Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

So this is an article I wrote for my university’s entertainment publications and it can serve as my first blog post as well I guess.

Sonic the Hedgehog was originally released on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US) in 1991, this marked the beginning of a series of video games that would strike a chord with their players and spawn a huge fan base as well as create a mascot and figurehead for Sega that jostled for superiority with Nintendo’s own mascot, Mario. As the years went on Mario’s popularity stayed high whilst Sonic, and the quality of his games, declined and entered a deep spiral of bad, forgettable titles and irritating characters. However, in this review I want to look past Sega’s more recent mistakes and concentrate on the game that started it all.

Oddly enough, I never played Sonic the Hedgehog when I was younger. My parents don’t approve of video games much and it doesn’t help that the game is two years older than me. I first played the original Sonic the Hedgehog very recently and I was astounded by it’s quality and by how much I enjoyed it. I had played a bit of Sonic Heroes (2004) at a friends house once and I was thoroughly unimpressed. The original has a few things that more modern Sonic games lack, above all of these is fluid control. In a platform game control is incredibly important, a lack of control can lead to increasing frustration as the character you control tumbles into pits and death traps, not due to your own mistakes but due to bad or stiff control. In Sonic the Hedgehog the control is just right, you move fluidly and, by holding Up or Down on the d-pad you can move the screen in that direction, this allows you to see things off screen to avoid ‘Leap of Faith’ game-play and cheap deaths.

Another aspect of Sonic’s control that deserves mentioning is the speed of the game-play, this is where the game separates itself from other 2D platformers. Sonic can move fast and I often find myself trying to keep going fast for as long as possible. The reason for this I have to put down to just it feeling damn good to blaze through the levels at speed as you do get a higher score for finishing the level quicker,  score means nothing so there is not really any bonus to be gained by going fast. On top of the stellar control, the level design is excellent, with a wide variety of enemies and multiple ways to complete each level. The music is also brilliant, each Zone has it’s own score that is catchy and pleasant to listen to which you will grow to appreciate the more you play through each Zone.

However, there are a few problems with Sonic the Hedgehog, even if they are dwarfed by the games good points. The main problem is that this game is hard. Each level individually is not particularly difficult, and there aren’t even a lot of them. There are seven Zones with three ‘Acts’ (levels) in each Zone, except the last Zone which is actually the final boss fight. So this is not a longest game either, so why exactly is it hard? This can be summed up with one phrase; three lives, no continues. When you start the game by pressing the Start button you have three lives and if you lose those lives it’s back to the start of the first level. There are 1-Ups along the way and secret stages that can be used to earn continues but that doesn’t change the fact that you will be playing Green Hill Zone, Act 1 a lot. Despite this classic ‘retro’ difficulty this game is good, plain and simple. On top of this, most levels are hard to complete on the first time as there are many traps that are not immediately obvious and this often result in a frustrating death. Although once you learn your lesson on caution it’s a game that is fun to play and the fun easily outweighs the occasional frustrations.

Overall, Sonic the Hedgehog reminds me of a simpler time. The game is basic and yet provides equal, if not superior, amounts of fun in comparison with some modern games. In fact, in comparison today’s games seem bloated and unwieldy, when was the last time you got to gameplay thirty seconds after turning on your system? There’s no Digital Rights Management, no Downloadable Content and no tacked-on Multiplayer. This game creates a euphoria of 2D platforming and it’s simplicity only improves it, maybe this is something that game developers today would do well to remember.

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  1. November 22nd, 2012
  2. June 21st, 2013

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