Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sonic the Hedgehog

Giving speed freaks their fix since 1991.

Platform: Sega Genesis, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS (Sonic Classic Collection), Xbox 360 (Arcade)
Version Reviewed: Sega Genesis
Published by: Sega
Developed by: Sonic Team
Genre: Platformer
Players: 1
US Release Date: June 23, 1991
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Story: The story of the original Sonic the Hedgehog game can easily be lost in the avalanche of sequels, spin-offs, and various media surrounding the franchise's mythology. However, returning to the first Sonic Team-developed game, we find the story to be delightfully simple, in a Mario-esque way: Sonic, our blue, super-fast, hedgehog protagonist, must battle the villainous Dr. Robotnik (sometimes known as Dr. Eggman) for control of the Chaos Emeralds, which will consequently save the wildlife inhabitants of South Island. Said creatures have been transformed by the evil Ph.D. into robot "badnik" versions of their previous selves, intent on killing Sonic. However, there is one major problem with this classic story of good vs. evil: Sonic has taken the time to put on a pair of red shoes, but what is his excuse for not throwing on pants as well? He must not mind the breeze down there while traveling at super-speed. Yikes.

Little known fact: Dr. Robotnik always rides into battle blasting his favorite Journey cassette tape.

Graphics: Sonic the Hedgehog occurred during the 16-bit era of gaming, and makes some great use of the Genesis' engine. Colors are bright and rich, creating some excellent environmental textures (take note of the twisting runways and loops). Environments themselves are designed in such a way that many of them seem to possess a life of their own. Character designs for Sonic and his enemies are cartoony, but detailed enough to give each model individuality. Despite the, at times, blistering speed of the game, it is possible to take a step back and notice the slew of minute details the programmers threw in that really make this game shine. And who can forget the flashing, psychedelic backgrounds of the bonus stages? Even college didn't get that intense for me.

Sonic could have prevented this accidental enema if he had only PUT ON SOME PANTS.

Sound/Music: Sonic's soundboard is (understandably) fairly limited. Springs will "boing," rings will "bling," and so forth. The soundtrack consists of a number of plodding, synthesized loops that serve purely as background music. Nothing really memorable here, but in the grand scheme of things, sounds and songs are not what drives the Sonic experience.

Gameplay: When it first was released, Sonic the Hedgehog introduced a handful of fresh twists that made it quite a refreshing installment in the classic platformer market. Sonic still utilized the core platformer elements of "collect things" (in this case, golden rings, 100 of which granted the player an extra life) and "start stage, finish stage, kill boss." While the established ability set of walking, running, jumping, and swimming was also still present, the sheer speed of gameplay was amplified to unseen levels. The addition of springboards, tunnels, loops, as well as many other creative game mechanics not only placed an emphasis on dashing/rolling through a level in as little time as possible, but encouraged it. Even to this day, sprinting through a level in less than a minute is a thrill; however, in this great moment of innovation, Sonic also finds one of its more prominent drawbacks.

Unfortunately, following the action at such a ludicrous speed is quite difficult: dying due to a random pitfall or spike trap will happen frequently, and it's only through trial-and-error that these breakneck sequences can be truly mastered. Luckily for a majority of Sonic's levels, there are multiple, branching paths that vary in difficulty and utilize different play mechanics (for instance, one path may take you upwards, where you will have to dodge timed spike traps, whereas the bottom path will force you to navigate an underwater maze and fight for air). Power-ups also help increase your survival rate (such as limited shield or invincibility), as well as the unique "ring shield" feature: as long as you possess a single ring or more, you can survive *most* attacks without instantly dying.

Sonic also features some varied, interesting, and fun boss fights at the end of each of the six "zones" (each broken up into three "acts"), where simplistic strategy can be used to overcome Dr. Robotnik's evil inventions.

Sonic throws in some more variety through the use of bonus stages, which can be accessed by collecting over 50 rings in a level. Within these bonus stages, Sonic can collect extra continues (for use during an inevitable "Game Over") or a Chaos Emerald; collecting all six Chaos Emeralds will award the player with the game's "good" ending (although, in my opinion, going through the trouble is really not worth it).

Hurray, physics!

Overall: While the story and soundtrack are bare-bones as they come, Sonic the Hedgehog manages to produce a great experience through some really brilliant graphics and gameplay mechanics. For those of you whose childhoods were devoid of a Sega Genesis, picking up a copy of Sonic has become much simpler these days, with numerous reincarnations flooding the market. Despite Nintendo's takeover of Sega, Sonic has remained a staple in the world of iconic video game characters, and playing through this game again as an adult easily reminds me of why. While many of Sonic's sequels and spin-offs have improved on the original formula, one needs to keep in perspective that this is the game where it all started. For those of you unsure about this title, downloading a ROM of the original cartridge might prove to be a more cost-effective way of testing the waters (but I certainly don't encourage illegal downloading of any sort. No, definitely not me). Chances are, you're going to need the "save state" function to make it out alive, anyway.

Score (out of 10): 8.5

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