Sonic The Hedgehog (Mega Drive) Review

As I’ve said before, while I played a lot of NES and SNES growing up thanks to my brother owning the consoles, I had a Master System and a Mega Drive (because… brotherly rivalry, I guess?) That means while I’m happy to admit Super Mario World is the better game in retrospect, I played a hell of a lot more Sonic The Hedgehog growing up, and damn great games they were too! (Pretty good film as well, for the record!) So let’s end this Game to Live Action Movie Marathon’s game section with one of the defining games of my childhood, the original Sonic The Hedgehog on the Mega Drive (after having already reviewed the Master System version, the first one I played, a few years ago…)

Background:

One of the most recognisable levels in gaming history…

Sonic The Hedgehog, famously created specifically to rival Nintendo’s Mario, debuted in June/July 1991 worldwide, with a few weeks differences here and there. An 8-Bit version, different enough to be classed as another game entirely, was released later that year for Master System and Game Gear (as mentioned, that was the first sonic game I played)

It has since been re-released individually on the Game Boy Advance (2010), the 3DS (2013), iOS and Android (2013) and an enhanced version as part of the “Sega Ages” series on the Nintendo Switch in 2018. It has also been released in so many bundles across so many consoles that I’m not going to list them all here. Basically, if you own a console from the last 20 years you’ll more than likely find a legal way to play the original Sonic The Hedgehog.

Gameplay:

He’s waaaaiting…

Basically you run and jump across various stages, jumping on or rolling into enemies and destroying them, all while avoiding spikes, crumbling cliffs and bottomless pits. Every Zone is broken up into three stages, with the final stage featuring a boss fight with Robotnik in a contraption of some kind. The original Sonic is the odd one out of the original Mega Drive / Mega CD games in that it doesn’t have the charging spindash, leaving you instead to have to build up momentum via rolling down hills or crouching while running forwards in order to Spin Attack.

The other three trademarks of the series are the collectable gold rings, where taking a hit with rings on you means you lose the rings but continue on, take a hit with no rings and you die (also collect 100 of them and you get an extra life!), the “TVs” which when broken give Sonic a power up (bubble shield and invincibility are the only ones here, and the odd Extra Life) and finally the Special Stages, in this case a rotating maze of bumpers that slowly fade away each time they’re hit. There is a Special Stage for each Zone, reachable at the end of a stage via a portal if you’ve collected 50 rings, and if you find the centre of the maze you’ll collect a Chaos Emerald. The only way to get the actual ending is if you collect all six Emeralds, otherwise you just get an image of Robotnik taunting you!

The game can get fast-paced sometimes, but the old argument that “you just hold right and win” is certainly not true, especially of this game as if has moments where the pace slows as you push marble blocks or have to carefully time some jumps. It’s a great game, but the improvements in all areas that Sonic 2 brought does make this game feel a bit slower and more shallow than its fellow 16-bit games.

Graphics and Sound:

The first of many… not very fun Special Levels.

I’ve always loved the bright and colourful Sonic graphics, and although they do improve as the series goes on (as you’d hope!) this first entry is still full of fun sprite work and great level design and background imagery.

The soundtrack is also among the best in gaming history. Seriously, I know a lot of Mario’s tunes are catchy and iconic, but I still put up the four Sonic Mega Drive games as having a more varied and enjoyable soundtrack than most Nintendo games, or at least on the same level, just different due to the infamously weird Mega Drive chiptune set. It’s why I was so annoyed that the Smash Bros. soundtracks were almost exclusively the cringey US song stuff from the 3D games, even if some of the Sonic Adventure 1 soundtrack is memorable to me (for one reason or another…) it was disappointing. ANYWAY, yeah, soundtrack is good, soundeffects are good, the sound is good…

Story:

Sonic collects air from a bubble, despite being in a large bubble of air…

Dr. Robotnik has captured a good chunk of the animals of the Planet Mobius and put them inside machines and robots he calls “Badniks”, and now he has his eyes on the Chaos Emeralds and the power they possess. Sonic decides to run across the place, save the animals and collect the Emeralds himself, successfully foiling the plot of Dr. Robotnik for the first time… of many.

Thoughts Then:

I LOVE the Starlight Zone….’s music. The actual level is a pain in the arse.

I was watching my sisters-then-boyfriend (now… ex-boyfriend from several decades ago) play his Mega Drive copy of Sonic The Hedgehog one day and I was BLOWN AWAY. Suddenly my Sonic games on the Master System seemed crap. When I got my Mega Drive a few months later for Christmas, with this game (and I’m pretty sure something else, but my memory has betrayed me there) I was in love, and hooked. The thing is, due to being a late adopter of the Master System due to being so young, I was a year or two into the Mega Drive’s life when I got it, so it wasn’t long before I had Sonic 2, and although I went back to 1 from time to time, it didn’t get as much play as 2, 3 and Knuckles did. Still, can’t say I would’ve given it anything other than top marks at the time!

Thoughts Now:

As big final end bosses go, this is a bit… crap, really…

The original Sonic The Hedgehog is still great fun to play: fun graphics, great soundtrack and good gameplay. Sure, Sonic 2 improved on all those aspects, especially the gameplay side, so it’s not AS fun as later entries, but still a really good time and I have no qualms with putting it on for a few hours at any given day…

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