Want to feel old? Today, June 23rd, marks the 20th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog’s first adventure on the Sega Master System. Back in 1991, old blue shocked the gaming world by aspiring to beat out Nintendo mascot Mario, and even succeeding sales-wise in a few regions. Sonic’s impatient idle animations and punk rock needle fringe cast him as the exact opposite of the portly, straight-laced plumber.Through the ragged 16-bit battlefields, the two platformed it out over consoles, handhelds, TV shows, and cereals.
But then, the 21st century came. While Mario eventually went on to conquer every sport (and eventually the galaxy), Sonic stubbed every rodent toe possible: terrible 3D conversions, horrible racing and fighting game cash-ins, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. Even though now the two rivals appear to have buried the joystick and amicably compete in the Olympics together, our old hedgehog friend reeks of sold souls and formaldehyde. And while Colors was entertaining, Generations is looking to take that familiar back step we all expect from a Sonic game. So, that’s celebrate the Hedgehog’s 20th anniversary the way I imagine he would, get wasted and remember games from a decade ago!
And because no one at EG agrees with me that Sonic Spinball and Triple Trouble were good games, I present Elder Geek’s Top
10 5 Sonic the Hedgehog games!
#5: Sonic Rush Adventure
Ok, so maybe that whole “ten year old games” jab was a bit overzealous. Co-developed by Dimps and Sonic Team and released in 2007, this sequel to the DS’ Sonic Rush took Sonic and Tails on an island-based adventure against a band of mechanized pirates. By all accounts this game should not have worked. A lot of it takes place on vehicles, it introduces a new crew of sidekicks, and its soundtrack is the same sketchy hybrid funk/hip hop blend seen in Sonic Rush. But unlike other genre adventures in the franchise, pretty much everything here works, and works well. Races benefited greatly from vehicle variety, the mascots were actually tolerable (and played differently enough to justify their inclusion), and hell, it had some decent multiplayer. On the DS of all places. Still not sure about the soundtrack, though.
#4: Sonic Advance 3
Fully developed by Dimps and published by THQ, the third game in the Sonic Game Boy Advance Saga is a great example of how to keep building on a legacy. Mirroring the design evolution of the hedgehog’s first Genesis three games, Advance 3 took the tight platforming controls of Advance‘s first iteration and combined it with the faster gameplay of the second. The result, unsurprisingly, was the closest we ever came to reliving that original feeling of blissful momentum we had when Sonic first came to the scene. The partner-swapping “Tag Action” abilities were also a lot more engaging and useful than they sound. If only we could have used it to throw Amy off a cliff…
#3: Sonic Adventure 2
The last good game in the franchise to be wholly developed by Sonic Team, Sonic Adventure 2 introduced us to the cooler, gun-less version of Shadow the Hedgehog. It also refined the single player campaign into “Hero” and “Dark” modes, focusing on as many different action set-pieces as possible without too much of the narrative cheese that was sadly starting to become a Sonic staple. The multiplayer here was among the best the series ever saw on console, and the soundtrack has since taken its deserved place at the nucleus of video game camp.
#2: Sonic and Knuckles
Unfair, you say? Sonic and Knuckles was mostly bought as a gameplay extension of Sonics 2 and 3, you say? Well, my list was downgraded by half. Life’s not fair.
Sonic and Knuckles is the golden calf of what Sega was trying to do with its Genesis-era hardware add-ons, albeit in a more limited sense. In addition to its own campaign surrounding Knuckles, inserting either Sonic 2 or 3 into the “lock on” S&K cartridge brought the red echidna (read: spiny anteater) and his gliding, wall-sticking abilities into a whole new campaign in either game. This wasn’t just a character skin, these were basically the director’s cut versions of both games, with all the material axed in order to make their original, and deadly, 1 1/2 year development time. Best of all, it all played with the whip-fast, sometimes brutal, speed platforming you remember. A shame Knuckles’ gameplay debut would also be his finest hour.
#1: Sonic CD
Absolute, classic platforming perfection. Revitalized physics polished the spin-dashing, jumping, and braking to a mirrored crystal shine. 7 playable zones with 3 acts and 4 different time periods. That last bit isn’t level dressing either, in each “Past” version of a level there is a robot generating machine that, if destroyed, creates a different “Future” version of that same level with no enemies and half the environmental hazards. This was one of the most expansive games in the library, and had one of the biggest claims to replayability in that generation. The presentation was the stuff that 1993 dreams were made of: gorgeous FMV anime cutscenes running smoothly beside an impeccably upbeat, enthusiasm rallying soundtrack regardless of whether you got the original Japanese (synth) or United States (syrupy 90s pop) version.
This CD encapsulates the moment when Sonic could and did compete on equal footing with Mario’s best. This CD is why the battle between Sega and Nintendo was once a titanic clash of software and hardware Olympians. And it is without a shadow of doubt, the best Sonic the Hedgehog game ever made.