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Hey there guys and gals and welcome to yet another review. Tonight we celebrate the 20th birthday of one of gaming’s most recognizable characters. During his first 20 years in Video Land, He’s been labeled such things as a freedom fighter, an environmentalist, a knight of the round table, an Olympian, a challenger, a pinball and a legal guardian. His nicknames include “Mr. Neeldemouse”, “The dude with tude”(oh we’ll get to the origin of that one someday), “Speed Demon”, “The Fastest Thing Alive” and of course the “Blue Blur”.
This hero arose in the Summer of 1991, when Sega was in need of a hero to take their Sega Genesis console out of the realm of obscurity, a feet that could not be done by the likes of Alexx Kidd, Joe Musashi, the Golden Axe crew and even Michael Jackson. Their console was 16-bit but they were still losing the war against the 8-bit NES. This hero came dashing into the scene at the speed of sound and personified the motto, “Genesis does what Nintendon’t!” He was a blue hedgehog named Sonic and his cocky attitude and break-neck speeds made him a household name and put the portly red plumber on notice. Thus striking the first blow in what eventually became the fabled 16-bit wars.
So, grab yourself a chili dog and prepare yourself for some high-speed chaos, this is how it all began. This is Sonic the Hedgehog 1.
“Let’s do it to it!
All was peaceful in the forests of the South Island region of Planet Mobius, oh a wait second. It’s Earth now isn’t it? Or is it an alternate Earth or something? I don’t know. Way to pick a continuity and stick with it Sega!
Anywho, all was peaceful in the South Island region of Planet That May or May Not Be Determined, that is until the evil, super-genius (300+ IQ FTW!) Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik begins to kidnap the animals of the land to use them as a power-source for his robot slaves. Now why would such an intellectually gifted person resort to such random acts of douchebaggery? Why, so they can act as his foot soldiers as he forces them to search for the mythical Chaos Emeralds, which he plans to use to take over the world.
(What? Like I’m really the first person to steal a joke from the Nostalgia Critic. Bug off. Wait. I’m sorry I said. Please come back. I’ll be good. I promise.)
But there is one woodland critter that takes exception to this. A spiky-quelled, blue hedgehog who luckily happens to be a genetic freak of nature, blessed with the ability to run as fast as 765mph. Sonic is his name and speed is his game. But will his immense speed be enough to free his animal friends and prevent the cunning Dr. Robotnik from taking over the world with the chaos emeralds?
So, here were are again with an review of a retro platformer and another description of a limited plot (remember, not a lot of games had story driven cutscenes back in the 8 and 16-bit days) and like previous reviews I will cut the game some slack for not having an engaging storyline. However, I will also say that this is a really clever idea for a game and would go as far as to say that it has a cleverly subtle environmental message.
The protagonist is cool and while he is (in all honesty) a rather goofy looking character, the villain feels formidable because of the creativity of his attacks. Not too mention that it doesn’t hurt that the animals are all adorable and that the enemy robots all have cool designs.
Did you know that the game’s plot was actually conceived from Sega’s American branch, after they thought that Sonic Team’s original idea for the game’s story wasn’t going to quite catch on with the more “family friendly” Western audience? The original story involved a “fanged” Sonic being the leader singer/dancer(?) of a rock band, who is forced to jump into action, when the evil Dr. Eggman kidnaps his human girlfriend Madonna (I’m sure that wouldn’t have resulted in a lawsuit. *Rolls eyes*). The idea is interesting but the whole bestiality thing is kind of stupid and it does my heart good knowing that Sonic Team never did anything that stupid again.
Fun Fact: Vector the Corcodile was the band's keyboardist and the rabbit drummer would later be redesigned into the character Ristar.
(……. I hate being wrong :( ……)
Musically, Sonic Hedgehog is stacked with some of the most recognizable tunes to ever hit the Genesis/Master Drive, with tracks that perfectly set the tone for each of the six zones. To name a few examples, you have songs like the Starlight Zone theme, which has a nice soothing quality to it, which is very fitting, considering that is a rather peaceful set of starlit levels. Well, as peaceful as a set of levels filled with moving bombs can be anyway. Another good example would be the theme for the Labyrinth Zone, which I find a little hard to describe but I’ll say that while it uses the typical kind of music that you would normally here in these kinds of ancient temple levels. However, the tempo sounds a little bit on the lower and subdued side, which is actually quite fitting, considering that most of time spent in this zone is underwater, which is a nice little twist. I also like how it actually blends nicely with the drowning indicators, like the bell ringing and the frantic change in music. I also like the mechanical feel that the theme for the Scrap Brain Zone has and of course the cheery, upbeat and fast-paced tempo of the Green Hill Zone that perfectly sets the tone for a game about a little woodland creature who can break the sound barrier.
The boss themes are nothing to shake a stick either but when compared to those found in the game’s successors (except 4 Ep: 1), they kind of fall flat a little.
I guess the soundtrack is as solid as it is because it was composed by J-Pop star and Dreams Come True bassists and founder Masato Nakamura. It always helps to have a professional musician work on your game.
The sound effects also deserve mentioning, because they are awesome. From every ping of a pinball bumper, to boing in every spring, to the satisfying sounds of Sonic busting up a robots/TVs and making dents in Robotnik’s boss contraptions, it was clear that Sonic Team clearly knew what they were doing when it came to audio and how to make every bleep and bloop stand out and truly resonate with the player. Oh, and that breaking sound that’s used when Sonic stops himself is just classic.
Oh and need I even mention the fantastic dubbing to accompany the Sega logo in the game’s opening?
(Let's see Mario do that!)
Graphically, Sonic is superb and really showed off just what the Sega Genesis was really capable of (at that point in time) and really made the system more appealing than the NES, especially for those who have yet to see 16-bit graphics. Like I have said before, the enemy designs are great and offer up some nicely unique robot enemies like fish, bugs (some of which use a cloaking device with a really cool effect), crabs that shoot energy balls from their claws, pigs that shoot bouncing balls, bats, walking bombs, mole like drill things that pop up out of the ground and weird spiked chicken things that can roll up into a ball and come flying out of nowhere, just to name a few. The animals, as I said before, look adorable and are well animated. As far as the look of the two main characters, I have to say that they also look great and are animated very well, especially Sonic. With his Michael Jackson inspired shoes, Mickey Mouse gloves and black eyes, the developers really did a great with his sprite during both his stand still animations (where he sarcastically checks his non-existent watch and casually lays down in protest) and his running animations. Robotnik looks….um… kind of weird in comparison to Sonic, I mean he’s an egg shaped Teddy Roosevelt, who appears to dress up as a circus performer. The developers have also done a great job animating his sprite and it shows, whether he is rubbing his hands together as he plans yet another brilliant scheme or in his less than proud moments of running away and being blown up in one of his Contrabulous Fabtraptions.
The level designs are also great with a great variety of locals. There are the lively forests of the Green Hill Zone, the lava filled ruins (which look oddly like the first level of Altered Beast) of the Marble Zone, the spring filled cityscape of the Spring Yard Zone, the seemingly Atlantis inspired Lost Labyrinth Zone, the night-time high-way of the Starlight Zone and the course, the center of Robotnik’s mechanized Eutopia, the Scrap Brain Zone.
(Ah crap! I need some bubbles. Come on bubbles. Where are you?)
Gameplay wise, while it does offer up the high-octane speed that could only be offered via the Genesis’ blast processing, it doesn’t really deliver on the insane amount that was advertised. Instead, Sonic the Hedgehog is for the most part, a rather deceptively slower paced and inventive platformer. Besides running at top speeds and busting up strange robots, Sonic will be bouncing off of springs to reach high places, busting down hidden stairwells, jumping on moving platforms, finding hidden areas deep within walls, using spiked balls to launch himself into the air with a catapult, bouncing off of pinball bumpers and searching for bubbles underwater to prevent drowning. These obstacles are pretty damn cool but be careful. The developers decided to get a little creative with the enemy placement. I also like busting open TVs for power-ups (like momentary invincibility and the force fields) and extra lives (100 rings also = extra life) and the diverse boss battles against Robotnik in one of his crazy machines, although the last one is a bit lame.
OK. Now let’s talk speed. Sonic can gain a decent amount of speed on his own but to really get him sprinting at his patented velocity, the player is going to have to either bounce him off of springs that are conveniently located on the side of a wall/rock or by running through loops or a combination of the two. Dashing through these sections is as satisfying as it looked in those radtacular commercials. Just be sure curl up into a ball mid-run (since Sonic has yet to learn the spin dash at this point) because there will be enemies placed in your way. Being rolled up will destroy them (so will jumping on them) and you have to admit that busting up rows of robots as you dart across the plains is awesome.
With or without the speed, each level only takes about 2-4 minutes to complete, which is kind of a let down but they are still fun as heck to play through, even if they don’t last very long.
(It's been 20 years and these levels still suck as hard as they did back then)
As you can see, only real gripe I have about the gameplay are those damn special stages. In order to gain access to a special stage, you must collect at least 50 rings and carry them all the way to the end of each level (as long as it is a first or second act, since the third one is always a boss fight). If you do that, a giant floating ring will appear above the goal. Jump into it and it will take you to one of six special stages. These stages are basically the exact same ones that I complained about in my Sonic 4: Episode 1 review (only without the annoying time limits). You know? The ones where you’re curled up in a ball as you fall in a weird little pinball like area where you are trying to fall all the way to the chaos emerald at the end without landing in the read zones. This wouldn’t be so bad if the screen didn’t rotate so damn quickly or if bumpers weren’t put in irritating places or if there wasn’t a barrage of shit blocking you from the thick layers of crystals you have to bust through to the emerald. In short, these levels are to damn hard for their target demographic (kids), who would probably feel ripped off when getting the slightly different ending with the chaos emeralds flying through the air and the angry Robotnik at the end credits. The only real useful thing about these levels is that you can get a continue if you manage to get 50 rings.
(Come and get me Ro-Butt-Nik!)
Well, that was Sonic the Hedgehog 1. It’s a great game that set the bar fairly high for what was to be the 16-bit war between Sega and Nintendo, when the Super NES would launch just a few short months later. Not too mention that it showed gamers just how low tech the NES was in comparison and made the transition into the next generation an easier one.
Now, even though it was a great and I would even say revolutionary title, it isn’t a perfect one or even the best in the Sonic franchise (trust me, there is some more awesomeness to come). But still, it should be said that Sonic Team created a couple of some fantastic characters and just took the ball and ran with it to create something truly special.
Expect to see some more Sonic related reviews over the summer.
Until then, I gotta juice!
Final Score: 8/10