Review by Dan_pentagram

"A Hedgehog of Blue Distinction"

Released on the Sega Mega Drive way back in June 1991, Sonic The Hedgehog became a worldwide smash hit selling well over four million copies and securing the position of the second most sold game in the Mega Drive's history. To date, Sonic himself has starred in over a whopping twenty games, but ultimately this is where he started his journey to becoming a huge iconic figure in the history of gaming.

Not unusual for a game of this time period, Sonic The Hedgehog has an overly brief storyline. One that never really progresses much nor is explained in detail. However it has a storyline nonetheless. Dr Robotnik, in true bad guy style, is determined to take over and rule the entire South Island. But Sonic, a hedgehog of blue distinction, is the hero of the day, using his wonderful gift of speed to prevent his evil deeds and rescue the creatures that use to inhabit the area, but now are contained in containers.

Despite being extremely vacant, he story in the game has become one that virtually all gamers can recognise and why not? It is exceptionally effective as it doesn't slow down the pace of the game and forces the player to take note of the actual gaming experience rather than sitting back and following an elaborate story. It also introduces a creative backdrop for players to work on themselves, an interactive storyboard if you like, one that lays a foundation, but one that can evolve to the player's will. I've heard of many takes on the game, all plausible yet interesting at the same time.

Compared to technology that we are use to nowadays, the graphics and animation properties are always going to be outdated. However it was one of the first games to utilise the 16-bit graphics system to full effect, mixing colours to make great results. There aren't many shades here, with blue being blue, red being red etc, but it is all done with an impressive gloss and heavy outline giving items and backgrounds a recognisable tint. For a 2D scrolling platformer, it most definitely isn't bad at all.

We do take many things granted today, but back then backdrops weren't interactive and most were fixed. Sonic has flowers that move, lights that flash and sparkle and water actually creates a fantastic illusion. An obvious improvement and one that games to follow all took notice of. However with things moving so fast on screen, occasionally the engine would slow down a little waiting for the rest of the detail to catch up. Yet it doesn't hinder player progress and has indeed itself become a sort of trademark that gamers expect to see.

Unlike many games before it, Sonic The Hedgehog introduces a ‘theme tune', one that is still so popular and recognisable today. By using music in this way really set the bench mark for the future and excitingly shouts out aloud a statement that the gaming industry was serious business. It hosts different music for each level as a well as giving small unimportant items their own sound effect creating detail beyond all expectation.

Side scrolling platformers wasn't an entirely new genre but what Sonic introduced was a game built on speed. The faster you race through the levels the more exciting they can become creating a tingling pace, but ultimately also increases the danger risk of dying or at least loosing ‘rings'. The rings have now become another trademark exclusively associated with the Sonic series, but if you look at all the successful games that followed, they all include an item of significant value that when added up and reach a certain number, an extra life is gained.

Crash Bandicoot has apples, Spyro has gems as well as Croc, but if you also notice they all have animals as their mascot, an obvious link back to the Sonic games. You name it that animal has starred in a game somewhere. Dragons, lizards, rabbits, foxes, elephants and even llamas all owe the little hedgehog some credit. Did Sega know back then just how influential its simple idea would be? You are free to guess.

With nineteen levels spread over six areas, this is by no means a walk in the park. The game itself may not last that long, possibly 2 - 3 hours at most, but it has an array of addictive features that keep the replayability up and keep players coming back for more even now 18 years later. One such device is the multiple layers to each level. With so many ways to get to the end, linearity is kept to minimum which means there is always new areas to explore and secret items to get, whether it is invincibility, 10 X rings or just simply a speed boost.

By maintaining your rings it could mean that a special stage is available at the end of each level where you must direct Sonic through a spiralling maze, keeping him out of the ‘Red Zones' to try and collect a Gem. These levels themselves are highly addictive, simple but strip away any complicity to leave only the entertainment.

If racing over shooting spikes, flame pits and loop the loops, swimming underwater and springing through the air is enough, boss battles with Dr Robotnik is another added depth to this early game. Arriving in a new contraption each time, the player must evade the obstacles whilst defeating the evil boss. Only a minute number of games managed to pull off the same successful idea just before Sonic came to our screens, but again Sonic reigns supreme.

It may be nearly twenty years old, but many new platformers today should take note on how and why Sonic The Hedgehog is so triumphant. With simple controls, a friendly approach and addictive style, it really has become a legend in gaming history and it is mostly down to its pick up and play manner, meaning anyone of any age can just pick up the controller and get stick in. Some gamers may find it outdated or simply enjoy something more detailed story wise, but there is no doubt that it is most definitely fun to play. Sonic The Hedgehog is included on the Ultimate Sega Mega Drive Collection available for PS3 and Xbox 360.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/02/09

Game Release: Sonic the Hedgehog (EU, 06/23/91)

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