Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis) review
"Competition made games better. More specifically, vision and imagination in a time of competition made games better. Such is the only reason there is an existence of my favorite gaming lineage ever, that of Sonic the Hedgehog. Without the opponent and then tyrannically dominant entity that was Nintendo, I never would have been able to play one of the most important games I believe the world has ever seen. And without this competition, Nintendo would have transformed years ago into the dormant ca..."
Competition made games better. More specifically, vision and imagination in a time of competition made games better. Such is the only reason there is an existence of my favorite gaming lineage ever, that of Sonic the Hedgehog. Without the opponent and then tyrannically dominant entity that was Nintendo, I never would have been able to play one of the most important games I believe the world has ever seen. And without this competition, Nintendo would have transformed years ago into the dormant carcass it is fast becoming today.
Had it not been for the continued success and recognizability of Nintendo's supreme workhorse, Mario, Sega would never have set a goal for itself to create its own antihero. Sonic was set to counteract everything Mario did; to wow the world with different and more brilliant acts.
Sonic succeeded in two ways; it brought out an unseen, original and technically unparalleled game that really did shock anyone that played games. It also drew the line between Sega and Nintendo like never before; it was so different, it highlighted for BOTH games (Mario and Sonic) exactly what made them special. As a kid, it made you choose sides. With maturity, it makes you respect not only Yuji Naka's (father of the game) genius, but also how much Sonic and Mario need eachother.
Up until Sonic's release, platformers were still an unsaturated genre. Hell, all genres were unsaturated; games were still being developed in basements as much as in studios. Few characters were actually noticeable and personality was mostly a technical impossibility. Mario, MegaMan, and a few others were about all anyone could recite by name. Enter the swirl of hype surrounding Sega's fighting chance against the odds, and the world meets its most immediately remarkable leading man.
Sonic was a fast (although retrospectively, he wasn't nearly as fast as he would become), sneering, impatient, cute, fearless and reckless character. He was blue. Sonic never walked anywhere. Sonic ran his ass off, jumped, rolled into a spikey ball, then ran some more. His levels were huge and his obstacles simple but still unprecedented. Sonic was the antithesis of everything before it.
Whereas Mario would hop and scoot around and travel through pipes, Sonic didn't have time for that. He didn't have time for that goofy smile that Mario always wore plastered on his mug. Sonic was his own game, and didn't try at all to be anything like his counterpart.
The levels in Sonic the Hedgehog are huge. There are around 15 or so, and they are exceeded in size only by its successors. In size comparison, they outmuscle any Mario level by a huge factor, spreading out in all directions far beyond the boundaries of any of the plumber's terrain. It is important to note this size, as they provide several paths for Sonic to trace over to reach the end; some are much faster than others, some yield more rewards.
Sonic's speed and determination is taken advantage of most in the first level. Throughout its super-bright and well fertilized run are a series of platforming elements that would shape a legacy. The infamous ''loop the loops'' that Sonic can run around are introduced here; get enough speed, and Sonic can run, defying gravity, through a loop and never look back. These moments provide something of a glimpse into the future; soon enough, Sonic games will be so immaculately structured that you will run into a series of obstacles that play out perfectly to advance you far ahead in the level while demonstrating extraordinary acrobatic ability.
Without that knowledge of the future, they simply come across as ingenious level design.
From the second level on, though, Sonic resembles its competition a little more. The pacing is slowed down a little (although still leaps beyond anything else of its day) and more impediments hinder your ability to survive. Moving spikes, lava, bottomless pits, disappearing platforms; platforming all stars make their due appearances here, and Sonic is a blast to play through it all.
Since Mario has the lock down on collecting coins, Sonic gets to gather up rings. These very much coin-like items run in the standard videogame denomination- 100 for an extra life. While it's always nice to extend your playtime, their immediate function is more important: keep at least one ring, and you can bet hit without dying. Should you be hit, your collection of rings goes flying from you, and you have a few seconds to pick up some of them. This gives you an edge when you need it, but can be VERY tensing as you race for that ONE ring that scurries away when you're hit by a boss.
The bosses are actually all one man; the evil Dr. Robotnik, Sonic's new archnemesis. He sits perched at the end of every Zone, where he appears in a piece of confounded machinery to attack you with patterned assault. While the first few showings of Robotnik are pushovers, the techniques he employs soon after are actually pretty cool and at least halfway original.
And here is where Sonic and Mario clashed most brilliantly.
At the time when Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario World were released, no game had ever come close to looking as good as either. Both looked amazing for their own reasons, both employed graphical tricks that the other didn't, and both wowed anyone who'd touched a 16 Bit controller.
In Sonic, the delivery was fast... really fast. Everything else was slow. Other games that people though were fast (some shooters, some racers) were now lumbering in comparison. Sonic's levels were vibrant and given much more than just a pastel color scheme; levels were huge and with a yet-unseen amount of parallax. Such detail, such speed.
Each zone (collection of 3 like-themed levels) are completely unique to eachother and each is graphically amazing. While the first zone, Green Hill, is a bit vibrant and abstract, others such as Spring Yard and Scrap Brain sport a more mechanical and raw look. All themes are painted with the Genesis' best colors (that is, until the other Sonic's arrived) and display what amounts to the best visual presentation gaming had ever seen (outdoing even Mario World in an overall perspective). Its technical effects count is a little below the SNES-hardwired showpiece, but still remains very impressive in this right thanks to its parallax and still amazing Bonus sequences.
And while the sound effects are starting to show a little age (a little, mind you), the music isn't. Tracks such as those in this cart are still instantly conjured up in my mind, with Spring Yard Zone's being one of the best tracks ever encoded into MIDI and burned onto ROM. All songs set the theme of Sonic being in a fantasy world where his actions are important and a true goal is near; it's hard to describe music, but it's even harder to describe good music. As far as videogame music goes, Sonic has some of the best.
And the truth is, Sonic the Hedgehog is gaming's most important game for someone like me. Without it, gaming would have been set back years, and perhaps sega would have tried to come up with an Spanish Carpenter mascot to closely mimic their enemy. ''EES-A Me, Senor Miguel,'' and that's all she wrote. No amazing Sonic games, no amazing Panzer games after Sega's death, and Nintendo would have gotten as lazy and uninspired as the newest century has made them.
But that didn't happen. Nintendo and Sega owe eachother. Sonic owes its life to Mario, and Mario as well to Sonic for really waking the world (not just kids) up to games. Without eachother, they would have never reached the pinnacles of quality they have each reached, nor would they have set such groundbreaking precedents. Sonic is definitely not a perfect game, and this is easily seeable by the leaps of quality its sequels would show. It is, however, still an amazing platformer full of what should be stale, routine platforming. Things aren't as they should be though; the PS2 has conquered the DC and a ten year old game is still fresh and invigorating.
Not bad... it's classic Genesis stuff, very reminiscent of the Alex Kidd covers. It flaunts Sonic's trademark smirk, as well as the finger he points, conveying an emotion you can't describe but do understand. Not bad, for its time period and region, but that's not saying much...
Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)
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