Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top 10: Best Sonic the Hedgehog Games

Previously on the SDP, I listed my votes for the ten worst Sonic the Hedgehog games.  But I wouldn't have been a fan of the franchise in the first place if it didn't include something providing actual entertainment value, and I'm proud to say that there are enough good Sonic titles to fill yet another top-ten list.

10) Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episodes 1 & 2
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, etc.
Developer: Sonic Team / Dimps
Release: 2010-2012

Look, how many times do I have to tell you people?  I.  Liked.  Sonic.  4.  I don't care what you think about the physics; after all the feature cruft that previous games were stuffed with, you've got to appreciate the back-to-basics approach that Sonic Team and Dimps took with these downloadable-only titles.  Whilst the story picks up from Sonic & Knuckles, assuming there is a story at all, in gameplay terms, Sonic 4 goes back to square one, featuring only the abilities from the first (for Episode 1) and second (for Episode 2) games.  To be honest, Episode 2 is bearing most of the responsibility for its place on this list.  In addition to the Chaos Emeralds, each act packs three Red Rings for you to find (see Sonic Colors), and the inclusion of Tails means the addition of two-player support, both local and online.  And regardless of whether you thought the physics changes brought on by Episode 2 made it better, it's comforting to know that Sega at least listens to the popular opinion of fans.  In other news, Capcom will never be that cool.  Previously reviewed here.

9) Sonic the Hedgehog
Platform: Sega Genesis, etc.
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 1991

You've got to love the one that started it all.  The first Sonic the Hedgehog game on the Sega Genesis was a unique and well-executed platformer that still holds up to this day.  Creativity is omnipresent in the level designs, with trappings like loops and springs which, by my estimation, would've been impossible to program on anything that came before the Genesis.  I'd be lying if I said it's not an acquired taste for modern gamers, what with the Spin Dash not being present until Sonic 2.  Plus say what you want about the role speed should play in the newer games, but some of the levels here, such as the Marble and Labyrinth Zones, are just not fun.  May that still not detract from the fact that Sonic Team knocked it out of the part their first time at bat.

8) Sonic Triple Trouble
Platform: Sega Game Gear, Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Aspect
Release: 1994

I'll admit, I didn't have a Sega Genesis growing up, but I did have a Game Gear, and it was the handheld Sonic games for that platform which gave me the bulk of my experience with it.  And whilst my personal favourite was 1993's Sonic Chaos, I'll give credit to its follow-up, Sonic Triple Trouble for being better technically.  The graphics are the most detailed of the 8-bit era, and the gameplay of both Sonic and Tails has been fleshed out, with many abilities and power-ups for both.  Previously reviewed here.

7) Sonic CD
Platform: Sega CD, etc.

Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 1993

If there's any reason to own a Sega CD, this might be it.  Sonic CD finds ways to wow us in ways the Genesis could only dream of, like the set of visually-stunning levels.  But wait -- with Sonic's new time-travel abilities, past and future versions of each act are also available for you to explore!  Do you have the diligence to hunt down the Badnik generators in each Past world?  No?  Don't worry, you can still collect the Chaos Emeralds Time Stones as before and still get the good ending.  Oh, I can't forget about the Special Stages, in which Sonic runs through a flat proto-3D world, like in F-Zero.  But more importantly than anything else, it is a well-coded action game, the likes of which were hard to come by on the Sega CD.  So why isn't it higher on this list?  The execution of the time-travel system leaves a bit to be desired, as the shifting of platforms and such between time periods creates some awkward level layouts, and the method of time-travel itself is inconvenient.  As such, perhaps its relative obscurity may have magnified its standing in fans' eyes, but don't get me wrong, it's an incredibly solid adventure.  With its recent ports on PSN, XBox Live, and iOS, you have even fewer reasons not to give it a try.  And one less reason to waste your money on a Sega CD. ^^;

6) Sonic Rush
Platform: Nintendo DS

Developer: Sonic Team / Dimps
Release: 2005

Whilst Sonic had little luck on the console front during much of the 2000s, the handheld scene was much nicer to the blue blur.  Hot on the heels of the Sonic Advance trilogy, Sonic Team and Dimps teamed up once again to bring us Sonic Rush for the DS.  The only playable characters this time around are Sonic and newcomer Blaze the Cat, the bad@$$ defender of an alternate universe.  As both have their own sets of levels for each of the Zones, there are essentially two games in one here.  Don't worry, Sonic and Blaze play the same as each other, and in fact both have bestowed upon them a new boost ability.  Fast, damaging to enemies, and limited by a refillable meter, this is a natural addition to the series' formula on par with the Spin Dash from Sonic 2.

5) Sonic Advance 3
Platform: Game Boy Advance

Developer: Sonic Team / Dimps
Release: 2004

Marking Sonic's debut on a non-Sega platform, the Sonic Advance trilogy was consistently solid, but I'm picking the third game as the best of the bunch.  Perhaps to tie-in with Sonic Heroes (which I almost put on this list, if you can believe it), Sonic Advance 3 has you picking not only one of five characters (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, and Cream) to play as, but a partner character who tags along behind your first choice.  The team you choose determines the special abilities at your disposal, for an optional yet welcome bit of depth.  And don't worry, they're not tethered to you like in Knuckles Chaotix.

4) Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Platform: Sega Genesis, etc.
Developer: Sonic Team / Sega Technical Institute
Release: 1992

This is it - the video game which defined the Sega Genesis for me in the few opportunities I could play one when I was a lad.  And judging by its status as one of the best-selling Genesis titles of all time (selling around 6 million units worldwide), I'm not alone.  The level layouts are more inventive than the first game, yet not overly long like in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.  Too bad things started dulling out by the time you hit Metropolis Zone.  But barring that sludgy dreck of a world, the settings are memorable and fun (the Chemical Plant and Casino Night zones say hi), Masato Nakamura's music is even better, and Sonic's new standing Spin Dash makes getting up those pesky slopes a breeze.  Plus, didn't you ever think that the pseudo-3D Special Stages, where you collected rings in a twisting half-pipe, were the coolest thing ever?

3) Sonic Colors
Platform: Wii
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2010

As if I haven't made it clear by now, Sonic has gone about most of the 2000s on some sort of drugged-up stupor the likes of which would shame Lindsay Lohan.  But late in the decade, he received some rehab from an unlikely source - his old rival, Nintendo's Mario.  It took a little while after they showed up together in games like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but the Jumpman's influence finally showed through in 2010's Sonic Colors.  First and foremost is the game's so-called gimmick.  Rather than something that creates an entirely separate gameplay experience, like what Adventure and Unleashed thrust upon us, this game's use of power-ups called Wisps is well-integrated into one gameplay format.  These colour-coded aliens can be used to transform Sonic into a laser beam, a drill, a sticky buzz-saw, a rocket, and more.  Whilst there are occasions where the use of Wisps is mandatory to continue, most of the time they're just tools to reach bonus collectibles with, so at least they're not shoving this new concept in our faces.

In lieu of relying on HD visuals, something the Wii is incapable of, Colors's worlds amaze through all the colourful and original sights they packed in -- this is set in a space-bourne amusement park, after all.  You thought you've seen enough underwater and Asian-themed levels to last you a lifetime?  Well, imagine them smashed into one.  By all other standards thus far, Sonic Colors is a massive game, with seven zones and six acts in each. Apart from trying to achieve high grades, diligent players can collect the five Red Rings in each zone and unlock Special Stages.  To be honest, Sonic Colors shines brightest in the context of what the franchise has had to deal with leading up to its release; the physics engine is still a little too tight (similar to Sonic 4 Episode I).  But when counting all its good parts, I would compare Sonic Colors to the likes of Super Mario World on the SNES, which for the record is one of the best video games I've ever played.  That I can once again make that kind of comparison proves once and for all that Sonic the Hedgehog is back and better than ever.

2) Sonic the Hedgehog 3 / Sonic & Knuckles
Platform: Sega Genesis, etc.
Developer: Sonic Team / Sega Technical Institute
Release: 1994

I admit, I'm cheating a little by putting Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles together in one entry.  As a matter of fact, if I kept them separate, both of them would have ranked somewhere under Sonic 2 at best.  This may be a personal quibble, but the levels in both are a little long for my liking.  Each individual title has only 12 acts (compare that to 18 levels for the first game), but most of them can take up to five minutes to complete.  But I put them together for two reasons: 1) to make room for more games, and 2) they were conceived as one entity.  When you plug Sonic 3 into Sonic & Knuckles's lock-in bay, you're treated to a massive quest, at least for a 4th-generation platformer.  Depending on the game(s) you plug in, you get to tackle your quest as Sonic, Tails (who finally gets flight as a player-controlled ability), or Knuckles.

1) Sonic Generations
Platforms: PlayStation 3, XBox 360
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2011

After the unqualified disaster was Sonic the Hedgehog's 15th anniversary, I am pleased to report that his 20th birthday was far more fulfilling, thanks to Sonic Generations.  This game serves more or less as a greatest-hits version of the franchise, as it features original levels set in zones taken from across the Genesis, Dreamcast, and modern eras.  Whilst some fans would potentially balk at the mere inclusion of settings from the likes of the 2006 SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, it's not like they copied everything about those games.  (And quite frankly, their choice of Crisis City makes for an awesome level.)  Each has one act each for Classic Sonic, a completely 2-1/2D affair with all the abilities from Sonic 2, and one for Modern Sonic, alternating between 2D and 3D segments much as in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors.  It seems short at first, but each zone also boasts a set of shorter challenges really boosting the replay value for those who stick around for it.

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