Out of all the classic Sonic games, the first one is probably the one I played least of all. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and 3 rank up there with some of my favorite side scrollers of all time. Sonic 1 never really stood out to me. I always considered it “okay” and not the classic that many hail it as. Because of this, I decided to give it another go and see if I can truly appreciate the game that start the legacy of the Blue Blur.
From what I remembered of Sonic the Hedgehog, it focused more on platforming than raw speed. There were only a few parts of the game that came to mind in which Sonic actually went fast. Some parts in Green Hill Zone demonstrated this new play style and Star Light Zone really showed off what Sonic could do, but other than that, the game itself wasn’t too fast. Marble Zone, Spring Zone, and Scrap Brain Zone demanded your attention, less you want to fall into a bottomless pit or be crushed by spikes.
It has been a while since I played this game, so my memory was more foggy on this particular title than any of game I did for this monthly feature. I recall the controls being tight, making the platforms easy to navigate, and the level design never really stood out for me. Whenever I think of Sonic 2 or 3, my mind immediately goes towards Chemical Plant Zone, Casino Night Zone, or Ice Cap Zone, but Sonic 1 never had that standout level. Instead, I often remember the music being nothing short of classic. Green Hill Zone and Scrap Brain Zone ranks up with some of my favorite Sega Genesis music.
The last piece of the design puzzle is the boss battles and they, like most other aspects of the game, are forgettable in my opinion. The first encounter with Dr. Robotnik is the exception, just because it’s the first ever battle with the Doctor, and I must have played it dozens of times, since I often start games just to kill a few minutes.
For this new playthrough, I played the Sonic Collection for the DS. Overall, it was still a fun experience, but one that doesn’t hold up as strongly as I’d hoped. The biggest issue I have is how “copy-and-pasted” the levels feel. In this Sonic game, each Zone has three Acts, and each one is built using the same obstacles and enemies. What you see in Act 1 is essentially what you’ll see in Act 3, just rearranged. Not saying that each Act is a remix of each other; it’s just that new ideas only come into fruition at the beginning of each Zone and then spends three Acts exploiting these ideas rather than building on them. It’s not a deal breaker at all — far from it, in fact — but I just feel the ideas in level design aren’t used to their full potential like in the sequels.
There were some Zones that annoyed me this time around as well. Labrinyth Zone (i.e the water area) was pretty frustrating in just how slow the game went. To be fair, most water sections in Sonic games are like this, but I find in 2 and 3, there are alternate routes to mostly avoid being underwater. In Sonic The Hedgehog, you’re forced to trudge through it. Fortunately, water bubbles are plentiful so drowning isn’t much of an issue for the most part.
The other Zone that was getting on my nerves was Scrap Brain Zone, as it was full of cheap hazards. Maybe I just suck at the game, but I swear I hit nearly everything on my first few tries. Fire pillars, swinging spikeballs, bombs, and trap doors that lead to bottomless pits — most of these came out of nowhere and I couldn’t react until they hit me or I was falling. After some trial and error, I eventually beat the stages, but it did leave me soured.
The controls are essentially what I expected: responsive enough so you’re never fighting with Sonic on where you want him to go. The speed of the game is relatively slow to the sequels, but it keeps the flow focused on platforming and not on blazing speed. Another thing that remains on par with what I remember is the boss battles. After playing the game again recently, I still can’t remember many of them. In my opinion they’re just not that dynamic — not bad or poorly designed, just … okay.
Music plays a big part in any Sonic game and the music in Sonic the Hedgehog is iconic, to say the least. I’m sure every Sega Genesis owner remembers the first time they booted up this game and listened to Green Hill Zone. Each Zone’s memorable music fits the theme or the level perfectly, even with the Genesis’ less than perfect sound output. When compared to the sequels’ soundtracks, it isn’t as good, but for the debut of a gaming mascot, you could do a lot worse.
In fact, that’s how I’d describe this game overall: “isn’t as good.” When compared to the sequels, the music isn’t as good, the level design isn’t as realized, the controls aren’t as tight, and obviously, it isn’t as fast-paced. Of course, though, this is the first game in a beloved series and, in similar fashion to Super Mario Bros. or Mega Man, the first one is what got the wheel spinning while the sequels blew it out of the water (like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Mega Man 2). So while this may not be the best Sonic game, it’s still worth a play and, considering how it’s available for cheap on nearly every platform out there, there is no excuse to not play this flawed classic.