Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Top Ten: Best Sonic the Hedgehog Games (Revisited)

Previously on the SDP, I updated my list of the worst Sonic the Hedgehog games. Despite declaring my love for the Sonic franchise, I did the list anyway because a good fan should not only celebrate the good parts of their fandom, but accept the bad that comes with it. But I wouldn't have been a fan 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-eleven list. Why top eleven? Because when you’re as big a fan as I am, you’ve got to go one step beyond. So, let’s not waste any time -- Sonic would’ve wanted it that way -- and count down the top eleven best Sonic the Hedgehog games!

11) Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II
Platforms: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Developer: Sonic Team / Dimps
Release: 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, I appreciate the back-to-basics approach that Sonic Team and Dimps took with these downloadable-only titles. Sonic 4 goes back to square one, featuring only the abilities from the first and second games. (And the Homing Attack, but that doesn't count. I actually like using it.)  Even so, of the two episodes, I'm putting the second one on this list. In addition to the Chaos Emeralds, each act packs three Red Rings for you to find, 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 II made it better, it's comforting to know that Sega at least listens to the opinions of its fans. Capcom, when will you ever be this cool?

10) Sonic the Hedgehog
Platform: Sega Genesis
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 1991

Of course I’ve got to represent 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 knowledge, would've been impossible to program on anything that came before the Genesis. Still, I'd be lying if I said this isn’t an acquired taste for modern gamers, what with familiar trappings like Spin Dash from Sonic 2 not having been included yet. And 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, don’t feel like they belong in a Sonic game. But may that still not detract from the fact that it laid down the groundwork for even better things to come.

9) Sonic Triple Trouble
Platform: Sega Game Gear
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 while 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 I’ve seen on any 8-bit console, and the gameplay of both Sonic and Tails has been fleshed out, with many abilities and power-ups for both. This portable Sonic game can still stand up to its bigger brothers on the Genesis. Previously reviewed here.

8) Sonic CD
Platform: Sega CD
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 with Sonic's new time-travel abilities, past and future versions of each act are also available for you to explore! Even without those alternate level versions, this is a well-built 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. Plus, in order to get the good ending, you have to hunt down the Badnik generators in each of the Past levels. Or, you could just do the Special Stages and collect the Chaos Emeralds -- I mean, Time Stones. 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 Steam, PSN, XBox Live, and iOS, you have even fewer reasons to pass it by. And one less reason to waste your money on a Sega CD.

7) Sonic & Knuckles
Platform: Sega Genesis
Developer: Sonic Team / Sega Technical Institute
Release: 1994

The character Knuckles the Echidna was introduced in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which I will get to eventually, but later that year he was also given his own game: Sonic & Knuckles, where you can play as, well, Sonic or Knuckles. Sonic plays just as you’d expect, whereas Knuckles has his own unique abilities, namely gliding, wall-climbing, and breaking walls to discover areas unreachable by Sonic. Knuckles is pretty cool to play as, and if you want more of him, the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge can open up and lock-on to Sonic 2 or 3, so you can play as him in those games. Now, this game is a little bit short on its own, and some of the levels can drag on a bit too long -- especially Sandopolis Act 2 -- but it’s worth it to give Knuckles a try.

6) Sonic Rush
Platform: Nintendo DS
Developer: Sonic Team / Dimps
Release: 2005

While Sonic had little luck on the console front during the 2000s, the handheld scene was much kinder 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 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. 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 not only lets you play as one of five characters, but you also get to select a partner character who tags along behind your first choice. And don't worry, they're not tethered to you like in Knuckles Chaotix. The team you choose determines the special abilities at your disposal; for example, Sonic will let you do a speed boost, and Tails will toss you up to higher platforms. This addition makes for an optional yet welcome bit of depth that doesn’t interfere with the already solid platforming, but improves upon it.

4) Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Platform: Sega Genesis
Developer: Sonic Team / Sega Technical Institute
Release: 1994

Sonic 3 was so big, it couldn’t even fit in one game! Literally, the production costs got to the point where Sega had to put the other half of their content in  Sonic & Knuckles. But even on its own, Sonic 3 is a meaty chunk of an adventure. First of all, it builds off the already stellar Sonic 2 with new abilities like Tails’s flight powers, and three flavours of elemental shields. The sprite artwork and effects are even more detailed, and the Special Stages, while tricky, are sure to wow. And it also has a save feature, but on its own, you might not see why.Sonic 3 only contains 12 levels, versus 18 for the first game, although they do take longer to complete. But when you plug Sonic 3 into the lock-in bay on Sonic & Knuckles, you get to play both games back-to-back for an epic quest.

3) Sonic Generations
Platforms: PlayStation 3 and 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 Sonic '06, 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 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 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. Sonic Generations proves you can have both fanservice and a well-made product.

2) Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Platform: Sega Genesis
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 (second only to the first Sonic, with 15 million copies), I'm not alone. The level layouts are more inventive than in the first game, and are better-suited to Sonic’s abilities, yet they’re not overly long like in Sonic 3 or Sonic & Knuckles. Too bad things start dulling out by the time you hit Metropolis Zone. But barring that sludgy dreck of a world, the settings are memorable and fun, 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? Well, at least until Tails keeps hitting those bombs and losing your rings. Still, six million people can’t be wrong.

Before I wrap up this list, here are some honourable mentions.

Sonic Chaos for Game Gear. Among the Game Gear titles, I gave Triple Trouble the nod for its attention to detail, but its predecessor, Sonic Chaos, exhibits much of the good stuff that its sequel would build upon. You can play as Sonic or Tails, who have their own abilities and differences in difficulties. Sonic Chaos marked the point where the Game Gear Sonics became more than just ports of the Genesis games and evolved into their own thing. Previously reviewed here.

Sonic Heroes for Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, and XBox. Unlike the Adventure games, Heroes sticks to linear 3-D platforming, but with a twist. You control a team of three characters at once, and you can switch between them on the fly, to take advantage of their specific abilities. This approach allows Sonic Team to leverage the vast cast of characters their franchise has built up over the years, without having them interfere with the Sonic gameplay model.

Sonic Mega Collection Plus for PlayStation 2 and XBox. I kept compilations off of this list because, by virtue of including so many games already on the list, they’d win by default. But my favourite of the Sonic compilation games produced thus far has to be this one. Seven Genesis games, plus six from the Game Gear, plus unlockable non-Sonic games, plus a digital issue of the Sonic comic. If you can find a copy, Mega Collection Plus is a perfect entry point to the Sonic franchise.

Sonic Unleashed for PlayStation 3, XBox 360, and Wii. This was the series' first major change in gameplay mechanics since Sonic Adventure, and it made a world of a difference. The 3D sections have much better control and design, the 2D segments keep things fresh, and even the Werehog stages are fun in a "like God of War but" kind of way.

Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode I for PlayStation 3, XBox 360, and Wii. Because [verb] you, that’s why. Previously reviewed here. And here.

And now...

1) Sonic Colors
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2010

As if I haven't made it clear by now, Sonic has gone about most of the 2000s as if in some sort of drugged-up stupor, the likes of which would shame Lindsay Lohan. But late in the decade, I like to think he got 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 new key mechanic. Rather a gimmick 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. While 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 both themes smashed into one. By Sonic standards, 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. Yeah, you could say the physics engine is still a little too tight, if you happened to not like Sonic 4: Episode I so much. 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. Mind you, I made that statement before Sonic Boom came out, but still: Sonic Team, thank you for teaching me how to love again.

That’s it for my countdowns, so I’d like to end by saying: Happy anniversary, Sonic the Hedgehog! If you can keep giving is good games for another 25 years, I’ll be a happy camper. And if we get more bad games instead, hey, at least I’ll have enough material for another countdown!

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

No comments:

Post a Comment