Sonic 25th Anniversary | Top 10 Sonic the Hedgehog Games

By Az Elias 23.06.2016 3

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Many of us will no doubt remember the early years of SEGA vs. Nintendo and the intense rivalry between the two Japanese companies. The heated competition was good for fans and the industry alike, but SEGA lacked that one killer app that it needed to at least attempt to dethrone Nintendo's Super Mario. Enter Sonic, a blue upright hedgehog with red training shoes that could run at breakneck speeds. Through SEGA's newly-named Sonic Team division, the Mega Drive was blessed with a number of Sonic the Hedgehog titles that featured fast 2D platforming, and - for a brief period of time - managed to give Nintendo a real scare when the Mega Drive overtook the Super NES in the 16-bit market thanks to Sonic's success.

SEGA finally had a winner on its hands, and Sonic quickly became the company's mascot in the same way Mario is Nintendo's, but following the transition to 3D graphics, things got a little hairy. Whereas Nintendo was able to make Mario work in 3D, Sonic struggled to find his place, and the series went up and down from then on. It's been a difficult time for Sonic following his Mega Drive days, but there has still been plenty to be pleased about over the last 25 years - particularly when it comes to side-scrolling titles. The Cubed3 team now looks back and picks out our favourite 10 games from the Sonic series. Will there be any surprises in our list?

10. Sonic Adventure

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SEGA saw Sonic Adventure as the answer to a lot of their worries going forward into the 21st century. The rivalry between Sonic and Mario had been mutually beneficial for SEGA and Nintendo for a long time. However, the landscape of platformers changed in the late nineties with Sony's Crash Bandicoot breaking the longstanding sense of polarity between hedgehog and plumber. On top of this, Super Mario 64 was not just an emphatic 3D debut, but also the golden standard by which all other platformers of the time would be measured.

While it isn't as ground-breaking or revolutionary as such titles, Sonic Adventure did serve the important purpose of showcasing the graphical prowess of the Dreamcast. The intense speed and visual fidelity wasn't possible on rival systems, so while it wasn't exactly a feat of platforming perfection, it did encapsulate all of the promise of what the Dreamcast era could provide. This ethos is evident in other ways, like the introduction of six playable characters, each with their own story arc and different gameplay mechanics. One such character, robot E102-Gamma, introduces shooting stages to the series for the first time in an effort to attract different types of gamers. The robot and his gameplay component were all crowd-sourced elements that came about via developer dialogue with fans in the Sonic Team forums. Then there's the Chao Garden, which is perhaps the most famous for the Dreamcast's detachable VMUs. Players could raise adorable creatures known as "Chaos," which could be taken out on the go, Tamagotchi-style, with the VMU. It's these small, but exciting, additions that made the game so successful.

Sonic Adventure is the best-selling Dreamcast game of all time. Though some Sonic fans refuse to acknowledge the mainline 3D games of the series, for most, even the game's downsides work in its favour. Famously tacky voice acting, a dodgy camera, a questionable story and the unrelenting nineties vibe all form part of the fun in this classic.
- Tom B


9. Sonic the Hedgehog (GG/MS)

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With the Master System still going and the Game Gear competing against the Game Boy following the release of Sonic's debut on the Mega Drive, an 8-bit edition was made with the former two systems in mind, taking advantage of the current consumer base that hadn't jumped ship to the newer 16-bit console.

This 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog wasn't just a dumbed-down port, though; it was an all-new and original adventure with its own stages and boss battles, and although it lacked the screen space and power to showcase the speed of the hedgehog, this was a solid 2D platforming affair that added quality to the Master System and Game Gear's libraries.

It retained a lot of what made the Mega Drive Sonic the Hedgehog iconic, whilst putting its own twist on proceedings, and followed up with a great little sequel that added mine carts, gliding and the debut of Tails into the mix. Anyone thinking about giving the origins of Sonic a go should definitely seek out this 8-bit alternate take on the speedier formula of the Mega Drive series.
- Az


8. Sonic Adventure 2

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It is always so easy to remark about the numerous problems with the two Sonic Adventure titles, and Sonic Adventure 2 was no exception to the common issues, with a poor camera at the pinnacle of the list. SA2 did get rid of some of the slower and more frustrating stages of the first game, though, with Amy and Big's stages gone, and focus placed on speed for Sonic and new rival Shadow's stages, with Knuckles' emerald hunts returning, along with Tails and Eggman hopping into mechs for some shoot 'em up action.

A marked improvement over SA1 meant a lot of the complaints could be glossed over. Despite the cheesiness of the story and frustrating elements, Sonic and Shadow's loopy, speedy stages and a killer soundtrack helped to redeem it and somehow keep a desire to come back for more with all of the challenges to complete.

Ironically, though, perhaps the biggest draw for most fans of SA2 was the Chao side activity. These cute little Tamagotchi-like pets were introduced in the first Sonic Adventure, but here, they could be raised, fed and developed into evolved creatures, capable of taking part in swimming, running and fighting events. Literally hours could be wasted on raising them, as you tried to turn them into the best of the best, and stand them on the first place podium of each mini-game and move them through each class ranking system. This was taken to another level for those with Sonic Advance and the ability to transfer your Chao onto the portable GBA, able to raise them anywhere. It might not sound very "Sonic-y," but it was a hugely popular area inside the main game, and might be one of the sole reasons Sonic Adventure 2 is still some fans' favourite 3D Sonic title.
- Az


7. Sonic Advance

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Considering the earlier rivalry between Nintendo and SEGA, the arrival of Sonic Advance on the GBA in 2001 was a strange sight and much anticipated. Fortunately, the first Sonic title ever to be released on a rival handheld turned out to be a stellar throwback to the blue hedgehog's 2D glory days. It was so successful, in fact, that it birthed two sequels, which were equally brilliant.

Sonic Advance offers four playable characters, each with special skills. Sonic is the quickest, Knuckles can punch and glide, Tails can fly, and Amy carries a hammer around with her. Featuring nine zones, each with two acts and a boss battle, the game nails the distinct sense of level aesthetic and gameplay balance that made the original 2D series so successful. In addition, it served as the VMU alternative for Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, allowing a variety of Chao-based mini-games.

Compared with the classic 2D games, Sonic Advance places more of an emphasis on reaching great speeds. However, this is counter-balanced by the inclusion of bonus worlds to discover within each level, giving the player a reason to slow down. This is especially true considering that the full collection unlocks a special ending. Overall, Sonic Advance is definitely worthy of a place on this list!
- Tom B


6. Sonic Colours

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The 3D era for Sonic the Hedgehog has been plagued by some critically acclaimed experiences and some lacklustre, downright abysmal games that simply shouldn't have been released (we'll examine these shortly as part of our anniversary celebrations). Many of the issues raised by critics stemmed from trying to emulate that sense of speed and movement from the past 2D games within the 3D environment, leaving players open to falling into bottomless pits or being left frustrated by sporadic camera work.

In order to try and remedy this, SEGA's Sonic Team blended 2.5D side-scrolling sections with tighter, more considered 3D sections to create a game that was a solid stepping stone in finally nailing that 3D Sonic the Hedgehog formula. The studio went back to basics, removing gimmicks like swords and motorbikes, and opted for more traditional platforming. That said, Sonic Colours does mix things up with alien power-ups called Wisps, which transform Sonic into gravity defying beings, block breakers, rockets, drills and more - think Kirby, but within the quirky SEGA vibe. It may sound like the recipe for a mish-mash of ideas, but Sonic Colours blends these new additions seamlessly into the mix, where they become a natural encounter rather than thrown in without consideration for level design or solid platforming.

It's been almost six years since Sonic Colours hit the scene, and the game still holds up as one of Sonic's best adventures to date, and worth playing if you can get your paws on the Wii version.
- Jorge


5. Sonic Generations

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Following a series of ups and downs after the transition to 3D, and, indeed, with the 2D titles not living up to their Mega Drive counterparts, SEGA celebrated the 20th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog in surprising fashion, bringing "Classic Sonic" and "Modern Sonic" together in a sequence of 2D and 3D stages, as the two 'hogs teamed up to stop both renditions of Dr. Eggman, who started messing with time, resulting in the strange setup.

Taking players on a trip down memory lane, each level is a throwback to some of the highlights of the series, with remakes of Green Hill, Chemical Plant, Sky Sanctuary, City Escape, Rooftop Run, Planet Wisp and more all in 2D and 3D forms, with Classic Sonic taking on side-scrolling versions and Modern Sonic on the 3D ones. The closest there ever has been to the quality of the original side-scrolling titles, the 2D levels of Sonic Generations are truly the highlights of the game, with the Modern Sonic sections seeing the return of running towards the distance, grinding, boosting and homing attacking through each stage.

Featuring tones of unlockable artwork and music, challenges and red rings to collect in each stage, as well as famous boss fights, Sonic Generations is a great example of how to celebrate the long-running success of an established character in style, and makes up for all the low points of the blue blur's career.
- Az


4. Sonic the Hedgehog

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This is where it all started; a chirpy, blue coloured anthropomorphic hedgehog that had been gifted with the ability to zip about with speed, breaking through robot baddies with ease. Take a trip back through time and get off at 1990 and you'll uncover the then-console manufacturer SEGA seeking a mascot for the company to complete against the surge in popularity for the Super Mario Bros. series. After shuffling through the big book of animals, a star was born in 1991.

For the series debut, Sonic the Hedgehog still holds up decades later as a solid retro gem to play through. The game is a challenge in itself; stripped bare of Sonic's newer abilities and reworked gameplay mechanics - as the hedgehog can simply jump, run and roll; rather than be engulfed by a myriad of power-ups and his trademark on-demand speed boost.

The aim, on paper, is simple - travel across a 2D plane from left to right, collect gold rings, free animals from their robotic enclosures and save the land from the maniacal Doctor Robotnik. Tricky platforming moments, iconic boss battles and toe-tapping tunes cement the game as a must-play for the newcomer or series veteran; a solid game in its own right and a look at where it all began.
- Jorge


3. Sonic CD

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Is it a spin-off? Is it a main game? It's kind of hard to tell. Whatever it is, Sonic CD is a pretty great Sonic game with a funky history.

After the release of Sonic 1, Yuji Naka moved his team to the United States after getting fed up with SEGA's practices. What resulted was a small fraction of the team staying back in Japan and developing their own version of Sonic 2 to correspond with Yuji Naka's vision of the sequel.

Sonic CD was always meant to just be another version of Sonic 2, but the team started to play around with the idea of time travel, which led to every single level having four distinct layouts and interpretations, giving Sonic CD some much appreciated replay value.

The levels aren't the only things with alternate interpretations, either; the soundtrack was split in two, with the US team modifying and changing the Japanese team's sound files to accommodate their American audience. Normally, this would be a bad thing, but both soundtracks manage to be great in their own right.

It might not be the Sonic 2 SEGA of Japan wanted, but it's a creative spin-off/main game that combines time travel, colourful level designs, truly gorgeous music, and tons of replay value for a fun Sonic adventure.
- Renan


2. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

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Sonic the Hedgehog may have been the introduction point for the series, but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is where the series' most memorable concepts came from.

Starting in a revamped Green Hill Zone, a partner character that follows Sonic around, a seventh chaos emerald that can turn Sonic into Super Sonic, a spin dash, level designs that pump out superfast loop action; all this came from Sonic 2.

Given just how prominent all these features are in Sonic's history, it's hard to believe they weren't always there. As a sequel, Sonic 2 does a great job at fixing up the problems of the first game, while also adding its own flairs. Worth noting is that Sonic 2 came out at a time where Nintendo's sequels were experimenting with their formulas. Instead of trying to throw Sonic in a new format, Sonic Team opted to make a straight sequel that turned the speed up to 11.

What ties Sonic 2 altogether, though, is its new focus on reflex. It's nice that it introduced so many new ideas and practices the series would follow (for better or worse), but it also introduced more reflex-based gameplay. Sonic 1 was a pretty straightforward platformer, albeit a bit on the quick side, but Sonic 2 downright demands full attention and anticipation. Spring boards litter cliffs and require immediate button presses to keep Sonic moving, and the spin dash can be used to destroy enemies in Sonic's path and keep him going without losing momentum.

It's more intuitive, it's more exciting, it's more fun: It's Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
- Renan


1. Sonic 3 & Knuckles

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Whether you look at it as two games merged into one or one game that got split into two, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the definitive Sonic experience.

Playing it, it's almost hard to believe that Sonic could have ever sunk as low as it did in recent years. It's a perfect compilation of everything fans would have wanted to see in a Sonic game at the time and, desperately, now. It features three playable characters that all control differently and have their own gimmicks, with level design that compliments each one. It's long enough to warrant the first save system in the series. It has Michael Jackson collaborating on the music for at least the first half. It's a wild, crazy, exciting ride that never slows down from start to finish.

S3&K marks the first time the series has a real semblance of a story and utilises background details and second long cut-scenes to tell it so it never distracts from the goal of fast-paced gameplay. It's everything the original Sonic trilogy was building up and what modern Sonic games should be looking at for inspiration.
- Renan

Sonic has never been afraid to dabble in just about any type of genre, and in doing so, has churned out a huge mix of great, decent, and just plain terrible games. No doubt you will have your own opinions about Sonic's best over the last 25 years, so share your thoughts on our top 10 and post your favourites below.

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Sonic 2 is my favourite 2D Sonic. For 3D, Sonic Generations and Colours.

I would have enjoyed Colours more though if it didn't have some of the weird power up abilities. Some where okay, but there was others that really disrupted the gameplay flow for me and were awkward to use. Still a great game though and one of the most polished 3D Sonic games!

Generations was really cool, just takes my top spot. I love the mix of old and new and it felt like a mix of all the good things that makes Sonic great in both dimensions.

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For me Sonic Rush was worth it for the soundtrack alone. One of the top Sonic soundtracks IMHO.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

RudyC3 said:
For me Sonic Rush was worth it for the soundtrack alone. One of the top Sonic soundtracks IMHO.

If you wanna chip in with any tracks from the series (including Rush) for our next Sonic music article, lemme know!

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