Sonic the Hedgehog: 25th Anniversary Countdown – The Bottom 4
Sonic the Hedgehog turns 25 this year, and to celebrate we’re counting down every main series Sonic game from the very worst to the very best. So without further ado, Sonic’s 25th anniversary countdown!
13. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) – Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3
So first up we will have to bring up Sonic’s 15th Anniversary celebratory title. The one thing this game really has going for it these days is that, after almost a decade being known as the worst Sonic game of all time, it’s recently been usurped of that title by Sonic Boom and thus it may now fade into obscurity where it can rest in peace. The hype that surrounded this game is evident in the title, Sega named it Sonic the Hedgehog as a statement, that this game would redefine the series. Sadly all they managed was to redefine how broken and misguided the series had become, releasing a game horribly unpolished, utterly broken and outright bonkers. Anyone seen that video on YouTube where Sonic is casually strolling along ceilings, unbeknownst to all to have gained the ability to defy gravity. If not here it is below thi paragraph! It sounds like an awesome secret power-up but in truth highlights a very sad state of affairs. And let’s forget that sweet forbidden love between human princess and anthropomorphic hedgehog going on here…
The fact is anyone could spend an entire day pointing out this game’s flaws so perhaps we should concentrate on what it does right. For there is potential in the game however that means we cannot altogether cast it asunder. The soundtrack is great, though we’ve never been able to fault the Sonic franchise on that front. The entire plot is wiped from history at the end so no character has to make reference to it ever again, which is good too… There are a couple of interesting level themes here, with Kingdom Valley standing out as this cool fantasy castle which Eggman’s robots have ravaged. Radical Train as well finally pits Sonic in a race with a train which seems like something that should have been done years ago. Then there’s Crisis City that took the city stage to another, volcanic level and makes an absolutely cracking level in Sonic Generations. They may be let down by the poor level design and broken gameplay, but they really are interesting and memorable settings.
In hindsight this game could more appropriately be known as Sonic Adventure 3. It’s got the town stages, the plethora of characters, the Eggman overthrown plot line , the new hedgehog and the over the top narrative set in a world not too dissimilar to our own. But in all that it showed that Sonic’s adventures needed to start deviating from what was then an 8 year old formula, that they needed more than a dynamic title to bring Sonic into the modern era of gaming.
12. Sonic Adventure (1998) – Dreamcast
In countdowns such as these, certain titles take quite a hit, ones that even the writer wouldn’t have thought possible. But there we have it, the game that it’s contemporary audience hailed as Sonic’s brilliant move into 3D is today down at the bottom of the list. This game got raving reviews when it first came out, but age has not been kind to it. Now, playing as Sonic is a good enjoyable experience here and luckily his storyline is the longest in the game, but this is tremendously let down by the podium of another 5 characters, with different gameplay approaches, vying for attention. Some are better than others, but ultimately none of these extra characters are very exciting or memorable additions to the game. Apart from perhaps Big the Cat, because Sonic’s triumphant return wouldn’t have been possible without some painfully slow fishing levels to help it along…
But it’s not just that which lets Sonic Adventure down, the overall product seems somewhat lazy, levels are constantly rehashed for the other less inspiring characters to troll through and did anyone else notice how poorly the lip syncing is done here, not to mention the models look pretty awkward to begin with. Overall however it really comes down to those extra gameplay styles we’re forced into playing to complete the game are just not that fun. Besides everything we can find in Sonic Adventure is vastly improved upon in Sonic Adventure 2, which means this game just doesn’t sparkle as much as it once did all those years ago.
Thankfully Sonic Adventure is way better than the aforementioned Sonic 06, there are at least some great things to be had in this game. But let’s face it, the best parts of it are done much better in the sequel, and what we have left is pretty uninspiring. Perhaps we will have to accept that Sonic Adventure’s best days are resolutely behind it.
11. Sonic Unleashed (2008) – Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3
Never in all my time with vdieo games have I been more excited about a game’s release. I mean I used to watch the trailer for Unleashed on repeat, and then repeat it in my head when the computer screen wasn’t directly in front of me, pouring over every possible detail, hungry for more information. And how could anyone not be excited, it was Sonic in the 3D environment that we all somehow always wanted but hadn’t realised. It looked perfect, the sun had never shone brighter over Sonic’s career. But then the sun went down, and we were left with… Sonic the Werehog! That second type of gameplay attached to this game that nobody was particularly happy about. But in hindsight it’s not actually that bad, the Werehog may not be super interesting, but at least it’s not fishing or emerald hunting again. Ultimately however we’re left with two very different feeling games, one of speed and another of walking and honestly neither shines particularly bright today.
We all knew the Werehog was going to be average, but reaction to the Hedgehog levels has been mixed ever since release. This is because really we’re just running at super fast speeds without much interaction along the way. The gameplay was fantastic for me when it was first released, however now in a post Colours and Generations world, its stands significantly weaker. Like Sonic Adventure before it, this game has been vastly improved upon in later releases, leaving it as one of Sonic’s weaker adventures to date. Yet there’s also a very frustrating design choice which makes Unleashed harder to come back to; Homing Attack is executed via two different buttons rather than the same button combination it’s been in every other Sonic game released before or after. It’s just bizarre Sega chose to do this and there’s no way around it either. Well, unless you get the Unleashed mod for Sonic Generations that is.
While later stages begin to get frustrating at such speed, the first stage of the game remains an incredibly exhilirating experience to power through. And it looks gorgeous to boot!
Unleashed is really where the modern, much loved era of Sonic began. It’s in its baby phase here and it’s true nobody will likely be picking up Unleashed to play anytime again soon, but despite it’s flaws it was the birth of a handful of good years to come, so we all should be thankful to you Unleashed, the hype was not all for naught.
10. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episodes I & II (2010/2012) – XBLA, PSN, WiiWare, iOS and Android
Returning Sonic to his roots whilst continuing the saga from his Mega Drive days sounds like a formula for guaranteed success. Only that wasn’t quite the case with this particular entry. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 feels more like a retreading of the blue blurs golden years rather than a fully fledged sequel to them. Plus there’s the episodic formula to consider, which did not work remotely like the Sonic & Knuckles lock-on technology that many had expected it to. Yet what really signalled doom for this title was the mechanics, which failed to recreate the momentum Sonic builds when curled into a ball. In fact so much of the momentum was forced upon us via springs, boost pads and homing attack sequences that it only it didn’t play like a classic Sonic title at all. The developer Dimps here had managed the mechanics fine on the Game Boy Advance for years with the Sonic Advance series, so how did they fluff them up here?!
This title still ranks higher than the like of Sonic Adventure and Sonic Unleashed however, because to an extent Episode II manages to salvage the wreckage to an extent. This episode improved the mechanics from Episode I, which while still not in line with the Mega Drive titles, were cetainly a lot better. Plus while Episode I was all too obviously borrowing stage and bossess from Sonic’s first two titles, Episode II nods back to them without simply rehasing everything. And there are some really cool levels in these pair of games. Lost Labyrinth manages to reinvigorate the infamous Labyrinth Zone from Sonic 1, White Park provides a cool level concept of a wintry theme park, and the final boss aboard the Death Egg Mk.II is a challenging treat not seen in many platformers these days. But for me personally it’s all because of Sky Fortress Zone that makes this game noteworthy. No not that slow level on the Sonic’s plane, the Tornado, but the one aboard the Fortress itself. Out of all Sonic’s 2D efforts since the Mega Drive this for me is the best level he’s done. It’s fast paced and the unique level mechanics manage to keep the momentum going without it feeling forced. Plus the music just draws us in to the urgency at hand, its great. Sonic 4 doesn’t score lower on this list simply because Sky Fortress is awesome to play!
Don’t believe us, then here is Sky Fortress zone in all its glory! Although the best way to see it is to play it firsthand.
So Episode I is kind of like Sonic 1 and Episode II is kind of like Sonic 2 so if Episode III hadn’t been permanently shelved, we could have had a more Sonic 3 & Knuckles experience? Even then however Sonic the Hedgehog 4 doesn’t deserve its namesake. Perhaps had it been called something else we’d all might have been more forgiving of it’s flaws but sadly this was another instance where the title promised more than it could deliver.