Igort's Sonic The Hedgehog Series Review Extravaganza

I’m a huge Sonic the Hedgehog dork. My earliest childhood memory is playing Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive in the 90’s. I’ve been with Sonic every step of the way, through the good and through the... well, through the bad.

I wanted to put my thoughts on all the Sonic games in the “main cycle” of the series down on paper so I could refer to it when I wanted. These are what I’m calling “mini-reviews” because I’ll try to be as brief as possible.

There will be SPOILERS but it’s Sonic guys, come on.

No Caption Provided

Sonic’s history can be split into three “eras:” The Genesis Era, consisting of the Mega Drive/Genesis games; The Adventure Era, consisting of Sonic’s first foray into 3D games and his beginnings as a third-party mascot; and The Boost Era, consisting of a radically different approach to how Sonic operates in 3D.

List items

  • This game rules.

    The momentum system set the game out from other platformers of the era. Sonic winds up to his top speed, builds momentum when going down slopes, and loses momentum on upward slopes. Most platformers didn’t really do this (I don’t think any did at the time). Green Hill Zone, the first level, is a masterpiece in communicating this to the player.

    The rest of the levels? Hit or miss. Marble Zone feels like it was designed for a different platformer because it has less slopes and is more blocky. Labyrinth Zone, the first of the series water levels, sucks. Being underwater makes Sonic move really slowly, and it’s blocky like Marble Zone. Yuck.

    Collect rings so that when you get hit you drop them all but you don’t die. Collect 100 rings and get an extra life. Finish a level with 50 rings to get to the special stage, giving you a chance to get a Chaos Emerald. Get all six for the game’s good ending. Easy to understand, and collecting rings feels more substantial than getting coins in a Mario game or whatever. The special stages get real hard, but they’re fun and psychedelic.

    Each set of levels ends with a boss fight against Dr. Eggman (or Dr. Robotnik, whatever). All the boss fights are fantastic, except the one in Labyrinth Zone, which sucks.

  • Sonic 2 is a masterpiece.

    Does everything a sequel should. Levels are bigger, more intricate. The new Spin-Dash move helps you get momentum when you’re stuck. The Spin-Dash is so essential they put it into Sonic 1 whenever they re-release it. Sonic now has a sidekick, Tails, who can help defeat bosses, collect rings, and doesn’t need to be constantly watched over. Everything about Sonic 2 is bigger and better than Sonic 1. Even the water levels can be played in such a way that you never touch the water.

    They added a seventh chaos emerald and more opportunities to get into special stages at the levels checkpoints so you can get ‘em quickly. When you get all seven you can turn into Super Sonic and go even faster. It’s rad.

    The game ends with Sonic chasing Eggman into space. When you go to space you know that’s when shit gets serious. You go to Eggman’s space station, the Death Egg, and fight a giant robot version of Eggman with no rings to protect you. It’s tense as fuck and it rules. It is the best final boss in any video game.

    There is no such thing as a “perfect video game,” but Sonic 2 is a mighty strong contender.

  • Sonic CD came out on the Mega-CD which, like, four people bought so no one really played it until it got released elsewhere. Sonic CD is rad.

    Dr. Eggman is attempting to take over the Little Planet and mess with time. Sonic goes to stop him and is followed by Amy Rose, his #1 superfan. She is kidnapped (shock horror) by Metal Sonic. This leads to the best boss battle in the game when you race Metal Sonic to save her in Stardust Speedway. It kicks ass.

    Same rules as Sonic 1, but there’s no Chaos Emeralds, now there’s Time Stones. The game is all about time travel. Hit sign posts that say “future” or “past” then run until you launch through time. In the past you have to destroy Eggman’s machinery. If you do, you can go into the “good future”. If you go to the future and you haven’t done that, you see a “bad future.”

    The level design is all over the place. Some of the blocky complaints with Sonic 1 still apply, and a couple of the levels feel like they're built to be frustrating with weird spring placement or bizarre bouncy mechanics. Wacky Workbench sucks because the floor launches you high into the air, which can get in the way when you need to go through a low path.

  • Sonic 3 can feel kind of short compared to Sonic 2. There aren’t as many levels, and a couple of the levels can go on for just a tad too long…

  • …and the same can be said for Sonic & Knuckles.

    Sonic 3 & Knuckles (it’s one game, so I’ll treat it as such) is a big game when locked together. Like real big. It has a save feature which helps because holy heck this game is long. Some of the levels go on too long, such as Sandopolis or Carnival Night.

    The Death Egg from Sonic 2 crashed on a weird floating island called Angel Island and Eggman has gone to get it back up and running. He convinced some dude named Knuckles that Sonic is bad so Knuckles takes the Chaos Emeralds. As Eggman is about to launch the Death Egg he betrays Knuckles and takes the Master Emerald. They all beat up Eggman and save the day.

    If you collect all the Chaos Emeralds before the Sonic 3 part of the game is over, you get the chance to unlock the Super Emeralds when you get into the Sonic & Knuckles half of the game. Get all those and you can become Hyper Sonic. Hyper Sonic is even faster than Super Sonic. If you finish the game with all of these you get a special final level, the Doomsday Zone, which is rad.

    You can also play as Tails solo, or Knuckles solo. They can get through the levels in a different way than Sonic can. That’s replay value right there. You can also lock Sonic 2 onto the S&K cart and play as Knuckles in Sonic 2, but why ruin perfection?

    Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a true epic, even if it overstays its welcome occasionally. It’s a cool game. It’s no Sonic 2, but it’s cool.

  • Sonic Adventure is alright.

    This was the first game they did in 3D. They did a good job replicating the momentum feel of 2D Sonic, but hoh boy you wouldn’t know it from the level design. Boost pads everywhere. An over-reliance on set pieces where the controls are taken away from the player ruins some of the experience. No special stages. There’s a story now and the Chaos Emeralds play a big role in that.

    Even more other characters to play as. Some are good, some are bad. Tails levels are races, they’re good. Knuckles levels are treasure hunts and they’re a bit tedious. Amy’s levels are chase sequences and they’re fine. New characters! E-102 Gamma’s levels are lock-on shooty things, they’re fine. Big the Cat’s levels are fishing and they suck really badly.

    The story is… fine. Dr. Eggman wants to resurrect some god called Chaos and feed it the Chaos Emeralds so it can destroy everything. This becomes a recurring theme for Eggman moving forward. Sonic and friends fuck around for a while but Eggman does the thing and it goes bad. So Sonic turns into Super Sonic and beats up Chaos. Happy ending. Kind of. The last line of dialogue in the game is Tails saying “all’s well that ends well!” as they all stand in the literal ruins of a massive city. It’s pretty funny.

  • Sonic Adventure 2 is a good game and a bad game all at the same time.

    There’s two halves to the story mode, a “Hero” story and a “Dark” story. They intertwine in a way that suggests you need to play both to get the whole picture, but the story is so thin it doesn’t actually matter.

    There’s three gameplay types. Speed is for Sonic and Shadow, Sonic’s new rival. They look cool as shit, but the level design soars and dips. The characters are too twitchy to control reliably. They can go flying at the slightest touch of the controls. An over reliance on boost pads makes it feel as though most of the time speed isn’t earned. Later levels are built over bottomless pits which creates a false sense of difficulty. It sucks. When it rules, it rules, but it sucks just often enough to be frustrating

    The other two playstyles aren’t as interesting. Mech levels (for Tails and Dr. Eggman) are similar to Gamma’s levels from the first Adventure game. In that game comboing enemies adds time onto a countdown. Not so in this game, so the levels have no urgency. Treasure Hunting levels (for Knuckles and Rouge) are tedious, overlong, and frustrating. Especially as the levels get larger, longer, and start flirting with mechanics that feel half-cooked and poorly implemented. They also messed with the objective detector in a way that’s a bit too long to get into here, but it makes the levels take three times as long as they should.

    The story is that Dr. Eggman uncovers Shadow who was an experiment in creating the ultimate life form. He looks like Sonic because reasons. Also, he was made 50 years ago, a fact they bring up then keep forgetting. They go to a space station and Dr. Eggman blows up the moon and threatens the Earth. Sonic and pals go and stop him. Shit gets bad and they all have to work together to stop it. Sonic and Shadow go super because they have to destroy the prototype for the ultimate life form who is some big weird lizard. They defeat it but Shadow dies for some reason. Then they’re all sad even though Shadow was only introduced about five hours ago when this game began and Sonic was right there and could have easily saved him. It’s silly.

    Also the reason Shadow turns good is because he remembered the dying words of a girl who used to look after him when he was created. She was murdered by a SWAT team who invaded the space base they lived on even though it’s meant to be set in the 1950’s.

    Sonic Adventure 2 is a game I adore with my whole heart. So much of it’s music, it’s expressive colours, it’s low-poly aesthetic, it’s corny dialogue and story, is ingrained into every facet of my brain. It could be very easy to read this review and think that I don’t like this game, but I do. It sucks but I love it. Like wrestling.

  • Sonic’s first multiplatform game! And it stinks!

    In Sonic Heroes you play as three characters at once, and there’s four separate stories. The plot is so thin that the games wikipedia article doesn’t even bother summarizing it. Dr. Eggman is gonna destroy the world and is gloating by sending a letter to Sonic and friends. In the end it turns out to not actually be Eggman but instead Metal Sonic in disguise. He uses the Chaos Emeralds to turn into the Metal Overlord, but Sonic also uses the Emeralds to go Super and beats him. Yawn.

    There are two (TWO) face buttons dedicated to cycling between the three characters. Depending on which character is currently selected the play style is different. There’s speed (Sonic, Shadow, etc.) where the gameplay feels like the previous two games. There’s flight (Tails, Rouge, etc.) where the main character flies while carrying the other two. Finally there’s power (Knuckles, Big, etc.) and they do punchy stuff and use the other two characters as if they were boxing gloves.

    All the levels in this game are miles too long. They recycle gimmicks, enemy encounters, and require you to switch characters so often that they all blend together into a giant fever dream of shiny bright colours. This game is so bright, the characters literally have a sheen on them. It’s so bright that the first time I played through when I was fifteen I had to stop after a couple of hours because it gave me a headache and made my eyes hurt.

    So I glanced over this earlier, but uhh… Shadow’s back. Even though he died. There’s a moment in the Dark story where they walk into a room full of Shadow’s in vats. That leads us too:

  • Shadow The Hedgehog is a bad character and hey guess what? His game also sucks.

    Some people might think this is a spin-off and not a “main” game, but since they set up the story for this in Sonic Heroes I’m including it.

    It’s built using the same engine they used for Heroes so it plays the same (badly), and it looks the same. Everything has the same colourful sheen to it which is hilarious considering how grim-dark it’s trying to be. Now there’s also guns and vehicles. The guns automatically shoot whatever enemy is closest to you which can get really frustrating with some of the objectives. Oh, and every level has three objectives: one normal, one good, and one bad. Depending which you finish determines what your next level is.

    This means the game has a bunch of different endings. To get the final “true” ending you have to unlock all the other endings. You can’t just pick a level from the level select and do the route from there through, you have to physically play through from the first level and do the whole process again. That means you have to play through the whole game ten separate times, doing all the different tedious objectives as you go. Most of those levels, like Sonic Heroes, are long and awful. The objectives typically require scouring every inch of a level looking for enemies or items and such. It sucks.

    The story is dumb. Turns out Shadow was made using alien DNA or something. The aliens show up and want Shadow to help them harvest humans for energy. Shadow fucks around for a while (in a couple of the fake out endings he actually murders Dr. Eggman), then in the final true ending he goes through the same shit he went through in Sonic Adventure 2, becomes good again, then kills all the aliens. It’s dumb.

  • Sonic ‘06 is the worst game I’ve ever played.

    Sonic ‘06 is similar to Sonic Adventure, but worse. It plays badly and is a glitchy, broken mess because they wanted to release it in 2006 for Sonic’s 15th Anniversary year so they rushed it out the door. There’s three storylines and you need to play all three to get the whole picture. Unlike Adventure 2 where the story was so thin it didn’t matter, here the story is so convoluted that you do actually need to play all three to get it. And also take notes.

    You play as Sonic, whose levels play like worse versions of the past few games, Shadow, whose levels play like a worse version of his game, and new character Silver, whose levels are even slower and built around bad physics puzzles.

    The story is… a fucking mess. There’s time travel, and ontological loops, and Eggman wanting to resurrect gods but accidentally resurrecting other gods, a princess whose tears will end the world, hedgehogs confusing hedgehogs for other hedgehogs. I can’t even be bothered to sift through all my notes to recap this shit. In the end it doesn’t even matter because Sonic and Princess Elise travel back through time to make sure none of it ever even happens anyway so it's all good.

    Sonic 06 is a bad game. I hear lots of weird Sonic fans posit that if Sonic Team went back and fixed all the bugs and glitches this game would be awesome. But it wouldn’t. The levels are bad and rely too much on set pieces, even more than previous games. The story would still be a fucking mess. Silver’s levels aren’t just broken, they are mechanically bad. The boss fights are completely uninspired. The dialogue and voice acting is embarrassing, and the cutscenes were mo-capped so the characters all move weirdly.

  • Sonic Unleashed kicks ass.

    Sonic ‘06 was the bottom of the fucking barrel so Sonic Team had to figure shit out. This is where the “Boost” era begins. The camera is locked behind Sonic and you progress forward as if it were a racing game. Seems so obvious now. Hold the boost button to boost, but you have a boost gauge you need to refill. Every now and then the levels change perspective so it looks more like a side-scroller. Reminds me of the good old days. This creates a nice ebb-and-flow to the levels. When the boost stuff clicks it becomes second nature. It’s awesome.

    The story is Eggman already won. He fired a big laser at the Earth and blew it into chunks. Trapped in the Earth was the Dark Gaia, who releases monsters and whose presence makes Sonic turn into the Werehog at night.

    So the daytime stages use this new boost mechanic, night stages you play as the Werehog. The Werehog gameplay is basically a low-quality God of War knock-off. It’s hacky and it’s slashy. It’s fine, nothing special. The daytime levels are good but unrefined. The night time levels go on a bit too long and take up much more of the game's runtime.

    Sonic and his new friend Chip travel to each of the Earth chunks and use the Chaos Emeralds to return them back into a whole again. Then Chip turns out to be the Light Gaia who exists to defeat the Dark Gaia, and he does so with the help of Super Sonic and also the power of friendship. It’s a neat story with some fun character moments. I dig it!

    (They also did a Wii/PS2 version that I never played but is different apparently)

  • Sonic Colours is outstanding.

    They took the boost formula introduced in Unleashed and slowed it down a little. Yeah, that’s right. They made a Sonic game that played a little bit slower but it was still good. Go figure.

    Colours introduces Wisps. Wisps are power-ups that either last for a short time or are single use. They unlock at points in the story and they go back and appear in earlier levels. That’s replayability right there. They do different things. Laser, for example, let’s Sonic shoot forward and bounce off objects to reach new places. Drill lets Sonic drill through certain areas. There’s more but I won’t recap all of them. They are cool and good.

    The story in this game introduced a shift in tone. New writers were brought on board so gone was the corny dialogue of the Adventure era. The new tone was much more “saturday morning cartoon” joke heavy, goofy vibe. It’s cool. A small chunk of Sonic fans don't like it because I guess they prefer bad dialogue?

    The story goes: Dr. Eggman wants to repent for his past mistakes so he builds an “interstellar” amusement park as a sorry. Sonic & Tails are suspicious, naturally, so they go check it out. Shock horror, it’s a cover for a nefarious scheme. Eggman has found a way to capture planets, so he captured the Wisps home planet to harness their energy. Sonic puts a stop to it. It’s fine. It’s simple, but without the melodrama and hamfisted dialogue, it works so much better. It helps that the voice acting got better too. A lot of people will be mad at me for saying it, but it’s true. Well, it’s not really that the acting got better, per se, it’s more that the voice direction got better and they weren’t speaking stilted dialogue so it improved as a whole.

  • Sonic Generations is a game that shouldn’t work but it does.

    Let’s start with the story first. Sonic and friends are celebrating Sonic’s birthday. Then some weird creature comes along and scoops them all up into a weird “white space.” Turns out this white space has all of the events of the Sonic series locked inside of it. Then they meet younger “Classic” versions of Sonic and Tails.

    All this is just an excuse to have a game full of levels from previous Sonic games. Each level has two acts. The first act is a “classic” 2.5D side scroller reminiscent of the Genesis era. The second act is in a “modern” style reminiscent of Unleashed/Colours. The classic levels are good, but they don’t 100% get the feel of Classic Sonic the same so they are difficult to get used to. The modern levels are amazing and are some of my favourite levels to replay in the whole series.

    There’s not really a whole lot else to say. It should feel cheap and fan-servicey, but the levels are so good it just works. They do a neat job of referencing other levels in the remade levels too. There’s a moment in Sky Sanctuary (from Sonic & Knuckles) that references Marble Garden (from Sonic 3). It’s cool. Almost svery game on this list so far is represented. No levels from Shadow (thank fuck), Sonic 3 & Knuckles is taken as one game so there’s only one level repping both, and Sonic CD only gets a boss encounter.

    In the end it turns out the weird time creature is not only Eggman but also Classic Eggman working with him. It’s a great moment. It leads to a good gag where Classic Tails calls Classic Eggman “Dr. Robotnik” out of habit and he scoffs. It’s funny. Then the two Sonics become two Super Sonics and they beat up both Eggmens.

    When they send Classic Sonic back to his own time Modern Sonic says to him “Enjoy your future, it’s gonna be great!” Looking at this list maybe that’s not always 100% true but you best believe I got tears in my eyes anyway. Great game. Top stuff.

  • Even though we are ass-deep in the “Boost era” of Sonic, I guess Sonic Team got bored and decided to mix things up again. The results are… well, they’re all over the place.

    Sonic Team really seemed to like Mario Galaxy because that’s certainly the vibe here. A lot of the levels take place on big weird cylinders, before switching to little planetoids and back again. Sonic moves at different speeds on these cylinders depending on what axis he’s travelling on. It is baffling. There’s also still the occasional side-scrolling stuff. Sometimes the levels open up a little bit and they remind me of the Adventure era stuff, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way.

    There’s also now a run button. Yeah, they gave Sonic a run button. Again, baffling. If you’re holding down the run button and you hit a wall, or a small obstacle, Sonic does parkour up it or over it. The problem of hitting a full stop whenever you hit an obstacle has plagued 3D Sonic games since their inception. This is such a neat solution. It works, and the levels are built around it too.

    The story? Sonic chases Eggman onto some weird floating continent called the Lost Hex. There’s six beings there called the Deadly Six that Eggman controls with a weird conch. So Sonic, being an idiot, kicks the conch away. The Deadly Six can control Eggman’s robots, so they do that and attack everyone and then steal something that sucks energy out of the Earth. Then Sonic does a lot of punching and saves the day. Then they recycle the final boss of Sonic Colours because I guess they ran out of ideas. It’s fine.

    Sonic Lost World is a deeply flawed game. If they did another game like this they could have refined it. They didn’t though.

  • Okay, so, technically Sonic Mania shouldn’t really be on this list because it wasn’t developed by Sonic Team, but it’s so good I’m going to include it anyway. (That’s why Sonic 4 ain’t on this list by the way: it was developed by Dimps and sucks ass. Well, Episode 2 was better but it still kinda blew).

    A bunch of hardcore Sonic fans went to SEGA with a badass engine they had built and were like “hey, let us port old Sonic games to mobile phones” and the engine was so good SEGA said yes. Their port of Sonic CD was so good SEGA released it everywhere which is how Sonic CD got the recognition it deserved. Then they did Sonic 1. Then they did Sonic 2 and actually made it better. They took an actual masterpiece and made it better. That’s how good these guys were.

    A handful of years later SEGA let them make their own game. I was real excited for this game when it was announced but I was also gently skeptical. I’ve played a lot of Sonic fangames over the years and they all fall into the same traps when it comes to level design and such. Thankfully, Sonic Mania avoids all of them.

    Most of the levels are taken from older games. All the Genesis era games are represented and the second act of each one provides a new, unique take on that levels aesthetic or gimmick. There’s also a bunch of new levels which are really cool. It really, truly feels like the Sonic game we should have gotten on the SEGA Saturn if SEGA weren’t rushing head first into trying to make 3D Sonic happen. (There’s more to that story of Sonic not having a game on the Saturn but now ain’t the time or the place.)

    The story: Eggman sends a bunch of robots to uncover a new gemstone called the Phantom Ruby. It transforms the robots into more powerful robots called the Hard-Boiled Heavies who rebel against Eggman. They don’t go too hard on it but you get the sense that Sonic is just caught in the middle of this whole thing. In the true ending you play as Super Sonic fighting both Eggman and the leader of the Hard Boiled Heavies at the same time as they fight over the ruby. It’s bad-ass. Then the ruby sends Sonic through a portal and that leads us too...

  • Oh, boy, Sonic Forces. This game is… very bland.

    When I first played this game I realized why Lost World moved away from the Boost formula. Sonic Team clearly had no interest in making levels like that any more. The level design can be best described as uninspired. Every level is too short and lacks any natural crescendo. Just as each one feels like it’s about to pick up and get going they come to an immediate halt. It’s shocking.

    It’s one story but you also play as three characters. Sonic stuff is Boost stuff like Unleashed/Colours/Generations. Classic Sonic returns just like in Generations. The character feel is even more off than it was in Generations which is a bummer. You also play as a custom character with a character creator and everything. I never got too deep into that stuff as I found the options kinda lacking. There’s a joke people could make here about crazy Sonic fans and their original characters but I ain’t gonna do that because who cares. The world is a shitty place and people like to be a part of the stories they enjoy. They ain’t hurting anyone, leave ‘em the fuck alone.

    The OC’s levels are kinda reminiscent of Colours because they have Wisps in and are a bit slower than normal. The OC uses a cannon which is different depending on what Wisp you load into it between levels. I always stuck with the default because it always worked just fine. Same criticism of the levels apply here: uninspired and too short. They also reuse a bunch of enemy encounters so it can get kinda repetitive.

    Rumour goes that Sonic Team were originally gonna go all in on the original character stuff. Sonic was apparently going to barely be in this game. They showed that off to SEGA of America, and those dudes were like “you super can’t do that, dudes.” From there they rushed the game into the state it’s in today. My feelings on the game were already cemented when I first heard that story so I find it easy to believe.

    Story goes thus: Eggman uses the Phantom Ruby from Mania to turn some dude into a super weapon. They beat up Sonic and imprison him then take over the world. Sonic’s friends start a resistance. They bust Sonic out then they take the world back. Bing bang boom.