I’ve told the beginning of this story before, but I’m assuming nobody ever reads this stuff anyway so it’ll be new to you.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sometime in the early ’90′s…not sure when, but it was after the launch of the Sega Genesis and after they started packaging Sonic the Hedgehog with the consoles….but sometime in the early ’90′s my brother said to me, “Hey, my buddy I work with has a Sega Genesis and he doesn’t need it because he already has one. I guess his brother stole it from a toy store, then panicked and left it in the arcade next door. So, Mike is keeping it, but would rather have $60.” Obviously, with a deal this good and no love for Johnny Law, I jumped at the deal.
So, I believe the first Genesis cart that ever entered my 16-bit beauty was the classic platformer. That’s not surprising, because a lot, or even most of you, can say the same. However, what I will say next will shock most of you….I’ve always loved the Sonic games more than the NES Marios….Hell yes, I said it. Eat it, Nintendo. Sonic was my boy. At least the first couple of games before he went 3D on me. That’s not really my style. For the record, nothing against Mario, but after an all-consuming Saturday run at SMB3 that ended after 9 hours in a power surge that completely wiped out all existence of my game…..I vowed never to play it again. A vow I have kept until this day.
I can also assume that there isn’t a single person who will read this article that is unfamiliar with the Sonic games, so there’s no reason for any set-up. But, the recent 20th anniversary event that we chronicled at Thumb Culture brought back those memories. Hanging out in my old apartment, enjoying my “futuristic” 3-button controller that Sega (and Mike’s criminal brother) put into my hands. Yep, I could still hear that goofy Sonic title music. Goofy, but I love it. It’s catchy, and will stay with you throughout the entire gameplay.
I decided to fire it up in my man-cave, and within seconds I found myself at the iconic Green Hill Zone Act 1. It’s amazing that one can play a game that they haven’t seen in over a decade, but still remember when to accelerate, when to brake, and where all (well, most) of the little hidden goodies are. The backgrounds still look beautiful after all these years, and Sonic’s irritating ‘foot tap’ when you’re taking too long to move him was still a delight to see. There’s a total of 18 beautifully-designed levels to run Sonic through (6 Zones, each with 3 acts), and while they all seem a little similar, they all still have their unique qualities. Some Zones may allow Sonic to take advantage of his speed, while others force you to master his jumping ability.
One thing that I always loved about this game was you could take different pathways to reach the end of the level. You can, if you choose, run at lightning speeds to reach the end in record time, or slowly collect all of the rings and power-ups. There are a number of vertical platform levels to explore…or not. It’s up to you. There’s not necessarily a set pattern to learn like other platformers. Everything is always in the same place, but the size of the levels and the ‘openness’ make replay-vale high.
The levels themselves seem to increase in difficulty, including the boss fights, which is not always the case. The Green Hill Zone seems like a practice tutorial compared to others, although the Chaos Emerald ‘special’ levels all make me dizzy. They could be exactly the same and I wouldn’t know it.
The jingle of collected rings still puts a literal smile on my face, just as much as taking a cheap hit from a segment of a spiked worm makes me want to throw my controller….the two interlaced emotions that are necessary for a great game. It shows that you’re invested in it. That you’re putting everything you have into it. The rings aren’t exactly necessary, but holding at least one allows you to take a hit (consider it a shield), collecting over 100 gives you a free man (er…hedgehog), and having a good chunk of them at the end of the Act opens the Chaos Emerald levels. The Emeralds themselves are never mentioned in the game for why they need collecting, but they do give you more points, so why would you not? Plus, you can earn ‘continues’ during these stages. Continues that the mediocre (like me) need to be able to complete the game.
There are plenty of different badniks in Sonic, but they were created by the evil Dr Robotnik, who frankly was a pretty crappy inventor. All I had to do was jump on top of his robots a couple of times and they’d blow up. It’s not like I’m a freakin’ elephant for Christ’s sake! How much damage could a little hedgehog do?
Overall, the game is nearly perfect, and there’s a reason why the cute and lovable character became the Sega mascot. While not all of the dozens of Sonic games are good…or fun…or even playable, the original one should be in everyone’s Genesis collection…and probably is. From the colorful and beautiful graphics, to the legendary level design….. from the catchy music to the memorable characters….Sonic the Hedgehog is a must own.
I appreciate Thumb Culture giving me a chance to write about these experiences, and hearing similar (or not) stories from the readers. For every mention of being a poor enough Sonic player where I’ve never been able to capture all the Chaos Emeralds, someone else will tell me how they’ve done it. Every mention of Dr Robotnik, someone will tell me they always call him “Dr Eggman”. The gaming community is pretty special, and now that Thumb Culture 2.0 is back, running, and more beautiful than ever, I’m going to continue writing little retro-blurbs here and there. This has been a very quick take about a 20-year-old mammal (didn’t even have to look that up) that wears sneakers, runs at high speeds, and saves the green lands from evil animal-snatchers, and maybe I’ll do another one in another 20 years. SEGA!