Sonic 1 Mega Drive Review

Remember way back in the early 90’s, when the console wars were really heated between Nintendo and Sega? Nintendo had the majority of the video game market in their hands since they were able to help North America recover from the great video game crash of 1983. Ever since 1985, millions of households had a Nintendo Entertainment System with a copy of Super Mario Bros. While Sega tried their best to compete against the NES in the late 80’s with their Sega Master System, it just couldn’t compete against the NES. Sega needed to create a new console that was even more powerful than the Master System and NES. In the year 1988, the Sega Mega Drive was released and on June 23rd, 1991 the speedy blue hedgehog made his debut to gamers across North America. Now just 29 years later, the series has sold over 89 million copies of games, had three comic book adaptations, five animated series, a ova, and a live action film in theaters. Phew, that’s quite a bit! However, just how well has the very first game in the series aged? Is Sonic the Hedgehog still fun even after all these years? Let’s find out!

The main plot of the game is to stop the evil Dr. Eggman who wants to take over the world. He captures Sonic’s friends and uses them as energy sources for his robots he refers to as badniks. Sonic is the worlds fastest hedgehog and must speed through the six zones in order to stop Eggman. Each zone is split up into three acts, with each act having multiple paths to take to help Sonic reach the sign post at the end of the stage. There are power-ups that can help Sonic along his quest such as the power sneakers which increase Sonic’s speed while the invincibility monitor protects Sonic from taking damage against enemies and traps. This is also one of the few platformers that I have ever played that had a pretty lenient health system. Rings are collectables that act as Sonic’s health and best of all, whenever he takes a hit you can quickly pick them back up! As long as you have a ring, traversing through the zones shouldn’t be too tricky. The core gameplay is pretty easy to get used to, once you practice a bit. However, how well does the game present itself?

The zones

Green Hill Zone is the very first stage in the game. It’s a bright tropical island filled with tall palm trees and waterfalls. The foreground has a eye popping checkerboard pattern, that accompanies the green grass and rocks on the ground. The island looks like a nice place to just escape from the world, but Sonic has no time to just stand around and relax! Green Hill Zone is the perfect zone to get used to Sonic’s physics. The zone is full of slopes that Sonic can use to reach higher places, loop-de-loops that make you feel like you’re on a roller coaster, and tunnels that Sonic can roll in to gain momentum! The boss in this zone isn’t too difficult to deal with, being the first boss of the game. Eggman has a wrecking ball and he’s ready to smash the hedgehog! Sonic needs to jump on Eggman’s ship by using two floating platforms. After eight hits, the evil doctor’s ship will explode and he’ll retreat until the next fight.

Green Hill Zone looks great and is a fun zone to zip through. So how well does Marble Zone present itself? It’s an old ruin, filled with lava pits and on top of that Eggman has created new traps that Sonic needs to avoid. Unlike Green Hill Zone that focused more on Sonic’s speed and physics to get through the zone, Marble is a much slower paced zone that has more platforming elements. After all, Sonic at it’s core is a platformer, even if it’s always been marketed as this blazing fast game. Though since many gamers prefer Sonic’s speedy platforming to that of other games in the genre, many regard Marble Zone as being one of the worst zones in the game because it’s a much slower paced level. On top of that, some gamers may struggle with the game’s camera system and can often find themselves running straight into lava pits if they gain enough speed. A few new badniks appear in this zone, and there’s a new gimmick added that wasn’t present in Green Hill Zone. Some areas are blocked off by spike chains, pillars and blocks. Sonic needs to press switches or move blocks on top of switches in order to clear his path. Marble is definitely one of the weaker levels in the game, but was most likely added as the second level to perhaps help the player relax a bit after playing Green Hill Zone. You still need platforming elements if you’re making a platformer, and I can only assume Sonic Team thought that slowing the game play down and adding more emphasis on platforming would help. At least Eggman is creative in this zone. He shoots fire from the bottom of his ship and drops it onto the ground. The flames then continue to bounce on the ground until they land into a lava pit that separates two platforms. So the player needs to not only worry about the flames that Eggman drop, but they also need to avoid the lava pit. Anyway, I think it’s time to move on to Spring Yard Zone.

Spring Yard is a city based zone that is full of bumpers, springs, and slopes. A few new badniks appear in this zone, as well as a new trap. Spike balls move throughout slopes that try to slow the hedgehog down. Unfortunately just like in Marble Zone, there’s quite a bit of platforming that needs to be done in this zone. There are platforms that the player needs to wait to move down, or platforms that move from left to right that the player needs to wait to jump on otherwise you’ll fall to your death. However I do love how there are lots of pits that have at least six springs, so at least the zone is living up to it’s name! (I suppose Marble does in a way too… the pillars are made up of marble it seems…) Eggman in this zone isn’t too impressive. He swoops down with a spike and removes the floor. The player would need to wait for his ship to move closer towards Sonic in order to get hits, and just make sure that his spike doesn’t drop down. Just like previous battles, Eggman only takes eight hits to defeat. I don’t have much else to say for Spring Yard, so I believe it’s time to talk about our next zone!

Labyrinth is the underwater level in this game. If you never played Sonic, but played Mario you might not think this is such a bad theme for a platforming game. However, being underwater in a speedy platformer that cuts your momentum and speed in half combined with the fact that Sonic Team thought hedgehogs couldn’t swim, you have the slowest zone in Sonic history on your hands. Not only that, but the level is made up of nothing but platforming, and as the title of the zone indicates you’re in a water labyrinth so there are some spots where you might get stuck. There’s a ton of lag when playing the original game, which can help you in some places of the zone but it makes an already slow level even slower. New badniks appear in this zone at least, so you don’t see Crabmeats or Chompers. If you ever ask anyone which zone they hate in the original Sonic the Hedgehog, 9 times out of 10 Labyrinth is that zone. I couldn’t agree more on that too honestly. Also there’s a theory that this was originally the game’s second zone! The level select in the first revision of the game reflects that rumor too. Could you imagine if this was the second level in the game? It wouldn’t be a good first impression at all. If you thought going through the zone was terrible, the boss is even worse. Thankfully you just need to make it to the top of the zone without dying, but the water rises and there are gargoyles that shoot fireballs at you, and spears that can stab you. At least Labyrinth does give us a new gimmick, even if it’s a chore to get through. Keep on going though, I think it’s worth getting to the next zone.

Star Light is such a breath of fresh air after getting through Labyrinth. It’s a great reward the game grants you after slowly making your way through the water. Star Light is a industrial zone that takes place under a starry night. The beautiful green foreground accompanied by flashing lights and giant steel pillars look fantastic. Star Light is very similar to Green Hill Zone in that it focuses more on speed, but also incorporates platforming. This is my personal favorite in the game, and I couldn’t think of a better placement for it. You still need to do platforming in some places, and there are fans that can knock you into badniks, but it’s such a fun zone to play. Seesaws appear in the zone and help Sonic reach higher platforms as well as help him defeat Eggman at the end of Act 3. If only more zones were like Green Hill and Star Light… Well we’ve only got one more main zone to cover, so let’s get cracking!

Scrap Brain is Eggman’s hideout so it’s a zone filled with nothing but traps, bottomless pits, and badniks. The first act takes place outside Eggman’s hideout. Smokestacks polluting the air can be seen in the background and the skies are a nasty red color. It’s not the prettiest level in the game, but it also does a great job showing the player what Eggman is doing to Sonic’s world. Act 2 takes place inside Eggman’s factory, and there are many moving platforms that move the hedgehog towards electrical saws. Electrical spheres are scattered throughout the zone, and flamethrowers try to slow the player down as well. It’s the perfect hideout for any villain. However Act 3 is terrible as it’s just Labyrinth Act 4. Eggman sends you to the basement of Scrap Brain Zone, which happens to be a carbon copy of Labyrinth with a new palette. Thankfully there’s only one act this time around, and thankfully there’s a path that barely has any water. There’s no boss in Act 3 of Scrap Brain, so there’s that. After Act 3 is finished, it’s finally time to take on Eggman for the last time in the game. While this next part is called Final Zone, it still takes place in Scrap Brain Zone so I didn’t think it was necessary to split this part up. This time Eggman stands in pillars that move up and down, so he’s not in his ship for this fight. He’ll only appear in one of the pillars, so you need to pay attention and see where he’s going to pop up at. There’s also sparks of electricity that fall towards the ground so you need to avoid those after the pillars move up and down. Eight hits once again takes the doctor down, and once his machine starts exploding he attempts to run towards his ship one last time. You can jump on him and his ship will crash as Sonic stands and watches. Man that last hit is pretty satisfying! After all is said and done, Sonic ends up back at Green Hill Zone and the credits roll.

There’s one more zone that needs to be brought up. There’s yet another collectible in the game, one that the doctor is after: the Chaos Emeralds. While they do nothing in this game, Eggman still needs them to take over the world apparently. They’re scattered in six special stages, which you can access by making it to the sign post with at least fifty rings. A giant ring appears at the end of the stage, and once you jump inside Sonic gets teleported to a rotating maze. Sonic constantly spins in a ball, the goal being to find where the chaos emerald is hiding. There are blocks to either speed up the rotation of the maze or to slow it down, and other blocks will reverse the rotation. Chaos Emeralds are always behind crystal blocks that Sonic can destroy with his quills. These are the most bizarre zones in the game, and are completely optional. If you want the good ending, you’ll need to collect these, but the differences between the good and bad endings are minimal. Not worth getting them unless you’re a completionist, like myself.

Overall, the game visually presents itself well and each zone’s artwork fits nicely. However, what about the soundtrack? This game has a phenomenal soundtrack composed by Masato Nakamura of the Japanese pop group known as Dreams Come True. Every song in the game represents each zone beautifully, whether it be the iconic Green Hill, or even the R&B inspired Labyrinth Zone. If there’s anything that the game does perfectly, it’s the sound. I often find myself humming along the tunes every time I play the game, and I purposely even go out of my way to listen to the soundtrack whether it be in the sound test or on YouTube in my spare time.

by current standards?

So with all that I covered, does the original release hold up by today’s standards? Well not really. We have the mobile version readily available right now. The game runs much smoother in the mobile port, and plays in widescreen which makes visibility much better over the original release. When Sonic the Hedgehog was first released, it was a huge hit and was a brand new gaming experience. The visuals looked great, each zone was presented well, and while the game does have a learning curve it’s still fun to play in some areas. Though for a game marketed as a speedy platformer, there’s too much slowdown in some zones. This doesn’t make it a bad game, and first games usually have more flaws over later games since it’s a canvas for developers to build upon. Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis was the first game I had ever played and while I wouldn’t change that, I do suggest checking out other games in the series first if you’re new to Sonic.

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The Review

6
6
Final Score

Final Thoughts

The original really doesn't hold up by today's standard, however the mobile version improves some of the issues the original game had. Later entries in the series capture the franchise's strong points and if you're new to playing classic Sonic games go with a later title first, then come back to Sonic 1 if you're curious.

Is a 30 year old who's been a fan of the blue blur since 1994 and has been part of the Sonic Community since 2008. His other favorite gaming franchises include Mega Man, Pokemon, and Tomb Raider.

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Jeff
Jeff
4 months ago

Sounds about right.

trackback
3 months ago

[…] can read our review of the original gem that started it all right here if you want. And let’s ponder the idea of Sonic sampled music going […]

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