Sonic The Hedgehog. What hasn’t been said about Sega’s spiky haired woodland critter that rolls around at the speed of sound, grabbing rings, and has a penchant for eating chili dogs and beating up fat people? Since his debut in 1991, the blue blur has become a fixture in the game industry, starting off as an early 90s icon that gave Nintendo a run for their money (both figuratively and literally) before starting to lose speed (ha!) in the late 90s and early 2000s, hitting rock bottom with Sonic ’06, and has since then been slowly working his way back.
My first experience with the series was when my dad got me the PC version of Sonic 3. While it was hard to play with a keyboard and the game running super fast to the point where I was surprised I could beat the first level (which I found out later was because I had accidentally increased the speed), I still enjoyed it and made it a point to play most if not all the games in the series in one way or another; and yes, that includes Shadow the Hedgehog, because I’m an idiot and make terrible choices. And while I’m a diehard Mario fan who will always pick those games over Sonic, even I’ll concede that when the games work, they work great.
This year, we’ll be getting not one, but two new Sonic games: Sonic Mania, a new 2D game that will bring the series back to its Genesis roots (and made by the same guys who made the excellent ports of the original games), and Sonic Forces, a 3D game that once again incorporate 2D and 3D like Sonic Generations, plus some new gameplay with a new character. I’m personally more excited for Mania than Forces, but I thought that is more than a good enough excuse to talk about the five best Sonic games ever made. The only rule for this list is that you have to be able to play as Sonic, and before you ask yes I'll be covering the bad games as well. With that out of the way, let’s roll around at the speed of sound and talk about the best and worse Sonic games. But not too long though, because I have places to go; gotta follow my rainbow. I’m sorry. But not really.
Sonic Colors was a game that came out of left field. You see at the time, the series had been in a bit of a rough patch after the release of the infamous 2006 Sonic The Hedgehog (don’t worry, I’ll get to that game soon), and while each 3D game that came out afterwards was better than that dumpster fire, they still weren’t what people would call good; depending on who you ask. So when Sonic Colors was first announced, every non-Sonic fan was exactly jumping for joy. Thankfully, when the final game came out, it was a lot better than people thought it would be. Like, genuinely good.
Unlike previous games, Sonic Colors is all about that sweet, sweet, speed, combining blistering 3D speed with classic 2D platforming that the series was known, taking the best elements of both and making something that is truly fun; all without a weird gimmick that slows down the game. And I know most people would say that the Wisps, alien creatures that Eggman has kidnapped to create his new interstellar amusement park, would be a gimmick, since most of them give Sonic special ability that he can use for a short time, but I don’t see it that way; rather, I see them more as a traditional powerup that you would find in a Super Mario Bros. game, in that they’re in the game and build on the existing gameplay, in this case the sense of speed. While that’s all fine and dandy, what really sets Sonic Colors apart from other games in the series is the writing. While the writing in previous games wasn’t too bad, it also at times felt stiff; Sonic Colors changes that by finally giving the blue blur and crew some much needed personalities, with plenty of fourth wall breaks, puns, and silly references to previous games, with the best thing easily being Eggman’s PA announcements you hear in each level. And while I know that a fair number of Sonic fans weren’t fans of the jokes, I found them to be funny, and rather have a chuckle or two then being bogged down by unnecessarily dark and “serious” stories that you saw in the Adventure games.
Ultimately, Sonic Colors was finally the game that showed the game industry that yes, the high speed action of the Sonic series can translate in 3D, striking a nice balance between high speed action and exploration with multiple paths. That’s not to say it’s a perfect game, as Colors can get repetitive and unnecessarily challenging toward the end, and I do feel that Generations was the better game overall (don’t worry, I’ll get to that later too), but for a game that finally broke the “Sonic curse” (depending on who you ask), it certainly deserves a special mention.
You ever have that one game that you see a screenshot or a trailer of and you say to yourself “man, I want to play that”? I had a lot of those growing up, but the one that stood out to me the most was Sonic CD. I first saw the intro and ending cinematics of the game when I got the Sonic Mega Collection on the Gamecube back in 2002 (god, I feel old), and after seeing it, I made it a point to play it for myself after hearing a bunch of people talk about how great it was. I wouldn’t play it until a decade later, first on mobile phones (don’t judge me), and then later on the PC, via an old copy of the PC version that I finally got fixed. And yeah, it was as good as I expected.
Sonic CD isn’t the first game to focus on Sonic’s speed (obviously), but it is the first game to use that speed for something other than “go fast”. Instead, Sonic’s speed in this game lets him travel through time in each of the game’s 21 levels (with supposedly more being cut during development) to stop Dr. Robotnik’s evil scheme and save Amy Rose (who first made her debut in this game) from the clutches of Metal Sonic (who also made his debut in this game). Traveling through time in each of the levels is as simple as finding a “Past”, “Present”, and “Future” sign and running as fast as he can, and it’s more than just a coat of paint. New paths can open up, stages can look more mechanical or organic based on what time period you’re in (with the music changing as well), and even enemy placement changes based on whether Sonic destroys the robot teleporters in the past, resulting in either a Good Future of each level (where everything is sunshine and rainbows) or a Bad Future (everything is so dark and gloomy it makes the future in Blade Runner look like a Disney movie), with the game’s ending being determined based on whether you got a Good Future in any stage or not. Alternatively, you could just ignore all that, speed through a level, enter a Special Stage, and get all the Time Stones (this game’s Chaos Emeralds) to get the good ending, but that’s the hidden brilliance of Sonic CD: you can either explore each level to find secrets or run as fast as you can grabbing every ring in sight, and you’ll still have a good time either way, which is something that you can rarely say about most Sonic games.
Sonic CD may not be my favorite game overall or even my favorite platformer, but it’s without a doubt one of the best games I ever played, and I’m glad I finally experienced it after all these years. The gameplay is solid striking a perfect balance between speed and exploration, the levels are well made and a blast, and the soundtracks to the game are two of the best in the series (yes, I said soundtracks, they’re both amazing). It’s pretty clear that Sonic Team put a lot of love and effort into this game, and it shows, as Sonic CD is not only the best Sega CD ever made (I know that sounds like a back-handed compliment, but it’s not), but it’s also one of the best Sonic games ever made, and one of the best platforms I’ve ever played.
Remember that Batman cartoon a few years back called Batman: The Brave & The Bold? You know, the one that was used as an excuse to introduce people to the Silver Age of DC Comics, introducing a new generation to the likes of lesser known DC characters like Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Blue Beetle, etc.? Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is pretty much that. Yes, Sonic’s clearly the star, but he’s also brought a long a bunch of other Sega properties (and some not from Sega depending on which version you have) to join the fun. And man what a fun game it is.
There are two things that All Stars Racing Transformed has going for it: the first is the previously mentioned cameos and homages to Sega’s vast non-Sonic library, but the second being the transformations of your vehicle. Obviously, this isn’t the first time this has happened in a racing game (Diddy Kong Racing says hello), but it’s done so well here, as there are some tracks that will change between driving a car, riding a boat, or flying a plane in between laps, or even in the same lap; for example, in the course representing Skies of Arcadia (by the way Sega, if you could release Skies of Arcadia on the Xbox One, PS4, and Steam that would be great), you start off driving a kart like you would regularly, before seeing the stage slowly break apart in the next lap, before going into a full blown airship battle in the last battle and having to finish the race in the air. Granted, not every course is like this, but when the tracks do change, they add some much-needed variety to each race, as the track that you raced on in lap one could be completely different to what you race on in lap three.
Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed isn’t so much as reinvention of the wheel as it is a refinement of the wheel with a cool spinner thrown on it. It’s one of the few non-Mario Kart kart games that I can recommend to people (hell in some regards, it’s better than Mario Kart) that strikes a nice balance between skill, luck, and fun, all wrapped up in an interesting vehicle mechanic and some good old-fashioned Sega nostalgia. It is admittedly jarring to see Danica Patrick, Wreck-It Ralph, and the Spy, Heavy, and Pyro from Team Fortress 2 (assuming you’re playing it on PC) racing alongside Sonic and NIGHTS, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that is without a doubt the best Sonic racing game ever made.
To be honest, I feel like I’m cheating putting Sonic Generations this high on the list, let alone putting it on the list at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great game, but the idea of putting this game so high on the list is like saying your favorite Pink Floyd album is their Greatest Hits. Then again, they’re called hits for a reason.
Original created when someone at Sonic Team realized no one had anything planned for Sonic’s 20th anniversary (I’ll give you a few minutes to get your Metroid jokes out of your system), Sonic Generations takes eight of the Blue Blur’s most iconic levels (plus one level from the 2006 Sonic The Hedgehog) and has you play through them as short tubby Classic Sonic and green eyed Modern Sonic, and honestly that’s it. Okay sure, there’s a plot involving time travel, but really the whole point of the game is blaze through each of these levels at break neck speed, with the Classic Sonic levels giving us a peek into an alternate timeline where Sonic never made the jump to 3D, while the Modern Sonic stages take the good 3D gameplay of Colors and makes it into something great. There’s no werehog transformation (though for the record, I didn’t mind it all that much), no weird sword combat, no guns, no vehicles, no team mechanic, no weird human love interest, just two hedgehogs running really fast through the some of the best levels the series has ever given us, complete with some awesome remixes of classic tunes and clever nods and Easter eggs that any hardcore fan will get a kick out of.
I guess if I wanted to be nitpicky, I could complain about how I wish Sonic Generations could have had more levels (when will Flying Battery Zone and Hang Castle get their due) or that the terrible side missions involving Sonic’s terrible friends being a requirement to proceed break the flow, but those are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, especially the former due to the PC version of the game supporting mods. At the end of the day, this is the best 3D Sonic game ever made, focusing primarily on the sense of speed and showering love on the Hedgehog’s long history. Only time will tell if the gameplay of Generations was lighting in a bottle, since Sonic Forces looks to emulate it, minus the recreations of older stages and making Original the Character (DO NOT STEAL) playable. But even if it turns out to be terrible, I still have Sonic Generations to go back to.
No I’m not talking about Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which is a great game. Nor do I mean Sonic & Knuckles, which is also a great game. No, I’m talking about what happened when Sega got the proverbial peanut butter in the chocolate and took two great tastes and put them together: Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, hands down the best Sonic game ever made. And Knuckles.
Originally meant to be one huge game before being cut in half with the first half releasing as Sonic 3, while the second half was released as Sonic & Knuckles, putting these two games together as part of a lock-on cartridge is easily the smartest thing Sega did during the 90s. 14 zones to dash through and explore, with excellent level design that complements players who want to run fast or explore. Three playable characters, each with their own unique playstyle, and all of which control beautifully. Levels that change depending on who you play as. Multiple endings based on how many Chaos Emeralds or Super Emeralds that you pick up. Combined with amazing graphics and a killer soundtrack, and you have a game that made Super Nintendo owners like me say, “damn, I want a Genesis.”
I know Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a pretty safe choice, since it’s considering to be one of the best games ever, but honestly it’s considered that for a reason. Just like Super Mario Bros. 3 and World took Mario’s gameplay and perfected it to a pristine shine, so too does Sonic 3 & Knuckles hit it out of the park and give us a game that’s not only the best thing the series has given us, but one of the best games on the Genesis, one of the best platformers of all time, and one of the best games ever made, to be remembered fondly alongside other amazing platformers like the aforementioned 3 and World, Donkey Kong Country 2, and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. Simply put, it is the crown jewel of the series, and is nothing short of Blast-Processing perfection. And Knuckles-goddamnit!
It's very easy to be down on the Sonic series due to how many bad games the series has given us (and believe me, there are a lot),but these five games are proof that the series has some level of staying power, with its sense of speed, bright and vibrant worlds, and kickass soundtracks. Based on the early reviews and positive press for Sonic Mania, it seems like things are starting to finally look up for the hedgehog. Granted, I still prefer the Mario series overall, but to deny the good games that do star the 90s hedgehog with attitude would be nothing short of foolish.
But that's enough from me. What do you guys think? Agree, disagree, maybe you think Shadow the Hedgehog is a good game? Let me know, and be sure to come by next time where I..........*sigh* look at the five worse Sonic games. I'm going to need a lot of booze for that one.