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Sonic the Hedgehog is 30 years old today. SEGA's mascot debuted on June 23 1991, in the game Sonic the Hedgehog funnily enough, and the platforming genre's never been the same since.
But I'm not here to chat about that Mega Drive classic, or its even-better sequel, or Sonic Advance, or Sonic Adventure, or Sonic Mania, or any of those really-well-known and widely played titles. Instead, reader, let me take you on the briefest of tours around five other Sonic-series games that you may not have played - because the sales figures for these were rather further south of the commercial hits.
If you do want a run down of all the major Sonic the Hedgehog games though, in a handy ranked format, you can find one right here: A SEGA Nerd's Guide to Every Sonic the Hedgehog Game. Before you do click that, though, have a little go on these.
Before we dive into the past, a reminder that Sonic Colors is coming back, in a new Ultimate form, in September 2021... Check out the trailer, below
I'll start and end this list with side-scrolling platformers, because there's no better way to book-end proceedings than with the formula Sonic is most famous for. Released in late 1999, Pocket Adventure is a curious little cartridge for the Neo Geo Pocket Color which represents Sonic's second-ever outing on non-SEGA hardware (the first being the Sonic Jam compilation on Tiger's game.com handheld) and mixes together elements from Mega Drive games that came before it.
Its stages are recognisable but altered just enough for seasoned players to find a surprise or two. Cosmic Casino is a rejigging of Sonic 2's Casino Night Zone, and the opening Neo South Island Zone takes cues from the Green Hill, Emerald Hill and Palmtree Panic levels, from Sonic, Sonic 2 and Sonic CD respectively. The music rearranges tracks from Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, and the whole thing both looks and sounds superior to any 8-bit Sonic on the Game Gear (as good as those portable options are). Gameplay is as traditional as it gets, but ideal for short sessions - and in the pre-Game Boy Advance era, this was about as perfect as Sonic on the go could be.
Speaking of the Game Boy Advance era, alongside the three excellent Sonic Advance platformers came this enjoyable slice of pinball action, which unlike Sonic Spinball before it doesn't cast SEGA's mascot as the ball itself. Rather, 2003's Sonic Pinball Party uses regular balls to rack up high scores on themed tables based on Sonic (obviously), NiGHTS Into Dreams and Samba de Amigo, with guest appearances from characters from the Phantasy Star series, ChuChu Rocket! and Burning Rangers. There are several mini-games to dip into and a whole separate Casino-themed area with its own attractions, where rings earned in other modes can be gambled in the presence of Cream the Rabbit and Cheese the Chao. What looks like a pretty basic proposal at first is actually a game of surprising depth and longevity.
Sonic has been many things to many people over the years, but he's only ever starred in one role-playing game, and this is it. Released exclusively on the Nintendo DS in 2008, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood was developed by none other than BioWare, and it features elements seen in a bigger series like Mass Effect, such as selecting your squad from a wider pool of characters and dialogue options that can be kind or cruel (not that there's a paragon/renegade structure in play, here).
All the usual franchise favourites are here, including a seemingly reformed Dr Robotnik (oh, it'll never last), and the storyline follows a quest to recover a number of Chaos Emeralds and defeat an echidna who isn't Knuckles, called Ix, who intends to conquer Sonic's world. It's fairly basic by RPG standards, but with a pleasant painterly style to its visuals and a touch-controlled combat system that's evocative of Elite Beat Agents' dance battles, The Dark Brotherhood is a Sonic curio still worth checking out in the here and now.
While the Game Gear's original Sonic Drift never released outside of Japan, its 1995 sequel did find an international audience as Sonic Drift Racing - and maybe it's just me, looking at some of the review scores it received, but, it's alright. I mean, forget alright, it's good. It's a little Mario Kart, a little OutRun, and a lot of fun in brief bursts of handheld play (wired to the mains, naturally). Or am I just blinded by nostalgia on this one? Maybe, maybe not - but in the mid-1990s, with Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing and its follow-ups so many years away, this was as good as it got for fans of putting Sonic and friends behind the wheel, across tracks themed after notable main-series stages.
Okay, after playing it in 2021, for the first time in a while... It's not aged brilliantly, has it. The power-ups are pretty tepid compared to Mario Kart, the tracks incredibly narrow, and while the game certainly rolls along at a decent speed it's not always possible to get a good read of the track ahead of a tight corner, even on a modern LCD screen. It's not awful by any means, but yep: nostalgia's played me, on this one. Nevertheless, I'm keeping it because this is my list and what are you going to do about it? Put Flickies' Island in its place? Get outta here.
File Sonic CD alongside Sonic 2 and Sonic Mania as the very best that 2D Sonic platformers have ever been, I reckon. Which means it's one of the Sonic games in general, right? Right. This Mega CD Sonic was developed in Japan at the same time that Sonic 2 was being made in the US by the Mark Cerny-founded SEGA Technical Institute team. CD benefitted from having Sonic's own designer, Naoto Ohshima, lead its production, and its mix of gorgeous pixel art, slickly animated intro and outro sequences, and an excellent soundtrack - I prefer the PAL/Japanese one, but there are oddballs who favour the US OST - marked it out as a truly special game upon its 1993 release.
While Sonic was always about going fast, Sonic CD used the Hedgehog's speed in a new and inspired way, with time-travel mechanics shifting each level's look and layout - head into the past to destroy Robotnik's contraption and save the future, basically. This encourages exploration in a way that prior Sonic games never did, as backtracking is a must to really beat the game, properly.
Elsewhere, its 3D, UFO-popping special stages showed what the Mega CD could do above and beyond the basic Mega Drive, and while it didn't sell especially brilliantly given the limited audience of its parent platform (even so, it's the best-selling game for the add-on), Sonic CD has been ported several times since. Versions for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2 and GameCube have ensured that people who never bothered with the Mega CD (it's alright, I'm not mad) have been able to check out this gem, and maybe grow to love it about as much as I do.
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