Backed up against the Mario juggernaut, Sega tried to gain its market share with raw power, and for a time they had in the Genesis a machine more powerful than Nintendo's offerings. But it wasn't until they loosely borrowed from the Mario franchise that things really took off. "Why," Sega thought, "is Mario so gosh darn slow? Why can he only jump on things and not through them?" Sega then took the initiative, decided to put all their money on a blue hedgehog, and made many digits of dollars.
I'm going to kick this review off by ruining the ending for you. You ready? You ready?! Glance to the right. BAM! Ending spoiled. And that's the good ending. There's actually a worse one if you don't collect all the chaos emeralds during the game, which I'll talk about later down the page. This ending was too awesome for the cartridge label or title screen, and can only be earned by beating the game like a consummate pro. That's the kind of dude Sonic is, and you'd better get used to it. There are even multiple paths through every single level in the game. Make your own rules. Sonic does.
The game is a side- scrolling platformer, but is designed on most levels to be played quickly. By that I mean Sonic can just run, at blazing speeds, through each level without stopping so long as he's not getting hit or running into walls. Need to run upside down a bit to accomplish this, or up a wall? No problem. Just run fast enough. The earlier stages especially allow this. And the powerups on each level consist of different items sitting around inside television screens, which can be accessed by destroying the television set itself. Sonic the Hedgehog rewards vandals. But I guess "stage" and "level" aren't the right words. Sonic has "zones," which are each divided into three "acts." So classy.
The game does borrow a few conventions, though. For one thing, the plot of the game is that the evil Dr. Robotnik has started turning cute little animals into deadly robots. Since the rest of mankind doesn't seem to have the least concern about such a venture, it is up to Sonic to put an end to the nefarious schemes. He also collects rings along the way, which are solid gold floating objects that empower Sonic to take damage without dying. He simply drops whatever rings he's carrying instead of losing a life, and is usually able to recollect a few of them afterward. Collecting a hundred earns an extra life, making them sort of the equivalent of Mario's gold coins. Except that rings are less cumbersome, are more aesthetically pleasing, and can double as halos in second grade church reenactments of the nativity scene. Sonic is more efficient with his bling.
The variety of each zone's design will be immediately apparent. The backgrounds are different, of course, but so are the enemies, obstacles, and style of gameplay. Some zones are covered in springs, which launch Sonic high into the air. Some have lightning orbs pulsing electricity out. Some have giant pools of lava. It really helps the game retain its fun factor throughout the entire experience.
But the developers did fall into that ever present booby trap. You know the one. We've seen it a couple times now already. I am speaking, of course, about the always-present-yet-never-desired water area.
Sonic doesn't swim. He's soooo over swimming. Plus he sinks like a rock. Yet his underwater movement is significantly slowed. Which is understandable, but this game is built around speed, right? Why do that? Plus, unlike certain other video game protagonists before him, Sonic actually breathes. Eventually, if you spend too long underwater without a breath, this "You're about to die" music starts playing and a big countdown timer appears on the screen. If you don't sneak a swig of air before that thing hits zero, say goodnight. Except you can't, because, you know, your little hedgehog lungs are all full of water and stuff.
To that end Sega is diligent about trying to include ample opportunities for you to breathe. You can jump out of the water, of course, but most of the time you'll be looking for bubbles. Stand atop the bubble area long enough, and eventually a large enough bubble will emerge that Sonic is able to "breathe" it in and replenish his oxygen supply. Which brings me to a larger question: Why make him need to breathe at all? I suspect the rationale was that it would lend an extra degree of realism to the game, or perhaps extra challenge and urgency. But with so many bubble areas all over, the urgency isn't there. And why would you seek realism in a game with a blue hedgehog breathing bubbles and running almost as fast as the speed of sound?
If you are in possession of at least 50 rings by the end of any given act (except boss acts and the final couple zones), a gigantic ring floats above the level's end. Jumping into it accesses a constantly rotating bonus stage in which Sonic curls up into a ball and tries not to vomit all over himself, while simultaneously attempting to acquire a gem called a chaos emerald. Having all the emeralds grants obscene power, so Sonic has to get to them before Dr. Robotnik can. The bonus stages are pretty strange, but I have to admit they're enjoyable once you get the hang of them. I just hope you aren't someone who gets motion sickness easily.
Each zone culminates in a battle with Dr. Robotnik, who always has some new device and/or attachment to his hovercraft to foible your attempts to stop him. It's cleverly simple - you attack him the same way every time (by jumping into him), but because you're avoiding different weapons from his machines, the timing and tempo change up. Each boss battle is actually a good time in itself. The good doctor even punks you at the end when you think you've reached him in his own factory. He flips a switch that drops the floor out from under your feet and sends you into...another water level. Touché, sir! It definitely makes his final defeat a good deal more satisfying.
All said Sonic the Hedgehog is definitely a good time to play. It loses a point here or there because of those unnecessary water levels, and for the fact that occasionally when you're tearing through a stage with any speed they'll place an enemy or damaging obstacle in such a way that it is guaranteed to hit you. In those cases it's a conscious choice between going really fast, which is what the game is supposed to be about, or not taking damage, and we should be able to have both. But these complaints aren't enough to prevent me from happily recommending the game.
Bottom Line: 15/20