In a bid to compete with the popularity of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. series, the early 1990s saw Sega introduce a new hero for their latest console, the Sega Mega Drive. Whilst it was still a platform game with a recurring antagonist, it was unique enough so as not to be accused of copying Mario’s format. In 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog burst onto our screens and has maintained a place in the hearts of retrogamers everywhere.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a side-scrolling platform game developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega. It was released on the Sega Megadrive in 1991, spawning one of the most successful videogame series of all time. 8-bit versions were released on the Master System and Game Gear but with a few amendments. and the game greatly simplified. Laster re-releases include:
- Sega Saturn as part of Sonic Jam (1997)
- Nintendo GameCube as part of Sonic Mega Collection (2002)
- PlayStation 2 and Xbox as part of Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2003)
- GameBoy Advance (2006)
- PlayStation 2 and PSP as part of the Sega Genesis Collection (2009)
- PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009)
- Nintendo DS as part of Sonic Classic Collection (2010)
- iOS, Android, and Nintendo 3DS (2013)
- Oculus Rift as part of Oculus Arcade (2018)
- Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch as part of Sonic Origins (2022)
This review is based on the Mega Drive version.
Sonic is a blue hedgehog who has the ability to run at incredible speeds. This speed, and the ability to defend himself by curling into a ball, allowing his spikes to damage his enemies, is put to use when the evil Dr. Ivo Robotnik arrives in Sonic’s homeland. He proceeds to steal the six Chaos Emeralds (which have the ability to warp time and space), and capture the local wildlife, transforming them into evil robotic animals.
Sonic must navigate through six zones, evading Robotnik’s minions whilst attempting to steal back the Chaos Emeralds which are found via special stages. The zones include:
- Green Hill Zone
- Marble Zone
- Spring Yard Zone
- Labyrinth Zone
- Star Light Zone
- Scrap Brain Zone
Along the way, you collect gold rings which act both as health and a way to access the special stages where the Chaos Emeralds are. If you get hit by an enemy or land on spikes or lava, your coins will spill out all around you. However, you can instantly retrieve a small number before they disappear. If you take damage with no rings, you die. Should you still have 50 rings or more by the end of stages one and/or two of each zone, a large gold ring will appear that you must jump through to warp to the special stages. Gaining 100 rings will give Sonic an extra life.
There are six special stages in all, each one different and consisting of Sonic constantly spinning in a ball whilst navigating a rotating semi-labyrinth. Throughout these stages you will encounter buttons that make the levels spin in the opposite direction, circular bumpers that ping you aggressively in all directions, flashing red buttons that make you exit prematurely from that bonus stage, and, of course, the Chaos Emeralds themselves.
Occasionally you will see what look like computer monitors showing either a ring, a blue sphere, red boots or stars on them. Depending on what is shown on the screens, destroying these will give you 10 rings, a protective shield, Super Speed and temporary invulnerability respectively.
How Does It Handle?
The controls are tight, allowing you to evade hazards and attack your enemies in the manner you intend (although there are the realistic physics of skidding to stop when running at speed). They consist of running, jumping, and spinning. You need to spin when attacking your enemies. When you destroy one, a little animal is released and they run off, finally free from Robotnik’s clutches. The game can move incredibly fast at times so it is advised to play through it carefully at first. Once you memorise the levels and their hazards, you can use Sonic’s top speed at blitz the levels. The high speed at which Sonic can achieve makes for exciting gameplay.
Sonic really was revolutionary for its time, and still holds up well today. The sprites, levels and backgrounds are beautifully illustrated and coloured, and are all unique, crisp and well defined. Although, when at top speeds the game does have a tendency to flicker and lag a bit.
Music & SFX
The music is very memorable and even when I hear it now, I can recite every note and instantly know which level it belongs to. I very much like the change in music that sparks danger when you have been under water too long and the increase in tempo when you gain invincibility. The SFX are so familiar to me that I would wager I could spot them if someone replayed one out of context of the game. The ‘tring’ when you collect a ring, the ‘twang’ when you use a spring pad, the ‘ding’ when you hit a bumper and, of course, the bassy ‘uh-oh’ sounding noise when you die, will be etched into my brain for the rest of my life.
There are two endings depending on if you manage to collect all the Chaos Emeralds which adds a little replay value. However, the game is so enjoyable that you’ll find yourself returning again and again.
We bought our Sega Mega Drive for Christmas 1991, and Sonic came with the package. I have very fond memories of this game and have spent many an hour playing through it (it only takes about 30 minutes to complete). It’s an easy game to play but still challenging when trying to attain all Chaos Emeralds. The game appeals to all ages of gamer.
Did I Complete The Game?
Over the years I have completed Sonic the Hedgehog many times (including with all Chaos Emeralds collected) without the use of cheats, and will no doubt re-visit the game in the future to make sure I still can.
What The Critics Said:
Mean Machines: “Yep, it’s true – Sonic is really great! I can’t think of a Megadrive game with more spectacular graphics…”. Overall 92%.
Entertainment Weekly: “Dazzlingly fast yet never chaotic, consistently challenging but never impossible, Sonic the Hedgehog is quite simply one of the best video games I’ve ever played. A+.”
Mean Machines Index: “Sega’s hyped-beyond belief character stars in a game inspired by Nintendo’s Mario platform game series. It’s very addictive with brilliant graphics and speed. However, the gameplay is frustrating at times and experienced gamers should have this one licked within days. Overall 90%”
Sega Power: “World famous and rightly so. This is almost certainly the game that has sold more Sega systems than anything else. It’s a bit easy and looks slightly dated now, but it’s still one of the best games around. Overall 5/5”.
Sega Power: “Sega’s answer to Super Mario Bros, Sonic is the fastest parallax scrolling collect-‘em-up ever! A stunning rotating bonus round and a feast of visual effects – a classic. Overall 5/5”.
Overall Game of the Year – EMAP’s Golden Joystick Awards
Game of the Year (Overall) – Electronic Gaming Monthly
Game of the Year (Genesis) – Electronic Gaming Monthly
Best Graphics in a Video Game – Electronic Gaming Monthly
Hottest Character in a Game – Electronic Gaming Monthly
My Verdict: “A revolutionary riposte to Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. series. It’s beautiful, colourful, fun, challenging, and has great music. Every gamer should play this game as a rite of passage.”
What are your memories of Sonic the Hedgehog? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
 ‘Review: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog’. Mean Machines. (July 1991). Issue 10:42-44.
 ‘Review Index: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:140.
 ‘The Hard Line – Review: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:98.
 Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Sonic the Hedgehog’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54.
 ‘News – Luvvies! Dahlings!’. The One. (May 1992). Issue 44:17.
 ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1991’. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1992 Video Game Buyers Guide. (January 1992). :61.
 ibid,. :61.
 ibid,. :62.
 Ibid,. :65.