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Game Club #1 — Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) Roundup

Sonic game Club 1 roundup (1)

Our first Game Club is finished!

The first contribution comes from RednekGamurz. It’s quite in depth, and well worth a read!

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For this game write-up, I played the original version of this game on a Model-1 SEGA Genesis. After moving around the cartridge and the console for a few minutes, I finally got the game to work, and I started playing. Before I continue with the game, I should talk about my history with it. This was the first video game I had ever played. I first played this game when I was 3 years-old on my dad’s Genesis. Being so young, I wasn’t able to get far at the time, only being able to make it to Marble Zone once or twice. After my dad put the Genesis and all of the games he owned up in the attic, I was without this game for a while, until around age 7 or 8. By then I had my first console, the Nintendo Gamecube. I was able to get the Sonic Mega Collection for my birthday, and I finally was able to play the original Sonic The Hedgehog again. I still wasn’t very good at the game, and for years I wasn’t able to beat it. It wouldn’t be until 2012 before I was finally able to beat the game for the first time, long after I had already beaten the other games in the original trilogy.

For this retrospective, I’ll talk about the basic gameplay, then the story, then I’ll go into detail about each zone, and finally, I’ll finish off with my overall thoughts on the game.

Gameplay

On the surface, Sonic seems like a basic 2D platformer. You can run and jump, you avoid hazards, and one of the ways to attack enemies is by jumping on them, but Sonic is much more than that when take a closer look. The main thing that makes Sonic such a standout isn’t exactly the speed, but rather the physics. Platformers prior to this game had fairly set physics. Megaman moved at a set speed every time, Mario jumped a certain height every time, etcetera.  Sonic The Hedgehog introduced a new momentum based system that had never been done before. By using the terrain to your advantage, Sonic could move faster and jump higher than normal. Going downhill increases Sonic’s momentum, while going uphill decreased Sonic’s momentum. This game also introduced a rolling mechanic. In a rolling state, Sonic can not only attack enemies, but also gain a whole lot more momentum. On the flip side, you have a lot less control of Sonic while he’s rolling, and you lose a ton of momentum when rolling uphill, so there’s risk and reward with the system.

Story

The story of this game is probably the most basic one in the entire series, so I’ll quickly breeze through it. One day, Sonic visits South Island, and discovers that all of his animal buddies have been put into robots. Sonic discovers that the culprit of this crime is Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, who enslaved the animals to fuel his robots that he hopes will help him find the six legendary Chaos Emeralds. Eggman plans to use the emeralds to take over the world, so Sonic sets out to stop him.

Zones

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Green Hill

Sonic’s World 1-1. Chances are if you’ve heard of Sonic the Hedgehog, you’ve heard of this iconic zone, and for good reason. Green Hill Zone is not only a brilliant opening level, but also one of the best levels in the entire series. The level aesthetics are classic. Green striped grass, with checkerboard dirt, loops, totem poles, waterfalls and mountains in the distance, wooden bridges, palm trees, and giant moving flowers. The music is perfect for the beginning of Sonic’s first adventure, and is on the same level of iconic-ness as the Super Mario Bros. Ground theme, or The Legend of Zelda’s Overworld theme. The level design is also brilliant. Not only does it do a great job of showcasing all of the game’s mechanics, but it also perfectly blends speed, platforming, and exploration to create something amazing. It’s not surprising that this zone apparently had more work done on it than any other in the game. It’s also deceptively hard. I’m not saying Green Hill is a hard level, but blindly pushing ahead will get you hurt, or even killed. In fact, most people find out about bottomless pits in the rising platform section of act 2. The boss of this zone is about as memorable as the zone itself. It’s a simple boss, as all it does is swing a checkered wrecking ball back and forth, but it does its job nicely as the first boss of the game.

Marble

Marble Zone is unfortunately one of this game’s weaker zones, which is a shame after the incredible Green Hill. The level visuals consist of ancient ruins and temples, which have design cues taken from Greek and Roman architecture, and tons of lava both inside and outside. Each act begins and ends outside, while the rest of the level takes place inside the temples. The music is a tad foreboding, while still remaining catchy. The worst part of this zone is the level design. Marble’s main focus is on slow platforming and block pushing. If you try to go too fast in this level, you’ll either get hit by an enemy or lava, or you’ll get crushed. While there are some hidden goodies and alternate routes (including two extra life monitors hidden in the walls), the level is much more linear than Green Hill. The boss of this zone is fairly simple. On the left and right of the screen is land, and in the middle is a pool of lava. All Eggman does in this fight is fly back and forth, shooting fire onto the ground beneath him, lighting it on fire for a little while. All you have to do here is land hits on his machine, and constantly switch between the left and right pieces of land to win.

Spring Yard

Spring Yard Zone is what many, including myself, see as the precursor to the famous casino levels of the Sonic series. The visuals here are rather weird. The level takes place on the outskirts of a city, and the level itself seems to be made up of red brick and chain-link fences. There are also floating neon signs that say things like “COPE” and “CPU”. This is also the first zone that takes place at nighttime. I always thought this gave the game a nice sense of progression as Green Hill and Marble took place during the day. The music is a bouncy jazzy tune that fits the level wonderfully. When it comes to level design, this zone lives up to its name. There are tons of springs and bumpers that bounce you around everywhere. This zone is a big step up from Marble, but I feel that it falls flat from being as great as Green Hill due to this level having quite a few spots where the player has to slow down in order to properly platform. The boss of this zone has Sonic stand on a bridge comprised of some brick squares. Every time Sonic is directly underneath Eggman’s ship, he flies down with a spike popping out underneath the ship, and he destroys one of the squares. The goal is to finish off the boss before you don’t have a place to stand.

Labyrinth

Oh boy, it’s time to talk about this mess of a zone now, isn’t it? Labyrinth Zone is by far the worst level in the Sonic series. The visuals are nice to look at, at least. Labyrinth Zone takes place inside some ancient temples, but unlike Marble, these temples don’t seem to be influenced by Greek or Roman architecture. Also, unlike Marble Zone, instead of the temples being filled with lava, Labyrinth is filled with water (more on that in a second). The music for this zone is very slow and repetitive. Despite this, I actually find it kind of catchy, that is, when the music isn’t being replaced by the drowning theme (which is terrifying), which leads me into my biggest complaint with the zone. You see, unlike Mario, who can swim underwater and not drown in his 2D games, Sonic sinks and can drown. This means that you have to platform underwater, with its weird physics, under a time limit. If you don’t get air by reaching the surface or grabbing an air bubble, a theme will start to play and a timer will appear above Sonic’s head. If that timer reaches zero, you lose a life no matter how many rings you have. This frustrating mechanic is only amplified by the boring, blocky level design, that’s filled with all sorts of hazards, such as lion heads that shoot fire balls, spikes, spears, swinging spike balls, and tons of robots. The boss is very different from previous bosses. Instead of trying to hit Eggman’s machine enough times to destroy it, the main goal of this “boss” is to try to reach the top of a vertical pathway. The pathway is not only slowly filling with water, but it’s also filled with obstacles. This is one of the most frustrating bosses in the classic Sonic series.

Starlight

Thankfully after Labyrinth Zone, Starlight Zone comes up to try and make us forget about the previous zone. Starlight is a city under constant construction. The nightlights of the city complemented with the stars twinkling above makes this my favorite zone in the game from a visual standpoint. I would love to see this zone come back in a future Sonic game just to see what it would look like with today’s graphics. The music is very relaxing, yet still full of energy. It’s one of my favorite tracks from the game. In terms of level design, Starlight goes back to having the same design sensibilities as Green Hill; speed-based platforming with tons of exploration through alternate paths and hidden items. While this zone is designed like Green Hill, that doesn’t mean it’s as easy as Green Hill. This zone features tons of bottomless pits, machines that shoot fire balls, hidden mechanisms that reveal staircase-like platforms, and tricky fans that blow Sonic away. Not only that, but this zones features only two robots, but both are invincible. The boss of this zone takes place in an area with three seesaws. Eggman flies above the arena, and drops tiny spike balls onto the seesaws. You can attack Eggman in one of two ways in this fight. You can either launch the spike balls into the Eggmobile, or you can launch yourself into the air using the seesaws and spike balls, and hit the machine yourself. This is probably the easiest boss in the game, even though it’s in the second to last zone of the game.

Scrap Brain

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Scrap Brain Zone is an incredibly challenging final level, and I love it, well most of it anyways (more on that later). It mostly stays fast-paced, while also throwing some challenging platforming your way. This zone is also littered with traps like trap doors, fire pillars, tesla coils, buzz saws, conveyer belts, crushing walls, disappearing-reappearing blocks, and swinging spike balls. Not only that, but almost every robot encountered in previous zones return to this one, along with a new pig robot that drops bombs from its stomach. The environment itself reflects the zone’s challenge. This zone features a red sky, with tons of factories in the distance spewing smoke into the air. The floor and walls are completely metallic, which, coupled with everything else, makes this zone give off a harsh feeling. This place is basically a look into what the world would look like under Eggman’s rule. It gives the player that much more of a reason to put a stop to Eggman’s scheme. The music also reflects the zone’s atmosphere. The song sounds very mechanical, if that makes sense, and it’s also a tad repetitive. This zone’s great, and it would be among Green Hill and Starlight as one of my favorites from this game, if it wasn’t for act 3. You see, after you finish act 2 of Scrap Brain, a small cutscene plays showing Sonic run up to an energy field, with Eggman on the other side. Eggman jumps onto a button, which causes the floor to crumble beneath Sonic, making him fall into act 3. Act 3 of Scrap Brain Zone is commonly referred to by fans as Labyrinth Zone act 4, and for good reason. A lot of the same level design tropes and gimmicks used for Labyrinth are reused for this act. Even the art is just a re-colored version of Labyrinth’s. Luckily, there’s a trick at the beginning of this act that lets you skip a large chunk of the level. Even then, this act has all of the same problems that I had with Labyrinth Zone, and it really brings down the entire zone with it. At the end of act 3, rather than ending with a boss or sign post, this act ends with Sonic launching himself up and out of the act using some red springs, leading us into the Final Zone.

Final

I’ll be honest; I’m not sure why Final Zone exists. It’s just a short hallway that leads into the final boss room. It really could’ve just been placed after Scrap Brain act 3. It even uses the same art from Scrap Brain, but whatever. The music for this zone is extremely repetitive, but incredibly foreboding. This music fits perfectly for the final boss of the game, not only because the final boss is foreboding like the song, but the boss is just a repetitive as the song is. Basically, this boss has Sonic locked in a room with four pistons. The boss starts with making two of the pistons rise, then they fall and four electric orbs shoot out of a machine, and lock onto Sonic’s position. After the orbs go off-screen, the cycle repeats. Eggman is randomly put into one of the rising pistons, so your goal is to hit Eggman in the piston until the machine explodes, and you have to do this without getting crushed by one of the pistons, or getting hit by one of the electric orbs, all while having no rings. A technique I’ve always used for this boss is to stand at the far right of the screen. This is the only spot you can stand in where you don’t have to worry about getting crushed, so all you have to do is wait for the piston closest to you to contain Eggman, hit it, and dodge the orbs. It makes the fight easier, but it also makes it much longer than it needs to be. After the boss is destroyed, Eggman tries to escape in his Eggmobile, which you can chose to hit or not. After that, a small cutscene plays, and the credits roll. Congratulations, you’ve just beaten Sonic The Hedgehog.

Special

I forgot to mention the special stages. Basically, if you collect 50 rings and bring them all the way to the end of a level in act 1 or 2 of a zone, a giant ring will appear behind the goal post. Jump through the ring, and you’ll get sent into a special stage. The special stages are the levels where you can collect the six Chaos Emeralds. Each stage is a rotating maze where Sonic is constantly in his ball state. The goal of each stage is to find the Chaos Emerald and collect it. This is a lot harder than it sounds, as this maze is filled with things that get in your way. Bumpers that bounce you around, up and down orbs that speed up or slow down the rotation of the maze respectively, crystals that typically need to be broken to get to the Chaos Emerald, “R” orbs that change the direction that the maze rotates in, and goal orbs that eject Sonic out of the special stage. The stages themselves are very trippy, both with their visual design and music. The background has bright colors that constantly change, and strange 3D images of birds that transform into fish and vice versa. The best way I can describe the music is that it sounds like slowed down carnival music. Overall, I’ve never liked Sonic 1’s special stages. I hate trying to collect 50 rings and bring them to the end of the level without getting hit and losing them, and I don’t find the stages themselves that fun either. You feel like you barely have control over what you’re doing with Sonic, and you’re at the mercy of the maze. Whether you collect the Chaos Emerald in a special stage feels more like blind luck than anything. To top it off, the reward for collecting all six Chaos Emeralds is super lame. The final cutscene just changes slightly, that’s it. If you play Sonic 1, I recommend not bothering with these stages.

Final Thoughts

While not a perfect game, I still find Sonic The Hedgehog to be a fun game. Is that my nostalgia doing the talking for me? Probably, but I can’t deny that I still have fun with this game, despite its many issues. Could I recommend this game to someone? Kind of, it really depends. If you have played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and or Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and you were curious about Sonic’s roots, I say give this game a shot, otherwise I can’t recommend this game to someone. Please play both of the later games in the original trilogy instead, then come back to Sonic 1 if you want to. While I enjoy Sonic 1, I feel as though the other two games in the trilogy are just far better games, especially Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Overall, while I don’t think this is the best Sonic game, it’s far from the worst. Thank you for reading, and I hope I didn’t bore you too much rambling on about a blue hedgehog.

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The original Sonic the Hedgehog was an incredible game for various reasons. Remember, it was released prior to the Super Nintendo in North America and Europe, so it was a very pretty platformer for those of us still gaming on a NES or SEGA Master System. It essentially made the SEGA Genesis a must own system all on it’s own. It wasn’t just lauded for its visuals, though. The game created an amazing sense of speed, and the physics were spot on perfection. The most amazing thing is that it accomplished this while only using one button and a ‘d’ pad. It was a fantastic example of accomplishing more with less.

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I have many a fond memory of playing Sonic the Hedgehog on my elder brother’s SEGA Megadrive. I would in fact sneak on it when he wasn’t home, and run through a bunch of the games he had for it. Sonic 1991, being one of those titles is one of those classic games that I believe will stand the test of time, and I’m sure it will be around longer than any one of us. It may not have been as tight and responsive as Nintedo’s Super Mario World, but Sonic’s main attraction was in its ability to make the player feel like he was travelling at awesome speed. A game that truly pushed boundaries and cemented SEGA’s place in the pantheon of greats.

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While I still didn’t grow up with Sonic when he first appeared on the Sega Genesis, I still managed to play Sonic 1 through the plethora of PC Ports and compilations that SEGA has managed to put out with the blue blur. Sonic 1, albeit primitive compared to other titles in the franchise, is still fun to play today compared to when it first came out. Unlike Super Mario World where it required 2 buttons for running and jumping, Sonic the Hedgehog only required one button to function. SEGA did this as an attempt to compete with the Mario franchise which had become so popular.

This game is also largely credited for being the spark of the 16-bit wars between SEGA and Nintendo which drastically changed the Video Game Industry. So this game not only birthed an iconic franchise, but was the fuel for one the most climatic shifts in Video Game History.

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2 comments
  1. Crap, I forgot to write a review in time. My review is below, and I’ll try to keep it relatively brief.

    Sonic the Hedgehog is one of my earliest video games, which I played on my Sega Genesis (Mega Drive for non-Americans) and Nomad (the portable Genesis). I no longer own the Genesis version, but I do have the game via Sonic Mega Collection, Sonic Generations, and Steam, which is the version I played for this review.

    Sonic 1 controls very well, requiring only the D-pad and one button for (usually) fast-paced fun. Sonic’s momentum gives the game a less rigid flow, which allows players to experiment and play with their own style. Sonic 1 is solid on a technical level, as the few glitches that I’ve encountered have been limited to harmless collision bugs. The game’s framerate is usually good, but it may drop during particularly crowded sequences in Marble, Labyrinth, and Star Light Zones. Sonic 1’s graphics are nice to look at and are finely detailed, with Sonic and enemies being easily distinguishable from the level itself. The only level that I think looks ugly is Act 3 of Scrap Brain Zone, as I feel that the recolor of Labyrinth Zone’s assets don’t look very good. Sonic 1 sounds good, with most tracks being memorable and sound effects not being annoying or unfitting.

    Green Hill Zone is an amazing first level, and is my favorite Sonic 1 level since it has an excellent mix of speed, platforming, exploration, and difficulty. Marble Zone is a disappointing followup, since it sacrifices speed, fun difficulty, and intuitive exploration for block pushing, waiting for platforms, fake walls, and obstacles blindsiding you from off-screen. Spring Yard Zone has better speed and exploration, but the pace grinds to a halt when having to wait on slow platforms and the rolling Badniks can quickly jump into you from off-screen. Labyrinth Zone is completely irredeemable, as most of the level is spent in water that worsens Sonic’s control and enforces a time limit, which is not at all helped by mundane level design, air bubbles spawning incredibly slowly, and a boss that requires near-perfect platforming. Star Light Zone is my second favorite level, as it has all of the qualities of Green Hill, but in lesser amounts, as well as increased difficulty. Acts 1 and 2 of Scrap Brain Zone serve as a good final level, focusing less on speed and exploration in order to offer more challenging platforming. However, Act 3 is probably the worst level in the game since it’s a recolored Labyrinth Zone that is more challenging and unforgiving with air bubbles and checkpoints, and a hidden shortcut doesn’t fix these issues. The Final Zone is just a rather simple, though unforgiving, final boss.

    Sonic 1 is a rather short game and isn’t particularly difficult, although it can be unforgiving. Sonic starts with three lives, which can be increased by collecting 100 Rings or by finding a hidden extra life. Continues are gotten by collecting at least 50 Rings in a Special Stage. The Special Stages are frustrating, as they hinder Sonic’s control and require the player to play incredibly slowly in order to know which way to go. This is exacerbated by the Special Stages being challenging to get to, the player not having many opportunities to attempt them, and the Chaos Emeralds that are collected via their completion not giving a worthwhile reward, merely changing the ending scene slightly. The most frustrating thing about Sonic 1, however, is that the player must restart the game from the beginning if they lose all of their lives and continues. This can be mitigated by using the level select cheat code, but it’s still an annoyance.

    Overall, the original Sonic the Hedgehog is a good platformer for those who want to see where the blue hedgehog got his start, but is not a game that I’d recommend to Sonic newcomers or less skilled players. Sonic 1 introduced many of the franchise’s well-loved staples, but I’d recommend Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD, and especially Sonic 3 & Knuckles over this game. Sonic the Hedgehog is readily available on a huge number of platforms, and just about every version (minus Sonic Genesis on the Game Boy Advance) is a perfectly viable option.

    Nintendrone on August 3 |
  2. I really wanted to write something for this, and I did start writing it, but time got away from me last month and I ended up busier than I expected. I still really don’t have time to finish writing it, I have so many other things I have to work on. I guess I’ll just give a brief summary of what I was *going* to write had I the time to finish it.

    Since I don’t have as many memories with this game growing up as I do with Sonic 2, I wanted to take a closer look at the first stage, Green Hill Zone, and examine it from two perspectives; from a design perspective, looking at why the level is laid out in the manner that it is, and from a young player’s perspective, who may just be looking to blast through the level without slowing down and examining it. Intro levels in platformers are usually interesting because they have to try and teach the player without using too many words or halting the progress of the game, and then they’re free to design more complex levels to test the player’s understanding of the controls.

    Well, I may have missed my chance this time, but I liked reading all of your responses. I don’t even think I’ve ever made it that far in Sonic 1 to know what some of the last zones were like, so at least it was informative that way! I’m definitely going to have to manage my time better so I can contribute something next time.

    Spiral on August 8 |