Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)

Pub: Sega | Dev: Sonic Team | June 1991
Pub: Sega | Dev: Sonic Team | June 1991

It took 11 ½ years but it’s finally here: my very first Sega Genesis review on RVGFanatic. Now as readers know, I love the Super Nintendo and my site is mostly dedicated to the almighty SNES. But I also love(d) the Genesis. I grew up with one and it gave me many fond memories. I’ve been meaning to reminisce about certain Genesis games ever since the inception of RVGFanatic back in 2007, but it just never happened for one reason or another. Until now. Inspiration struck when earlier today my pre-ordered copy of Sonic Mania Plus arrived in the mail. It brought back a wave of nostalgia. I can’t think of a better time to look back on Sonic the Hedgehog than right here, right now.

27 years later and the blue hedgehog is still going strong
27 years later and the blue hedgehog is still going strong
So freakin' GLORIOUS
So freakin’ GLORIOUS

SONIC MANIA

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Sega’s lovable mascot made a huge splash when it landed in the summer of 1991 and made the Sega Genesis system an absolute MUST BUY. Sonic was Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario and kickstarted the whole “mascot with a ‘tude” era of the early-mid 1990s. Sonic would become a pop culture icon and his various games over the years have left an indelible mark in the minds and hearts of many. I still vividly remember my uncle buying a Genesis along with Sonic the Hedgehog for me and my brother in the summer of ’91. Our friends were proud Genesis owners in 1989 and 1990 so we got to play the system plenty, but it wasn’t until we saw Sonic the Hedgehog that we knew it was time to make the jump. You can ask any gamer from that generation and they too would have a Sonic the Hedgehog story to tell you. It’s one of those rare special games that everyone sort of remembers where they were the first time they saw it.

A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE

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Who could ever forget the classic first stage of the first game? Green Hill Zone was the perfect introductory stage with its lush greenery and ridiculously catchy music. The theme conveys a sense of adventure, energy and heroism all at once. The music in this game is amazing and just hearing a second of it instantly transports me back to the summer of 1991 playing Sonic the Hedgehog in my living room with my brother and our friends.

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BLAST PROCESSING, BABY! Sega’s infamous pitch to sell the game might have been hyperbole, but Sonic was certainly quite the speedster. The rings serve as your health. Whenever Sonic is hit, his rings go flying. When he’s hit with 0 rings, it’s Game Over. I remember thinking it was a pretty cool and clever idea!

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Bopping off one baddie and hitting another before you landed not only looked and felt great, but it multiplied your points too.

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Power-ups such as temporary invincibility and the shield are part of Sonic lore. The sound effect of the shield enveloping Sonic is embedded in my mind still to this day. BONG!

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Make sure to hit that lollipop marker (as us kids liked to call it once upon a time). And watch out for those rotating thorns!

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Ah, the classic loop the loop. I can’t think of Sonic without thinking about them. The two go hand in hand like Godzilla and Japan!

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Mario has Bowser. The aforementioned Godzilla has King Ghidorah. Sonic has Dr. Robotnik. Always fun beating his fat ass :P

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True story: when I was a kid I thought Marble Zone was sort of a homage to the first stage of Altered Beast (the game that launched with the Genesis back in the late ’80s). Ah, the innocence of being 8 years old!

"WISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!"
“WISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!”

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Love the way the fire trails you and love the sound it makes. Just classic stuff from Sega.

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Remember bypassing each one of these one at a time and waiting patiently for those Zordon glass containers to lift? You know you do.

Goddamn it, it really does look like it, no?
Goddamn it, it really does look like it, no?

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I love the sound the chain makes when it ascends.

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Marble Zone Act 2 brings the lava action. The visual of the rising lava is SEARED in my brain, pardon the pun.

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Spring Yard Zone is another memorable level. Who could ever forget bouncing Sonic off the bumper balls like a pinball?

Love the city at night in the backdrop
Love the city at night in the backdrop
BLAST PROCESSING!
BLAST PROCESSING!
WHOA! Speed kills, indeed
WHOA! Speed kills, indeed
Plenty of hidden areas to be found
Plenty of hidden areas to be found
Ah lollipop marker... my old friend
Ah, lollipop marker… my old friend

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Battle Dr. Robotnik at the end of each world, with his gimmick shifting for each fight. I remember thinking as a kid how dope that was. It gave me a sense that I was really beating him at every turn rather than what most platformers do instead (i.e. the big bad sending his cronies to deal with you in the levels prior to the final showdown). Obviously Sonic the Hedgehog drew some influences from the Mario games but it’s also obvious that Sega threw their own spin on it (pun intended, not intended) and made it their own.

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Alright, raise your hand if Labyrinth Zone terrorized you as a kid. Looking back, it’s really not that hard a stage but I guess at the time it was my youthful inexperience and anxiety that got the worst of me. It’s because of this and the water dam level from NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that made me weary of playing any stages featuring water.

No Donnie! Its NOT OK!
NO DONNIE!  IT’S NOT OK!

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Wait for the big bubble to give Sonic a respite. This used to induce mini panic attacks on me when I was 8! Especially when that damn frenetic music would kick in with the 5 second countdown to alert you that poor Sonic is on the verge of drowning!

It’s OK, buddy. There’s a Groupon on group therapy we can redeem.

Ah. away from water at last
Ah, away from water at last
Kicking and screaming back in the water
Kicking and screaming back in the water

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On my very short list of disappointments with this game, Star Light Zone is definitely one of them. Based on the name of the stage, my 8 year old self imagined a grandiose world littered by hundreds of multi-colored and different sized stars (including exaggeratedly enormous ones). Sadly the actual stars are just normal, rendering the overall effect forgettable. The world is not a fraction as colorful as I expected a “Star Light Zone” to be. Although Star Light Zone features some pretty cool ideas such as the fans and teeter totters, it felt like Sonic Team dropped the proverbial ball as it relates to appearance and atmosphere.

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In fact, my mind often switches Spring Yard Zone and Star Light Zone, as a sign of my inner desire for Star Light Zone to be brighter and bigger than what it is.

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The oddly titled (and looking) Scrap Brain Zone doesn’t mess around. Industrial in its look and design, it features the game’s trickiest platforming and even includes some underwater sections to navigate through.

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Personally, I didn’t care too much for the aesthetics of Scrap Brain Zone. It’s not one of those memorable final worlds that spring to mind when I think of such things. It’s rather mechanical (in spirit), which granted makes a ton of sense because it is Dr. Robotnik’s lair, but still. It feels a little too lifeless and definitely ranks toward the bottom of my least favorite zones in this game, along with the aforementioned disappointing Star Light Zone.

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Thankfully, the final fight with Dr. Robotnik is highly memorable and something that has stuck with me throughout the ages. It’s simply classic and fun to play. After a small speed bump, Sonic the Hedgehog definitely ends on a high note.

BONUS ROUND

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If you beat a stage with 50 or more rings and manage to jump into the big golden ring at level’s end, then you’ll be transported here. It’s a crazy dream-like psychedelic experience. Do your best to avoid the red dots of death and make your way to the middle to claim your Chaos Emerald. This bonus round blew our minds back in 1991. It was at once soothing and chaotic — the perfect balance.

SONIC MEMORIES

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Back in the day my family was friends with four other families. Our parents were best friends with the other parents and the kids, ranging from birth dates of 1978-1986, were much the same. Together, we were a force to be reckoned with. Our epic sleepovers during the late ’80s to mid ’90s is the stuff legends are made of, filled with countless coming-of-age adventures and of course, video games galore. I remember many of those happy Saturday nights fondly, but there was one innocent Saturday night in the summer of ’91 that stood out in particular. We booted up Sonic the Hedgehog and Tommy had the controller. Randomly, he pressed Up, Down, Left, Right, A + START at the title menu. Next thing we knew, a level select cheat menu popped up!

We all jumped up and down in utter disbelief
We all lost our minds the second this happened

You have to understand something. This was 1991. Way before the internet, way before YouTube, way before GameFAQs. You couldn’t just go online to Google cheat codes, oh no. You either found out by reading the cheat section in a gaming magazine or discovering it yourself through sheer dumb luck. For Tommy, it was the latter. Or at least, that’s what he told us. At any rate, cracking the code back then was bigger than big. Unlocking a video game secret is a moment that instantly becomes etched in the annals of time. Tommy from that point on forever adopted a near mythical aura within our gaming group. It’s one of my favorite game memories because it encapsulates the innocence of the early ’90s and also what made our Gaming Crew so damn special and magical.

Uncle Jimmy: the man, the myth, the legend
Uncle Jimmy: the man, the myth, the legend

My other favorite Sonic the Hedgehog memory involves my Uncle Jimmy. He lived with us as we were growing up. My brother and I absolutely adored him. Whether he was weaving spooky ghost stories on a warm summer night, or whether he was playing Contra and other NES classics with us, Uncle Jimmy was an important part of my childhood. He was also the one who bought us a Sega Genesis in 1991 along with Sonic the Hedgehog.

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Sadly, by ’91 Uncle Jimmy by and large lost interest in playing video games. However, I’ll never forget coming home from school one day and upon opening my door hearing that classic Sonic the Hedgehog music. I had just started 3rd grade so it was probably September. My brother wasn’t home yet and my mom sure as hell wasn’t playing Sonic… so who was? I turned the corner after taking off my shoes and sure enough, there he was sitting on the couch grinning like a boy who had just seen Santa. I’ll never forget that image. He was on the lava stage, Sonic was teetering on the block and Uncle Jimmy was swaying along with Sonic before he caught me watching him. He gave me a thumbs up and it became a moment frozen in time. It was also the last time I can recall Uncle Jimmy playing a video game. It was Uncle Jimmy’s last hurrah.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Sonic the Hedgehog may not be the best game in the series but it introduced the world to an iconic character who transcended video gaming itself. It laid the foundation for what was to come. It also spawned countless similar platformers starring animals with attitude. Some examples include Awesome Possum, Bubsy and Rocky Rodent. It was a sign of the times, for sure. But no one ever did it better than Sonic. Sorry, Crash! Sonic the Hedgehog is a personal favorite of mine. Some of the sequels may well be better, but similar to Donkey Kong Country, the original will forever hold a special place in my gaming heart. With today seeing the release of Sonic Mania Plus, and with a movie set to launch on November 15, 2019 (with Jim Carrey playing Dr. Robotnik), Sonic is alive and well. He has stood the test of time whereas many other attempted mascots have miserably failed. It’s nice to pause and look back on where it all started. Sonic the Hedgehog, I salute thee. Thanks for all the memories.

Award4Overall: 9.0
Gold Award

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