Since 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog has been able to run and spin. Sonic started out as Sega’s answer to Mario, with a focus on speed, complicated level design, and a not-so-healthy love of gold rings. Since then, he has moved into many sequels and different types of games, with mixed results.
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So, how do you decide which games are the best in a series as confusing and different as this one? In addition to my own opinion, I focused on two things: the quality of the fast-paced gameplay that made Sonic famous in the first place, and how well the new ideas worked.
Are you ready to find Chaos Emeralds?
(SEGA GENESIS, 1993)
Sonic Spinball was made quickly to fill in for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 when it got pushed back, and in some ways, it shows.
The controls are hard to use, so it’s likely that the first level in the sewers will be the only one that 90% of players get to see. And the game never gets over its gimmicky hump, even though it fits the character pretty well.
Still, it feels like Sonic’s original games. It could be a little faster and have a little more to it, but it’s still good enough to make this list. It’s too bad we’ve never seen a modern version of the idea, except for a small nod in Sonic Mania Plus.
Sonic Unleashed was a controversial game in the series because it went too far in many ways. Levels would make things look different. When you hit several enemies, you would get a score and a combo counter.
But Sonic Unleashed is best known for introducing the Werehog, a horrible creature that changes at night and changes the whole game. Exploration is replaced by beating up enemies, which slows down movement. Wii players can even use motion controls to move the Werehog’s arms.
Unleashed is on the list more because it’s an experiment than because it’s a perfect platformer, but despite the gimmicks, I still think it’s a good game.
Sonic Heroes is a team-based game, as the name suggests, and players have to switch between characters on the fly to make the most of their skills. Switching isn’t as smooth as you might hope, but it adds a puzzle element to the game that makes it stand out from the rest of the series.
Still, the controls for the camera are hard to understand and the voice acting isn’t great, but the focus on groups is a welcome change (and was probably a big inspiration for fan artists).
Sonic Generations does the impossible by putting both old and new Sonic games into the same game. In the first half, there are 2.5D levels that go back to old areas, focusing on skills like the classic spin dash and trying to keep the old pace as much as possible.
On the other hand, the other half of the game is all about the 3D behind-the-character view. You move Sonic through a crumbling city and hit him with lava-flying enemies. Generations shows how much the series has changed, both for the better and for the worse. If you want to relive old memories in a new engine, it’s worth going back to the first few levels.
(SEGA DREAMCAST, 1998)
It’s not holding up well. It’s hard to figure out how to use and control the camera. But when Sonic Adventure came out, it was the start of a new phase for the Sonic games on the Dreamcast. It had the three main characters as well as Amy Rose, Big the Cat, and E-102 Gamma. E-102 Gamma brought a gun to a speed battle for some shoot-em-up action. What’s the point?
There were classic things like power-ups and golden rings, and there were some familiar faces, but almost everything else felt new. The change to a 3D plane set the standard for Sonic games to come, and luckily for fans and my list, it was still all about going fast.
Even so, the voice acting was, at best, forgettable.
SONIC ADVENTURE 2
Sonic Adventure 2 is a lot like the first game, but the story takes some unexpected turns this time. On one side, you can play with Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, and on the other, you can play with Shadow, Dr. Eggman, and Rouge, giving you two different points of view.
The Sonic Adventure Chao Garden, which has been redone, might be the most interesting change. Long before there were Ooblets, the blue hedgehog was harvesting Chao creatures and watching them hatch. Each Chao creature was aligned in either a good or bad way. All of them have five stats, can change over time (but also die and come back to life? ), and can play karate and racing minigames. It’s a big and weird mechanism, but it works all the same.
SONIC CHRONICLES: THE DARK BROTHERHOOD
(NINTENDO DS, 2008)
If you weren’t there at the time, you might not believe this game even exists. But in 2008, Dragon Age and Mass Effect developer BioWare made a Sonic role-playing game for the DS. It’s not bad, either.
At the beginning, Dr. Eggman is thought to be dead, Knuckles has been taken by a group called the Marauders, and the Chaos Emeralds have been stolen again. The story is told through cutscenes that look like comic books and use both screens on the console. As you might expect, the game is split into exploration and turn-based battles. Some special moves require that certain characters be in the party at the same time and that the player tap the bottom half of the DS in a rhythm.
Sonic Chronicles wasn’t a hidden gem, but it was a pretty interesting take on Sonic and his friends, and it wasn’t even the worst spinoff of the series.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
(SEGA GENESIS, 1991)
People don’t usually remember much from their childhood, but their first time through Green Hill Zone is something they will never forget. When the first game in the series came out, it changed the way platformers were played by switching from careful jumps to fast movement. There were secrets hidden around and boss fights at the end of each level, but the game felt like a foundation for something completely new in the genre.
It was the start of a race with Nintendo, whose mascot lived in a different house on the same block. No one was brave enough to ask where Sonic came from or why his fur was blue. In the 1990s, it just made sense.
SONIC BOOM: RISE OF LYRIC (WII U)
As part of a cross-media rebranding of Sonic and his friends, who now wear tape and necklaces, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was a pompous, misguided attempt at a reboot. It gave you a mostly empty open world to explore and redesigned the main characters in a way that made them look older. It was entertaining enough on the audio side, but there were a lot of technical problems and questionable choices that made it a disappointment on every other level.