Pros: Addicting, smooth, distinctive, and innovative gameplay. Beautiful graphics and sound.
Cons: Collecting points has no real purpose, along with collecting Chaos Emeralds.
I'll admit that whenever I think of this game, I do get pretty nostalgic over it since this was really the first videogame I ever got heavily engrossed in, since I got this at the age of four on Christmas Day of 1991 (I honestly don't remember much of my life before then). However, the nostalgia factor does NOT influence the rating I have for this game, I'm strictly rating this game on how much quality I think it has. Anyway, on to the review.
In this game, an evil scientist named Dr. Robotnik is turning animals into malicious robots and is searching for the six Chaos Emeralds, which he thinks will make him rule Mobius. You play Sonic, a blue hedgehog who's really fast and is determined to stop Robotnik from getting the emeralds all while saving his furry and feathered friends.
Admittedly, the story and characters aren't works of art, but the brilliance of this game lies in its innovative style of platforming, lush graphics, and excellent sound.
While it's been said millions of times before, Sonic really set itself apart from the other platformers out there for its fast speed. While this game series isn't Ninja Gaiden-level difficult, Sonic's speed really makes a gamer refine his or her motor skills and hand-eye coordination to make precise jumps and to jump or run all at the right times. Despite the fact that this game is famed for being fast, there are some spots in the game where you have to slow down to properly avoid certain obstacles, which I don't really have a problem with since I think it's these little “breaks” that add just the right amounts of variation in gameplay to keep from getting monotinous.
The gamplay behind this is simple in concept, as the only buttons you really use are the d-pad and the jump button (and the Start button just in case you need a snack or bathroom break). The physics in Sonic's jumps are well-done, since the movement-arcs feel natural and there's no “sudden stops” when you stop moving, which like the jumps, feels more natural.
Throughout the game, you race through 2D levels with plenty of platforms you jump on and pits and other obstacles you have to avoid by usually jumping over. You also have malicious robots known as “Badniks” throughout the levels where you can either avoid them or you can attack them by jumping on them to set the animals inside the machines free. Some of the most annoying Badniks in the game are Catterkiller in the Marble and Scrap Brain Zones, Roller in the Spring Yard Zone, Orbinaut in the Labyrinth and Starlight Zones, and Ball Hog in the Scrap Brain Zone.
The levels in this game are nicely-varied. You run through six levels consisting each of three acts, and at the end of the third acts (except for Scrap Brain, the last level), you have a boss fight with Dr. Robotnik. Each level has its own theme. The first and iconic level, Green Hill Zone is a level full of greenery and some tropical trees, while there's levels like the Spring Yard Zone that are almost like giant, colorful pinball machines without the flippers, and there's even a beautiful, star-lit level called the Starlight Zone. One of the most hated levels in the series is the Labyrinth Zone, mainly because out of all the water-based zones in the Sonic games, this one is where you were most likely to drown.
You have to collect rings throughout the level to stay alive. If you get hit while you have rings, you lose all your rings, but if you get hit without any rings, you die. If you collect 100 rings, you get an extra life. If you have at least 50 rings by the end of a level, you can jump into a giant ring that takes you to the Special Stage.
In the Special Stage, you go through a rotating maze where you have to reach the end of the maze, in which where you find the Chaos Emerald, and you reach the emerald by breaking through jewels encircling the emerald. You have to keep yourself distanced from the “Goal” areas, which take you out of the Special Stage.
Throughout the levels, there's various TV monitors that provide various power-ups for you. There's a Shield monitor, which gives you a protective shield that's lost once you hit a dangerous obstacle or get hit by a Badnik. There's a Ring monitor, which gives you 10 rings. There's a Shoes monitor, which makes you run fast temporarily (and has faster music when you're in this mode). There's an Invincibility monitor, which gives you temporary invincibility from enemies and certain obstacles (though you can still drown, fall from a bottomless pit, and get crushed). Finally, there's a Sonic monitor, which gives you an extra life.
Despite the fact that this game is 21 years-old as of writing this, the graphics in Sonic the Hedgehog still look really good. This game, along with Sonic's sequels in for the Sega Genesis, would take full advantage of the Genesis's processing capabilities to generate beautiful, eye-catching graphics that do an excellent job of creating visual depth by adding many shades and highlights to various objects. I think the levels with the best imagery in this game are the Green Hill Zone, Starlight Zone, and Scrap Brain Zone. Even Sonic and other characters in the game, which are smaller than the beautiful environments, have a good deal of visual depth to them thanks to the proper use of colors within the game platform's hardware limitations.
The sound effects and music for this game are marvelous (especially the latter). The sounds like the explosions, jumping noises, and spring noises despite having obvious limitations from the gaming hardware of its time, still sound fresh today.
The soundtrack is where the game's sounds really shine. The music was created by Masato Nakamura, who's the main composer for J-pop group Dreams Come True. I watched some videos about the development of the early Sonic games, and in an interview with Nakamura, he said that he imagined the Sonic game as a movie and composed music that would fit the caliber of a film, along with matching the moods evoked by the images of the levels. Out of all the tracks on here, the Green Hill music is probably the most iconic track on here, and while I really like it, my favorites here are the music tracks for Spring Yard and Starlight. The former for its really bouncy, joyous feeling, and the latter for its relaxed, beautiful nature. All in all, the music in this videogame is so great, I regularly listen to these tracks by themselves, thanks to websites like YouTube where people have uploaded the music for our listening pleasure.
My only complaints with this game lie in with the scoring system and Chaos Emeralds. The scoring system for the fact that unlike the sequels to this game, you didn't get any rewards for reaching certain numbers of points.
The Chaos Emeralds for the fact that all you get when you collect them is a “good” ending (which admittedly, is a pretty lame ending). The sequels fixed this problem for the fact that you become Super Sonic when you get all the emeralds.
Despite the two shortcomings I just mentioned, Sonic the Hedgehog has earned its place as a classic in the videogame world. It's been re-issued countless times over the years, so you can get it bundled with other Sonic/Sega Genesis games or for you PC gamers out there, downloadable purchases on Steam (or you may dust off your Genesis and Sonic cartridge to play this one again).
I've loved this game for nearly 21 years, and I'll probably still love it by the time I'm 95 years-old.