Sonic 25th Anniversary | Worst 5 Sonic the Hedgehog Games

By Tomas Barry 04.07.2016 7

Not every beloved game franchise retains its finesse and sheen forever. Particularly when a series spans several decades, it's usually subject to several waves of technological advancements, cultural influences, and new game-shaping ideas. Some twenty- or thirty-year-old series manage to skim elegantly across that unpredictable body of water, for the most part. Nintendo's major franchises like Mario, Zelda and Metroid are prominent examples of well-handled properties. Poor Sonic the Hedgehog, however, has not exactly been chaperoned through life with quite the same amount of poise and grace.

This is true for a variety of reasons that I'll discuss in reflecting on the worst five. Before we begin peeling back this juicy onion, though, some clarification. Since we all know there's a multitude of suspect Sonic games out there, this is not a surveyed list, but, rather, my personal choices.

In addition, don't assume there isn't some degree of fun to be had from them, just because these games are disastrously short of the standards set by the 2D glory-days. Quite honestly, in some bizarre way, it's quite captivating to witness a long and over-drawn fall from grace. Sonic is our childhood celebrity, whom we loved dearly, but never envisaged in a million years becoming such a lune.

5. Sonic R - SEGA Saturn (1997)

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Traveller's Tales first worked with SEGA and Sonic Team on the underwhelming Sonic 3D Blast for the Mega Drive. Despite the game's lukewarm reception, probably a direct result of the game featuring exactly none of Sonic's core or fun mechanics, it was technically a very impressive achievement. With the cancellation of the hedgehog's apparent 3D debut, Sonic X-treme, SEGA wisely requested a Blast port for the Saturn to fill the void. During this time, SEGA was made aware of another promising project of the British developers, a new 3D engine. With no connected ideas for this, you can only imagine how quickly the SEGA higher-ups launched at those Brits, desperate for their signatures. That is at least how I imagine Sonic R came to be.

Getting a racing game when your heart was set on a 3D adventure is like a child getting the wrong birthday present. The kid will probably sit down with it, and may well grow to love it, but expect a begrudged air of protest all the way there. The reality is that there's a lot to like about Sonic R. It's the most defendable culprit on this list, that's for sure. The game works, and that's a good start. It successfully breaks away from the competition by being an on-foot racer, excluding, of course, Amy, who, for reasons unknown, gets a saloon car. As if the stalker angle wasn't scary enough. Technically, it must also be commended for maintaining thirty frames per second, something only serious racers such as Daytona or SEGA Rally aspired to do back then, implying something more than a lazy tie-in.

Unfortunately, the game itself is simply too lightweight to withstand a proper grilling. Featuring only five courses, it can be completed within an hour. The minor grievances could go on, but we must acknowledge just how awful the Sonic R soundtrack is. It's the sort of cringe-worthy music you expect at one of those middle-school guest assemblies, if you can imagine. In simpler terms, avert your ears, folks.


4. Sonic Free Riders - Xbox 360, Kinect (2010)

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There are many varieties of shoddy Sonic games, but this is undoubtedly the most mechanically broken of them all. You'd think by the third iteration of something as unquestionably awesome as a hover-board racing game, it would at least be the fans' favourite in the series, if not the perfect formula, like Wipeout 3. Instead, Sonic Free Riders took a slightly different approach… by being completely unplayable and, therefore, absolutely pants. The Kinect tracking just didn't work and since there was no option to use pads, that 'issue' rendered the whole game totally pointless. You'd only do your back in if you soldiered on, reports the small minority who say they managed to get it functioning.

Poor SEGA. You can understand Microsoft rushing them to finish, since otherwise they'd be without a well-established gaming figure in their launch window, which is somewhat taboo. Since almost all developers were having issues making actual games for Kinect, I reckon some tired and overworked technical director just strolled into the office one day and after watching some beta-tester get so frustrated they practically had a meltdown, threw his hands into the air and said, "Heck, that'll do."

The Sonic Riders series could easily have been a decent spiritual successor to Sonic R, if only it had got its fundamentals right. Instead, it's barely worth talking about at all. If you value your story content, however, which we Sonic fans have learnt not to, quite honestly, it's worth noting that the Sonic Riders series re-uses Sonic R's story, with minor variations, each time. This in turn means that Dr Eggman has distracted Sonic and his friends with a Grand Prix whilst he causes great evil no less than four times so far. Give me strength.


3. Sonic the Hedgehog - Xbox 360/PS3 (2006)

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Oh, dear. Let's start by expressing that sentiment about every mentionable aspect of Sonic the Hedgehog '06 there is. You'd think SEGA would have wanted to put some distance between this game and its original namesake, but since it was at least in theory a celebration Sonic's fifteenth anniversary, some bold fellow apparently thought it was a good idea.

Unfortunately, unless it was subtitled "Sonic the Hedgehog: Exploring Bestiality," nothing would remotely prepare a Sonic fan for the scary and twisted events that spew forth from the 2006 release, with all the grace and timing of an exploding Flood carrier-mother from Halo.

But we should acknowledge Sonic Team were under an extraordinary amount of pressure at this time. The resignation of Yuji Naka, executive producer for the game and head of the entire company, caused numerous problems that only worsened as development progressed. At this time, Sonic Team also got its mitts on the Nintendo Wii developer kit and quickly realised they couldn't make one game for all three platforms. For this reason, the already over-stretched team was divided. One side worked on Sonic 2006 for the Xbox 360 and PS3, while the other started making Sonic and the Secret Rings for the Wii. The latter certainly fared better than the former, but both were unashamedly pushed through to launch on time. It's reported that Sonic Team ignored a long list of grievances from quality testers, simply voting to carry on as if nothing was afoul.

Okay, then, that explains the swelling mass of bugs and glitches, but what I want to know is who thought of "taking Sonic back to his roots." Oh, yes, because this Sonic the Hedgehog title was also painted as a whole-hearted reboot, which meant Sonic having a relationship with a ridiculous human princess. Don't tell me her name. I refuse to even Google it. The closing moment involving the kiss between the two was when I realised Sonic was doomed forever. I then threw my Xbox 360 out the window in a radical form of protest.

Honestly, I do not understand how a few humans in Sonic Adventure and Sonic Team seem to think they've set some irrevocable precedent. Almost every time we humans feature in a Sonic game, we spoil the soup (maybe not Adventure, though). Stop throwing potatoes in there, damnit! There's no way to soak up a fundamental lack of identity, try as you might.


2. Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis - GBA (2006)

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Here's one you might not have seen coming. You know those classic Sonic games? The untouchable ones, which could never in a million years disappoint us, even today. Nope, you've got that one wrong, buddy. The fifteenth anniversary of Sonic was a double-whammy. As well as the candidate number three, we were also treated to a port of the original Mega Drive classic. Yes, that's correct. Sonic Team can't even do a good port of an excellent game that they made several decades ago. At least it's a distinguishable way to nail down a place on this list. Perhaps that's what they were going for?

Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis suffers from extremely poor frame-rate issues and unacceptable levels of lag. Clearly, the team struggled to reduce the screen ratio to suit the GBA, which in turn led to a cataclysmic disaster of a port. That would be fine in itself if SEGA actually understood the concept of quality testing - you didn't have to let it live! But there was surely some way to apply a modicum of respectability to the situation. Why not break it some more, and claim it as a meta-supernatural-zombie-thriller-adventurer-romp?

For all these issues, and for just generally besmirching their reputation with this one, Sonic Team's 2006 handheld entry scores highly on the list. If you can't do a good Sonic to save your life, it's best not to murder a classic in broad daylight.


1. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric - Wii U (2014)

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Prepare for bitterness. Let me tell you a personal story. It's Christmas time, one of the first when I feel like a proper adult. This is largely because of others in the family having kids, like young cousin Timmy who is now old enough to be interested in video games. Earlier, I'd had a eureka moment and gone ahead and purchased Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, hoping we'd bond over a mutual love for the glorious blue hedgehog who offers bountiful gameplay pleasures. "I'll take a chance," I thought. "They say this is the reboot; how bad can it be?"

On Christmas Day, Timmy unwraps my present and is over the moon. I'm a cool uncle, plus obviously I get to spend the day helping him play the game, rather than helping out in the kitchen. In theory, that sounds worth any game's asking price. However, I'd say it was about one minute into the first cut-scene when I sensed that familiar dread in my stomach. For Timmy's sake, I faked some joy when the gameplay began as he optimistically glanced over at me. I knew instantly, however, what he was playing was no Marble Zone Act 1 by any stretch of the imagination. Then, whilst mulling over this particular thought, a terrifying glitch occurred, warping Sonic and his pals beyond all recognition as though some interdimensional rift had opened and sucked their faces off. Cue the screaming, and the tears. Then I scowled and cursed at SEGA like an old dog still not remotely house trained.

It's a good thing Timmy doesn't exist, and is merely a metaphor for my absolute disdain for Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and all future acclaimed 'reboots' from Sonic Team. After a whole decade of awful attempts to reinvigorate Sonic games, you'd think they would know better than to acknowledge how lacklustre their entire decade's worth of effort had been. Not only did they do this, they then went on to promise yet another reboot that wouldn't let us fans down. But that's exactly what they did! To really add insult to injury, Sonic Boom turned out to be an embarrassing mess of basically unquantifiable proportions. The glitch part of the story wasn't a lie. It really is full of bizarre, immersion-breaking bugs and glitches. Not only this, but apparently placing ridiculous, out-of-place attire on Sonic, as well torturing and strangulating the various limbs of his buddies, now qualifies as trying to save a withered and dying series. Isn't that nice?

Unfortunately, this is yet another clearly rushed, ill-devised attempt at engineering the first decent and successful 3D Sonic platformer in what feels like a whole age. Remember when Sonic X-treme got cancelled? That time when SEGA canned a massively hyped Sonic 3D adventure because they had a perceived quality level to maintain for their flagship mascot? I miss those days. Those were wonderful sweet short-lived days.

At least they were trying, though. I mean, they were trying... right? The cartoon of the same name? Running in the US at the same time as the game released? That surely dictated nothing about the game's development cycle and/or quality whatsoever. Nope.

And the scarf was stupid.

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Concluding Thoughts

There will never be a future remastered package of these five worst Sonic games, or any other of the countless offenders from the last twenty years or so. Such an offering would have to come with a developer commentary apologising for Sonic 2006 and Boom, at the very least. A large gift-wrapped bottle of Japanese whisky wouldn't go amiss, either. Perhaps an adult-sized tear-absorbent Sonic doll that I could give to Timmy, to help him through the next decade of awful Sonic games.

And here's a thought on that. VR and Sonic will eventually collide, and Sonic Team will probably be at the helm for that. Have mercy on my soul.

When your attempts to refocus a disenchanted franchise involve everything from werewolves to asking BioWare to make you a Sonic RPG, it's difficult to predict what lies around the next corner. Objectively speaking, it's good to know Sonic Team may one day randomly stumble upon a good direction for the series. On the other hand, it seems all SEGA really does these days is either pander to the 2D glory-days or mercilessly cash in on the hedgehog's good name.

The one thing that I'd get down on my knees and beg for (take note, SEGA) would be for no timescale or deadlines to be imposed on the next project. Almost every game on this list was rushed out without a second thought for its quality or the damage it did to the Sonic canon. Sonic Team as it currently operates is like a group of cooks who don't bother to check if the dish is done. They just splat it down on our plate and assume we'll lap it up like dogs. At this point, it seems like the only way to get a good meal would be to buy the ingredients ourselves, barge into the kitchen and just take charge of the whole thing. I won't bother making any actual suggestions for the future of Sonic, though, since I'm fairly certain they'd spectacularly misinterpret any valuable ideas, anyway, as per usual.

The major irritation is that SEGA and Sonic Team are simultaneously very aware of most life-long fans' opinions, yet also bizarrely apathetic towards those feelings of utter dismay. Furthermore, in the build up to each release, they adopt a highly questionable rhetoric that actually takes advantage of those lowered expectations. They continue to say this is the real reboot, this is Sonic reimagined and reinvigorated. We hear this almost every year. Reminds me of the boy who cried wolf. If they ever actually make another worthwhile mainstream entry in the Sonic series, will we even believe it?

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Sonic 06 is in there Smilie. The world will not know a time paradox, we're safe ^^.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

I remember when I first saw Sonic Boom. I was genuinely hyped for it and thought it looked refreshing. Then when thoughts came in over time and the game was finally released, I then went the complete opposite direction. xD

I think the worst Sonic game I've ever played was some pinball one. I think it was called Sonic Spinball?

Marzy said:
I think the worst Sonic game I've ever played was some pinball one. I think it was called Sonic Spinball?

But that was just a spin-off title.

Pffft, Sonic R was a staple of my childhood! I still love it. Guess nostalgia has a lot to answer for.

Ikana said:
Pffft, Sonic R was a staple of my childhood! I still love it. Guess nostalgia has a lot to answer for.

I never got to play it, but I always dug the cheesy music. Loved that they put them in the new Sonic Racing games.

I actually like the scarf. I like the Sonic Boom designs in general, except Knuckles. I appreciate that they tried to diversify and make him not just red sonic, but it just looks kinda goofy.

NNID: crackedthesky
My blog, mostly about writing:

Worst one I've played was Sonic 3D Blast (Flickies' Island), and it was godawful. I can't imagine how bad one would have to be to get on this list.

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