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Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the most iconic characters in video game history, replacing Alex Kidd as SEGA’s official mascot back in 1991 to compete with Nintendo’s Super Mario, playing a significant role in the early console wars.
He’s had a bit of a rough time these past few years with the transition to 3D and been the victim of some arguably bad decisions, but his early 16-bit games are some of the best 2D platformers of all time, which still hold up well today.
Now you may be wondering why I’ve chosen to review such a well known game as chances are you’ve already played it? With Sonic being such a huge influence in what got me into gaming, I just had to cover this at some point. I can only hope I do it justice.
The story behind the game is pretty simple; a mad scientist by the name of Dr Robotnik has been stealing animals and turning them into robots for his evil plans, so it’s up to Sonic to save the day!
The game opens in Green Hill Zone and features detailed colourful graphics, catchy music, some nice parallax scrolling and smooth fast movement speed. One of the things that makes these early Sonic games so great is the freedom to play two ways; you can explore the levels, learning the various paths and secrets or try to blitz through them in as fast a time as possible. Personally, I used to go for the slower approach as I love discovering secrets, but the two approaches offer a lot of replay value.
Each area is known as a zone which is mostly split up into 3 levels known as “acts”. If you collect over 50 rings before reaching the end of the first 2 acts, you have the chance to acquire a Chaos Emerald in a special stage. Most people seem to have mixed opinions on these, but I enjoy them. They can be a little frustrating at times, but if you manage to collect all 6 Chaos Emeralds, you get a slightly different ending.
At the end of the third act for each zone you get to fight Dr Robotnik in one of his crazy inventions. I love these and the music here is brilliant, much like Darth Vader’s Imperial March. The attack patterns are fairly simple to work out and the only frustrating exception is at the end of the Labyrinth Zone. Infact, that whole zone can be pretty annoying at times with the slow movement and terrifying drowning music.
As Sonic it’s important to pick up as many rings as possible. As mentioned previously, collecting 50 before the end of the first 2 acts of each zone grants access to the special stage, but collecting 100 gives you an extra life. These rings also let you take damage. Getting hit does result in you dropping all your rings, but getting hit with zero makes you lose a life. Just try to keep hold of at least 1 ring at all times.
There’s a few power-ups you can collect along the way which are the bubble shield, running shoes and invincibility. You can also pick-up extra lives and rings too. The bubble shield is great as it allows you to get hit once without losing any rings and the running shoes make you run incredibly fast. The theme tune for the invincibility power-up is also extremely catchy, much like the star in Super Mario games.
The controls in this game are incredibly smooth and responsive. They even built in physics for angles and momentum. Running downhill is a lot faster than running uphill and if you jump from a hill you go in that direction. It’s quite subtle and not something I really picked up on or appreciated until later on in life. It’s these little touches that really add to the quality of the controls.
As I’ve hinted about a couple of times already, the music in Sonic 1 is superb. The sound effects are great and the themes for each zone will be in your head for days or even years! My personal favourites are Green Hill Zone (obviously), Spring Yard Zone and Star Light Zone. Everytime I hear them I can’t help but smile.
The only real downside to this game is the pacing can feel a bit off if you love to rush through each level in the fastest time possible. The Marble and Labyrinth zones require more patience and don’t really allow you to dash through them. This didn’t bother me too much as I enjoy exploring at my own pace, but I know this frustrates and divides a lot of people.