Sonic The Hedgehog: A Peerless Platforming Classic
By Ed Acteson
It was the summer of 1991 and I was spending the night at my dad’s house as my parents had recently divorced. I was only 6 at the time and after a nutritious dinner, which I can confidently assume was chip-based, my dad and I sat down together to watch the sixth ever episode of The Simpsons; Moaning Lisa.
Although, as the name might suggest, the episode revolved around Lisa, it contained a secondary plot of Bart and Homer competing against one another on a console boxing game. I didn’t realise in that moment the extent to which the scene resonated with my dad but it was a wonderful surprise to return to his house the following weekend where I would discover that he’d bought a shiny, new Megadrive console accompanied by a copy of James Buster Douglas Knockout Boxing and, significantly, Sonic The Hedgehog.
We endured some brutal boxing wars against one another, wars that would push our fighters to the kind of physical and mental limits that could break a man. However, it was my near total immersion in Sonic that would set me on the road to an obsession with video games which shaped my childhood and beyond.
“It was my near total immersion in Sonic that would set me on the road to an obsession with video games which shaped my childhood”
When you discuss Sonic, it’s almost impossible not to mention Super Mario, his great platforming rival, each of them the face of a company. Their adventures would define the early years of console gaming and, at the time, you would have scoffed had I described the different trajectories that the pair would take, let alone that they would eventually end up on the same console. In fact, I remember a heated debate occurring at school one day when the kids literally divided into two groups on the playground, hurling abuse at one another based on whether we ‘supported’ Sega or Nintendo.
But this article is just about Sonic and, as such, a description of the gaming experience is mandatory. Upon loading it up, once you surpassed the “Seeeggggaaaa” logo, Sonic popped up on screen, wagging his finger arrogantly as the iconic music played. You knew then that he was a super-confident bastard.
You then pressed start and were transported to the idyllic, lush, waterfall-laden Eden that was the Green Hill Zone, unless of course you had entered the most famous cheat in the history of video games (up, down, left, right, a + start). From there it was all fairly intuitive. You ran left or right, you jumped and you span. There was no hand-holding, no tutorials and only a bottomless/spiked pit or a mechanical fly/piranha could prevent you from your first encounter with the nefarious Dr Robotnik. Or Eggman, depending on where you’re reading this.
It was this intuition that made Sonic so easily accessible as a kid. There were no complicated control schemes to learn and no epic plot to grasp. Whereas the majority of modern video games feel more like an interactive film than a pick-up-and-play game, with Sonic you just assumed the controls and took it for granted that this blue, incredibly quick hedgehog was the hero and that you weren’t to trust the fat, bald guy. Incidentally, that ingrained distrust of fat, bald guys is a societal discrimination that I would come to regret, as the years go by and I increasingly resemble Robotnik.
“With Sonic you just assumed the controls and took it for granted that this blue, incredibly quick hedgehog was the hero”
Sonic still looks and feels great today. In an age where retro-gaming has never been more popular, you can easily slip back into the visually rich worlds such as Marble Zone, Spring Yard Zone or Labyrinth Zone. Though the visuals naturally aren’t as immersive as when you were six, they’re still a joy to behold and are a perfect thematic fit for the clever level design.
The level design, incidentally, was magnificent for its time and it’s easy to see how the symbiotic relationship between the theme of the levels and the traps and obstacles in your way influenced many video games to come. For example the spiked traps and lava pits of the Marble Zone perfectly befit the ancient civilisation narrative of the level, whereas the deep underwater sections of the Labyrinth Zone add fantastically to the claustrophic level design. Speaking of that water, you can keep your Resident Evils and Silent Hills, the countdown music when Sonic is about to drown remains the scariest thing in video gaming history.
My review of Sonic The Hedgehog could never be fair as it holds a sentimentality within my heart that few others can possess. Though I went on to adore other games to an even greater extent, even ultimately betraying the spiky, blue hero for a 3D Italian plumber, Sonic really was the one that started it all for me and for that I will always fondly return to one of the most iconic video games ever produced.