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RATED: The Essential Sonic Game List

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There's just something about Sonic the Hedgehog that has persevered against all odds. Despite the games themselves being in the dumps for the longest time, the franchise has spawned no fewer than four cartoon adaptations ( one of which still airs for an hour every Saturday Morning, despite being in reruns since 2006), two comic book adaptations (with multiple spinoffs), plus numerous other tie-ins, from spaghettios to music CDs. If nothing else, it's evidence that the Sonic franchise has grown to such a point that it can survive even if individual parts of it are failures. Honestly, it can seem a bit difficult to make sense of it all.

Ever wonder what games are worth playing, and which ones should be avoided? Well, you've come to the right list, my friend. If there isn't a game listed on here, chances are I haven't played it and/or it's probably not worth playing.

List items

  • Standing on their own, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are pretty okay games -- but once you employ S&K's "lock-on" function, turning them in to the complete "Sonic 3 & Knuckles", they transform in to the biggest, best, most feature-packed Sonic game ever made. The ability to retroactively patch Knuckles in to Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is icing on the cake.

  • Take the original Sonic the Hedgehog and improve everything about it. Better graphics, better controls, twice as many levels, 2 player versus and co-op... many would say that Sonic 2 is the pinnacle of the franchise and it's difficult to argue otherwise.

  • Much like S&K, Sonic 3 is a pretty good game in its own right. Monstrous levels are the name of the game here - some levels, like Carnival Night Zone Act 2, are so big that you will find yourself rubbing up against the 10 minute time limit. But, really, you should just play this locked on to Sonic & Knuckles.

  • Sonic Rush Adventure is a far more accessible game than the original Sonic Rush, and the steep difficulty curve has been smoothed out significantly. Still, the game's hub-world elements and sailing mini-games are a turn off for some people. I personally found the game as fun as any of the Genesis games. Your results may vary.

  • Continuing on the legacy from Sonic Rush, Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors, Sonic Generations revisits Sonic's past and manages to come out the other end a pretty neat (if short) tribute to the better parts of this franchise.

  • This stylish sidescroller for the Nintendo DS favors ridiculous speed over everything else. It's also got a pretty steep learning curve as a result. Memorization and a high tolerance for frustration is key. Once you "get it", though, it's... well, a rush. Definitely a game for speed runners who are okay with practicing a level a few times in order to get the perfect run.

  • If we're being honest, Sonic Unleashed might actually be my personal favorite "modern" Sonic game, but it's not without a list of flaws that make it difficult to recommend. If you like Sonic Rush and Sonic Generations, give this a spin -- just keep your distance from the Wii version.

  • Five years after the last Sonic-Team-Produced Sega Genesis game, Sonic Adventure was the rebirth of a franchise. Unfortunately, in the intervening years it has aged EXTREMELY poorly. However, for those willing to sift through the sand around this fossil, you'll find something with a decent amount of late 90's charm.

  • Everything that was good about Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is even better, here. More tracks, more modes, and more fanservice, wrapped around an improved driving model and enhanced multiplayer features. Depending on what day of the week it is, I might go as far to say this is the best kart racer ever made (yes, better than even Mario Kart)

  • Essentially a prototype for what would eventually become Sonic Rush, Sonic Advance 2 is a game about speed, speed, and more speed. Like Sonic Rush, this often leads to cheap hits and even cheaper deaths as you run in to things (and off of cliffs) that you're moving too fast to see. Start memorizing those level layouts!

  • For as long as Sega has leaned on Classic Sonic nostalgia, it took a worryingly long time for them to produce something as good as Sonic Mania. But there's something about it that almost feels like... too much, I guess. It kind of overstays its welcome just enough that I'd say Sonic Mania is a game I like, but don't love.

  • Everybody fawns over Sonic CD, and with good reason: It's got a lot of great concepts, beautiful art direction, and wonderful music. Unfortunately, it stumbles on stop-and-go level design and occasionally funky controls, making the game feel a little awkward at times. Still worth looking in to, though.

  • Sonic Colors showcases a level of competence that the Sonic Franchise had been lacking for more than a decade. Taking what was good about Sonic Unleashed and discarding the rest, Sonic Colors was a thoroughly enjoyable game, but it lacks some of Unleashed's visceral thrills in favor of slower paced, more thoughtful platforming (aka: the things Sonic isn't very good at).

  • The game that started it all. Sonic the Hedgehog is certainly not awful, but it's missing the all-essential SpinDash, a move that adds a great deal of accessibility to future Sonic titles. It is also the hardest of the Sega Genesis trilogy. A great start, but Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and Sonic CD surpassed it.

  • Sonic's first real attempt at a kart racer (Sonic Drift doesn't count). Not only does it successfully replicate the Mario Kart format, but I dare say it even improves upon it in some regards. Hampered by a spotty framerate, sloppy online multiplayer, and a very poor PC port. Get it on console if you can.

  • Tails Adventure gets kind of a bad rap. One gets the impression that most people who play the game boot it up, see how slowly Tails moves and how little it plays like a traditional Sonic game, write it off and forget it ever existed. What most people don't realize is that Tails Adventure is actually a fairly decent Metroid-style adventure game where you explore vast spaces and acquire new abilities to reach the next area. One of my favorite Game Gear games ever.

  • Sonic Adventure 2 attempted to streamline the original Sonic Adventure, but it ended up losing a lot of the original game's charm. Like a lot of 3D Sonic games, when it's good, it's really good - and when it's bad, it's a disaster. If you could stomach it enough to beat the game you were given unrequited access to go back and replay the best parts of the game while ignoring the worst, and that's where it really shines.

  • Sonic Pocket Adventure for the Neo Geo Pocket Color attempts to remix concepts from the Sega Genesis Sonic games in to a portable adventure. The results are pretty spot on, but there's very little in the game that you haven't seen already. If you're craving more Genesis Sonic and don't mind the repetition, this is for you.

  • Following in Sonic Pocket Adventure's footsteps is a game that tries to recapture the feeling of Genesis Sonic games, this time on the Gameboy Advance. The first Sonic Advance game plays it as close to the Sega Genesis rulebook as possible, and while that creates a game that plays well enough, it's missing that special creative touch to really put it on the map.

  • Rest in peace, Sonic Runners -- you were better than you had any right to be. Though technically it was free-to-play, it was generous enough with free stuff that it was surprisingly easy to ignore its monetization hooks, and the worldwide leaderboard ladder system gave the game some legs. But that meant nobody was spending money on the game, leading to its unfortunate shut down.

  • A quirky 3 player co-op arcade game, played primarily with a trackball. The game is all about escaping whatever danger is chasing you. It received positive response at the CES it debuted at, but still never ended up in North American arcades. It's pretty fun, but not very difficult, and extremely short (as many arcade games tend to be).

  • I find the original Sonic Riders to be something of a guilty pleasure. It's a quirky, off-beat racing game where Sonic and Co. mount hoverboards and race desert bandits. It can be pretty frustrating, but once it "clicks," it's actually super fun.

  • At first glance, there might not seem to be anything unique about Sonic Chaos, but it's not until you dig in to its systems that it starts to become apparent: as in most Sonic games, collecting all of the Chaos Emeralds is the key to seeing the game's "good ending." Usually that means finding a way in to the Special Zone, which here means collecting 100 rings, which will instantly teleport you there. That small tweak to the formula changes everything about the game: the way levels are designed, the way you play the game, all of it. Suddenly collecting every ring and not taking damage feels like a desperate struggle unlike any Sonic game has ever had before. That's rad.

  • Sonic Battle is an isometric fighting game, and despite my tendency to hate isometric games, I have to say that Sonic Battle isn't so bad. The only problem is, about halfway through the game's singleplayer mode, the difficulty spikes pretty significantly and you start having to resort to exploiting bugs in the game's artificial intelligence in order to win fights. If it weren't for that, Sonic Battle would be way higher on this list.

  • Racing games seem like a no-brainer for Sonic, and Sonic R does its best to stay true to Sonic's platformer roots, with plenty of jumping around and collecting rings. The game's real shortcoming is its length: with only five tracks to race on, you can see the credits in less than an hour.

  • Essentially "Sonic Chaos 2", Triple Trouble tries to be a bigger, better game, but it struggles to define itself as anything other than an also-ran. Good for a Game Gear game, I guess.

  • What happens when the AM2 teams behind Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighting Vipers get together to make a Sonic fighting game? You get Sonic the Fighters. I've always had a soft spot for this game, but its shield system tends to scare away serious fighting game aficionados.

  • Sonic Boom Fire & Ice is a significant improvement over the other two Sonic Boom games, but what that really speaks to is just how abysmal they were. Fire & Ice is a fine game; it's largely inoffensive, and I wouldn't begrudge anyone that actually had fun with it. But it's not a game you'll fall in love with. It's not a game you're going to vividly remember in nine months. It's just merely okay.

  • Sumo Digital has had a good track record with these kart racers, but Team Sonic Racing feels under cooked on just about every level. There's not enough racers, not enough track variety, and definitely not enough polish. It's still an okay game, but you're better off playing one of the other Sumo Digital Sonic racers.

  • Episode 2 is a marked improvement over Sonic 4 Episode 1, with considerably better controls. Unfortunately, in every other regard, it is still very much a Sonic 4 game, which means it is nothing more than the hollow echo of a forgotten legacy.

  • Sonic Heroes was Sonic's first foray in to multi-platform gaming. Perhaps because of this, it was billed as sort of a "return to form" -- blue skies and bright colors. But even by now, Sonic games with checkerboard hills felt more tired than revolutionary, and Sonic Heroes' cut-and-paste level design and poor controls was salt in a growing wound. You could do worse, but you could do way, way better, too.

  • It's video pinball. Nothing more, nothing less. Just pinball. Maybe you're in to that. I kind of am! Though there's also a... story mode? For some reason? That's kind of weird.

  • Sega was seemingly hoping to strike on another "Sonic CD" for the 32X with Knuckles Chaotix. Both games share some very similar elements, but Chaotix is a little too weird and unpolished to be much fun. The main issue here is the game's awful "combi-ring" mechanic, where two players are forever linked by a magical rubberband. The only thing it's used for is messing up your jumps, which makes traversing stages a huge chore.

  • Sonic Runners was a game choked to death by a way-too-generous gacha roulette system and obnoxious advertisements. A lot of Sonic Runners fans, myself included, wanted a pure version of that game, free of all the free-to-play mechanisms. The Monkey's Paw curled, giving us Sonic Runners Adventure by Gameloft: a game devoid of all the personality, fun and replayability of Sonic Runners. Once again: Rest in peace, Sonic Runners.

  • Sonic 4 makes a half-hearted attempt to echo its Sega Genesis forefathers with seriously mixed results. The game is the worst parts of Sonic Rush and Classic Sonic mashed together, and it really suffers for it. It doesn't control well, it doesn't look very nice, and there's maybe half a game's worth of content. Yikes.

  • Sonic and the Secret Rings has some very interesting and cool ideas about what a Sonic game could be, but its undone by a critical amount of padding: there's maybe 45 minutes of gameplay here, stretched so thin it nearly breaks. I hope you like replaying every level 12 times to grind out an EXP meter.

  • Yo, son, you like Puyo Puyo? That's basically what this is, reskinned with characters from the American Sonic cartoons. Puyo Puyo is a pretty good game, don't get me wrong, but... why would you pick Mean Bean Machine as an avenue to play it? There are better ways to get your Puyo on.

  • Spinball has the misfortune of being a game clearly intended to be sandwiched between other Sonic games to "tide people over." It's kind of a cool idea, blending pinball tables with a platformer. The only problem is once you pass the first level, later stages become sprawling, over-complicated pinball metropolises where a single missed shot can lead to a catastrophic failure, forcing you to re-do several minutes of climbing up table after table. But, man, that first level is a good one. Shame the rest of the game couldn't have played like that.

  • Sonic Advance 3 is a weird melting pot of all sorts of disparate ideas floating around the Sonic franchise at the time. It makes an attempt to combine the more thoughtful pace of Sonic Advance 1 with the wild speed of Sonic Advance 2 while simultaneously introducing a "team" system as a gesture towards Sonic Heroes. None of it works very well, and it doesn't help that it's an ugly game with slapdash level design.

  • For having made multiple successful games in the "Boost" formula you'd think Sonic Forces would be a slam dunk for Sega. They did it right twice already, just do that again, right? You're wrong. They're wrong. This game is wrong. Sonic Forces feels like it was made out of table scraps in only a few months.

  • The original Sonic Riders was a pretty flawed game that ended up being a surprising diamond in the rough if you stuck with it and learned how to play. Unfortunately, Sonic Riders Zero Gravity systematically strips out just about everything that made the original Sonic Riders interesting and fun. The end result is something that feels slow, pedestrian, and unfortunately amplifies the game's goofy "anime futuristic" aesthetic.

  • Who knew that somebody at Bioware really liked Sonic games? Unfortunately, they didn't like them enough, as Sonic Chronicles features hit-or-miss graphics, offensively bad music, and a general lack of polish that spoils the mood of the whole game. The ridiculous "To Be Continued" cliffhanger ending and laughably stupid credits sequence doesn't help matters, either. It's more underwhelming than it is awful, but there are just too many other, better RPGs on the DS.

  • What happens when you try to squeeze Sonic the Hedgehog in to Super Mario Galaxy? You get Sonic Lost World. Abysmal "parkour" controls, bland level design, and an annoying plot get in the way.

  • Sonic 3D Blast is 100% a product of its era -- not only is it an early attempt to bring Sonic in to 3D, but it features pre-rendered graphics like Donkey Kong Country. The end result isn't great; the controls are too slippery, the collection mechanic slows the game down too much, and thematically there's nothing here that hasn't been done better in other games.

  • Why does Sonic have a sword? Why does the sword talk? Why am I slashing at cartoon orcs? Why is there so much story? Why is the game so short? Who thought this was what anyone wanted out of a Sonic game?

  • It makes too much sense: a Sonic the Hedgehog racing game that plays like the classic 2D games. Unfortunately, it's by Backbone Entertainment, the development studio notorious for putting the absolute bare minimum amount of effort in to their projects. To say that Sonic Rivals feels like a homebrew fangame made by a teenager would be an insult to fangames.

  • Putting Sonic in to an endless runner makes a lot of sense. What doesn't make sense is how slow and pedestrian this game feels compared to Temple Run. Which is to say you should probably just play Temple Run instead.

  • At its best, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric could have been a "good" licensed game. You've probably played the type -- based on a TV show or a movie, a little rough around the edges, but still enjoyable. Sonic Boom would have never been on the same level of a Super Mario Galaxy or even a Ratchet & Clank, but it could have been fine. It wasn't. It's rare to find a game that is so obviously not finished; Rise of Lyric is seemingly held together by chewing gum and duct tape. Or is it sports tape?

  • This is Sonic Dash, but now with online multiplayer. It doesn't help make it a better game. More frantic, certainly, but the grind to unlock new characters is worse than ever, and you'll get tired of the same environments and music quickly. This game is the emptiest calories.

  • At this point, this game probably needs no introduction. A half-functional mess of poor controls, greasy graphics, buggy gameplay, all wrapped around a cringe-inducing plot where a fair-skinned human Princess actually, seriously falls in love with Sonic the Hedgehog (who's head is bigger than most of her body). It's an unmitigated disaster.

  • There might actually be a couple of decent ideas buried in Shadow the Hedgehog, but you'd never be able to find them. So much of this game feels like reheated leftovers that weren't good enough to appear in other 3D Sonic games, and that's on top of inheriting all of the control problems from Sonic Heroes. There is really only one term to describe what trying to finish Shadow the Hedgehog feels like: soul crushing.

  • It seemed like a no brainer: hire the same developers behind Mario Party to create a Sonic version of that. Something along the way went very, very wrong; Sonic Shuffle is plagued by horrific loading times, banal minigames (even by Mario Party standards), a weird RPG battle system, and frustrating, cheating artificial intelligence. Torturous!

  • Sonic Drift was Sega's attempt at doing a Kart Racer on the Game Gear. A nice novelty then, but nowadays it barely even feels like a game at all -- the tech is just too simple. Sonic Drift 2 is a little better, but not enough to really matter.

  • What's worse than Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric? Shattered Crystal for the 3DS, a game so generic, so bland, it's hard to even define it as anything. It feels like the developers just plugged Sonic characters in to a platformer generator. Whatever it is, it's certainly not a Sonic game.

  • Tell me if you think this sounds like a good Sonic game: Sonic's lost his shoes, so you can't run fast. Every level is intentionally designed to play like a maze, and your goal is to find keys to unlock the door to the next stage. And, finally, it's an isometric game on the Game Gear's awful d-pad. If you genuinely thought that sounded like fun, you're on the wrong list.

  • Some kind of weird match-three puzzle game that was only released in Japan, and only on some kind of weird download service. There's a reason it was never published anywhere else.