Sonic the Hedgehog, a name capable of conjuring a mixture of emotions in a way few other names in gaming can.
With that in mind, this long time Sonic fan wants to really see just how fair his current reputation is. Is he really the king of bad games that so many seem to believe him to be? Or was he unjustly pilloried for a few missteps over his long and storied time in games. How? by taking a short and sweet look back at the games in the Sonic canon and just doing a simply tally. Did it hit or miss? At the end, I'll tally the results. Easy as that. The marks are taken from an average of the critical charts from assorted sources like Wikipedia. Oh, I will be avoiding Metacritic numbers as I can't stand that site.
Note that I'm for the sake of time i'm not counting ports or spin-offs and will be trying to stick to "CORE GAMES" so to speak, but i'll mention them as needed. Also, i'm only going over Sonic's handheld presence in a general sense as opposed to going over individual games.
THE CLASSICS: SEGA GENESIS ERA
- SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (1991 SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive): The first, the original, though not necessarily the best. A great example of how well thought level design can allow players the option to either explore and find secrets; or speed their way to the end goal to net a sweet time bonus. Tight controls, great music, and an overall fine package that's aged pretty well all things considered. Mark: HIT
- SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 (1992 SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive): Everything great about the original is given that sweet touch of extra Blast Processing (tm). It's got bigger levels, more options, new moves, a new character (though Tails' uniqueness is blunted in his debut as none of his special abilities come into play until later games come in), and even a light multiplayer mode. There's a reason the fandom considers this one of the best, if not the best of the original games. Mark: HIT
- SONIC THE HEDGEHOG CD (1993 SEGA CD): With the extra punch in power that the SEGA CD offered, Sonic CD boasts some of the best music and visuals in the original set of games. With the added time travel ability, the game also boasts a higher degree of content and possiblities. One of the more beloved entries by hardcore fans but a touch on the obscure side due to the SEGA CD not quite reaching an install base comparable to the system it was an add-on for. That said, it's still a quality entry that has strong marks with critics and modern players alike thanks to re-releases allowing it reach a newer audience. Mark: HIT
- SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 3 (& KNUCKLES) (1994 SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive): *note* I know this encompasses two separate releases, but as they were always meant to be one game and were developed originally as one, i'm counting them in their original planned form - as one game. As this was my favorite entry in the Sonic canon, i'm going to probably come off with a bias...but what the hell. This is easily the finest Sonic outing of the original run; featuring some of the best level design in the series even now, a whole bucketload of extra features, fully fleshed out extra characters to play as which were both distinct and really alter your experience, exceptional music, better multiplayer (even if it's still pretty light), and best of all - it wraps up Sonic's story from Sonic 2 in a fantastic fashion. If you're only ever going to play one classic Sonic game - you can't go wrong with this one. Helps that this is also a critical favorite in the series. Mark: HIT
- SONIC 3D BLAST (1996 SEGA Genesis): Originally meant to be a swan song for Sonic on the Genesis just as it was discontinued - also got a port on the Saturn. Developed by Traveller's Tale, it's really the only non-Sonic-Team Sonic game that's currently a Core Game. This entry swaps out the 2D platforming for Isometric gameplay with a focus on gathering. It looked pretty good for a late Genesis game and had some nice music, but its controls weren't well refined and the established Sonic feel just wasn't there. Mark: MISS
- Other Genesis Era mentions: KNUCKLES CHAOTIX in what was attempt to make a distinct new Sonic game that tried out some interesting new features turned into one of the few Sonic games without Sonic actually in it. Starring Knuckles, this entry was unfortunately something of a mixed bag with reviews being all over the scale though generally sitting in the "average" territory. Still considered something of a black sheep in the series...though not quite as badly as a much later entry.
SCORE: 4 HITS, 1 MISSES
THE EARLY HANDHELD YEARS: SEGA GAME GEAR ERA
- The Game Gear would see a decent amount of Sonic games; 3 ports and some originals. Most have actually aged decently with standouts being SONIC CHAOS and TAILS ADVENTURE. Mark: HIT
SCORE: 1 HIT
*I AM NOT LISTING SONIC R AS IT IS NOT A CORE SONIC GAME EVEN IF IT WAS THE ONLY ORIGINAL SONIC GAME ON THE SEGA SATURN*
THE BIRTH OF MODERN SONIC: DREAMCAST ERA
- SONIC ADVENTURE (1998JP-99US SEGA Dreamcast): Sonic tries to do what Mario successfully managed in Super Mario 64 with this Adventure. The music was great, the action was smooth, the visuals were terrific, and it felt like a proper Sonic game...at least for Sonic himself. The other playable characters will hit or miss depending on player, and on that note - the camera was abysmal. That said, it had it where it mattered, and that was in the Sonic levels. How it has aged is a matter or personal taste, but if you ask me, it's still worth a play. Mark: HIT
- SONIC ADVENTURE 2 (2001 SEGA Dreamcast): As Sonic the Hedgehog 2 took Sonic 1 and improved it, SA2 did the same upon SA1. With better gameplay, a stronger focus on the action, tighter visuals, even more stand out music; the last Sonic game on a proper SEGA console was one his shining moments. That said, the camera was still as problematic as it was in SA1 and some of the characters' level focuses just weren't fun. Even then, this is still one of the Dreamcast's best and great Sonic entry - though just like with its predecessor, how well its aged may vary to taste. Mark: HIT
SCORE: 2 HITS
THE DARK AGE: EARLY MULTIPLATFORM ERA
- SONIC HEROES (2003 Gamecube, PS2, XBOX, Windows): The first fully multiplatform Sonic game, tries its hardest out of the gate and stumbles a bit here and there but ultimately worked. Adding a new team mechanic to freshen up the Sonic Adventure style gameplay formula, Heroes offers a slew of playable characters that all offer a their own unique flavor; the music continued to be a strong highlight; and the visuals were tight across the board. Many would note that the feel of the game hewed closer to the classic titles and development aimed with making this one of the more approachable games in the canon. Sadly, the camera problems that plagued the SA titles was still an issue and the voice acting was considered terrible by everyone, critic and fan alike. Overall, it still stands pretty well and was a success at release. Mark: HIT
- SONIC THE HEDGEHOG - 2006 (2006 PS3, XBOX 360): An incredibly troubled development loaded with numerous issues led to the creation of what is ostensibly one of the worst, if not the worst Sonic game ever made...on his 15th anniversary no less. It's every bit as bad as everyone has claimed it to be, enough where even SEGA had to admit to how just how much of an abysmal mistake this was. It's only saving grace is a beautiful soundtrack...which kind of makes it feel worse since it was ultimately wasted on this terrible entry in the series. Mark: MISS
- SONIC UNLEASHED (2008 PS2, PS3, Wii, XBOX 360): After the mistake that was Sonic '06, the Sonic Team tried to make amends with a promise to return to the roots of Sonic. The results? well...they half-got it...and half-botched it. Where they botched it was Sonic's nighttime transformation into a were-hog, with slow cumbersome action that didn't feel right and was ultimately boring. Where they got it right was Sonic's daytime levels, which were an exhilerating combination of vastly refined 3D segments using a camera that finally worked; as well as 2D sections that emphasized platforming like in the Classic days. The music was gorgeous, the visuals in the new in-house engine were were amazing, and the voice acting was a marked improvement. Shame that the game then ultimately was only half-good. Mark: MIXED
- SONIC 4 - EPISODE 1 (2010 all available platforms at the time): In a further attempt to recapture the glory of Sonic's initial hits, a direct numbered 2D sequel was produced for the first time in years. The first part of Sonic 4 was release to a decent reception. It looked great, and sounded pretty sweet, but was slightly held back by distinctly non-Sonic feeling gameplay physics. It might have looked the part, but it wasn't all there; even so, it was considered a partial step in the right direction. Mark: MIXED
- Other Early Multiplatform Mentions: SHADOW THE HEDGEHOG, As with Knuckles, Shadow got his own game. In an effort to cash in on the trend of darker themes, Shadow the Hedgehog brought weaponry into the gameplay fold with mixed results. Praise went to replay factor with the multiple story paths but general control and the attempt at "maturity" were not welcomed all that much. This entry would go on to join Knuckles Chaotix in the black sheep territory. SONIC RIDERS was a decent Sonic racer that was far improved over the old Sonic R; with far better control, some great music, pretty good level design, and nice selection of characters. Unfortunately its sequel would go on in infamy and undo any good press the first game had.
SCORE: 1 HIT, 1 MISSES, 2 MIXED
THE NEW HANDHELD YEARS: NEO GEO POCKET THROUGH NINTENDO DS ERA
- Starting around the time of the Neo Geo Pocket with the very well made Sonic Pocket Adventure, the time frame between Sonic on the NGC through his many appearances on the Nintendo Game Boy Advance and DS would build the foundations for what would become a very strong handheld presence for Sonic. It was telling that for many fans, and even some critics, it was Sonic's handheld presence that kept him from fading away. Stand outs include the Sonic Advance series, and Sonic Rush. Mark: HIT
SCORE: 1 HIT
THE PRESENT ERA
- SONIC COLORS (2010 Wii): This, for me, is one of the best current Sonic games to date. It took the daytime stage style from Unleashed and took them to their logical conclusion. With even better refined gameplay, an intense feel of speed, excellent platforming segments, amazing music, and terrific characterization (with wonderful voice work!) - this is everything Sonic needed to be. It was only really held back by lack of stage variety thanks to how the levels were set up. Colors would go on to be one of the few widely critically praised modern Sonic games. Mark: HIT
- SONIC GENERATIONS (2011 all available platforms at the time except for the Wii): Where Sonic '06 would be a massive stain on the Blue Blur's birthday, Sonic Generations would make sure his 20th was celebrated properly. Taking the gameplay from Colors and Unleashed then refining it further, as well as adding Classic style Sonic and gameplay (which actually felt right, unlike that of Sonic 4) made for a great celebration of everything Sonic is. It boasted loads of stuff to do, great homages to past games, a ton of delightful easter eggs for long time fans, all kinds of collectibles, and a huge library of awesome Sonic music. Simply a fine anniversary game, received just as well as Colors before it. Mark: HIT
- SONIC 4 - EPISODE 2 (2012 all available platforms at the time except for the Wii): With Generations having proved that Sonic Team finally remembered how to implement proper Classic Sonic physics, they tried to prove that they could improve the second part of Sonic 4. It sort of worked. The gameplay finally felt right, but unfortunately, critics weren't all that impressed. General consensus is that though the team finally got the classic gameplay feel right...they didn't quite get the game's '"magic" right; just average. Mark: MIXED
- SONIC: LOST WORLD (2013 Wii U): Instead of continuing to run with what managed to work with Colors and Generations, Sonic Team would try a new approach with the latest title in Lost World. It worked for some, not for others, was the ultimate result. With new mechanics based in momentum and parkour, for those who got it, the game would flow great; unfortunately it'd just feel like a mess for those who didn't. The tubular level design was also something of a hit or miss depending on taste. Many would say that it was ok, but after Sonic Colors and Generations, it just wasn't up to par and the developers changed the formula too soon. Mark: MIXED
- Other Present Era Mentions: The Wii would host Sonic and the Secret Rings being made home to Sonic Colors- it was welcomed relatively warmly with its emphasis on motion and speed, as well as being one of the better looking games on the Wii at the time. Its sequel wasn't thought of too highly though by comparison. The Sonic and SEGA All Stars series of games (Tennis and two kart racers) proved to be quite good spin offs thanks to the efforts of Sumo Digital - Sonic and All Stars Racing Tranfsormed in particular was praised to the point of being considered a genuine rival to Mario Kart 7 and 8 depending on the player. *I AM NOT COUNTING THE SONIC BOOM GAMES NOT OUT OF BIAS, BUT BECAUSE SEGA HAS MADE CLEAR THAT THESE GAMES ARE NOT CORE SONIC GAMES, AND I AM -ONLY- COUNTING CORE SONIC GAMES*
SCORE: 2 HITS, 2 MIXED
THE FINAL TALLY: 11 HITS, 2 MISSES, 4 MIXED
Well look at that. Even if you counted the Mixed entries as bad - Sonic's ultimately had more hits. Not to mention, if I actually did count every handheld and spin-off, I can guarantee you he'll have far more hits. That's not even me being biased, that's me using the ratings charts i've had to use to compile all this. So I ask this, why all the hate? Why all the proclamations of Sonic needing to be put down? Were two bad games all it took? Are people and critics just that unwilling to give the games a proper shot? Or perhaps it was the lesser quality spin-offs? Even then, the core games were mostly pretty damn good, why keep the bad ones in the forefront?
Hell, is it because of the fanbase? I don't consider myself a member of the Sonic fanbase at large because it's rightfully earned the derision it gets. Even I personally can't stand how overzealous they've gotten as a whole.
I just want people to really think about the why. I love the character and (most of) the games and some part of me can't help but feel like I get punished for my enjoyment of it when people do nothing but berate the series overall, and I know others feel the same way. Either way, i'm looking very much forward to Sonic Forces and Sonic Mania - it's looking to be a damn good time to be fan of Sonic if those two games deliver the way they appear to be.
- ..."something witty" (tm)
LOOK WHO CAME: