Back in 1991, playing Sonic the Hedgehog for the first time was an assault in the senses (in a good way). From the timeless Green Hill Zone theme to it’s vibrant aesthetic, the first game in the series did much to convince gamers that they were experiencing a generational leap in power. Coming from my humble Commodore 64, I was certainly impressed. Despite being hamstrung by the 50hz pal port, Sonic played well and entertained both my brother and I for many months. Revisiting the game today on a Japanese Mega Drive raised a smile as I reminisced about the times we used to make up lyrics for certain Zone themes and play around with the config mode, turning Sonic into various, often humorous, objects.
Gameplay wise, Sonic still feels very familiar. His jump arc is forgiving, although movement doesn’t feel as refined; Sonic’s first frame when shifting the D-pad left or right, takes him a lot further than you would expect. This would improve in later titles, but movement feels a lot less tighter than, say, Super Mario World or even Super Mario Bros. Otherwise, the controls are decent and Sonic instantly responds to controller inputs. And these controls are put to the test right at the start of game; Green Hill Zone is the perfect setting for understanding the games mechanics and environment. Given Sonic’s reputation for being the fastest parallax scrolling game of it’s time, surprisingly, the opening level is one of the few areas in the game that allows you to cut lose and experience the thrill ride that is Sonic running at full pelt. Stages such as Marble Zone and Labyrinth Zone opt for a slower pace with a focus on precision platforming. Unfortunately, these stages are at odds with Sonic’s not-so-precise inertia, but act as a reminder that at it’s essence, Sonic is a traditional side scrolling platformer.
Although not perfect, Sonic 1 was the foundation on which the later games in the Mega Drive trilogy were built on. A showcase title for Sega’s 16-bit console, Team Sonic created not just a competent platformer, but also a mascot, a brand Sega could rely on in preparation for the upcoming console war….