks! That’s encouraging! I picked up a Blue Yeti mic recently but there’s still so much I want to research and prepare before actually putting myself out there. Part of that is building up the confidence for it and then figuring out its reason for being. Asking questions of games will be a big part of it. Anyway… all this behind the scenes crap, thanks again for commenting and being kind!

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  9. The funny thing is, even as an incredibly stubborn lover of the cool but hedgehog and his world, I still view this as one of his weaker outings. In a way, I think I was lucky to start with Sonic 2 on the Master System and then move straight to sonic 3 on the Mega Drive. Regardless though, a lot of the appeal for me was simply that I found the speed, level design and charger designs more appealing in Sonic than Mario, so I was happy to support SEGA and they’re mascot in that way.
    I do think that it’s one of those franchises that’s doomed to be divisive though. As much as I enjoy the later Sonic games more than a lit do, they’ve just become so inconsistent over the time, and the fandom is so divided too. From my own standpoint, I rarely touch this original, and tend to go for those that came after. As much as I love Sonic and co, I do agree with some of your criticisms here.
    I must say though, I’m looking forward to both Sonic Forces (yay create-a-character mode and Sonic Generations style appearance) and Sonic Mania (yay retro) 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for commenting. I didn’t really know what to expect playing through this first game, except that it was supposed to be fast. The further I got, the slower the gameplay got and the level design allowed, it seemed. I just don’t see how this game got away with that virtually scott free. Contemporary reviews from the time occasionally mentioned poor level design that conflicted with Sonic’s whole premise but brushed this off for either good graphics or music, or confusingly for the speed of the game anyways. I do think Sonic 1 is overrated in that respect. However, I’m not daunted and I’m actually happy to get started on Sonic 2 soon as I’ve heard it was an improvement over the first. Maybe now I can have a nostalgic feeling toward 2 since I experienced 1? Who knows!

      With Sonic being doomed to be divisive, that’s one aspect in which he could never defeat Mario. Who doesn’t love Mario or at least one of his genre-games he branched out into? Thanks for the respectful comment. I’d like to get into the upcoming Sonic games as well, if they’re affordable.

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      • Aye, Mario has definitely had a stronger overall output, and over a variety of genres. There’s no problem being respectful though. We’re all gamers and, like I said on my interview with yourself, I never bought into the SEGA vs. Nintendo war. Different people enjoy different games. And that’s great, because it means more and more different games will emerge. 🙂

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  10. Written like a true child of Nintendo! 😛

    Despite being one of my favourite childhood games, I can fully understand the criticisms here… Especially coming in cold as an adult, and from a Mario perspective. Time has not been kind to poor Sonic, the things that made it so stand out at the time now feel quaint. At the time, the entire point was the speed, flow, and dare I say, even level learning; when it all came together for that perfect run it was amazing.

    … Games have however moved on from that, and Mario’s more exploratory elements, challenging level design and less linear nature made it much more sustainable long term rather than the ‘quick fix’ provided in a Sonic title. The sequels are in some ways better, but still suffer from frustrations so I doubt they’ll vastly change your mind.

    It’s a game that encapsulates the 90’s… I think that’s probably where Sonic should have stayed… In the warm glow of nostalgia of the kids who grew up with him…

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    • Haha I am showing my true colors here as someone who has owned every Nintendo console at one point or another, minus their atrocious Wii U. I would like to think that my reasoning was articulated enough so it doesn’t sound like the mewlings of a fanboy and in my defense I can definitely tear into Nintendo (I have in a few posts in the past) with the Wii U’s failure taking most of my ire. I haven’t spared them in talking about the N64 either: a great system but in many ways a step toward irrelevance.

      Thanks for being understanding and willing to have a discussion about a character you love. I’m sure a Sonic veteran could breeze through Sonic 1 at high speed but I don’t see that the modern player coming in cold could experience it that way. I guess he really has become an anachronism. If Sega can figure out how to truly translate Sonic and make him appealing again in new ways, then the character could make a comeback. We’ll see what I think about Sonic 2 but so far it’s a 7/10 or 8/10 for me. I think there’s a lot more to dig into and think about on what went wrong with Sonic.

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      • No need for thanks, I really do enjoy hearing other perspectives 😊 … As you may know this whole “playing a game that is considered a classic for the first time” is a current interest of mine (insert podcast plug here).

        … there are a whole load of games that I love for nostalgic reasons but are flawed, and I think sonic sits in that family. I played sonic CD for the first time not that long ago, often praised as one of the best Sonic titles, but I was underwhelmed, and I think it’s more than likely because I have no nostalgia tied to those levels.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Nostalgia is certainly a powerful, powerful thing. It attracts the soul to elements which you’d otherwise rationally reject. I liked the concept of Sonic but it’s not everyday that you get to experience something so big and meaningful to others for the first time, with eyes unclouded, and run the risk of being underwhelmed. I can see why Sonic 1 was so mindblowing back in the day and parts of it remain like that but it gets in its own way a lot of the times. Playing a game that is considered a classic for the first time is a theme of your podcast? 😀

          Liked by 2 people

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