Thursday, 27 February 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog Series - Part 2

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)
By: Ancient / Sega Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: ???,???
Also Available For: Mega Drive, Game Gear, Game Boy Advance (ports)
PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC (on compilations)

Download For: Android, iOS, Wii Virtual Console

The title screen is a bit duller than expected...

Despite being released soon after its MegaDrive big brother, and that I still owned my Master System at the time, for some reason I gave this port of the instantly-famous MD platformer a wide berth. Harsh in retrospect perhaps, but in those days flashy audio/visuals were as captivating as they have always been, before and since, so who could blame me for being taken in by the dazzling tour-de-force that was Sonic the Hedgehog MD? But yes, I still should've come back for this highly-rated version many moons ago, so I come before it now, humbled, and much less influenced by the flashy technical abilities of one system over another. I guess more than that stuff, though, the big question will be: can it possibly be as slick, stylish, and simply as much fun as that legendary MD version?

Heading back above ground in the Green Hill Zone...

The first thing that surprised me a bit is that the development wasn't handled by Sonic Team themselves but by Yuzo Koshiro's Ancient Corp. Besides a rather drab title screen, however, first impressions are that they've done a cracking job. It's immediately obvious that the audio/visuals at least are very spiffing. Besides being slightly 'skinnier', the graphics are really quite lovely, and surely among the MS's best. The colours, detail, and animation are all fantastic, and the stage themes and resultant backgrounds are nicely varied too. Some of the 'zones' are based on those found on the MD but the stages definitely aren't carbon copies. The opening Greenhill Zone, for example, features lots of underground sections here, as part of the usual branching paths, but there are still all the usual bridges, moving platforms, and lots of other stuff!

The simply-delightful-but-also-tricky Jungle Zone...

Like the MD version, there are six zones here in total, all divided into three stages or 'acts', the last of which is basically just a boss fight. Besides good old Green Hill, we also have the Labyrinth and Scrap Brain zones from the MD game which also contain both old and new features, and there are three brand new zones too - Bridge Zone, Jungle Zone, and Sky Base Zone - which are the second, third, and sixth zones respectively. The first of these isn't that different from Green Hill, just with a different pattern on the landscape, a few more bridges (many of which disappear this time), and a couple of new features such as see-saws to catapult you up the cliffs. The Jungle Zone is more distinctive and very pretty too, and features tricky curvy platforms (maybe made of vines or something?) and waterfalls though which you must climb.

Some leapy action from the Bridge Zone...

The Sky Base Zone is the last and also unsurprisingly the toughest, featuring guns, energy barriers, and various other anti-hedgehog defences before the pesky Dr. Robotnik turns up for the final time (until the sequel). Overall though, despite some new zones and features, the game sensibly sticks fairly closely to the format of the MD game while also playing to the Master System's strengths, which means it's every bit as enjoyable as its big brother. You could even argue that it's better, at least in some regards. One of the few gripes people had with the MD game was that it was a bit too easy, so it's good to see this version had been toughened up somewhat by limiting Sonic's ability to keep hold of all those precious golden rings he's so keen on.

Grab all the rings you can in the bonus round...

This may or may not have been to do with hardware restrictions but whatever the reason, when Sonic takes a hit here and drops his rings, they're gone for good which means the next hit will finish him unless he finds some more a bit half quick. In addition to this, the boss stages don't contain rings so you don't get any protection here. Oof! As you might imagine, this does indeed make MS Sonic quite a bit tougher than MD Sonic, but I guess that's a good thing (chortle!). You still get some help in the form of the fairly frequent power-ups too - extra rings, speed-up shoes, one-hit shields, temporary invincibility, and extra lives are all available here, and the restart points are also found in the 'video monitors' as well, which is very handy. There are bonus rounds here too, but they don't feature any Chaos Emeralds.

The Labyrinth Zone looks very much like the MD version...

These are hidden around some of the stages instead. The pinball-style bonus rounds are instead just for collecting more rings, but you can only enter them if you already have enough to begin with. The rich just get richer, eh? I don't think there are any changes that make this game worse than the original though. Technically it's outstanding - a bit of sprite flicker is the only gripe and it's a minor one - this is still easily one of the MS's most impressive titles thanks to its lovely, colourful graphics and wonderful soundtrack by Ancient founder, Yuzo Koshiro. It's often easy to forget you're even playing an MS game! Many gamers, myself included, may have overlooked the humble MS (and Game Gear) Sonic games in their day, but this one at least is superb and is still well worthy of any platform game fan's time - it's one of the MS's best.

RKS Score: 8/10

Gameplay Video: here's a video of the whole game being played by one of the talented fellows at World of Longplays (check out their great channel here). Oh, and don't watch if you want to avoid spoilers!



  1. Man I love Master System Sonic! Such a great game and the music is wonderful.

    While the Chaos emeralds are hidden around the normal stages, the bonus "pinball" level you get with 50 rings is the only way to find continues. Each one has a continue hidden within somewhere which was the incentive to do that level.

    1. Far out man! I thought I played the game very thoroughly prior to reviewing it but I didn't notice the continues you speak of. Guess you can always be more thorough! :)

  2. A remarkable achievement that this depth of experience could be delivered by very limited hardware. Cheers to the Ancients! :D

    1. Never doubt the mighty Master System sir! :) I look forward to seeing the other MS Sonic games, they're meant to be even more technically amazing.

  3. Listen to the music on Bridge Zone and then try telling me that Janet Jackson never took a Game Gear on tour with her before she did "Together Again"!