The Sega Master System, a contemporary of the NES, had a couple of popular franchises. But none of them were able to match the quality or popularity of Mario. Sega's first attempt at a platformer designed to take on Mario was Alex Kidd. Though there were a few good, popular entries in this series none of them could match Mario. So, when Sega released the Genesis they felt they needed to create a franchise that could rival Nintendo and, maybe, even surpass it once and for all. Enter Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic was designed to emphasis speed with platforming. The idea being that Mario was the slow, precise platformer while Sonic was the fast, crazier one. The first game in the series did exactly what it was intended to do. It sold like mad, it pushed sales of the Genesis, and was critically acclaimed. And then the franchise was beaten to a pulp by more and more Sonic-tagged games. While the regular, 2D platformers were acclaimed and usually sold well the 'other' games were a little hit or miss. Then the Dreamcast came out and Sonic would never be the same again.
I grew up with a Colecovision and a Master System (though the MS was rarely hooked up). So I cut my teeth on old ass games. When my parents bought the Genesis with Sonic 1 bundled with it you can't imagine how amazing it felt to me. It felt like the future. The colors! The speed! The sound! It was so much better then a Colecovision. Those feelings were tied directly to Sonic and, as a result, I adored everything 'Sonic'. Even the games that were kind of bad I adored because they had Sonic (Sonic 3D Blast comes to mind).
What About Now?
It was really hard for me to tear away my feelings about this game while trying to be objective. The game is still an absolute blast to play. For the most part that is. Yes, there is a lot of speed with this game. Especially with the first stage. But what I forgot is how much platforming is in this game. I guess I'm so used to tying Sonic to his current 'push up to win' style of gameplay that I forgot where he started. That said, the game isn't particularly difficult. Nor is it particularly harsh with punishment for poor platforming. That is, until the last few level but especially the very last level. That last level is associated with a dramatic ramp up in difficulty. That level is associated with so many things that are designed solely to kill you. The level is designed around speeding the player to a death trap throughout each act of the level. It's harsh. That said, it isn't necessarily unfair. It's just a little jarring when the rest of the game is a bit of a push over. This is a great game but slightly mindless (that is, until the last level).
Right away the first thing I noticed was how much faster this game is then Sonic 1. It's also much more mindless. I spent a lot of time holding right and occasionally hitting the jump button. Really, the game doesn't introduce much platforming in the traditional sense until the last few levels. Speaking of, the last level is really frustrating. Because Sonic moves faster in this game then he did in Sonic 1 he has less traction and his movements feel 'slippy' (for lack of a better word). In the last level, this problem really starts to show itself. This level requires more precision then the other games and the controls have a hard time doing it. Then the final level; a two boss battle. Neither boss is particularly hard once you understand their patterns. Is just that, by the time you get to those bosses, you might have lost many of your lives on the previous level due to the issues mentioned before. So...yeah, it can be a little frustrating. BUT, all that said, it is a fun game. It looks great, it sounds great, and, for the most part, it controls fine (minus the later levels). It is more mindless then Sonic 1 but when you're having fun who cares?
Sonic 1 is a solid platformer. It is more mindless then Mario. But it wasn't necessarily trying to be Mario. It didn't need to be more technical or more precise then Mario. It need to be fun and that's exactly what it is. But it isn't a slouch either. As the game progresses, you can't just hold right to win. Precision is required just not extreme precision. Sonic 2 takes a bit of a step back in some ways and a step forward in others. It certainly looks better and is much faster. There's more variety to the levels and the bosses are more challenging overall then Sonic 1. But it is much, much more mindless. The 'holding right to win' technique works pretty well for a long time. It's only in the later levels that real platforming skill is required. But, where Sonic 1's moments of precision were fun and suited well to the controls Sonic 2 starts to frustrate. The last level before the final bosses can be really really frustrating especially if you take what you've learned from the previous levels and try to apply those skills to that level. Even when you are moving slowly, the level finds a way to frustrate. All that said, however, it is a very fun experience.
-No matter how well you play the two games are a lot of fun, the games look and sound great, the gameplay still has a unique feeling to it that even later Sonic games have a hard time getting right, getting all of the chaos emeralds is a big challenge in both games.
-When you need to precise frustration can set in, they can be fairly mindless games, the Tail's AI is more often then not awful and gets in the way more then helps, not everyone will enjoy the most challenging part of the two games; earning all the chaos emeralds.
I'll try to get the second part of this done shortly. In it, I'll talk about Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles.