Platformers are my favorite genre of videogames.
The simple act of jumping from platform toplatform, bopping enemies, and dodging hazards is a simple concept to understand and hastraditionally translated well into video games.
When a game gets it right, the experienceis often excellent.
When a game gets it wrong… something feelsoff.
It can be difficult to put into words.
One might call the controls twitchy, unresponsive, heavy, loose, or just surmise they are bad.
When playing the 8-bit version of Sonic theHedgehog, I can’t help but feel like something is off with the jumping.
There is a preciseness missing.
Landing on small platforms doesn’t feel…correct.
Sonic’s momentum in midair is twitchy andplayers might find Sonic doesn’t have the agility one might be expecting.
I think the problem is the acceleration whilein the air.
When jumping, Sonic can quickly gain a tonof speed, the acceleration is quite brisk.
Unfortunately, this brisk acceleration doesnot allow for precision.
This makes landing on some platforms an awkwardexperience, as players try to correct for this quirk.
This is most visible in the very first stage.
There is a ramp which launches Sonic intothe air, and Sonic keeps accelerating far beyond the speed of the camera.
In fact, the acceleration in the air far exceedsthat of Sonic rolling down a hill, which I find curious.
That isn’t to say the controls are bad.
After a while, I found myself adjusting tothe unique physics, delicately stopping Sonic mid-air, and using the quick jumping accelerationto get through the stage faster.
However, the controls lack the precisenessof some other 8-bit platformers, like the Donkey Kong Land games for example.
Sonic the Hedgehog has other physics odditiesas well.
Sonic reacts strangely on certain angles orslopes.
This makes the second boss encounter withEggman extremely easy.
Sonic’s momentum will allow him to rockback and forth, easily inflicting multiple hits to Eggman without fear of Sonic stopping, returning to a standing position, and taking damage himself.
It feels somewhat thoughtless, like play testersshould have noticed something was amiss, and the programmers should have tweaked some valuesto prevent such abuse.
But alas, this was not the case.
In fact, all of the Boss’s in the game areeasy.
The first boss can be hit 8 times and be defeated, before Eggman ever launches an offensive attack.
A skilled player can also get in eight hitson the third Eggman encounter while only dodging a single attack.
The damage exchange is most definitely inthe player’s favor here.
This odd damage exchange continues with thefourth boss.
A player will only need to dodge two attacks, while dishing out eight of their own.
Although, one could argue at least the difficultyis progressing.
The final encounter at least offers up a semblanceof challenge.
Unfortunately, the projectile from the ceilingcan be cheesed by staying on a safe point on the left side of the screen.
The second attack is challenging because thehit detection is poor.
Sonic can take damage while being a considerabledistance from the flame attack.
Still, with some patience, and positionalawareness, this final boss does not test the player’s skill or dexterity, it is justa slow plodding fight, waiting for the right moments to strike.
Speaking of slow and plodding, the most infamousstage found in the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog is definitely Labyrinth Zone.
Not only does Sonic move slowly underwater, but the game is almost in a perpetual state of slowdown, reducing the game speed evenfarther.
Never in my life has a 5 second countdownmoved at such a glacial pace.
You know what else is weird.
When nearing the conclusion of most stages, Sonic changes colors.
The game briefly freezes, a new color paletteis loaded, and Sonic’s blue shade is lightened.
It is incredibly odd and I can’t say I haveever experienced this in a video game… ever.
Needless to say, it would be difficult forme to conclude Sonic the Hedgehog on the Game Gear is a great game.
The controls are strange, the physics needwork, there are odd graphical issues and the boss design is mostly poor.
However, Sonic the Hedgehog is a beloved title, and many even prefer the game over the 16-bit title of the same name.
Despite the lack of technical polish, I toofound myself enjoying this iteration of Sonic the Hedgehog.
What kept me coming back for multiple playthroughswas the variety of the stages.
Despite the occasional high speed antics, 8-bit Sonic’s design philosophy is far more traditional.
Each of the game’s six worlds offer newstage designs, new hazards to contend with, and an ever increasing difficulty curve asthe game nears its conclusion.
The first zone, Green Hill has two relativelyeasy acts.
There are few pits to fall into, enemies arepassive, and there are few technical jumps to be found.
Bridge Zone ups the ante with bottomless pits, collapsing bridges, more aggressive enemies and new stage gimmicks like this teeter totter.
The second stage is even an auto-scroller, forcing the player along, and limiting the player’s time to react to what is ahead.
Like I said, the design philosophy here mirrorstraditional platformers from the time, with less focus on mastering a deep physics engineto find secrets and shortcuts.
Some might find this less than desirable ina quote-unquote Sonic Game, however I’m not sure judging a game’s quality basedon my own arbitrary ruleset is… fair.
Moving along is Jungle Zone.
Being the third world, the difficulty continuesto progress.
There are more bottomless pits to contendwith, more spiked hazards to navigate through, and more moving platforms to jump on.
The one-off gimmicks continue as well withthis little log Sonic can roll on.
The second act offers something new, a completelyvertical stage.
Sonic starts at the bottom and has to workhis way up.
Again, this does not align with Sonic’sstereotypical fast gameplay, but the stage is well designed.
There are a number of different platform sizes, some with spikes, some platforms move, others collapse and there are a number of enemiesto deal with.
Missing a platform can be deadly as well, thanks to the enemies and spiked platforms.
Now is probably a good time to talk aboutsome Game Gear specifics.
It is my understanding the screen does notscroll down in the Master System version, making Bridge Zone Act 2 particularly brutalas Sonic will parish rather than the screen scrolling downwards.
However, as I do not own that version of Sonicthe Hedgehog, I can only speculate on how the differences impact the game design.
There are other differences as well, suchas changes to level layouts, graphical effects like these moving flowers in Green Hill orthe fences in Bridge Zone.
Other changes are major, like completely redonelevel layouts and nerfed bosses.
Without playing both versions though, I cannotdetermine which game is superior, so I won’t.
Another thing to note is the reduced screenresolution.
The Game Gear's resolution is less than halfthat of the Sega Master System.
As best as I can tell, the Master System versionis the source version and the target platform.
Therefore, the Game Gear version could besuspect to the dreaded screen crunch.
In fact, if one is more familiar with theMaster System version, the footage here probably looks downright claustrophobic.
Thankfully, there were few moments where Ifelt the level design was made for higher specs.
There is a leap of faith jump in Bridge ZoneAct 1 where the player isn’t able to see the platform ahead.
Prior to this jump, the game generally hadlittle level markers alerting the player to wait for the platform to appear, but is itmissing for some reason.
Bridge Zone Act 2 offers another tight areawhere the player needs to navigate upwards while the screen scrolls.
A first time player will probably not haveenough time to navigate upwards before the platforms pass, as it isn’t immediatelyobvious where the level path lies.
Again, an arrow pointing upwards would offerplayer’s a clue with the reduced resolution.
Level hazards can occasionally surprise theplayer as well.
In Labyrinth Zone, it can be difficult toanticipate the appearance of the rotating spikes for example, since most of their rotationoccurs off screen.
Scrap Brain Act 2 also features projectilesfired from off-screen, and the player often doesn’t have enough time to react.
And that is about it.
While playing through Sonic the Hedgehog Irarely felt like I was playing a game made for a home console, rather than a handheldsystem.
The level design and enemy patterns mostlywork on the small screen, and the camera generally panned up and down, left and right, alwayskeeping the relevant information in view.
Anyway, back to the level variety.
Labyrinth Zone is of course the underwaterzone with different platforming physics along with the bubble element.
Sonic needs to move quickly from water bubbleto water bubble to avoid drowning.
While the molasses pace is less than satisfying, the idea is sound.
The player cannot afford to lollygag, andneeds to make it to the next air source before the timer kicks down.
The concept is logical, adding a sense ofurgency and increasing the challenge… but the execution here is lousy.
Scrap Brain zone is next.
While the first act is a linear romp, thesecond act changes things up dramatically.
There are now branching paths, doorways leadingto new areas, and even warp points.
Players need to hit a switch to open up thepathway forward, and then backtrack to reach the other side.
This act actually confused me at first, andI didn’t like the fact I was forced to explore and memorize a map under a time limit.
While I don’t think I ever actually ranout of time here, it seems like this could have been omitted.
And it was in Act 3.
Rather than a boss battle, Scrap Brain Act3 is actually a third stage following a similar nonlinear maze-like structure complete withswitches.
And yeah, the time limit was eliminated, similarto the true boss fights.
Finally, there is Sky Base Zone.
The first act has an electricity gimmick, where certain portions of the screen are electrified preventing progress.
The timing can be tough, and sometimes misleading, but as the game nears the final stretch, the difficulty is progressing nicely.
The final act is a bit strange.
There are two ways through the stage, andshown here is the alternate route through the act on the way to a chaos emerald.
Screen Crunch can also be a problem here, as the player cannot see the position of the rotating gun turrets.
This path is optional however, so it is hardto complain too much.
Still, despite my complaints about the jumpingcontrols, physics and bosses, I do like the level design.
The game starts off easy, and the difficultyslowly increases with each passing stage.
Bottomless pits become more plentiful, thereare more moving platforms, and stage hazards become more aggressive.
The skill needed from the player is alwaysincreasing, helping keep players engaged.
I also really dig the one-off stages.
The autoscrolling of Bridge Zone, the verticalclimb in Jungle, the branching paths of Scrap Brain, or the Electricity in Sky Base, I feelas though Sonic the Hedgehog does an admirable job of keeping the stage design fresh throughnew mechanics.
While the physics based elements of the 16-bitoriginal are missing, the stage design is still solid.
However, I can’t help but feel like thegame is a little too easy, and even this is a puzzling revelation.
First, when Sonic takes damage, he loses rings, and has zero opportunity to regain them.
This is a fantastic alteration to the formulaas it actually creates a punishment for sloppy play.
There are now moments where the player hasto play extra cautious, as the cushion of an infinite ring loop has vanished.
Boss encounters are the same.
There are no rings here, the player has tobattle Eggman without taking damage, which is occasionally tricky when initially learningthe patterns.
To balance this, each boss area does hidean extra life monitor, though they won’t reappear after death.
However, despite these restrictions, Sonicthe Hedgehog is not a difficult game.
For one, farming extra lives is easy.
There are plenty more extra lives lurkingin the levels, and often right out in the open.
Second, if one has at least 50 rings whenthey pass the end post, they’ll be whisked away to a special stage.
Here, rings are plentiful allowing one tonab 100 of them, earning an extra life.
There are also continues within, and moreextra life monitors.
Reaching the end post with 50 rings is usuallyeasy as well, as enemy placement is sparse at best.
There just aren’t many opportunities forSonic to lose rings in many of the stages, making reaching the bonus areas mostly trivial.
In fact, due to the relatively short lengthof the game, less than 45 minutes, and the abundance of extra lives and earned continues, it would be difficult for me to complain about the lack of infinite continues as the omissiondoes not conflict with the game design.
The lack of enemies may be a concession tothe game engine though.
Sonic the Hedgehog has some serious slowdownissues.
Whenever there are more than just a coupleof sprites on the screen, the gameplay chugs along.
I’ve reviewed a number of Master Systemgames over the years and none of them feature such an inconsistent frame rate.
Not only does it look bad, but it affectsthe controls, as Sonic’s momentum and inertia while jumping frequently cuts in half.
I certainly cannot comment on the programming, as I have not viewed the source code and wouldn’t be able to determine how efficient it is anyway, but Sonic the Hedgehog does not feel like a polished product.
Slowdown aside, the sprite and tile work looksnice.
Sonic is detailed and well animated, and looksgreat for an 8-bit sprite.
Enemies mostly follow suit, although a feware laughably small compared to the rest of the game.
Even Eggman looks stunning, with his majorfeatures captured perfectly on the small screen.
Backgrounds are generally detailed, and rarelydoes the player find themselves staring at solid patches of color with little detail.
Color swapping techniques are used to createflashing lights in Scrap Brain, lightning effects in Sky Base, and cascading waterfallsin Jungle Zone.
The art style is terrific, areas representreal world locals, like rolling hills, and flying bases, while still being abstract andimaginative.
While no one would mistake this for a Genesisgame, the art direction is still distinct and appealing.
Even better, the soundtrack is amazing.
The composer listed in the credits is YuzoKoshiro, who composed the music in Streets of Rage.
As one would expect from such a name, thecompositions in Sonic the Hedgehog are rich, with a depth to the melodies not often presenton the platform.
Bridge Zone is definitely the standout, witha ridiculously catchy hook that should sound very familiar to fans of pop music.
Jungle is very unique, with the square wavesand noise channels producing some very unique instrument sounds I have never heard fromthe platform.
The melody is incredibly upbeat, with a whimsicalcountry twang that never grew tiring with each passing loop.
Labyrinth flips the switch from upbeat tomysterious.
I can’t help but get gumshoe vibes as Ilisten, imagining a crime sleuth following the clues to catch the criminal.
The blues vibes linger throughout, and againI am pleasantly surprised at what the composer was able to achieve on the primitive hardware.
Sky Base is also fantastic, exploding withenergy.
Seriously, the music could easily pass assomething from Streets of Rage, or dare I say it… Mega Man.
Yeah, I’m not exaggerating here.
The complex melody, speeding up, slowing down, layering rocks notes over a bed of synth sounds absolutely incredible and the soundtrack aloneis probably worth the price of entry.
So as we near the finish line, I need to reachsome sort of conclusion.
While I’m aware this is quite the rush ofnostalgia for many, with some claiming the game is superior to its 16-bit counterpart, and many more having fond memories blasting through the game on family vacations or theschool bus, this isn’t that kind of video.
The 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog isnot great.
Donkey Kong Land 2 is great, with tight controls, more developed level design, more engaging bosses, and a much more challenging completionrun.
Oh yeah, I forgot about the Chaos Emeralds.
Each Zone contains a chaos emerald to find.
Sometimes these are obvious and hard to miss, others require a bit of exploring, and the one in Sky Base requires a leap of faith ontoa floating platform to reach.
It is a neat completion bonus I suppose, butreally functions as an ancillary collectable for those who like that sort of thing.
More to the point, while Sonic the Hedgehogis mostly inoffensive, other titles with similar hardware restrictions are superior.
While I play 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog, I can’thelp but be reminded of a certain other Sonic game.
Sonic Lost World.
This bemoaned title features a fantastic presentation, a mouth-watering soundtrack, but strays pretty far from the Sonic formula with its own controlquirks, but I find the experience rather palatable.
Far all of the less than stellar elementsfeatured here like the controls, inconsistent frame rate, Labyrinth Zone, and breezy bosses, the game lacks anything frustrating and nothing here is annoying, cheap, or padded.
The difficulty progression is thoughtful, though little here requires much skill or dexterity from the player, reducing the rewardfor playing in the first place.
However, while the controls could be tweakedand the level design be more mature, the presentation is pleasing enough, and the soundtrack isstellar.
One might argue the soundtrack is the tangiblereward for progressing deeper into the adventure.
Combined with the minimal screen-crunch andgenerous life system, I found Sonic the Hedgehog enjoyable and it held my attention duringmultiple playthroughs.
Just not because of the game design.
Instead, for more subjective things, likethe novelty of playing Sonic on limited hardware.
In short, Sonic the Hedgehog is a mediocregame.
And sometimes for me, that is, good enough.