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"[GAME] Sonic The Hedgehog (SEGA Megadrive)"

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Fri 11/02/11 at 00:30
Regular
"Tip The Scales"
Posts: 869
Sonic The Hedgehog (MegaDrive) Review

Hello and welcome to Highflyer’s Retrospect, where I look back at games which defined previous generations of consoles (or just graced them) and try to remind everyone why we loved the game (and why we didn’t) and how it stands up now. The first game of this series of reviews was Final Fantasy VII, one of the original Playstation’s gems. The second is going even further back to a time when SEGA one of the domineering figures in home consoles, and the game is one of the staples of the SEGA MegaDrive. Starring an icon which has unfortunately proven to be past his prime on the majority of his recent escapades…it’s Sonic The Hedgehog.

SEEGA!!!

Dusting off the controller and console, giving the cartridge a good blow and inserting. Memories of what gaming used to be like flood back, along with remembering how annoying this process used to feel at age 7, and the worry that the game would never start or that the console had broken (which is why I ended up with 2 different MegaDrives at the time). Press the power button… and so it begins, a blue flash races across the screen and the spine-tingling chime that accompanies the start of the main Sonic series games blasts out. It’s a beginning that implies you’re about to play… to experience… something epic. Not only that, but a game that defined SEGA as a company at the time.

Once upon a time…

As was normal with 2D platformers at the time, Sonic is fairly light on the story aspect of things, with a short summary given in the manual. Mad scientist Dr. Ivo Robotnik is creating evil robots from cuddly creatures and it is up to you, cool dude hedgehog Sonic, to foil this devious plan. The actual plan isn’t really well defined during the course of the game and it is sort of up to the player to look elsewhere for a plot synopsis.

Blast Processing

Sonic The Hedgehog is a fairly simple platformer when looking at it from a distance. The three buttons of the MegaDrive related to jump, jump and jump, the directional buttons allowed you to go left and right, whilst pressing down whilst moving allowed Sonic to move into a less vulnerable, if somewhat slowing, spinning state. Whilst this may sound limiting to the game’s scope, it is less limiting than it may sound.

Sonic is mainly about speed, and it is extremely satisfying to propel yourself through one of the various acts as quickly as possible whilst avoiding all obstacles in your way. A fairly robust momentum system helps make this a blast in some levels, although in places the inability to build up momentum quickly can harm the game’s rhythm (a flaw that was addressed with the spin dash move introduced in Sonic 2).

Whilst the speed element of the game is an extremely important and novel one, the platforming element is still solid. There are many different paths through each act, with each path containing different challenges, providing an extra dimension to the game. There are also a few hidden areas dotted around the acts, with varying degrees of difficulty on how to access them. Although spending too much time searching for them may end up with the act time limit of 10 minutes catching up with you (although in my experience there are few, if any, levels in this game that will push a player to be near that boundary).

Rings, Springs and Spiky Things

Where Sonic the Hedgehog does shine (most of the time, that is) is in the level design. Most paths are fairly well balanced, with some being more enemy intensive , platform intensive (generally higher paths) or obstacle intensive. There is also a certain amount of balance forced upon the player in the game between speeding and true platforming depending on the actual level (with levels like Marble Zone being a lot slower than Green Hill Zone), which, whilst providing balance somewhat, does (in part) take away from the whole point of the game.

One of the main problems for Sonic during the game are the “badniks” (robots created from the lovely cuddly creatures by Robotnik), which generally cause very few problems, but do somewhat scale up in difficulty as the game progresses (as one would expect) and can bring the blue blur to a rather quick halt if he isn’t wary enough. Spikes and bottomless pits are amongst the, somewhat clichéd, platforming obstacles that appear during the game, adding an extra sense of danger to proceedings. Water also makes an appearance, changing the dynamics of play, slowing Sonic’s movement and forcing the choice between gasping for air or taking a drowning risk (accompanied by one of the most fear-inducing musical countdowns of all time).

Sonic’s best friend, the ring, is obviously present in the game, acting as both a scoring device and one of the main protections. When unprotected by rings, Sonic will die upon contact with enemies or spikes, however when holding rings, the initial contact will just spread the rings around the screen (which can get a bit messy when holding a lot), allowing for an extra opportunity to get past the painful obstacle or regain some of the lost bounty. This additional gameplay mechanic is useful and fairly good, although it can make the game a little easy at times.

Levels also provide a number of breakable monitors to give special items and powerups, ranging from 10 rings to an extra life. Some, such as speedy sneakers, can dramatically change how the game plays for a while, and adds a little extra to what you can perform (or an extra challenge to rushing through as quickly as possible).

Controlled Chaos?

Finishing a non-boss act with more than 50 rings spawns a large warp ring at the end of the level. Jumping into this sends you to the “Special Stage”, a constantly rotating, psychedelic, puzzle-world with the opportunity to collect a chaos emerald. This is an interesting change of pace, but splits opinion. On the one hand, it can be considered to be a nice way of breaking up the “action” levels of the game. On the other hand, with a non-existent time limit and a certain lack of control, the special stages can become dull and frustrating. Fortunately for those who lie in the latter camp, they are optional and there aren’t that many to complete.

Dr. Ivo Robotnik

Of course no 2D platformer would be complete without boss battles, and this is brought here by Dr. Robotnik and his machines in the closing stages of Act 3 of each level. The boss fights are fairly well thought out, if a little easy, and the mad scientist gets a chance to show his weird and wonderful vehicular inventions designed to destroy cocky blue vermin (and how ineffective the majority of them are). The boss fights also provide a little variety to the enemies which, over the course of the game, tend to be fairly similar.

Getting Graphical

Graphically, the game was fairly good for it’s time. The sprites are really well designed and have a good amount of detail to them (and I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that the “impatient” Sonic sprite is a testament to the games design, representing the character well as well as the minute details added for effect). The various background layers (and occasional foreground layers) move at differing speeds to simulate an artificial parallax-induced three-dimensional effect which is very aesthetically pleasing even with the lower detail of the background. A testament to the MegaDrive and the game design is how the quality of the graphics are not adversely effected when running through a level extremely quickly.

16-Bit Symphony

The music and sounds from Sonic The Hedgehog games are generally timeless classics, with many of them being instantly recognisable. The music is well directed, managing to be both simple and catchy and, whilst it is on a loop, most levels don’t go on long enough for them to start getting annoying. Elsewhere, the miscellaneous sounds are also quite well done and polished, with the soundbytes for jumping, springs, gaining a life and dying, amongst many others, becoming fairly synonymous with the 16-bit gaming era.

Drowning

Unfortunately, despite how much I obviously love this game, it is not without it’s issues. Of course, some of which have been mentioned earlier, such as the inability to spin dash to generate momentum in tough spots, but there are other little niggles. Actually playing the PAL version of the game causes issues in of itself, causing the game to play much more sluggishly than it’s NTSC counterparts. This can be extremely annoying for people who have played any of the number of emulations that have been released since the original, detracting from the experience and kind of going against the whole point of Sonic as a game in the first place. Other minor bugs, such as unintentional instant death from spikes (as the temporary hit invulnerability doesn’t kick in in time) can turn from minor annoyances into major gripes.

Conclusion

Overall, Sonic the Hedgehog was a game that didn’t quite redefine the 2D scrolling platformer, but took the genre in a fairly unique direction that was more about speed and momentum than perhaps platforming puzzles. It was a great display of technical excellence for the MegaDrive early in it’s lifetime (at least in Europe) and the gameplay still holds up in the test against time almost 20 years on from it’s initial release in 1991 (and in ways far surpassing the gameplay quality of recent Sonic 2D adventures). Graphically the sprites are extremely pleasing, and show off the improved colour palette of the Mega Drive over it’s fierce rival, the SNES. Widely considered to be one of the best games of all time and stated as one of the reasons for SEGA’s success in that console generation, Sonic The Hedgehog kicked off a phenomenon. Although that being said, it wasn’t without it’s flaws and, whilst not being game-breaking, are problems which bring the game down a peg or two, and it’s extremely unfortunate that the game experience changes on the version and regionof the game that gets played. Not going to stop me recommending to everyone who hasn’t had the joy of playing it yet, though!

Rating: 9.0/10

(Seems like Megadrive isn't a subcategory of console that I'm allowed to select, so I'll put it in the spiritual successor, for now)
There have been no replies to this thread yet.
Fri 11/02/11 at 00:30
Regular
"Tip The Scales"
Posts: 869
Sonic The Hedgehog (MegaDrive) Review

Hello and welcome to Highflyer’s Retrospect, where I look back at games which defined previous generations of consoles (or just graced them) and try to remind everyone why we loved the game (and why we didn’t) and how it stands up now. The first game of this series of reviews was Final Fantasy VII, one of the original Playstation’s gems. The second is going even further back to a time when SEGA one of the domineering figures in home consoles, and the game is one of the staples of the SEGA MegaDrive. Starring an icon which has unfortunately proven to be past his prime on the majority of his recent escapades…it’s Sonic The Hedgehog.

SEEGA!!!

Dusting off the controller and console, giving the cartridge a good blow and inserting. Memories of what gaming used to be like flood back, along with remembering how annoying this process used to feel at age 7, and the worry that the game would never start or that the console had broken (which is why I ended up with 2 different MegaDrives at the time). Press the power button… and so it begins, a blue flash races across the screen and the spine-tingling chime that accompanies the start of the main Sonic series games blasts out. It’s a beginning that implies you’re about to play… to experience… something epic. Not only that, but a game that defined SEGA as a company at the time.

Once upon a time…

As was normal with 2D platformers at the time, Sonic is fairly light on the story aspect of things, with a short summary given in the manual. Mad scientist Dr. Ivo Robotnik is creating evil robots from cuddly creatures and it is up to you, cool dude hedgehog Sonic, to foil this devious plan. The actual plan isn’t really well defined during the course of the game and it is sort of up to the player to look elsewhere for a plot synopsis.

Blast Processing

Sonic The Hedgehog is a fairly simple platformer when looking at it from a distance. The three buttons of the MegaDrive related to jump, jump and jump, the directional buttons allowed you to go left and right, whilst pressing down whilst moving allowed Sonic to move into a less vulnerable, if somewhat slowing, spinning state. Whilst this may sound limiting to the game’s scope, it is less limiting than it may sound.

Sonic is mainly about speed, and it is extremely satisfying to propel yourself through one of the various acts as quickly as possible whilst avoiding all obstacles in your way. A fairly robust momentum system helps make this a blast in some levels, although in places the inability to build up momentum quickly can harm the game’s rhythm (a flaw that was addressed with the spin dash move introduced in Sonic 2).

Whilst the speed element of the game is an extremely important and novel one, the platforming element is still solid. There are many different paths through each act, with each path containing different challenges, providing an extra dimension to the game. There are also a few hidden areas dotted around the acts, with varying degrees of difficulty on how to access them. Although spending too much time searching for them may end up with the act time limit of 10 minutes catching up with you (although in my experience there are few, if any, levels in this game that will push a player to be near that boundary).

Rings, Springs and Spiky Things

Where Sonic the Hedgehog does shine (most of the time, that is) is in the level design. Most paths are fairly well balanced, with some being more enemy intensive , platform intensive (generally higher paths) or obstacle intensive. There is also a certain amount of balance forced upon the player in the game between speeding and true platforming depending on the actual level (with levels like Marble Zone being a lot slower than Green Hill Zone), which, whilst providing balance somewhat, does (in part) take away from the whole point of the game.

One of the main problems for Sonic during the game are the “badniks” (robots created from the lovely cuddly creatures by Robotnik), which generally cause very few problems, but do somewhat scale up in difficulty as the game progresses (as one would expect) and can bring the blue blur to a rather quick halt if he isn’t wary enough. Spikes and bottomless pits are amongst the, somewhat clichéd, platforming obstacles that appear during the game, adding an extra sense of danger to proceedings. Water also makes an appearance, changing the dynamics of play, slowing Sonic’s movement and forcing the choice between gasping for air or taking a drowning risk (accompanied by one of the most fear-inducing musical countdowns of all time).

Sonic’s best friend, the ring, is obviously present in the game, acting as both a scoring device and one of the main protections. When unprotected by rings, Sonic will die upon contact with enemies or spikes, however when holding rings, the initial contact will just spread the rings around the screen (which can get a bit messy when holding a lot), allowing for an extra opportunity to get past the painful obstacle or regain some of the lost bounty. This additional gameplay mechanic is useful and fairly good, although it can make the game a little easy at times.

Levels also provide a number of breakable monitors to give special items and powerups, ranging from 10 rings to an extra life. Some, such as speedy sneakers, can dramatically change how the game plays for a while, and adds a little extra to what you can perform (or an extra challenge to rushing through as quickly as possible).

Controlled Chaos?

Finishing a non-boss act with more than 50 rings spawns a large warp ring at the end of the level. Jumping into this sends you to the “Special Stage”, a constantly rotating, psychedelic, puzzle-world with the opportunity to collect a chaos emerald. This is an interesting change of pace, but splits opinion. On the one hand, it can be considered to be a nice way of breaking up the “action” levels of the game. On the other hand, with a non-existent time limit and a certain lack of control, the special stages can become dull and frustrating. Fortunately for those who lie in the latter camp, they are optional and there aren’t that many to complete.

Dr. Ivo Robotnik

Of course no 2D platformer would be complete without boss battles, and this is brought here by Dr. Robotnik and his machines in the closing stages of Act 3 of each level. The boss fights are fairly well thought out, if a little easy, and the mad scientist gets a chance to show his weird and wonderful vehicular inventions designed to destroy cocky blue vermin (and how ineffective the majority of them are). The boss fights also provide a little variety to the enemies which, over the course of the game, tend to be fairly similar.

Getting Graphical

Graphically, the game was fairly good for it’s time. The sprites are really well designed and have a good amount of detail to them (and I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that the “impatient” Sonic sprite is a testament to the games design, representing the character well as well as the minute details added for effect). The various background layers (and occasional foreground layers) move at differing speeds to simulate an artificial parallax-induced three-dimensional effect which is very aesthetically pleasing even with the lower detail of the background. A testament to the MegaDrive and the game design is how the quality of the graphics are not adversely effected when running through a level extremely quickly.

16-Bit Symphony

The music and sounds from Sonic The Hedgehog games are generally timeless classics, with many of them being instantly recognisable. The music is well directed, managing to be both simple and catchy and, whilst it is on a loop, most levels don’t go on long enough for them to start getting annoying. Elsewhere, the miscellaneous sounds are also quite well done and polished, with the soundbytes for jumping, springs, gaining a life and dying, amongst many others, becoming fairly synonymous with the 16-bit gaming era.

Drowning

Unfortunately, despite how much I obviously love this game, it is not without it’s issues. Of course, some of which have been mentioned earlier, such as the inability to spin dash to generate momentum in tough spots, but there are other little niggles. Actually playing the PAL version of the game causes issues in of itself, causing the game to play much more sluggishly than it’s NTSC counterparts. This can be extremely annoying for people who have played any of the number of emulations that have been released since the original, detracting from the experience and kind of going against the whole point of Sonic as a game in the first place. Other minor bugs, such as unintentional instant death from spikes (as the temporary hit invulnerability doesn’t kick in in time) can turn from minor annoyances into major gripes.

Conclusion

Overall, Sonic the Hedgehog was a game that didn’t quite redefine the 2D scrolling platformer, but took the genre in a fairly unique direction that was more about speed and momentum than perhaps platforming puzzles. It was a great display of technical excellence for the MegaDrive early in it’s lifetime (at least in Europe) and the gameplay still holds up in the test against time almost 20 years on from it’s initial release in 1991 (and in ways far surpassing the gameplay quality of recent Sonic 2D adventures). Graphically the sprites are extremely pleasing, and show off the improved colour palette of the Mega Drive over it’s fierce rival, the SNES. Widely considered to be one of the best games of all time and stated as one of the reasons for SEGA’s success in that console generation, Sonic The Hedgehog kicked off a phenomenon. Although that being said, it wasn’t without it’s flaws and, whilst not being game-breaking, are problems which bring the game down a peg or two, and it’s extremely unfortunate that the game experience changes on the version and regionof the game that gets played. Not going to stop me recommending to everyone who hasn’t had the joy of playing it yet, though!

Rating: 9.0/10

(Seems like Megadrive isn't a subcategory of console that I'm allowed to select, so I'll put it in the spiritual successor, for now)

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