Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

SonicTitleOne of the most beloved video games of all time? Certainly. The top reason for by far the hottest run in Sega’s history? Most likely. The beginning of the golden age of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, if not all things Sega? Actually, not entirely true. While this is a really good game, it set up one of the oft-sighted reasons for why the series has fallen apart in the last decade: too gimmicky. You see, the Sonic character was marketed as a hedgehog with a ‘tude. While successful, this led Sega to ever-changing gimmicks, not the least of which was the creation of more and more characters. One of the complaints raised by some is that Sega has gotten too convinced that gimmickry is necessary and been afraid to simply make a Sonic game. Well, the overwhelming success of that “hedgehog with attitude” concept is part of why Sega seems determined to incorporate newer and newer quips into the series.

A scarf? Um, yeah.

A scarf? Um, yeah.

That being said, although it looks tame compared to the first three or four sequels (hence why the numbers aren’t too high), the original Sonic the Hedgehog is worthy of the fond memories it inspires in gamers.

Plot: 6 out of 10

If there’s one thing these games don’t do well, it’s story. The 3D games started to do it well. Then someone got the “bright” idea of having Sonic have implied sex with a human (keep in mind that these aren’t exactly the kinds of games that should attempt to drive parents away). The idea is that a super-fast hedgehog is fighting Doctor Eggman, a scientist who kidnaps animals and turns them into robots, with which he plans to take over the world. You don’t know this without reading the manual. Keep in mind that this was years after Ninja Gaiden invented the cutscene.

Alternate plot: Eggman's robots keep stealing Sonic's loot.

Alternate plot: Eggman’s robots keep stealing Sonic’s loot.

Still, as you may be able to tell from the title screen pictured at the top of this post, the attitude selling point is effective and put Sega on the map. That’s worth an above average rating.

Graphics: 9 out of 10

Although the Sega Genesis was always inferior hardware compared to the Super Nintendo, you’d never know that from how much Sega did with less for its in-house games. And this is a prime example; everything looks so clear, the backgrounds so convincing, that Sega really couldn’t improve too much on them in the sequels. Well, until better technology was developed, anyway.

Sound: 8 out of 10

Sound is really good, too. The songs are great because they capture the “cool kid” sense that Sega wanted to get across. Same with the sound effects, which were reused in the series for some time. One issue I have is the boss song. It’s kind of… meh.

F*ck the laws of physics!

F*ck the laws of physics!

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

The controls are pretty simple. You move around and can build your speed up to huge proportions. You can make spinning jumps that do damage even if you don’t land on top of an enemy. Additionally, you can collect rings to allow you an extra hit before dying.

In my review of Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Alex Kidd was Sega’s flagship franchise before Sonic), I protested that its controls were awful That is not the case here, thankfully. Sonic handles just great. The occasional speed boosts threaten to ruin the controls, but Sega wisely designed the levels so that you don’t get hit during these boosts. This makes for a fun, fast-paced experience.

Challenge: 6 out of 10

OK, this could be better. This is a rather short game and waits awhile to get challenging. This hurts the thrill because you can blaze through half of it with ease and in short order.

Eggman, you gotta take the time to build sturdier stuff. You want this to go on for a quarter-century. Oh, wait...

Eggman, you gotta take the time to build sturdier stuff. You want this to go on for a quarter-century? Oh, wait…

Not to mention that the so-called “good ending” you get if you cleared all the bonus areas on route to completing the game is minimally different from the bad one.

Overall: 8 out of 10

OK, so it’s not the best game in the series. But as noted, it is one of the most historically important games ever made! Despite its shortness, there is plenty of fun to be had. And I think you’ll agree that it’s quite a bit better than what this series has been doing lately.

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