Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sonic the Hedgehog

I was 7 years old when Sonic the Hedgehog launched in North America. Vividly, I remember playing the game for the first time in KB Toys on a display TV.

I was blown away.

Never had I played a game with such amazing graphics. In my mind, the Super Nintendo games didn't even come close to match the cool, futuristic look of Sonic. The music as well, like Mega Man, hinted at the great electronic music that would proliferate over the next 20 years.

Specifically, I noticed how the several different background layers created a 3D effect that I'd never before seen (Super Mario World, by comparison, features 1 parallax background; Sonic has up to 4 depending on the level.

But Sonic didn't even have levels, it had zones and acts. It didn't have enemies, it had little bunnies inside robots. It had rings, which were like coins, but they were also Sonic's HP. Sega did everything they could to distance their mascot from Nintendo's--and it worked. I also remember, at 7 years old, having serious discussions with my friends over who was cooler: Sonic or Mario. While we all grew up playing Mario, the consensus was, of course, that Sonic ruled.

It had to be the speed. Mario created good hop-n-bop game play, but nothing as extreme as Sonic had yet existed. Mario requires that the player actively hold B to run; Sonic doesn't need to. Sonic doesn't even need more than 1 button, and the player cannot hide behind any sort of projectile-powerup.

But, the graphics and environment probably had something to do with it. The world of Sonic teems with movement. Environmental effects, spinning thorn bridges, falling terrain, bumpers, springs, swings, loops, and lava. The flowers spin; the backgrounds flash. The sun reflects off the water in Green Hill Zone--the place shimmers with fun. Sonic felt like the future.

I was equally impressed with Sonic 2, 3 and Knuckles, but, unfortunately, watched the series degenerate just like everyone else after that--with only the occasional title being playable (Sonic Rush, anyone? Sonic Rush was amazing). But despite the awesome co-op and great music, I still feel like Sonic 1 remains the best game in the series because it focuses on platforming more than the other titles. Real dedication was put into every level, and each level has multiple paths. While Sonic 2 continued this trend, the levels never felt quite as big as they did in the original. Eventually, it was all about the loops and going ridiculously fast. Somehow, Sonic 2, 3, Knuckles, and Rush pull this off okay, but at some point the loops simply failed to impress me even slightly.

Additionally, all the cool Sonic zones (watery ruins, pinball bumpers, green hills, big cities) were set in the first game--everything else is, to an extent, a rehash. Not that I don't love Hill Top, Chemical Plant, and Oil Ocean, but those ideas came out of (were inspired by?) Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic 2, admittedly, fixed many problems with its predessor: better bonus stage, co-op gameplay (several modes), spin-dashing, and a cool new sidekick. But while these improvements were welcome at the time, in retrospect they can't hold up to the absolute brilliance of the original.

I didn't own Sonic when it was new; but I did finally get a Sega Genesis 1997, when my neighbors grew bored with their old system in favor of their N64 and PSX. Excitement made my hands shake as I hooked up my new Sega Genesis: I could finally play Sonic anytime I wanted! And I basically never stopped.

1 comment:

MetalFRO said...

SPOT ON. I agree with you 100%, and for basically the same reasons. I first played Sonic when it was released. A friend from school had already owned a Genesis with Altered Beast as the pack-in, and we played plenty of launch titles, but when he invited me over after Sonic was released, we sat there in amazement as the little blue guy ran across the screen so fast and fluidly. The NES could never pull off that kind of thing, and Sonic's world was so immersive and beautiful that it drew you in. The original Sonic title had so much charm and charisma that the sequels could never match, even though as you say, they fixed some of the issues with the first title. But for it's few flaws, the first Sonic still feels larger and more sprawling, and the element of speed still prevalent through many levels (water stages notwithstanding). I remember my younger brother and I, along with a friend, holding Sonic the Hedgehog "time trials" where we would all compete to see who could complete the Green Hill Zone levels the fastest. I held the record for fastest time in 1-1 at a mere 30 seconds.