Review by Internet Nomad

"In the beginning..."

Sonic vs. Mario. The battle has been waged everywhere, from elementary school blacktops to Internet message boards. Sonic was the quick injection of sugar to Mario's full course meal. And what kid doesn't love sugar? It's not a surprise then, that Sonic was holding his own in the 16-bit era, with some daring to tout his games as superior to Mario's adventures. But times have changed, and so has the blue blur that I grew up with. The Sonic Adventure series leaves a decidedly sour taste in the mouth of many a gamer. Sadly, Sonic has fallen from his high pedestal into the depths of mediocrity, but there is still hope for his return to fame and glory...some day. But for now, we will simply revel in his glorious expeditions long past. Dust off your Genesis's, boys and girls, it's time for a blazingly fast trip with the one they call Sonic the Hedgehog.

Dr. Robotnik is kidnapping all of the incredibly cute and fuzzy animals and turning them into robots! He's trying to attain control of the Chaos Emeralds, which will grant him immense power. Only a valiant hedgehog clad in red sneakers is powerful enough to overthrow Robotnik and save the planet. Sonic must traverse six zones, three acts each, to reach Dr. Robotnik's vile laboratory and destroy the demented scientist for good (''for good'' meaning ''until Sega needs to recycle the same plot for the next Sonic game'').

Sonic takes a slightly more logical approach to disposing of enemies than a certain portly plumber. Sonic can't just jump on the head of an enemy and have the foe disperse in a poof of smoke. That ain't the real world, and as the hedgehog's finger-waving shenanigans show, this guy's all about keeping it real. Sonic has to curl up into a ball, using the spikes on his back to slice and dice any creature that stands in his way. That's how real mammals lay the smack down.

Unfortunately, Sonic's defenses leave much to be desired. The guy's a wuss. One hit, and he's done for. Luckily, he's able to harness the power of the golden rings that are strewn about the levels, and withstand any pain the bad guys attempt to dish out. When Sonic takes a hit with at least one ring in his possession, he'll survive, but all of his precious jewelry will be strewn about and he'll have but a few seconds to recover as much as he can. Frantic chaos will ensue when you crash into an enemy and your 100+ rings drop to a count of 0. And when you are attacked with a mere 3 rings, all hell will break loose as you go through any means necessary to grab hold of at least one of them before they vanish. Only the bravest warriors dare to venture far without at least one ring.

At this point, you may be wondering, if Sonic is so content with his natural self (read: naked), why the heck is he wearing those red shoes? A fair question. Sonic's shoes are the key to his speed, and in turn, his cockiness. Sonic can blaze through the world at a blistering pace. He may look a tad pudgy, but that's simply to lure his enemies into a false sense of security. Sonic defines the phrase, ''Smoke 'em,'' and it shows throughout the game.

Level design is a bit less linear than what you'd expect from an early 16-bit platformer. Many of the zones allow for branching paths, though you'll ultimately end up at the same finishing goal. There are also plenty of hidden nooks and crannies that usually lead to an extra life or a useful item. Powerups, hidden in breakable televisions, include a blue orb that serves as a shield, a special pair of sneakers that make Sonic run even faster, the usual invincibility powerup, and rings coming in sets of ten.

Generally, there are two ways to complete a level: take your time and try to collect 100 rings, which will grant you an extra life, or put Sonic's stubby legs to use and try to blow through the level in under a minute. Both methods are fun, though some levels are more apt for speed and others for exploration. While the sequels beat Sonic the Hedgehog in level complexity, this classic set an excellent foundation for later games to improve upon.

What would a platformer be without bonus stages? Sonic's got some trippy ones that can only be accessed if you reach the end of an act with at least 50 rings. In a world seemingly devoid of gravity, Sonic must be maneuvered through a pinball-like maze and reach the Chaos emerald positioned in the middle. If he touches one of the ''goals'' along the edges of the area, he'll be transported out of the bonus stage with no emerald in tow. Collect 50 coins for an extra continue, which is plenty helpful in a no-save game such as Sonic. If you collect all 7 Chaos Emeralds before you complete the game, you'll be treated to a special ending. Hardly worth the work, but the bonus stages are so much fun, you'll likely want to get all the emeralds anyway.

Visually, the game looks fairly nice. The colors are vibrant, though somewhat lacking in variety. Sonic himself is full of life. His eyes will grow wide and he will go careening backwards after being attacked. If left idle, he will give you an annoyed look and tap his foot. Upon death, he'll flail his arms outward and plummet off the screen. The framerate is solid, except in instances where Sonic is attacked underwater. The original Sonic hardly showed the Genesis's graphical capabilities, but it got the job done.

The music is excellent. Almost all of the tunes are memorable, and each fits the theme and pace of its level quite well. Green Hill Zone's music is upbeat, making you subconsciously yearn to go faster. Marble Zone is considerably slower with more obstacles blocking your progress, and the music reflects this with its mellow tone. Sound effects are great, from the sound of Sonic's jump (which never becomes grating, even after the millionth time), to the thump that signifies death or the high-pitched note that comes with acquiring a ring. Sonic games have always sounded great, and this one started it all.

My only real gripe with Sonic the Hedgehog is the fourth zone, the Labyrinth Zone, which is mostly underwater, and just isn't fun. Sonic moves at a snail's pace underwater, making for three undeniably tedious and boring acts. As stated above, slowdown is prevalent when attacked underwater, and this can make it very difficult to recollect the rings that were lost before they disappear. Waiting around for air bubbles to form (Sonic can't breathe underwater) isn't much fun either. But this is just a small portion of the game. All other zones are generally spectacular.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a game meant to be beaten in one sitting, but it's so replayable, you may find yourself in Green Hill Zone again just moments after seeing the final credits. Sonic's got a special charm about it that will make you feel an odd urge to dig out your Genesis, blow out the cartridge, and play it every now and again. The epitome of 2D gaming? Hardly, but, just like the aftereffects of a can of Surge, the rush is great while it lasts.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 06/06/03, Updated 06/06/03

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