Hello, today we begin a new journey. Welcome to my first episode of Retrospective Review, and our first subject is Sonic The Hedgehog, developed by Sonic Team, and published by Sega.
We’re starting with Sonic the Hedgehog, and going back to where it all began. This was Sega’s big response to Nintendo and Mario. A 16-bit mascot who would lead Sega in the war against Nintendo and did for a while. But we’ll get there. Let’s focus on the first game, the introduction of Sonic the Hedgehog.
As I said, this is what I’m calling a retrospective review. The idea of this isn’t to review the game and its quality on its own, or for the time period, but rather look at what the game is in a series, and how it stands out. Is it worth a replay or should it sit on the shelf of collectors?
I want to go deeper with these reviews, so to be clear, I’m going to talk about these games from beginning to end so be prepared for spoilers, but it’s a Genesis-era Sonic game, so really there’s not much to spoil. I will be showing all the levels and bosses, though, so we can see how the game goes.
Now the plan is to have this as a monthly series, and I’ll put up the current schedule. If you’re a Sonic fan and really, who isn’t, you’ll want to consider subscribing so you can follow this whole series, ring that bell for notifications as well. The idea is that each month we should be able to cover at least one Sonic game, and the goal is at the end I’ll have covered each Sonic game available on PC. Sonic Spinball and Sonic Blast aren’t there, but hopefully, we can fit them in somewhere.
And as for this game, I am using the widescreen mode. I’m currently playing this on Sega Mega Drive and Genesis collection available on Steam, the collection was made by D3T Limited Technology. I’ve also played a fair amount on the Sega Genesis Mini, just to mix things up.
With all that out of the way, we can talk about Sonic the Hedgehog. I’m going to start with a quick history as well.
This is the first Sonic game. This was where it all started, however, it’s not the only Sonic the Hedgehog game. Of course, we have the Sonic the Hedgehog that was released in 2006 or Sonic 06 as it probably should be called to avoid associating it with this one. Whereas this is Sonic The Hedgehog 1991 if you want to say it. But there’s another Sonic the Hedgehog from 1991.
There was actually a Master System version of the game released in the same year as well as a Game Gear version of that same game. I don’t have a copy and I’ll admit I played those very long ago, but it came out almost half a year after this game. There’s a lot of confusion possible, so just realize that we’re talking about the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog, which is the original game, the true beginning of Sonic.
In addition, this game released in 1991, the Genesis was released in 1988 and 1989 depending on region, so this system was already out for at least two years and closer to three. How did Sonic get made? Well, there was a call to give the system a Mascot, and Naoto Oshima if I’m saying that right, created our little blue Hedgehog. There’s, of course, multiple versions of the original design but I’m going to avoid going too far into that history.
One thing to realize though is that this is 1991, Super Mario Brothers 3 has already been out on inferior hardware for 2 years prior to this. Nintendo has the lead, so the idea was that this game would be the main competition for those plumbers.
And of course, I’m using the American names for the consoles. Genesis not the Mega Drive, Master System, not the Mark 3. I’m American, I grew up with these consoles, sorry to the other countries, but I hope you understand and be able to follow along. Maybe one day we can dive into that.
But the fact is this became the best selling title for the Genesis. Though before we crown this game, It was also a pack-in title for the system. That’s not to say it wasn’t great for the time, but those numbers get inflated. Wii Sports is a great game, but I don’t think it’s the best game on the Nintendo Wii, it just came with the console.
Now the game has been playing for a while, but before we dive in, I want to challenge you, the viewer. Think about Sonic the Hedgehog’s levels. You can use a comment for it, or a piece of paper, write down each level you remember from the original Sonic the Hedgehog. I’ll give you a few moments and one hint, there are 7 zones.
Now that we’ve done that let’s discuss them and see how many you actually remember.
We obviously have been playing Green Hills, and I think that is an easy one for most Sonic fans. The flow of Sonic the Hedgehog zones are pretty simple. You start with three Acts per zone, with the third act having a final boss. There are going to be exceptions but rinse and repeat. There are seven zones here that we’ll go through as mentioned
Green Hill Zone is the iconic location for this franchise. It’s the level everyone knows from Sonic, which is interesting because it’s rarely called Green Hills in later games. This is actually The Green Hill level, but this is pretty much what we already know. Jumping PIranhas, insect attackers, and more.
There are a few traps here to get players ready for the game. There’s the rotating spike wood poles, the spikes that you can fall on and bottomless pits. It’s a standard level but it also gets players prepared for what Sonic will have for them.
It would be hard to die on this level, it’s just so easy…. Oh wait.
Yeah, there are a few annoying traps on this level but overall it’s a solid level and what people should expect from Sonic. Oddly enough, this isn’t the standard for this game.
The zone ends with the first of our fights against Robotnik and his ball of steel or rather multicolored brown shadings. He swings it back and forth and honestly, this is one of the easiest fights for one of the easiest levels. Don’t worry this game will get harder, but this is what amounts to almost a tutorial level during the Genesis era.
Following our relatively tame first level, we come to our first real challenge. Marble Zone. We enter ruins filled with lava and destroyed marble columns. It also has a major change to the gameplay. Where the first level is quite easy to run through, Marble Zone and its large areas of lava will make it dangerous to dash quickly through the level
We even have lava lighting some grassy platforms on fire, as well as spike traps and more throughout the level. And there are a few places you can accidentally get squished as well. There are also far fewer checkpoints on most of these levels, and a few interesting points of interest such as this tight hallway with lava flow right behind it.
But this is also a great platforming level. Sonic might not be able to speed through it, but it shows off that Sonic’s controls are far better than they deserved to be for the time.
The final boss of Marble Zone keeps with the theme. We have a Robotnik drone, with it dropping lava on a pair of small platforms. Again a relatively easy fight but still a good battleground. A small note, the widescreen version of the game actually can add some extra area for this fight.
Following up Marble Zone is Spring Yard Zone. If you originally thought Casino Zone was part of Sonic the Hedgehog, sorry, that is in the sequel, this is as close as we will get in Sonic the Hedgehog.
There’s definitely a Casino motif going on though with the number of bumpers. While the bumpers will one day become a mainstay in the series and appear in most levels, in Sonic the Hedgehog they were relegated just to this Zone, from humble beginnings grows the great Bumper.
There are some annoying spots such as the start of one level which just bounces you back. This is to show what a bumper can do, but it can be annoying.
There’s also this part of the stage near the end with a lot of jumps and a bottomless pit. It’s a slow section of the stage. There’s actually quite a few of these styles of movement and it’s one of the things I think players don’t remember about Sonic, but we’ll talk about that in a bit.
The challenge of Sonic the Hedgehog is finally here. Spring Yard Zone is where the game starts to get properly challenging and this is the bar the rest of the game is going to use. Marble Zone might have some tricks, but this is where players will start needing to memorize the level if they want to survive.
Spring Yard Zone ends with Spike Robotonik, or rather Robotonik with a spike. This seems really challenging and can be if you don’t have a strategy, but the strategy is really disappointing. Start on the left-most brick, wait until he attacks, hit him, sometimes hit him twice, and then move to the left-most brick that remains and rinse wash and repeat. Rather an easy boss.
Now in the list of levels, did you write down the “water level”. Everyone thinks of that when someone says bad Sonic levels, and the first game won’t disappoint. Here we have Labyrinth Zone.
It is the infamous water zone for the first game but it also is trying to be a little more maze-like. I know how people hate water levels in the Sonic series, and find them stress-inducing, but I’m going to make a case that this one isn’t so bad. There are only a few points where it’s impossible to get a breath of air, and those points are the exception.
There’s also this massive waterfall in the third act, honestly not a bad part of the level, but an interesting part. It actually loops and while it’s a little annoying to bounce off, you need to hold right and jump to make the jump, it’s also interesting.
You see it loops and I know it’s probably not the first game ever to have a looping vertical corridor, I’m still impressed that it’s done at this speed and it’s a rather clever puzzle for the game.
The Labyrinth Zone though ends with the weakest Boss in the game, and probably the series. Robotnik just decides to run at the end of the Zone up a thin shaft, behind bricks he shouldn’t be able to pass.
Now, this is a hard area to clear but as a boss, well it’s not. You don’t even have to hit Robotnik, just survive, and ok that’s something. Of course, the water rises here, but overall it’s a weak part of the game.
With that, we appear in Star Light Zone and if you haven’t realized it yet, there’s really no connection between each of these zones. We’re now in outer space. Ok.
Yes, this was kind of a standard for NES and Genesis games just throw a bunch of ideas at the game and call it a day.
The level can be a bit annoying. The most annoying thing is these enemies don’t appear to be able to be attacked. They explode after a short while but you can’t spin into them, at least I couldn’t find a way to do so.
The level also has bottomless pits, pinch points, and slow elevators. Overall kind of a weak level setup.
However, there are some good level designs. This is a level a little more focused on speed, and there are these seesaws with little spiked balls that are fun to play with. But at this point, the levels are more of the same and it’s just mostly about beating these challenges.
The final boss of Starlight Zone is Robotnik who drops exploding spike balls, not exactly that terrifying. You can use the seesaws he drops those bombs on to hit the spikes up against him or use them to launch yourself up and kill him. It’s not a hard fight at all.
Which brings us to what I’m going to call the final area. It’s Scrap Brain Zone. It feels like that name is just something they threw together, which makes sense because much of the level is thrown together.
There’s a new object the big circular spinning things that Sonic can run on. As well as some traps, both electricity, and fire. This actually is more of a maze or labyrinth than the actual Labyrinth zone, however. The first two acts are decent levels and quite interesting.
At the end of the second act, everything changes. You find Robotnik and he drops you into a pit, which is still act 3 of Scrap Brain Zone but fits more with Labyrinth zone having a large underwater area for this part of the game.
There are two ways through this level, I think. One was really hard, and the other was pretty easy. Just make sure to take the right one and you should be fine. But at the end of the level, you find this. No boss, just a springboard. Ok, let’s go up.
Suddenly we’re in the Final Zone or is it? It is listed as Final Zone but with no boss to the previous stage, it just feels like a final act for the Scrap Brain Zone. It’s just a boss battle.
Here you fight Robotnik one more time, it honestly was a good enough fight that we have seen it featured in Sonic Mania, but for a final boss, and the only thing in this level, it’s entirely too easy. Just don’t get stomped, don’t get hit by this attack and hit Robotnik if you can. It might be a little hard to time everything, but you’ll get this. Though it is at the end of the game, and… well, if you die here you might be going ALL the way back.
Beat him, however, and we get the end of the game credits. But admittedly I didn’t have all 6 chaos emeralds and I got the bad ending. I’m ok with that… really I am. The ending here barely changes, and you can check out the alternate version on Youtube, it’s a nice touch but a single scene doesn’t make for a lot of change.
So that’s everything in Sonic the Hedgehog. How did you go on your lists? Because here’s the thing, I don’t think people will remember this game as well as they claim. Sure, you might remember a couple of these levels, but I tried it with a few friends and they did a great job of naming Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s levels. More on that in a bit.
One thing you probably have noticed is how amazing the animations are in Sonic the Hedgehog, that’s a good reason that Sonic lived on after this game, and games like Ristar and others might have failed. Sonic was extremely well designed and developed by Sega and Sonic Team. There was a real love for this character and I think that’s clear.
We’ve had four generations of consoles and Sonic is still being made regularly, even though he’s no longer a platform mascot. That’s something else and part of it is how iconic and just detailed this character has always been. I mean this character has had a plethora of bad games, and Sega continues with him for some reason.
There are small animations here that really stand out. My personal favorite is how Sonic dangles at the edge of a brick or a cliff. It’s a great little touch but it really adds something to the character. There’s even a small flaw to the location of the animation and it is just one of the best animations out there even with that flaw.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s level design is also great at least for the time. Honestly, in the modern era, the randomness of the themes for the levels, and the styles here would be the bare minimum required for a game, however in the 1990s when this game came out, this was a very solid choice of levels and had a strong variety of challenge between each level.
While the art and level design are solid for the 1990s, they don’t stand out that much. This is a blueprint for all future Sonic games, but it’s also what leads me to one of my big problems with this game. It’s not Sonic 2.
Let me try to explain. Sonic the Hedgehog is the first game in the Sonic Series, it was one of the first major game for Sega, and a pack-in title for the Genesis eventually. But Sonic really became important when Sonic 2 was released, especially with Sonic 2sday, and Sega started to directly attacking Nintendo.
We will, of course, cover Sonic 2, Blast Processing, Sega does what Nintendon’t next month, but the fact is everything that Sonic the Hedgehog does well is done better by Sonic 2 and it takes steps to truly push Sonic to the next level and made him worthy of being Sega’s mascot for almost 30 years now.
The reason I asked about the list of levels is that most levels people remember are from the second game. Emerald Hill, Chemical Plant, Aquatic Ruins, Casino Night, Hill Top, Mystic Cave, Oil Ocean, Metropolis, Sky Chase, Wing Fortress, Death Egg, and Egg Gauntlet. That’s 13 zones, it’s also a bigger game with more variety.
Now the thing is many important pieces of what makes a Sonic is also missing here. While the gameplay works well, it lacks some minor changes that are essential. The most important is the Spindash. Sonic can’t spindash at all, ducking and hitting the jump button just launches Sonic in the air.
This is Mario without a jump, Link without a sword. The Spindash move IS Sonic. That’s his move. He has only one. Without it, I mean., I don’t know what game this is, but it doesn’t feel like Sonic, and it’s slower because of that.
The level design here is good, but many levels are made to be quite slow, possibly due to the fact there’s no way for Sonic to drive himself forward. This isn’t exactly the gameplay players will likely remember from Sonic.
Let me break this down just a little more because I feel that while there’s a lot of people who love Sonic, they don’t understand why. You see Sonic is almost always called the fastest character, and that’s somewhat true, but in a majority of his old Genesis games, it’s not his speed that made these games great. Of course, Blast Processing, Sega selling the system and more.
We should ignore those advertisements. This is something we will talk about in the future, probably next month, but a majority of levels here aren’t exactly speedy, in fact, I would say only two zones are really about speed. The water levels are never speedy, but again I don’t think it’s actually the speed people hate in them. It’s a lack of control
I think Sonic is more popular not for speed but the control over speed. Mario running at top speed is probably as fast as Sonic, but he doesn’t have as much control over it, including slowing down or the jump heights he will launch at. At least not always. Sonic can consistently run through most levels and that’s what really differentiates him.
Again, not here, that’s in later games, and I swear, next time, we’ll talk more. But the point I want to make is Sonic isn’t very speedy here, and honestly, I don’t think he’s as fast as people think. It’s one of the places where the 3d Sonics get into trouble when they made the player give up control to go faster when that’s the wrong choice to make for this character. Especially Sonic 06, and Boom, and Forces, and… You get the idea, they do that a lot.
Here though, if you try to go fast, you’ll end up in a pit or spikes most of the time. And with limited lives, that’s a problem. Oh yes, limited lives. This is a Genesis game, and I’ll complain more when we get to the later eras, like Generations and we still have lives, but lives were definitely a thing back in the Genesis-era as was high score, which again is something I can forgive on the Genesis but also something this franchise hangs on to.
The thing is, Sonic the Hedgehog feels overly stingy about lives. The number of 1-ups I found in this game is probably countable on one hand and while there’s probably more, they’re hidden. Such as this one that is hiding in a hidden room. Lovely.
There’s also supposed to be a one up for 100 rings, I got this one time while playing extremely carefully and skillfully on the first level. It is not easy to get. I found myself topping out around 50 rings, which might make sense as that’s what will get players to the special stage, but quickly playing the first level of Sonic 2, I could easily get a couple of one-ups right out of the gate.
What about continues, well you can earn those by getting 50 coins in the bonus stage. But this is the bonus stage. Ugh. This is PAINFUL. It’s painful to play, it’s painful to look at. And it’s just not fun. If you like this… get help because… no, just no to this bonus stage.
Of course, you can earn your Chaos emeralds here but that would also mean you have to play these stages and they’re not fun. Also, let me be clear, I only got a continue ONE time on these stages. It’s not easy to get, and they only appear at the end of a level.
As for the Chaos Emeralds, sure collect them, get a little bonus scene at the end, there’s no Super Sonic and no true reason to collect them all.
Also if you get a checkpoint right in front of a boss there’s not “three rings’ which is what Sonic games tend to toss at the player in future installments. Here you’ll have to back track, sometimes through dangerous areas to get a couple rings so you can take a hit. Not the best idea but it works.
What I’m trying to get to is that Sonic the Hedgehog is pretty hard. I found myself struggling before I even got to the halfway point of the game. Now the game was fun and enjoyable and I would have loved to just kick back and play it for a couple of days, but after a couple of hours, I knew I might not see it all.
The good news is there’s a stage select. Up down left right, you get a little coin sound, and then you hold A and hit start. Thank god for this. Don’t get me wrong, the proper way is to beat every level which is what I did before I selected the next level, but the struggle isn’t that fun back on this era games, especially losing a full run because something new is thrown at you. Even worse is when that thing is a freaking bottomless pit or a spike and you’ll have to hit twice, or lava that almost always can be a killer.
The thing is with limited lives, losing your game gets more frustrating. There’s a reason people threw controllers long ago, and I’m not making an excuse for that action, but without saves, battery backups or good game designs, games were extra frustrating.
So is Sonic the Hedgehog good? Oh boy,… well I’ll be honest, that’s not what we’re here to talk about. The idea here is more is Sonic the Hedgehog worth playing? And… that’s equally hard actually.
This is the origin of the entire series, this is where everything started. This is where Sonic began, and great for him, it’s worked out in the long run. At the same time, I really struggle with this game, not just actual struggles with this game, but I think Sonic the Hedgehog is not as good as the rest. At least the rest of the Genesis, I’m not going to be that nice to some of the later games, trust me they suck.
But if you somehow think I’m wrong and this isn’t the worst Genesis or Sega CD Sonic the Hedgehog, feel free to tell me which is worse, and maybe I’ll give you a shout out when I cover that game. The fact though is Sonic The Hedgehog is the first Genesis game but it’s also the weakest to me.
Oh, and to be clear. Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3d Blast doesn’t count in that list.
What holds this game back. It’s all stuff that this series would figure out in the next 16 months. It doesn’t have Tails which means no two-player mode, it doesn’t have the spindash which means lacking a lot of speed. The level design is weaker, the difficulty is higher than it should be. The boss design isn’t awful but it’s a bit lacking. Let’s be honest while the last boss was cool, the other 4 were typical.
There’s a reason why next month is Sonic 2 before we start jumping around. It’s because I believe Sonic the Hedgehog as a series really started with Sonic 2, as for Sonic the Hedgehog, in hindsight, it’s at best a good game, but not exactly a game that you need to play. This is the first, but it’s hardly the best.
For me, I’d skip Sonic The Hedgehog and start right off with Sonic 2. Then once you get an appreciation for the character, maybe after that go back and play Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic the Hedgehog is Final Fantasy 1. It started the franchise but in hindsight, it’s very rough. It’s Zelda 2. Yeah, a major game, but not one that you need to play. It’s GTA 1. Great for historians but I think we can leave it unplayed from now on. It’s Super Mario 2, which I know people like, but it’s not really Mario.
So should you play Sonic the Hedgehog in 2020? Probably not. As I said, if you really want to go back and play all of them, Sonic The Hedgehog is fine to start with but if you want to play the better Sonic games, you can skip it. It’s great for the collection but that’s about it. Stick around though, I promise this review should only have gotten you hungry, because what’s next? Oh yes. Sonic 2. And Sonic 2 is when this whole franchise really got started and I have a lot more to say there.
And if you want a score. Remember this is adjusted for Sonic itself and understanding the entire legacy of this franchise… This is going to get a 3/5 It’s good, playable, but there are so many better games in this franchise. There’s also a LOT worse, and we’ll probably play a few of them soon.
I hope you have enjoyed this video and style. As I said, this is something new, retrospective reviews. Let me know what you think down in the comments. Next month we’ll be back with Sonic 2 and I think it’ll be clear how much I love this franchise when we get there.
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I’m going to pop up two videos for you. About a year ago I covered Sonic Mania, and Sonic Mania Encore DLC, check those out and I’ll be back soon to talk more sonic.
Until then, I’m Kinglink and thanks for watching.