My Top-5 and Bottom-5 Sonic Games

SonicThis is a list I started cooking up while doing my Sonic Series review for YouTube. The first half is out and the second part of the review series is headed to the channel next monday. In the mean time, I wanted to do something fun, while I’m still in a blue blur of my own from doing this review series. I wanted to post my five favourite and least favourite Sonic games.

For a refresher, I’ll point to my old Which is the best Sonic?-blog from a few a years ago, where I was comparing the three main instalments on the Mega Drive (Genesis). The blog stands on its own, but I’ll also make a note to point out that I’ve reviewed a lot more Sonic games since I made said blog. Sonic is unquestionably one of my favourite game series and I’ve done several Top-10s which concern the series already (including one of the earliest ones on this blog).

For the entries on this list, I’ll stress again that whenever I can help it I avoid including games I haven’t personally played on my lists. So, while it no doubt probably is the worst Sonic “thing” to have ever been created, you will not be seeing Sonic ’06 on this list. Also, I’m not limiting myself to just main instalments of the series, especially since compiling the Bottom-5 would have proven very difficult otherwise.

Now, let’s finally get on with the list…

Top-5

Sonic_Generations_Logo5. Sonic Generations

Alright, this might seem like a funny pick for the list, but Sonic Generations was actually a really fun title. Of course, it is a 20th anniversary title and as such is a bit limited conceptually, but for that it shows a really high amount of polish and the fun-factor is extremely high.

In this game, you play through an array levels from nearly every major instalment of the series (Sonic 1-3, Adventure 1 + 2, Heroes, ’06, Unleashed and Colours) both in a traditional 2D style and the modern 3D style. The levels are mostly solid with maybe the 3D ones giving me a little bit of trouble, but the game is loaded with fun content and recognisable enemies, characters and music from each instalment.

Admittedly, Generations is a rather short title (even if you play all the levels in both modes as well as a bunch of the bonus missions), but I feel the game is appropriate for what it is. You do need to be a Sonic fan to begin with in order to enjoy the game to its fullest and that’s why it only warrants the number-5 spot on the Top-5. But I really had a lot of fun with it and highly recommend it to other Sonic fans.

Sonic_Adventure4. Sonic Adventure

The first proper 3D Sonic title from Sonic Team. Sonic Adventure included a lot of revolutionary concepts for the game: a storyline, multiple playable characters and of course the new 3D gameplay style of the new Sonic titles. It also included the speed and a huge fun factor which still makes it many people’s favourite Sonic game.

I’m most impressed with the game’s multi-level storyline which only properly opens up to the player when played through the perspectives of all the other characters. I also greatly appreciated the diverse gameplay variety and the extremely lively soundtrack also helped make this a stand-out game.

However, I always find myself pointing out a lot of minor issues with the game such as the slightly dodgy cutscenes, the lack of ambient sound in any part of the game which has no music, the low amount of levels in Amy and Gamma’s storylines and the game’s slightly disappointingly low level of challenge. It’s not Sonic 4 Episode 1 easy, but it’s definitely a lot less challenging than what I would hope of a platformer.

Never the less, it’s a solid title and highly recommended.

sonic_the_hedgehog_genesis_title_screen3. Sonic the Hedgehog

Sometimes you just want simple, fast, fun gaming action and in that regard, Sonic 1 has always stood out as one of my favourite games. Yes, even in the slowed down PAL version. I enjoyed this game immensely as a child and even as an adult I’m somehow able to look past its lack of refinement and just enjoy it for what it is: a really fun and challenging platformer.

The simplicity of this title just makes me smile. I love the levels and I especially like it that there are three Acts per Zone unlike in so many other Sonic titles (few exceptions being Sonic CD and 4). I just enjoy the design, music and atmosphere so much that I don’t mind spending a lot of time in each level (which I realise is kind of counter to the whole purpose of the game, but I don’t honestly care). Also, the game doesn’t hold back and some of the later levels are quite merciless, but I fell the challenge rises in a fair manner and so I don’t feel cheated with the title.

I recognise there were many improvements the sequels made and, as a game, Sonic is very bare bones. However, the same way I’m still able to enjoy the first Super Mario Bros. I still very much love this game and truly prefer it over a lot of the more developed, later games. It’s a great pick up and play experience.

SonicAdventure22. Sonic Adventure 2

The same way Sonic the Hedgehog 2 improved a lot over Sonic 1, I feel the second Adventure-title from the series is vastly superior game to the easy and, honestly, more slow-paced first title. Sonic Adventure 2’s improvements are admittedly a bit more subtle, but sometimes you only need to make minor changes to make a better game.

While I do think the game’s story is a lot more straight-forward because you only get to experience it from two vantage points (the heroes and the bad guys), I felt it was still really interesting, especially when Shadow was concerned. The main reason I loved this game so much was that it allowed you to play as multiple characters, alternating from level to level. This avoided the monotony I occasionally experienced in Adventure 1 and I felt the gameplay was mostly solid.

Adventure 2 maybe has a bit more problems resulting from a degree of sloppiness in its production, mainly things like voice-acting, some level design issues and a lack of proper camera control. However, it’s my feel-good game and it does a lot of things I wish other 3D Sonic games would.

Sonic 21. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

This pick is almost ridiculously obvious, but there’s a reason why Sonic 2 holds up so well. It literally took everything awesome about the first game and made it all better with more level variety, a more lively soundtrack, more challenging zones and by giving you a cute little sidekick who could be controlled by a second player to help out in the tough parts of the game.

Sonic 2 has such finesse to it despite being such a simple game at heart. I feel the game holds up well and it has one of my favourite game soundtracks of all time. With the possible exception of the Metropolis Zone, I love every level and it’s one of those games that’s hard to stop playing once you’ve started.

The fun-factor is really unmatched by any other instalment in the series. I felt the other 2D instalments didn’t really present enough new fresh ideas and this is why I always feel they fall a bit flat in comparison to this title. For true Sonic epicness, you have to experience this title for yourself.

Bottom-5

SonicCD5. Sonic CD

Now to be fair, Sonic CD is not a terrible game but it’s incredibly over-rated for a title which doesn’t offer anything substantially outstanding as a Sonic game. The game is fun to a certain extent. The controls are definitely responsive, the music is top-notch and even the boss fights are at least moderately less ridiculous than in some of the Mega Drive main-instalments.

However, when I say this game lacks anything noteworthy, I mean that it’s literally like a hybrid between the first two Sonic games. The controls are more akin to Sonic 2, but the level design smells like a carbon copy of the first game. Sure, there’s some wonky colour changes and the Past and Future signs which allow you to alter the terrain, but their novelty factor is seriously hampered by their complete non-necessity to the actual game-mechanic. I think it’s cool that this is the game which introduced Amy (one of my favourite Sonic characters) but it also introduced Metal Sonic, the first in a long line of terrible Sonic look-a-likes.

The game really doesn’t offer anything substantially novel. It has CD quality audio and some pretty cutscenes at the beginning and end, but that is literally the extent of its progression as a sequel. Not a bad a game, but a really redundant one.

Sonic4ep24. Sonic 4 Episode 2

As a whole, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was a bit of a let-down for me. When Sega announced that it was going to be a 2½D throw-back to the classic Mega Drive titles, I didn’t realise they were literally just going to repeat everything that the Mega Drive titles did. For all it’s worth, Episode 1 of Sonic 4 was actually pretty fun, if a smidge bland and just way too easy with the game not offering many challenging levels and making extra life harvesting just way too easy and effortless.

Perhaps realising this design flaw in Episode 1, Sonic Team back-pedaled perhaps a little too much with the second Episode which resulted in one of the most infuriatingly difficult Sonic games. As I’ve made it clear in the entries above, I actually don’t mind challenge in a Sonic game, but I expect it to come in the form of clever level design. In Sonic 4’s case, the challenge comes from the fact that there are literal death-traps set up in the form of obstacles which you can’t foresee until you’ve died at least once, after which the game expects you to learn how to avoid them perfectly. A little lee-way in case you failed would have been nice though.

I really hated that I got stuck grinding through the same parts of a level over and over again in this Episode because it outwardly fixed some of my complaints with the first episode. The levels were a lot more lively (albeit, again ripped off from the Mega Drive games), Tails was brought back in, the boss fights were even more intense and the music occasionally better than in the first instalment (albeit with a few stinkers in the mix). Sonic 4’s second episode just wasn’t fun to play.

Sonic_3D3. Sonic 3D

I’ve commented on Sonic 3D many times before, so excuse me if I end up repeating myself a bit. This particular title came through the courtesy of Traveller’s Tales, when the official 3D Sonic title for the Sega Saturn went south. The title was also released for the Mega Drive and PCs which should already give away the game’s big, dark secret: It wasn’t really 3D.

Sonic 3D was just an isometric platformer, masquerading with pre-rendered 3D sprites to try and convince the consumers it was the real article. However, even its core concept was ripped off from an earlier Sega arcade title, Flicky, which involved taking a bunch of birds to the exit of a level. That’s just inexcusably lazy and accordingly this game has gone down as one of the biggest disappointments from the blue hedgehog.

Now, Sonic 3D isn’t entirely worthless, although it’s level architecture is pretty terrible as are its controls. The soundtrack is pretty darn cool and if you go into it with lowered expectations, you can actually have a little fun with the game. However, I have hard time with isometric games anyway and ones with bad controls really just get me pissed.

sonicms2. Sonic the Hedgehog (Master System)

When the early-90s rolled around and so did the first Sonic game, Sega wasted no time milking the blue hedgehog with tons of off-shoots and merchandising. This included an arcade game, two different cartoons, toys, europop CDs, comics and of course an 8-bit rendition both for Sega’s handheld Game Gear system and their Master System console, which was still barely hanging on to relevance in Europe.

The Master System Sonic was a game that really didn’t need to be made. Like a lot of the pre-Sonic 2 off-shoots, it was a game that offered very little new to the franchise gameplay wise and was really nothing but a generic platformer with Sonic in the mix. The biggest insult in my view is the fact of how slow the game is compared to its Mega Drive counterpart. Yes, the PAL version is probably a little slower than what the game was intended to be, but I just don’t think the game is at all fun. Plus, the Master System’s technical limitations really start to bite with the game’s graphics, though the level of detail is pretty good for the system.

I’ve briefly played one of the other Master System titles, and it does seem like even the 8-bit renditions did begin to turn into pretty respectable titles and I’ll even admit that this game too has a pretty catchy soundtrack (even if grossly out-of-place for the series). The bottom-line is that the first 8-bit Sonic game is a complete disaster since it lacks the vital element that made its big brother game a success: speed.

Sonic_Spinball1. Sonic Spinball

Although I don’t consider myself a petty man, I can clearly hold a grudge. I played Sonic Spinball on the Mega Drive back in the mid-90s and recall actually liking it quite a bit. I attribute this to my boyhood fascination with pinball in general and this goofy title seemed to combine the two things I loved so much. Imagine my joy when, upon picking up the Sonic Mega Collection in 2004, I jumped with joy getting to play all the classic Sonic games again (on a Nintendo system no less) and that this gem which I hadn’t seen anyone mention in a long time was also included.

Then I played it and I felt sick to my stomach. Those graphics, that music and that horrendous gameplay. Was this really a Sonic game or just a cheap cash-in? As it turned out, it was the latter and I’ve never forgiven the game since. Of course, I later realised that this spin-off was created by the Sega Technical Institute (who burned down trying to make Sonic X-treme for the Saturn) and so I probably shouldn’t have expected anything on the level of the main instalments, but the incredibly slip-shotty nature of the game just annoys me. Controlling Sonic is difficult since you’re supposed to be controlling the paddles at the same time. Your goal is collecting Chaos Emeralds, but the unpredictability of pinball physics makes this needlessly difficult.

I do think it’s sort of neat that the characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon get cameos in the game, but the music is disappointingly low quality (the Mega Drive’s audio capabilities were admittedly poor, but the Sonic games had still managed to use them well). No matter how many times I return to this game, resolved to beat it and prove I can have fun with it, I never do. This is a Sonic game that didn’t need to be made. Period.

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