Sonic The HedgehogSonic The Hedgehog is the start of the blue hedgehog's descent into fame, where he basked in glory before he started binge drinking (hence the 3D games) and falling into the shitter, with the occasional gem (being the Sonic Advance and Rush games) amongst some mediocre stuff (Sonic Heroes, Shadow The Hedgehog, Sonic Unleashed) and the pile of dog turds (Sonic 06). But for now, let's just focus on the games that began his ascension into fame and fortune. Sega presents us with a game that seemed to have broken the mold of typical platformers, as well as giving Mario a bit of competition, and Sega finally being able to fairly compete with Nintendo.
The story involves Sonic, who has to stop Dr Robotnik from turning all of the animals of Mobius into robots. Dr Robotnik also hopes to get all of the Chaos Emeralds so that he can gain immense power, as well as take over Mobius. Looks like Sonic has to find them first so that he can restore Mobius to its former glory... until Robotnik strikes again. It's a good setting, one that sets up some intrigue and makes you think about robots and stuff. Your typical 16-bit story, pretty much. At least it's not about princesses getting kidnapped.
As I've said before, this is a platformer unlike any other, even today. In a typical platformer, you had to run, jump, and kill the occasional enemy. In Sonic The Hedgehog, however, you had to run really fast across plains, through loops, and even use Sonic's super speed and spiky spine to kill enemies. Of course, there are moments that have you jumping on platforms and whatnot, and it tends to break up the speed, but ultimately, Sonic was about momentum. The two elements of precision jumping and speed do not contradict each other in this game, no siree.
The controls, you'd have to think that they would suit this game quite well. Here's the role call. Move - d-pad. Jump - A, B and C. Got that, because I don't want to have to repeat myself.. In all seriousness, the control scheme seems rather basic, but I wouldn't have it any other way. What else can Sonic do? I guess punch and kick, but bosses tend to be up in the air. Besides, the idea of hedgehog spikes seems like a good way to eviscerate enemies. As for responsiveness, they respond well. Sonic jumps when you press a button, and he switches direction a bit after command in typical speedy gonzales convention (I mean... could you switch direction while running like you have propellers up your ass on the fly? Didn't think so). The controls are well done, basically. Precision jumping can take some time to get the hang of due to Sonic's speedy nature, but at least they work.
In the same way Mario relies on mushrooms, Sonic's sustenance happens to be rings. Even if he's holding one ring, he can take damage without dying. Just... don't leave him without any, because one hit then, and he's gone, hook line and sinker. Rings can be aplenty, but in some levels, so can enemies. And one thing should be pointed out - if you hit spikes, rings or no rings, consider yourself dead, because if you touch them even when you're flashing, you die anyway. Yeah, what a bitch. This is sorted out in the sequels, so don't get too pissed off.
Sonic can also use a few power ups. From the bubble allowing an additional blow to the head, to the shoes that allow Sonic to go really, really fast, and even to invincibility, Sonic has a... few lines of support to keep him alive. They're found in TV boxes, and also there would be a set of 10 rings, and even an extra life. Always keep an eye out for these - they can be fairly helpful in keeping you alive and even giving you a few more rings that'll grant you entry to the bonus stages.
An additional feature would have to be the bonus stages. Finish a level with 50 or more rings, and you gain access to them. Each bonus stage looks trippy, and consists of little more than rolling along the ground, bouncing around the area, and ultimately finding the Chaos Emerald by breaking blocks and stuff before you get send to the flashing goal circles (let that be a warning as to how much they LIED between 2003 and 2008). The stages felt frustrating as first, as you had to maneuver yourself in the correct position and all that jazz, especially when the stage kept on rotating, but eventually, you'll get the hang of it, and might actually enjoy these stages. It adds a bit of variety to the usual "running really fast" style in the normal levels, at the very least. And they manage to function well, too.
As an added bonus, if you manage to get all of the Chaos Emeralds, you get the "good" ending. This is one of the earliest games to my recollection that has an alternate ending. Of course, you could be a lazy pig and just view the regular ending, but it feels more satisfying viewing the good ending, as it feels like your efforts didn't go to waste when you saw how everything unfolded (oh no, I'm not spoiling the ending for you).
At the end of each act, you fight against Eggman, who decides to use machines to fight you. Each boss fight got harder and harder, and in turn, more rewarding when you defeat them. That's not to say that they're hard, though they can be sort of pricks at times, especially the later bosses. There isn't much to say about them - just figure out the pattern and hit them until they die. Typical stuff, been there, done that. Boss battles can still feel good when you're fighting them, so that's at least reassuring.
The interesting thing here would be that a fair few levels in the game have branching paths. Yeah, you end up heading towards the same exit, but the idea of branching paths adds a bit of open endedness to the levels. A nice little touch, allowing a bit of exploration. The actual level designs manage to accomodate Sonic's speed (which isn't super fast, but still four times faster than Mario), including some slopes, ramps, and even a few platforms. They manage to feel like stages faster than a speeding bullet, mostly due to actually feeling like they would've taken slower platformers quite a while to finish (I don't know about you, but if some of these stages were put into Mega Man, it might be a pretty long game). There's some interesting nooks and crannies here and there, making stages feel less like generic platformer stages and more... I guess I can say good stages, almost Mega Man 2/3 quality.
The visuals for this game are pretty good. Despite the limitations of the Genesis's color engine, the colors for this game are fairly vibrant. No doubt, you'll feel like you're looking at an early SNES title (funny enough, this is an early Genesis title), due to the colors managing to not look like other early Genesis titles (ie. Altered Beast). As well as that, the backgrounds are pretty interesting, especially the attention to detail. This is one of the best looking 16-bit games to date... and the decade is very young, too!
The soundtrack is pretty good. Granted that a few songs don't give off the feeling of speed, they still sound pretty good. Each song manages to bring it's own atmosphere into the mix, and not only that, but they also manage to bring their own sets of guns, forcing you to him, lest you want your brains blown out. Violent imagery aside, the tunes make it nearly impossible to not feel like humming to them. They definitely manage to excel in terms of music, especially considering the Genesis's sound engine limitations, which would usually produce rather... mediocre soundtracks, I guess? Whatever, Sonic The Hedgehog excels and ascends here.
Sonic The Hedgehog is the classic that got Sega rolling, and no doubt would they continue to ride its success from the early and mid 90's (not seen: competent Saturn title), through the 2000's, and probably even throughout the 2010's. It's thanks to this title that Sonic won't be going anywhere, even if he has to annoy everyone later on. Managing to change up the typical formula, as well as managing to have production values through the roof despite system limitations, Sonic The Hedgehog ruled the school. Seriously, who didn't play Sonic The Hedgehog and the sequels in the 90's as kids? These games kicked every kid's ass back then!