So, my big new project to take up all the free time that I already don’t have: I’m playing every Sonic the Hedgehog game ever released in (as close as I can to) the order they came out, and streaming them too.
After each year’s worth of games I’m then going to collect my streams and write a little about each game. For this first post, it’s of course the very earliest Sonic games.
July 1991 marked the release of the the first ever Sonic the Hedgehog game and he quickly became Sega’s new mascot, leaving poor Alex Kidd all but forgotten.
Gamers at the time were blown away by the faced paced gameplay, colourful graphics and catchy soundtrack. While I don’t quite feel the speed aspect is quite there yet, particularly after the Green Hill Zone, it still holds up really well and is an enjoyable play.
A lot of enduring elements of the series are set up right from this first installment including the Chaos Emeralds and of course Dr. Eggman (although at this point he was called Dr. Robotnik in the West) as well as the iconic rings that I’ve heard jingle several hundred million times over the years.
Seeing how massively popular Sonic was on the Mega Drive Sega was quick to make sure that he made it over to their previous console, the Master System. While Nintendo were the market leader in North America it was a different story elsewhere in the world such as Europe where Sega had a sizable lead. Naturally, they wanted to continue this and so a number of Sonic games were eventually developed for the console – lower sales in the States meant that this was the only Master System title released over there and the remaining 8-bit Sonic titles were Game Gear exclusive while we continued to get Master System versions.
Featuring a mixture of stages similar to the Mega Drive version as well as entirely new ones such as the Bridge and Jungle Zones, it’s a pretty faithful interpretation of the spirit and gameplay of the original game. Invincibility and barrier power-ups function in the same way, and Sonic himself has the same moves (though at this point really that’s just jump and roll so nothing too complicated) however some small differences like the inability to collect dropped rings and third acts that are entirely roads leading to the boss without any rings do stand out.
As you’ll hear me lament if you watch the video, the Master System has a rather irritating mechanic on the second act of the Jungle Zone where the screen is unable to scroll back down. This means that you die if you drop off the bottom of the screen, even if there was a ledge just below you that’s out of sight. The Game Gear version fixes this and makes the stage substantially easier as well as improving the colour palette and some additional animations, at the expense of a significantly reduced resolution.
The Sonic series is littered with odd little entries, and this is just the first. Sonic Eraser was released only in Japan on Sega’s online service for the Mega Drive. It’s a rather simple puzzle game and almost certainly had Sonic added to it to make people more likely to play it – other than appearing in the middle of the screen in competitive games and occasionally if you pull off some impressive combos he’s barely in the game and there’s nothing other than his sprite to really link it to the series.
Like many Japanese exclusive games from the era, this was once thought lost until Sega re-released it on a Japan only download service in 2004 and it was subsequently ripped to a ROM.
The last Sonic game to be released in 1991, Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car was kind of a cross between a full size arcade cabinet and a kid’s ride that are fairly common in the west. It featured a plastic police car that kids could sit in as well as a screen and steering wheel to play the game. The game itself is very short, taking only a couple of minutes to finish which is about the amount of time most of the western equivalent rides last.
For reasons unknown Sonic drives a police car in this game (despite being quicker on foot) and drives up a road. Using the steering wheel you can avoid traffic, and move lanes but there’s no alternate paths to take. Eventually Dr. Eggman turns up, you fight him by jumping from your car to his while avoiding the bombs that he throws and when he’s beaten Sonic returns to the police station and the game is over.
While short and largely forgettable, Sonic Patrol Car is notable for being the first time Sonic (and also Dr. Eggman) have voices recorded for them.