I’m an unusual Sonic the Hedgehog fan. Although really, I guess that means I’m a normal Sonic fan at the same time. Right around my high school years, I became absolutely hooked on the franchise. The major appeal for me was the music, but I also love the universe itself. Sure, it’s been overcomplicated and overhauled too many times over the years, but there’s just something lovable about it.
Sonic games vary in quality so much that two people liking all the same games is extremely rare. But some things are consistent. I like Sonic and his cast of friends. The games’ worlds are always unique. And the music is almost always spectacular. In fact, without Crush 40, I probably wouldn’t have discovered my love of 80s metal.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of Sonic games I don’t like. But there are a few that made a great impression on me, and I decided to talk about them!
5 – Sonic Rush
Few people seem to remember Sonic Rush for Nintendo DS. I first picked it up for one reason: the soundtrack. It’s composed by Hideki Naganuma, my favorite video game composer of all time, responsible for both Jet Set Radio soundtracks. If you played those games, you could guess that Sonic Rush‘s soundtrack is eclectic, unique, and catchy as hell.
You’d be right.
In other news, the game was developed by Dimps, who make some pretty great 2D Sonic games. It was also the first to use the boost mechanic, which carried over to most of the series’ major releases afterwards. Blaze the Cat is a new character to the game — she has the ability to hover and rocket higher into the air. Otherwise, her formula is pretty much the same as Sonic’s. This is kind of a failing I guess, since the stage design is only slightly different for the two characters.
Thing is, Sonic Rush is really pretty fun. For a DS game, its control is more solid than you might expect, and doing tricks on rails and in the air is a blast. Sometimes the stages feel cheap, since they stretch across two screens by default. They get pretty vertical, and some levels halt your progress until you defeat a gauntlet of enemies. This kind of design drives me crazy, but it’s not a deal breaker.
In my humble view, Sonic Rush is the very best handheld game in the series. Give it a swing.
4 – Sonic Colors
Fun fact, Colors was my first Sonic game ever. And man, what a great entry point. Critics complain that it’s not much of a Sonic game, and that’s fair. The game is more generally about level exploration than speed, but it works as a more typical platformer.
The wisps add an incredible dynamic to the game. The drill wisp lets you speed through earth and water, the laser wisp provides opportunities for crazy shortcuts, and others like the rocket wisp have levels design around them really well. They worked so well that they were actually reused in more than one game afterwards, for better or worse.
Colors was a breath of fresh air for a series that many claimed was dead. It was the debut of Roger Craig Smith as Sonic, and it took a somewhat Guardians of the Galaxy approach to its aesthetic. It goes from lush vegetation to flashy amusement park at the drop of a hat, and its soundtrack is the perfect complement. This game was the one that roped me into the franchise, and I can’t recommend it enough.
3 – Sonic Generations
Just when people thought Colors was an exception, Sega decided to go all-out for its 20th anniversary and make Sonic Generations. Everybody was floored when they decided to compile the most iconic stages from Sonic’s history, and bring back classic Sonic himself to boot.
What we got was a pretty short game, but a great one. The boost formula is the best it’s ever been, and the classic formula is reworked pretty faithfully. Stages are beautifully remastered and remixed, with pretty neat minibosses. It also has awesome features like buffs and custom music (which I love in any game).
The last couple bosses of the game are terrible, and not all of the levels feel like they fit the gameplay. But I love this game particularly because of how much room there is to blaze through a level. It even checks your time at every checkpoint. The levels were built for speedrunning, which I assume is why it gives you so many lives. I always have a blast playing this game, and to me it’s the standard for Sonic Team.
2 – Sonic Mania
I never dreamed Sonic Mania would be one of my favorite games in the series. I have so many problems with the classic trilogy of Sonic games that fans seem to love. Their design always strikes me as outdated, cheap, and contradictory. But Sonic Mania, their eventual successor, is the classic game I’ve been waiting for.
I could go on and on about Mania. Actually I already did, you can read it here. The point is, this game not only optimizes an old formula, it puts that formula in a supremely creative game. What drives it home is that it was basically made by highly talented fans of the franchise. Honestly, I think they did the job better than Sonic Team ever could have.
Mania still has some god-awful insta-crush deaths and restrictive lives from the old games. Also the true final boss is a drudge. Nevertheless, it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a Sonic game on first playthrough. It’s overflowing with love and care, so for now, it’s one of my favorites.
1 – Sonic Adventure 2
About 5 years ago, Sonic Adventure 2 was ported to seventh generation consoles. That was when I first played SA2, and five years later, I don’t think it’s objectively very good. The story and voice acting are awkward, and it only has about one and a half fun gameplay modes. The speed stages are fun, and the hunting stages are kinda fun. The mech stages are a drag. All of the game is inconsistent and glitchy as hell.
I love it anyway.
SA2 just has an overtone that I think really works for the series. It’s silly and over the top, but strangely moving in a way. The plot of Shadow and Maria at its core is interesting for Shadow’s character, and a good doomsday picture of what might happen to Sonic if he were to risk it all and fail. The story is goofy, but endearing somehow.
The gameplay is also some of my favorite in 3D — it’s linear, but well-paced, and it’s picky about rewarding good maneuvers. Getting an A-rank is difficult, and I appreciate that. Grinding is also viscerally fun to do, and I’m glad it was carried through the rest of the games.
And the soundtrack. Never have I seen acid jazz, metal, and hip-hop synergize so well to create such a fantastic soundscape. I could honestly listen to Pumpkin Hill on loop for a half-hour. Everything in SA2 just comes together. In a lot of ways, it’s a mess. In others, it’s magical. I prefer to see the magic in it.