A SEGA Nerd's Guide To Every Sonic The Hedgehog Game
Sonic the Hedgehog, the movie, is out now - or nearly out now; or has been out for a while already; depending on when you're reading this. Suffice to say: a motion picture based on SEGA's blue blur of a mascot is a thing that exists, and I've even seen it! Not that I'm here to talk about it - to write about it - right now.
What I am here to write about, for a bit: the video games that inspired Sonic the Hedgehog, the movie. Which have been around since 1991, after SEGA ran an internal design competition to find a new mascot after Alex (not, and never, "the") Kidd didn't really work out for them in the face of the all-conquering Mario over at Nintendo.
The story of Sonic's origin is a good one (he didn't even begin as a hedgehog, you know) - but, again, I'm not here for that. I'm here to rank the games, the classic (and 3D) platformers, that Sonic's made his name with, and continues to enjoy popularity with.
No racers, no fighters, no pinball and no arcade-only trackball monstrosities. Just console platformers, over the years, from 1991 to today - well, to the most recent Sonic games, anyway. Let's go... fast!
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Mega Drive, 1992
If you're old enough to remember Sonic Twosday, you'll remember just how big of a deal this sequel was. In many ways the very archetype of a sequel - bigger, better, faster, and with a few new features - Sonic 2 was platforming excellence at high speed, and the first game (with apologies to the original) in SEGA's series to truly rival the magic of Mario at his most super.
Sonic the Hedgehog CD - Mega CD, 1993
I'm an awful Mega CD apologist, for which I make no apologies. But that aside, Sonic CD is an absolute banger. The crispest visuals and the coolest music, special stages that planted Sonic in F-Zero and said go nuts, time-travelling within levels to unlock other levels, and the introduction of Metal Sonic. What's not to like, nay, to love, here? Also: forget anyone who tells you the North American soundtrack is superior to the Japanese and European version, for they are a liar.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Mega Drive; 1994
Sonic 3 did for Sonic 2 what Sonic 2 had done for Sonic: more of what you love, with a healthy dash of all-new goodness. Arriving very late in the Mega Drive's lifetime, by this point SEGA were really pushing their machine, and no 16-bit Sonic game looks as good as this one does. Great music, too, but we probably shouldn't wander down that particular rabbit hole.
Sonic Adventure - Dreamcast; 1998
Hands up, or on the table, or wherever they need to be - this is here, really, by virtue of being the first proper 3D Sonic game and not being a total mess, which it could easily have been. Which is to say, I'm not the biggest fan of it, but I've loads of respect for it. Also, I've a huge soft spot for the Dreamcast, and Sonic Adventure was one of its 'killer apps', so, into the God Tier category it goes. It's not aged as well as the other games sharing this tier, but that's as much to do with the visuals as it is the raw gameplay which, at times, remains thrillingly off-kilter and out of control. But, also: Big the Cat.
Sonic Mania - multi-platform; 2017
A kind of greatest hits of 16-bit Sonic wrapped up in a love letter sealed with a kiss, Sonic Mania is what happens when a stakeholder, in this instance SEGA (obviously), has the confidence to let fans loose with one of its key assets. It's the phenomenal answer to: what if Sonic, but an indie game? Albeit an indie game with all the support of one of the most famous publishers in the gaming space.
Sonic the Hedgehog - Mega Drive; 1991
Where it all started: "SEGA" both on screen and crackling from your speakers (it talks!); a piece of title screen music for the ages; and the immediate urge to run to the right. There's no doubt that the OG Sonic is a classic of its time, but such is the quality of its immediate sequels that this old-timer can't punch any higher than this, anymore. My regards to Star Light Zone.
Sonic the Hedgehog - Master System, Game Gear; 1991
Did you know that the 8-bit versions of Sonic the Hedgehog were entirely different to the 16-bit version? This one's developed not by SEGA but by Ancient, the studio co-founded by the celebrated game music composer Yuzo Koshiro. And guess who did the music for this game, eh? Did you know? Did you? Now, you do.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Master System, Game Gear; 1992
Did you know that the 8-bit versions of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 were entirely different to the 16-bit version? This one's developed not by SEGA but by Aspect, a studio that worked almost exclusively on Game Gear projects (including further Sonic games, more on which in a bit) until the handheld was phased out. In 2012, Aspect would release ThunderCats for the Nintendo DS, a game so bad that to even spend a second thinking about it will cause near-unparalleled distress. So don't you dare look it up. Don't. This, though. This was a very good game. I rate it.
Sonic & Knuckles - Mega Drive; 1994
I also really rate this one, but I couldn't put Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic 3 in the same tier without risking a truckload of weird cartridge-stacking space-time-twisting damage, or something. So I'm keeping it here, safe in the knowledge that no games around it are compatible with this mutant slab of it-plugs-in-both-ways plastic. Knuckles can climb up walls, you know, just like real-life echidnas. But unlike real-life hedgehogs, Sonic will never creep into your house and eat your cat food. Probably.
Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure - Neo Geo Pocket Color; 1999
Curveball! Here's one that hardly anyone reading this will have played, as it was released for a console that hardly anyone reading this will have bought (and, more pertinently, it's not been repackaged a great deal since its original release). Pocket Adventure is kind of a remix of Sonic 3 and Sonic 2, with original level layouts based on familiar Zones. It's bright and bold, super fast and controls brilliantly. Many of its makers at SNK would later go on to form Dimps, the studio behind a number of pretty darn good Game Boy Advance Sonic games. Speaking of which...
Sonic Advance 2 - Game Boy Advance; 2002
Cream the Rabbit, eh? What a liability. But while Sonic Advance 2 saw one of this series' least-celebrated sidekicks make their debut, it's better remembered as being a genuinely brilliant, side-scrolling Sonic 'em up, with all the traits that made the classics classic. To this day, the game looks superb, and the exploration potential of each level was something of a callback to Sonic CD's sprawling environments. It's no breeze, though, so if you're a would-be Sonic master who's yet to tackle this one, strap in for a challenge.
Sonic Rush - DS; 2005
Another Dimps production, Rush is almost too fast for its screen(s) size - but if you manage to tune your brain into its high-speed action, it's really rewarding, too. Like Advance 2, here's another handheld Sonic release that introduces a new character, namely Blaze the Cat. Treat her like a princess, you animals, because she is one; and don't make her mad, unless you like feeling toasty.
Knuckles' Chaotix - 32X; 1995
I know I said no spin-offs - but if it's a platformer, I'm counting it. And Knuckles' Chaotix sure is a platformer, and one that deserved better than to be an exclusive for a Mega Drive peripheral that absolutely bombed. A project that wasn't spearheaded by SEGA's Sonic Team, Chaotix veers from the familiar Sonic formula by giving players an interesting, if divisive, new feature. One playable character - could be Knuckles, or Vector the Crocodile, Mighty the Armadillo and more - is always tethered to a second via a kind of rubberised rope with two rings at the ends, which sees the pair pinging this way and that. It's easy to see why this was called Knuckles' Ringstar during its development. Hard to get to grips with? Definitely, at first. But as a genuinely intriguing, original creation within its series, Chaotix is overdue a revival - it's been practically unseen its original release.
Sonic Advance - Game Boy Advance; 2001
The traditionally side-scrolling Sonic Advance holds the honour of being the first Sonic game ever released for a Nintendo platform, causing kids of the 80s to die a little inside (maybe). It's also the first and only Sonic title to have been released for the ill-fated Nokia N-Gage, under the name of SonicN. But please, don't play it on that.
Sonic Adventure 2 - Dreamcast, GameCube; 2001
This sequel didn't really learn any lessons from the shortcomings of its 3D predecessor, but did see the Dreamcast out with something of a bang. A fiddly camera holds it back from being what it could, and perhaps should, have been. And as such, it's something of a shadow of the earlier Sonic Adventure when it comes to both first impressions and lasting legacy.
Sonic Heroes - multi-platform; 2003
Heroes - which, with the Dreamcast now dead and buried, was released for GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC - found SEGA's mascot still failing to truly deliver in the 3D space, in the same way that Mario had been ever since 64's release. It squeezed the explorative aspects of Adventure and its sequel into a tighter, more focused affair somewhat akin to the 2D games of the '90s, but subsequently attracted some criticism for its linearity. It might've been a favourite in its day, but this is another Sonic that's not stood the test of time.
Sonic Advance 3 - Game Boy Advance; 2004
Much like the previous Advance games from Dimps, this third entry is a very enjoyable experience that leans almost exclusively on the gameplay of the Mega Drive titles, but lets the player loose with a variety of characters, each with their own abilities. It brings a little freshness to the table, then, and it looks gorgeous, but Advance 3 didn't progress the series in any way novel enough for it to be dug out again today.
Sonic Rush Adventure - DS; 2007
Released in the wake of 2006's awful, just awful Sonic the Hedgehog, Rush Adventure set the franchise back on the right track, to some degree. With 2D and 3D elements combining for some vibrant visuals, and a host of secrets to be found across its expansive zones, this was a fun and, crucially, fast old-school platformer with just enough contemporary touches to set it apart from its '90s forerunners.
Sonic Colors - Wii, DS; 2010
AKA Sonic Goes to Space, I guess. Colors was, good? Much better than Unleashed, at least. I don't remember a great deal about this one, TBH. Let's see what the internet says. Ah yes, this is the one with the Wisps. That was a cool feature, I guess, all these lil' collectibles scattered around levels, encouraging you to go back into them and play again. Gotta catch 'em all, right? Wrong series, sorry.
Sonic Generations - multi-platform; 2011
With 'new' Sonic's games not faring so well with critics, or fans of the character for that matter, SEGA decided to roll back the years with Generations and bring their tubbier design from the '90s back - albeit alongside the leaner, meaner Sonic we'd been playing as since Adventure. Like Mania, this is a kind of celebration of the Sonic series to date, with a lot of old stages revived. But unlike Mania, it's Sonic as seen through its creators' eyes, rather than those of the fans, which is perhaps why it plays things a little too safe to really warrant replaying almost a decade later.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble - Game Gear; 1994
Nack goes the Weasel. Yep, that's about all I have to offer, here. Triple Trouble was fine, I guess. I played it once, and only once, on a friend's Game Gear, and never felt any great need to own it myself. Nack was a new character, later renamed to Fang. Um. Yep, that's it.
Sonic Chaos - Master System, Game Gear; 1993
This one I did have, on the Master System - still the only console I've ever sold, and I regret it all the time (I spent the money I made from it on records, in the local Our Price, which dates me something horribly). Chaos was, like Triple Trouble, no more than okay - but it was great, in hindsight, that SEGA developed standalone 8-bit Sonic games rather than try to squeeze their 16-bit games down for the platforms. Slick and fast, it's a decent blast from the past, if you've got the right hardware kicking around (sob).
Tails Adventure - Game Gear; 1995
1995 really was the year for Sonic sidekicks getting their own spotlight games, as Tails Adventure released just a couple of months after Knuckles' Chaotix. And like Chaotix, this game offered a twist on the Sonic formula, with levels requiring a lot of methodical exploration to get the most out of, with key, progress-granting items needing to be discovered. Less about speed and more about searching, Tails Adventure is SEGA, via developers Aspect, trying something different - in this case, a kind of Metroid-style experience - and almost, almost, pulling it off.
Sonic and the Secret Rings - Wii; 2007
What began as a Wii port of 2006's Sonic the Hedgehog ultimately became something slightly better. Well, okay, quite a lot better. Secret Rings could still trip the player up with its erratic camera - something 3D Sonics seem to be forever cursed by - but the game looked great, wearing its Aladdin and Prince of Persia influences quite proudly. The game makes subtle but effective use of the Wii's motion controls; and multiplayer options for up to four players is a neat addition, too.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - multi-platform; 2010-2012
Released in two parts, in 2010 and 2012, across everything from iPhones to the Ouya (remember that? No? No worries), Sonic 4 was basically another game from the '90s that emerged about 15 years too late. Its story is set after the events of Sonic & Knuckles, and it brings back Metal Sonic from Sonic CD, so this is very much an exercise in nostalgia that hits just enough sweet spots to feel worthy of that expectations-weighty '4' in its name.
Sonic Blast - Game Gear; 1994
The final Sonic release for the Game Gear - which actually received a Master System port in 1997 - Sonic Blast is an ugly, sluggish platformer that will leave a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who thought most of the hedgehog's 1990s games were of a high quality. This one? No. No. And those pre-rendered sprites? What the hell were you thinking, SEGA?
Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island - Mega Drive, Saturn; 1996
Isometric agony, available on several collections since. For some reason. Its developer, Traveller's Tales, would also work on the racing-centric Sonic R for the Saturn, before moving on to create a wealth of excellent LEGO games. So, at least there was a happy ending to this monstrosity.
Sonic Lost World - Wii U, 3DS; 2013
It's the Sonic you know, but with gear changes! At the press (well, holding) of a button, Sonic's standard run becomes a sprint, in a new-for-this-game mechanic that nobody had been asking for. It's meant to help you navigate parkour sections but, no, it does not. The dual-screen platforms Lost World released for allows for some novel control options, like dealing with Wisps on one screen while Sonic's tearing through stages on the other. It's a very pretty game, on Wii U, but much like that console, Lost World is rather fated to go down in history as one of its makers' misses.
Sonic Boom: Ice & Fire - 3DS; 2016
Am I being kind here, putting any of the Sonic Boom games in the Bad category, rather than Avoid? Yes, yes I am. In comparison to Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal, this TV series tie-in isn't abjectly terrible. It's just very very, very very, very very not good. A game where "generic" is a compliment, basically.
Sonic Forces - multi-platform; 2017
How could any other Sonic game look good, when it's released in the same year as Mania? That's a question that Forces, with its design-your-own-character gimmick, should have asked itself, and perhaps slid elsewhere on the release schedule. Forces is loud and garish, sporadically visually mesmerising, and a few good ideas. But they're ideas that don't really go anywhere, and the rush of the action quickly enough dulls.
Shadow the Hedgehog - multi-platform; 2005
Shadow has a gun, on the cover. That's a Sonic character, with a realistic-ish-looking gun, on the cover. WTF is this thing? It's so, so stupid. If you have a copy, smash it with a hammer.
Sonic the Hedgehog - Xbox 360, PlayStation 3; 2006
A borderline unplayable mess that should never have been released. And that kiss between Sonic and the human princess? And the entire plot that underpinned it? Gibberish. Absolute baloney. Set every copy of this thing on fire, please.
Sonic Unleashed - multi-platform; 2008
He turns into a 'Werehog'. That's the gimmick. Unleashed is Sonic via God of War, and it sucks. Bury it in the ground and leave the grave unmarked.
Sonic and the Black Knight - Wii; 2009
So guns didn't work for the Sonic series, and neither did supernatural brawling. So how about swords, eh? Only, the swordplay doesn't really work. At all. That's a pass from me, SEGA. Drop this into wet concrete and walk away, whistling a merry Green Hill melody.
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal - 3DS; 2014
Shattered Crystal and Rise of Lyric are the worst-selling games in the Sonic series, because they are terrible, irredeemable video games that should be strapped to a firework come November 5th and exploded into smithereens. Don't even give this game to a kid, because that's child abuse, mate.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric - Wii U; 2014
See above, but you'll need a bigger firework.
Featured Image Credit: SEGA