Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) Review

Posted: January 14, 2014 in Game reviews
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Greetings mortals, I am DracoJames102 and welcome to the Sonic the Hedgehog Marathon!

Sonic marathon title card

I love Sonic the Hedgehog. Not only is it one of my all-time favourite video game franchises, but Sonic is one of my favourite video game characters period. His games are not only really fun to play, but his positive personality inspires confidence for not only me but for other people too, such as many of the people in the Spectrum Youth club I work for. Everyone in the club and this website loves Sonic the Hedgehog and I am going to give it the proper treatment by looking at most of the mainstream titles in a row. For this marathon, I will be looking at all of the mainstream classic ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ games in the series, where it all started. So with that said, let’s get on with it and move on to the one that started it all. This is my review of ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ for the ‘Sega Mega-Drive’.


Before I look at the game itself, let me go over the history of how Sonic was created. Most of you will know this already but for those of you who don’t know already (all three of you), I’m going to talk about it anyway. The ‘Super Mario Bros.’ series was a huge success in the gaming industry. ‘Sega’ was aware of this and so they decided to create a new mascot for their company to compete with ‘Mario’. Many concept designs were in the works and the one design that they finally picked was the hedgehog designed by Naoto Oshima. Their second choice was the armadillo design that they would later name ‘Mighty the Armadillo’. Never heard of him? There’s a reason. He’s only officially appeared in two games so far and he has never been seen since. The hedgehog was coloured to match the blue ‘Sega’ logo and they decided to name him ‘Mr. Needlemouse’…That isn’t a joke. That was his original name. I’m guessing that everybody thought that name was stupid so they decided to name him ‘Sonic the Hedgehog.’ That’s better.


An evil doctor named Doctor Robotnik is capturing little woodland animals so he can use them as power sources for his evil robots called Badniks. I always wondered how that works. Is there a little hamster ball inside the Badniks that the animals run around in to keep them operating? Anyway a blue anthropomorphic hedgehog that can run at the speed of sound named Sonic can’t stand for it and makes it his job to rescue his little animal friends and stop Doctor Robotnik once and for all.


The story in this game is about as simple as ‘Super Mario Bros.’ story, minus rescuing a dumb damsel in distress. There are no cutscenes, in-game animations or dialogue explaining what’s going on. Overall it’s nothing to be concerned about.


‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ is a high-speed platforming game. The D-Pad is used to move Sonic left and right, but you can also look up by holding up on the D-Pad or hold down to make Sonic crouch or roll into a ball when he is moving at a high-speed, which can actually make Sonic go faster down a steep slope. The A, B and C buttons are used to make Sonic jump and the start button is used to pause the game. The HUD contains your ring count, the amount of lives you have and a time clock which times how long it took you to beat the stage. Oh and it contains a score count but that’s hardly important.


The objective of the game is to get to the goal sign at the end of the stage. Along the way you will encounter various Badniks which you can kill by either jumping on them or rolling into them. Sometimes it depends on the design of the Badnik but I’ll get into it in a bit. Along the way, you will see rings which you can collect. The more rings you collect before you reach the end of the stage, the higher the score you will get. If Sonic gets hit, Sonic will lose all of his rings but he will be fine. If Sonic gets hit while he has no rings, he will lose a life. If you lose all of your lives, you will be booted back to the beginning of the game, just like ‘Super Mario Bros.’ Along the way, you can discover little television monitors that contain power-ups or ten rings. The power-ups include a shield which allows you to take an extra hit without losing your rings and temporary invincibility where Sonic can just plough through enemies with ease. There are even checkpoints that you can touch to restart from if you die. There will also be springs that will bounce you to higher places and spikes that will screw you over if you get hit. If you land on a set of spikes, you will get knocked back and lose your rings. However if you land on another set of spikes during your knock back, you will instantly die before your invincibility frames load up. That can get really frustrating at times.


There are a total of six zones to travel through before you reach Doctor Robotniks’s lair. Each zone has three acts ending with a boss fight against Doctor The first zone is Green Hill Zone, which manages to introduce the speed based mechanics of the game very well and it is a great starting zone.


Marble Zone decides to lose the speed based platforming that Green Hill Zone introduced and it can be boring to travel through if you don’t know all of the shortcuts. It also has tons of hazards such as the lava and an array of spike traps everywhere so be alert. The caterkiller Badnik can also be really annoying because the only way to bypass it without taking any damage is to roll into it.


Spring Yard Zone is an odd combination of Green Hill Zone and Marble Zone. There are some sections where you can go at high speeds but other times you will have to deal with slow platforming sections in order to proceed. Overall it isn’t too annoying.


Labyrinth Zone can go kill itself. This is the water based zone of the game and about 80% of each of the zones have you travelling through water. What’s the problem with this? Well Sonic cannot swim, he loses all of his speed while he is travelling through the water and he needs to grab an air bubble to survive otherwise he’ll drown. Because of his slow speed, it can be hard to avoid most of the hazards that you will encounter underwater. This zone isn’t hard by any means, it is just frustrating.


Starlight Zone is what the previous three zones should have been. It goes back to the high speed platforming that Green Hill Zone introduced and there is rarely a time where you need to pace yourself with slow platforming. The see-saw gimmick is also fun where you need to bounce a ball to the other side of the see-saw in order to proceed.


Scrap Brain Zone is evil, but not as evil as Labyrinth Zone. Not only does it have all sorts of hazards such as buzz saws, flamethrowers from the ceilings and devices that shoot out a wide range of sparks, it also packs some of the most annoying badniks in the game such as the caterkillers I mentioned earlier. There are also some sections such as trap doors and rotating platforms that you need to be careful of, otherwise you will most likely die from a bottomless pit.


There are actually special stages that you can only access by jumping into a giant ring at the end of the stage which only appears if you collect fifty or more rings. The special stages are a chance of obtaining continues which allow you to continue where you left off if you get a game over and score Chaos Emeralds which grant you a better ending of the game. The stage itself rotates while the player controls Sonic. Sonic can still jump and you can control the stage itself by hitting special bumpers that changes the way the stage rotates or speed up or slow down the rotation. Whatever you do, do not hit the red bumpers that say ‘GOAL!’. They say goal, but that is not the true objective of the special stage. Honestly it’s very misleading.


Most of the boss fights with Doctor Robotnik are really easy. He just flies around in his egg-o-matic using an array of gadgets that are pretty easy to avoid and you just have to hit him. However there are a couple of boss fights where he can pretty annoying to fight, particularly his boss fight in Labyrinth Zone. I hate this boss fight so much because you have to chase him up a vertical shaft with spikes and wolf heads spitting fireballs at you with the water rising up. If you die during this fight, you have to do the fight again with no rings. You can get a barrier to protect yourself, but even then that will barely help you.



For a 16-bit game, the aesthetics in this game are still pretty to look at. The stages are nice and colourful, the sprite work is top-notch and it is easy on the eyes.


The music in this game is awesome. I do know that most ‘Sega Mega-Drive’ games have soundtracks that sound gritty and buzzy when it comes to the music, but this game is one of the exceptions. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t know the main title theme or the Green Hill Zone theme. Overall the soundtrack is pretty sweet to listen to.


The control in this game feels nice and smooth. Sonic control flow is great in mid-air, he is responsive to button inputs and the momentum based physics feel just right. When you go down a steep hill, you go faster and faster and if you go up a hill, you will eventually slow down and roll back down if you don’t have enough speed. That feels just right. The knock back he suffers from isn’t really that annoying because the level design is accustomed to it and there was barely a time where I suffered death because of it.

Final Thoughts

Overall I feel that ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ for the Sega Mega-Drive still holds up today. The momentum based physics are great and despite the lack of speed based platforming, the game is still rather fun to play. The game can be hard at times, but it is never unfair. I feel that the future games in the series do a much better job but I’ll save my thoughts for them in their reviews. This was still a great start to the ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ franchise and I am very glad that this was the very first ‘Sonic’ game I have ever played.

Final rating: 8/10

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