DPrime Retroview: Sonic the Hedgehog


Originally posted on DefaultPrime

With Sonic the Hedgehog 4 on the horizon, now is a better time then ever to look back at the classics which it is building off of. The general idea of early Sonic games is that their all speed trips all the way to the end. Despite laying the blue prints of the series, the original Sonic the Hedgehog actually has a much larger focus on platforming rather then speed. If you are coming back to the original title to escape the stop start action of recent entries like Sonic and the Black Knight or the werehog sections of Sonic Unleashed, you will be severely disappointed.

When starting Sonic the Hedgehog the first thing you may want to try to do is run as fast as possible to the right. While in the first zone this is definitely possible, later on rushing ahead is a formula for disaster. There are so many hazards that will get in you way that  it is almost like the title is discouraging you to go fast, despite that being Sonic’s main feature. Usually you will have a short burst of speed only to be stopped by a obstacle or enemy. Once you pass those obstacles it is back to running for a short burst of time and repeat. It creates some pacing issues with the stop and start gameplay, but after playing a level through multiple times the pacing improves.

Outside of the pacing issues, the level design is phenomenal and has a lot of variety. Some of the levels consists of lots of twists and turns like a roller coaster ride, while other levels have moving platforms, rising water levels, and simple block puzzles. There are multiple paths for players to take, so if a obstacle is too hard usually players have the option to go a different way and try something else. There is a reward for taking the more challenging paths, but we will get back to that later. Some of the set pieces in the levels are reused occasionally. It is usually very small sections and doesn’t really take much away from the experience, but it does make some of the levels hard to distinguish from one another.

Like most retro games, Sonic the Hedgehog is no walk in the park. It is just hard enough where it feels challenging without becoming overly frustrating. The difficulty can be a bit inconstant at times, but it isn’t anything so drastic that it is unmanageable. The balanced difficulty is mostly due in part to the ring life system so popular in Sonic games. As long as you have at least one ring on you, you won’t die. But don’t be too surprised to see the Game Over screen if you aren’t careful.

Most of the time Sonic the Hedgehog plays like a charm, but occasionally there are some issues with the controls. The physics seem to be odd at times and, unless you’re playing a version with the added spin dash feature, building up speed in certain locations can be a bit of a pain. The controls seem a bit loose compared to most platformers, but they are usually up for the task.

Sonic the Hedgehog’s production values shine through with its bright high contrast visuals that have aged incredibly well. There is a lot of attention to detail here and is simply one of the best looking 16-bit games for its time. There is some slowdown when things get busy on-screen, but it is fairly rare. It can get a bit frustrating when you are caught up in the moment, but it quickly passes.

Despite most Sega Genesis games not being well known for its music, the sound track is as brilliant as the visuals. It is up beat and memorable despite the Sega Genesis’ limited sound capabilities. This is definitely a title you will want to play with the sound turned up.

Sonic the Hedgehog has a good bit of replay value with six zones that consist of three stages each and an additional final stage at the end of the game. Almost every stage has more then one way you can tackle it with branching paths and secret hidden paths to take. The more challenging paths even end with chaos emeralds. If you collect all 7 of these you get a special ending. While the title doesn’t keep track of them, you can try for lower times or higher scores.

Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t a very good Sonic game with very little opportunity for speed, but it is a great platformer. If you are picking this title up for fast paced running action then you will be sorely disappointed. But if you approach it like you would many other platformers, Sonic the Hedgehog can be a very enjoyable game. Sonic the Hedgehog is extremely affordable and you won’t have to look far to find a copy as its on almost every single platform in existence nowadays. Check back next month for a review of the second title in the series – Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

Score: 8.6

Pros:

  • Hits the nail right on the head in terms of difficulty
  • High contrast visuals that haven’t aged a day
  • Upbeat soundtrack; some of the best 16-bit music out there
  • Excellent level design
  • It is cheap and you can find on almost every platform

Cons:

  • Pacing issues due to conflicts with speed and platforming
  • Set pieces of levels are repeated
  • Minor slowdowns
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