I probably couldn't pick a better place to start my journey and collection through Sega Mega Drive titles. When the console is mentioned, this is the game that most likely springs to most people's minds. It stands as one of the first games I ever played and it's everlasting charm still holds up today in a world of COD's, GOW's and other violent acronyms.
Sonic was released back in 1991, a couple of years after the Sega Mega Drive was released, at a time when Sega was desperate for it's own mascot to rival that fat, Italian plumber some other company was making squillions off of. Think of how different the world would be, if one of the original concepts - an armadillo - came to fruition. Luckily instead we have a spiky blue hedgehog that speeds around in red trainers, collecting gold rings, spinning around like a saw-blade and chasing after Robotnik - a fat evil scientist with a wicked mustache. Yes these were the days when you needed little story to propel a game. Get the gold rings, try and get the chaos emeralds, avoid the nasty things, rinse, repeat, and that's all there is to it. Sonic took the basic side-scrolling platform format and imbued it with speed and a magic that has yet to be recreated.
22 years after its release, Sonic still holds up, gameplay wise. It's ridiculously easy to pick up and play, and still has that intoxicating charm that lures you in. Get 50 rings to reach the bonus stage, get 100 rings to gain an extra life, stockpile those lives for that f**king underwater Labyrinth stage, get all the emeralds. It's simple but addictive stuff. It's not exactly an epic though. Upon finding an original Sonic cartridge when I purchased the Mega Drive, I decided to give the game a whirl first up and found myself finishing the game within an hour. I chalk this up to my intense experience with the game, but still, six zones split into three stages each won't occupy the avid gamer for too long, even with the bonus stages thrown in. While I'm on the subject of the bonus stages, who could forget the trippy, spiraling, almost hypnotic rotating mazes you were forced to float through? Psychedelic music entrances you while odd images of fish and birds move around behind your ever-moving maze. It's the gaming equivalent of an acid trip that not many games have since re-created successfully (though the psychotropic drug-trip in Fallout 3 comes close).
The presentation of Sonic's debut is probably the most memorable portion of the game, to me anyway. Those catchy-ass songs still linger in my mind all these years later, and hearing them again in all their 16-bit glory was nostalgia at it's finest. The visuals are as I remembered; vibrant and full of colour and life; something I always felt was lacking from earlier rival Super Mario titles (which looked great, don't get me wrong, but there's a lot more detail present here). Every level has it's own unique style, villains and environmental doodads that keep the game refreshing as you progress. Remember those bastard caterpillar things covered in spikes? I certainly do. By the time you finish each zone, you're faced with Robotnik, armed with whatever death-bringing, level-specific attachment he has on his little floating metallic egg thing. Whether swinging a giant wrecking ball, spouting lava, dropping bombs or trying to pierce your noggin with a metal spike, the boss battles aren't nearly as difficult as I remember. I seem to remember there being a boss battle for the Labyrinth zone, when all you do is follow Robotnik up a tunnel as it fills with water. Maybe my memory is on the fritz.
It seemed like providence finding a Sonic cartridge 22 years on. Upon purchasing my console, I noticed a stack of old games on the counter. Within the muddled mess was a case labelled "Sonic The Hedgehog". Apparently, that stack of games had only JUST been traded in that morning. A day earlier and I would have waltzed out of the store, Mega Drive in hand, thinking to myself "first order of business - locate Sonic on Ebay and buy it!". Such is the undeniable draw of this game that it had to be the first on my list of games to track and down and buy. I can sleep easy now knowing I once again have a copy of Sonic in my room, and the fractured memory of my childhood has regained one of it's massive missing pieces.
Verdict - 9.5 out of 10