I’ve taken an odyssey of sorts: watching a charity event streaming nearly every Sonic the Hedgehog game ever. In my boredom, I have seen chunks of basically the entirety of all the Sonic series, awakening something within me. I am the prodigal son, returned, wealth squandered. But as I watched the cornucopia of rings and spikes unfold before my intoxicated gaze I began to wonder…had Sonic really fallen so far? Had he really fallen at all?
Maybe, just maybe, I had been too harsh. The gravity wells and water packs of Mario felt so tame compared to the radical shifts Sonic took to redefine itself in the modern era. I began to form a new-found respect for the innovative stunts of Sonic. But why keep this to myself? Why let it be a hunch? I wanted to see it through, all the way to the end. So join me, friends, as we journey through the good, the bad, and the bizarre, in the Wacky Sonic Fun Zone!
We should probably start with the first one.
Released in 1991, some six years after his rivals debut, Sonic the Hedgehog must’ve seemed insane. While before my time, I can still see how enticing it must have been to anyone who caught a glimpse of its ferocious speed, especially compared to Mario’s pace. What Sonic was to Mario must have been what Devil May Cry was to Resident Evil, something on such a high level it hardly seemed to be the same thing.
It may seem weird to start a series about the strange deviations of a franchise with the original entry, but make no mistake, by the conventions of the genre, Sonic was a HEAVY deviation. At its core, Sonic was closer to modern action games than platformers, relying on players to build up skill through failures and to master the character as much as the games. It wasn’t quite trial and error, but it was similar.
If we use Mario as the template for platformers, Sonic seems antithetical to most of what defined them. It added importance to basic collectibles by making them your health gauge, and the abundance of them allowed for more reckless play rather than slow, methodical jumps. It was somehow a more skillful game, and a more forgiving one than its contemporaries.
If it sounds like Sonic 1 is a perfect game, it’s not. For a game so reliant on speed, it often makes the player sit around and wait for the game to continue, such as in Marble Garden. At the same time, there’s no real way to build up speed on your own, which can lead to some unfortunate stops, blocking off certain routes. The color palette is pretty dim for a platformer, which ends up giving the game a bit of a somber feel, largely why I never liked playing it as a kid. You can also tell they expected a brighter palette by the early sketches of Sonic.
In all honesty, the game is not very memorable. When thinking of Genesis Sonic, I always think about Sonic 2. The original Sonic, while important, has largely been overshadowed by its successors. But even so, it was hugely subversive title for the time, and it laid the foundation of things to come.
So yeah, there’s not much memorable about Sonic 1 some 20 years later. The three-act structure means most of the levels end up overstaying their welcome. A lot of the levels have a stereotypical design, which doesn’t quite gel with the style Sonic was carving out for itself. Because of this, I have to give “Best Level” to Spring Yard Zone.
Spring Yard’s not much to look at, but it feels the most like a Sonic level. Spring Yard’s deep half pipes really let the speed of the game come through in a way other levels didn’t convey. It’s also one of the few levels I can’t say Sonic 2 did better, unlike the iconic Green Hill Zone.
If the levels are largely overshadowed by later entries, the music certainly isn’t. The Sonic 1 soundtrack is great; it’s got a nice cheery vibe to it. But there’s still something a little ominous. It manages to convey the feeling of going on a big trip all by yourself. Picking a single tune from the game as a favorite is tough, but…
It has to be Robotnik’s boss theme. There’s just something more complex about it that makes it transcend the rest of the OST. Had you told me it was from a later entry, I’d totally believe you. It’s a fantastic tune, and one of the few things I think Sonic the Hedgehog 2 did worse than its originator.
And so ends our first foray into the Fun Zone. The groundwork has been laid, and next time we’ll see if the sequel can fix the issues…or ruin a good thing before it can begin.
Article by contributor Dylan Shirley.
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