Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Top Ten Sonic the Hedgehog Games

Today, June 23rd, 2021, is Sonic the Hedgehog's 30th anniversary. 30 years ago today in 1991 a blue hedgehog named Sonic took the gaming world by storm with a spin dash, a too-cool-for-school attitude, and a hankering for chili dogs. SPC celebrates the occasion with a special top ten list, presenting the site's picks for the very best of the Blue Blur's biggest and boldest titles. After you've checked out the picks here, which Sonic games would you select as your personal favorites? 

10) Sonic Unleashed (Multi)

The first but nowhere near the last 3D Sonic on our list of top Sonic the Hedgehog games, Sonic Unleashed brought with it an adventure around the world across themed areas based on real-life locales. Using the boost formula that future modern 3D Sonics would utilize, Unleashed also featured a beat-em-up component with some careful precision platforming thrown in via the Werehog. During nighttime stages, Sonic would transform into the burly beast, using his limbs to slash and strike enemies into submission. Whereas during the daytime hours, Sonic sped through levels, blazing a trail. A great speed-running game for the daytime levels, but pretty clunky and cumbersome during nighttime levels, Sonic Unleashed was essentially half a great game.

9) Sonic Rush (DS)

Sonic's debut on the Nintendo DS was a fantastic one, spanning both of the handheld system's screens. Levels sprawled on the dual screen setup, allowing for great verticality in levels, and offering a wider perspective on the action. The extra hardware power of the Nintendo DS gave players boss battles against Eggman's numerous mechanical monstrosities in 3D arenas, truly showing off the capabilities of the system. The introduction of Blaze the Cat was also welcomed, bringing a second adventure to enjoy with her incredible abilities and powers. And no Sonic Rush description would be complete without mentioning the stellar soundtrack composed by Hideki Naganuma of Jet Grind Radio fame, so let's not fail to mention his groovy songs that further heightened this highly capable Sonic game.

8) Sonic Adventure 2 (Multi)

I'm not going to lie here--a lot of my love for Sonic Adventure 2 is based off of nostalgia. It's also based off of the game still being rather good. I'll admit that Knuckles and Rouge's treasure-hunting segments are less than excellent, but they still show signs and semblances of entertainment. Tails and Eggman's shooter sections offer high amounts of action and platforming, while Sonic and Shadow's levels are indeed the pieces de resistance--the greatest part of this package. Sonic Adventure 2 was my first fully-fledged 3D Sonic--not counting games like Sonic 3D Blast that were quasi-3D--so it was a big deal for me. It's part of my adoration and fondness for Adventure 2, and why I hold it so dear to this day. Nostalgia's hard to shake sometimes!

7) Sonic the Hedgehog (GEN)

We couldn't go through a list of Sonic's greatest hits without visiting the game that started it all, now could we? Well, technically we could, but there's no reason to do so when 1991's Sonic the Hedgehog remains such a significant and stupendous game. It of course laid the foundation for Sonic, how he moves, how he handles, how he controls, and it's really amazing to consider all the masterful programming that went into making Sonic work in those loop de loops, blazing fast speeds ("blast processing" marketing speak notwithstanding), and slopes. What I really like most about the original Sonic is that the game gives plenty of moments for breathing. One zone opens itself up for fast speed-runs while the next requires more careful, cautious approaches. The pattern repeats to the very end of the game. 

6) Sonic Colors (Wii)

While PlayStation and Xbox platforms received the bigger entries in the Sonic franchise, "the little motion-control-centric system that could", the Wii, was pretty much given hand-me-downs and smaller Sonic experiences such as Sonic and the Secret Rings and Sonic and the Black Knight, both part of the Storybook Series of games. It wouldn't be until Sonic Colors that a tried and true major release in the Sonic series would spin dash onto the Wii. The wait for a major game was really worth it, as Sonic Colors remains one of my favorite 3D entries in the Sonic series, delivering a mix of stellar 3D and 2D sections and Wisp-based transformations. With Sonic Colors Ultimate heading to all major platforms this September, I eagerly await and anticipate being able to relive my experiences from the Wii days of blasting through Eggman's theme park as the Blue Blur.

5) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (GEN)

After 1991's Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic sped onto the Genesis scene once again for a sequel, and it was everything fans wanted from a follow-up. It was bigger, bolder, and dare I say better than the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Double the length of Sonic 1, and offering more zones and variety, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 also added a second playable character, though one that would only be available via co-op and a second controller. This second character was Miles "Tails" Prower, or Tails for short, and would give beginning players (or little brothers like myself whose big brothers wouldn't let them play as Sonic) a chance to tag along with player one through the rather lengthy adventure. 

4) Sonic Generations (PS3, 360, PC)

Sonic's 20th anniversary ten years ago was punctuated by this game, giving players and longtime fans of Sonic something to celebrate over--a fantastic entry in the series. Sonic Generations brought with it two main styles of play: Classic Sonic (generally comprised of 2D levels) and Modern Sonic (generally comprised of--you guessed it--3D levels). Together, the two trekked and sped through familiar zones from pretty much every major past Sonic game, from Sonic 1 all the way to Sonic Colors, for nine zones with two acts total--one act for each version of Sonic. Save for a rather wet fart of a final boss, Sonic Generations was everything I wanted out of a 3D Sonic game, and it remains one of my favorites within the franchise.

3) Sonic & Knuckles (GEN)

As we approach the end of this 30th anniversary list dedicated to Sonic's best game, we'll be sticking strictly to 2D titles from here on out. We begin with Sonic & Knuckles. This game's cartridge used special lock-on technology to allow players to open its top and stick other Sonic games directly into it, such as Sonic 2 (to play the game entirely as Knuckles, for instance), and of course, Sonic 3 to create one extended adventure. But, we're not focused on the latter at the moment--or anything pertaining to the innovative lock-on technology presented to players. Instead, taken by itself, Sonic & Knuckles finally allowed players to assume control of Knuckles as a playable character, opening up levels considerably. Paths Sonic couldn't reach could be traveled to by Knuckles, and vice versa. The game had a solid collection of memorable zones, and one truly spectacular final confrontation with Dr. Robotnik.

2) Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (GEN)

Right from the get-go and the beginning of Sonic's adventure on Angel Island, you know you're in for something special as the character Knuckles the Echidna is introduced, the marimba synth of the first zone starts playing, and the beauty that is Sonic the Hedgehog 3's graphics and gameplay begin. Sonic 3 is a marked improvement over its predecessors--and those games were hardly pushovers--making for one marvelous platforming package of six zones of two acts apiece, accentuated by a stupendously catchy soundtrack. Sonic 3 may not have the length of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and it may have that annoying, rather unintuitive barrel in the Carnival Night Zone, but as a whole, it's a phenomenal game. However, it's not THE most phenomenal game in Sonic's 30-year history.

1) Sonic Mania (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC)

Perhaps this is blasphemy to say, but my favorite Sonic game is without question Sonic Mania. Now this is mostly because I'm not combining Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles into one game here, so if I did, this ranking could possibly change. However, as it is, Sonic Mania evoked such warm, happy feelings from this particular player. Between the masterful level designs, return to familiar zones made fresh with new level mechanics and concepts, as well as the four brand-new zones that each felt cohesive to the entire package, Sonic Mania delivered in pretty much all aspects all-around. From the music by Tee Lopes, to the art design, to the level design, to the boss encounters, to the myriad secrets and more, Sonic Mania rushed its way to the top of my list of favorite Sonic games when it launched a few years ago, and it remains at the top of the hedgehog game heap.

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