Speed Runner Video Game Review:
Sonic the Hedgehog(Genesis)
Sonic the Hedgehog for the SEGA Genesis was the first game made for the Sonic the Hedgehog series and was SEGA's answer to Nintendo's Super Mario. How well does this game hold up today? Let's find out.
You play as a young blue mobian hedgehog named Sonic who can run at incredible speeds and has gotten mixed up in a sinister plot of the mad scientist, Dr. Robotnik, who is kidnapping small animals to use to power his robots and is searching for a set of powerful relics called the Chaos Emeralds which he plans to use to gain ultimate power and rule the world, so it's up to you to rush through six areas and defeat the robots, free the little animals, find the Chaos Emeralds before Robotnik, and put that megalomaniac in his place.
This game is a basic 2D platformer where you go from Point A to Point B as you jump along structures and maneuver through obstacles, hazards, and enemies through a total of six Stages. What's unique about this game is that you can build up enough speed to run up vertical surfaces, through loop-de-loops, ect. where in other platformers at the time there's only one consistent speed and level maneuvering is more focused on climbing and jumping. You can also curl into a ball for two methods of attack; the first option(the Spin Jump) lets you spin vertically as you jump to attack enemies from above or below, the second option(the Spin Attack) lets you roll along the ground to plow through enemies and break through weak structures. Now, everyone remembers the sense of speed this game has and for what it's worth, the running mechanic really works for the more twisted designs of the levels and moves very smoothly. The Spin Jump, while as the main jumping mechanic, it works as well as you'd want your jumps to work in any platformer, but its secondary function proves to be very effective as it can plow through most midair enemies as you jump and moves very seamlessly as it barely breaks your speed. The Spin Attack is a little more situational, though, as you'd need to build up momentum and press down to use it properly. The Spin Attack is definitely most efficient on hills and slopes as pressing down while moving downhill will cause you to roll and gain an extra burst of speed. Another unique feature of this game is that golden rings are scattered all across each level for you to collect and your ring counter acts as your health bar; when you take a hit, you drop all your rings and if you take a hit and you don't have any rings, you lose a life. This is a very convenient system because when you drop your rings, they drop around the area you took damage and stay tangible for a brief moment, allowing you to pick up as many of your rings as you can, allowing you to keep going through a level without as much hassle as in other 2D platformers. Plus, for every 100 rings you collect, you gain a life; this type of mechanic can be found in other games, but there's still another function these rings serve, but I'll talk about that later in the review.
As stated previously, the game has a total of six Stages, each divided into 3 Acts(the end of the third Act being the setting for the level boss). Level settings include a grassland, ancient ruins, and a city structure at night just to name a few. The levels themselves are nicely varied and most of them are very well designed with excellent visuals for 16-bit standards. The first Stage(the level EVERYONE talks about), Green Hill Zone, is very open and is the first level of the game to truly demonstrate your running capabilities(appropriate enough), while sporting a bright and colorful palate bringing out the plants and landscape and showing off some rather stunning water effects on a 16-bit console. Other stages like Marble Zone and Spring Yard Zone also have solid platforming design and great atmosphere, and all the levels' presentations are even enhanced by what many credit Sonic games for but is the highlight of this particular game: the music. Every level theme in the game is good to listen to and suit their levels perfectly, with special mentions to the Green Hill Zone theme(yeah, calm down!) and the Star Light Zone theme. If I have pick my favorite level from this game, I would go for Star Light Zone; the music provides a mystifying atmosphere, the nighttime city background oozes atmosphere, and the overall design and stage gimmicks really add to the platforming(hell, I would even go so far as to say the boss for this level was the most enjoyable boss in the game).
As enjoyable as this game is, there are some things that hold it back for me. First, while I said the running and level design is good, they're not always in synch with each other. Sometimes, an assenting slope is in the wrong place where you aren't moving fast enough and you end up struggling to climb up the slope. I'm also not a big fan of Labyrinth Zone; while later Sonic games were to have water sections, they weren't good in this particular game, as movement felt the slowest I could remember in this game out all the platformers in the series, and the boss for that Stage was just...LAZY--and that's another issue I have with this game. The bosses in this game were shit; one pattern, slow as molasses, and just not all that interesting. While I'm on the subject, I feel I should talk about the first level boss, Robotnik's wrecking ball mechanism. This is the boss that EVERYONE remembers from the original Sonic the Hedgehog and regards as one of the best boss battles in the series. Robotnik hovers across the area at a slow pace and each lap the wrecking ball makes one swing, nothing more. The attacks are easy to dodge and you can beat this boss within ten seconds. If I were to make a list of the most overrated boss battles video games, the wrecking ball fight of Sonic 1 would be a candidate. Finally, there's the Chaos Emeralds; there are six of them in total which can only be found in Special Stages, and to enter these Special Stages, you need to have at least 50 rings by the time you reach the end of an Act where a Warp Ring will appear to take you to a Special Stage. The problem is there really isn't any point of finding these Emeralds as they have no application to the gameplay and only serve as a means to get the good ending and really, neither ending is worth writing about.
Overall, while the original Sonic the Hedgehog no longer has anything TOO special to it, it still manages to be a fun game. Gameplay is smooth and balanced with excellent music and more expansive level design than any Mario platformer at the time, if only boss battles didn't suck so much and the Chaos Emeralds weren't so pointless. I get it's the first game of the series, but at least regarding the boss battles, Mega Man 3 was already released a year before Sonic the Hedgehog and that game's bosses are frantic and well fleshed out, and that was on NES, an 8-bit console. This is the SEGA Genesis: 16-bit, so this shouldn't be an excuse. Now, both Mario and Sonic made great platformers, their first games making immense first impressions to spawn two amazing franchises; the kings of their industry, and whether you prefer Mario or Sonic really comes down to personal preferences, and I like Mario too--honest, but I've always been a Sonic fan first and this game set the standards for future Sonic games to follow and I can really appreciate a first game to start one of my favorite franchises but I can only fully appreciate that certain title if the gameplay held up, and the original Sonic the Hedgehog has done just that.