How do you beat an unstoppable video game giant? A company so powerful, most people don’t even know it has competition? A company whose line up of games is known, and loved, the world over? A company whose name alone is synonymous with “video games”? How on Earth do you beat Nintendo?
If you’re Sega in the early 1990s, you hope and pray that a blue hedgehog has enough attitude, enough stamina, and enough speed to make everybody forget about a couple of Italian plumbers.
And believe it or not, Sonic the Hedgehog was a hit. This sneaker-wearing hedgehog spawned a mountain of sequels, knock offs, and merchandise. But most importantly, Sega was able to ride on Sonic’s coattails all the way to success, and Nintendo was about to learn the real meaning of the word “competition”.
Since the days of the Genesis and Super NES, the video game industry has grown by leaps and bounds. With so many new gamers picking up a controller for the first time, there’s a real tendency to forget, or never learn about the games that got us to where we are today.
Perhaps this is the reason Sega has decided to put almost all of the 16-bit Sonic games into one easy to hold GameCube disc. While this isn’t the first Sonic collection, the Sega Saturn game Sonic Jam rushes to mind, this is easily the most complete, even if it’s missing a game or two.
Sonic Mega Collection features seven instantly playable Sonic adventures right from the get-go. Unfortunately, not every Sonic game is created equal, so I thought I would break from my usual writing style, and give you a few brief comments about each of the seven Sonic games.Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)
A lot has been written about Sonic the Hedgehog over the years, but only one thing was important at its launch: SPEED. From the moment you first started controlling Sonic, you knew he was fast. He was also extremely easy to control, since only one button needed to be used.
These days Sonic the Hedgehog looks a bit rudimentary. The level designs, while clever, aren’t all that well put together. Many levels required very little searching, instead focusing attention on making sure you are going as fast as you can. This is, of course, what was unique about Sonic, and what made him an international superstar.
While the game was far from perfect, it showed gamers what to expect when they played a Sonic adventure. If you were going to take control of this hedgehog, that meant you needed to collect rings (which would scatter about if you got hit), find your way out of each level, and best of all, kick the living daylights out of Dr. Robotnik, no matter what form he takes.
This formula is pretty basic, not straying far from other games of the genre. The only difference, really, is that Sonic the Hedgehog was irresponsibly fast.Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)
The second Sonic game may not have been the most ground breaking title of its time, but it did exactly what gamers wanted. It gave eager Sonic fans more levels to race through, more bosses to beat up, and of course, much faster game play. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 also managed to introduce a new character to the line-up, a four-year-old fox named Miles “Tails” Prower.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 always felt a little rushed to me, kind of like it was only going through the motions. Released worldwide on November 24th, 1992, or “Sonic Tuesday”, Sonic 2 introduced the world to one of the greatest game gimmicks of all time, “Blast Processing”.
Had the developers been less worried about making the November release date, chances are this game would have been much better. However, on it’s own, Sonic 2 is still a good game, even if it’s nothing more than a rehash of the first installment. Sonic Spinball (1993)
Taking influence from levels in Sonic 2, Sonic Spinball attempts to blur the line between action games and pinball. The game never really works, though, thanks in large part to the fact that it never feels like a Sonic game. Even the blue guy himself looks surprisingly glossy, and is never given the opportunity to reach the speeds that made him famous.
The game does feature a number of unique levels, and can be a lot of fun with a couple of friends. But after the excitement of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, this pinball distraction was a real let down. It didn’t withstand the test of time well, if I do say so myself. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (1993)
Mean Bean Machine is an easy game to overlook. For one thing, it’s a puzzle game lodged in the middle of a lot of action games. It’s also one of the only Sonic games that really has nothing to do with the blue guy. And frankly, it’s not the most eye catching game on this collection. But there’s no doubt about it, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is one hell of an addictive game.
This is essentially Puyo Puyo, the classic puzzle game where it’s your job to connect colors together as you try to clear the board. Mean Bean Machine offered a computer opponent to play against, all based on the mythology surrounding Dr. Robotnik’s laboratory.
Pretty cheesy stuff, but yet, it’s one of the few games that is still as much fun as it was then. This is easily the most fun two player game in this entire collection, and almost makes up for the terrible Sonic Spinball. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)
The second Sonic sequel does just about everything perfectly. The graphics have been improved, the levels are far more dynamic, and it’s even faster! Perhaps more important, however, is the introduction of power-ups.
The previous two Sonic games didn’t really focus much attention on special items. The game play was often limited to just running and collecting rings. In Sonic 3 you could collect different shields that would give you special powers. The water bubble, for example, would allow you to run faster underwater, as well as bounce when you were on dry land. With the magnetic shield you could attract the rings to you. And the fire shield allowed for one heck of a spectacular fireball attack.
The level designs in Sonic 3 are greatly improved as well. Instead of just rushing through each level, the programmers have given you reasons to search out hidden areas. The game also managed to introduce a whole new antagonist, an evil echidna named Knuckles.Sonic & Knuckles (1994)
On the surface Sonic & Knuckles looks exactly like Sonic the Hedgehog 3. It plays exactly the same, and even features the same power-ups. But do not be fooled, for Sonic & Knuckles is different from the other Sonic games.
For one thing, it allows gamers to play as Knuckles. He may not be as speedy as Sonic, but with the ability to climb up walls and float down to the ground, he is able to get into areas not even Sonic could enter. He adds an entirely new dynamic to this franchise, and is genuinely a lot of fun to explore with.
When it was released back in 1994, Sonic & Knuckles was a cartridge that could be hooked up to other Sonic games. If you were to connect Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or 3 you would be able to play them using Knuckles. Not only did this change the way you played the game, but also allowed you to search out some hidden areas. The more you played the older Sonic’s, the more evident it was to just how much forethought was put into these games.Sonic 3D Blast (1996)
Sonic & Knuckles should have been the conclusion of Sonic’s 16-bit odyssey. But no, Sega had to milk the franchise just one more time. Sonic 3D Blast is the first Sonic game developed by a company other than Sega. Using an entirely different camera angle, Traveller’s Tale found every possible way of making the final 16-bit Sonic as painful an experience as possible.
Your job in 3D Blast is to save all the trapped animals and lead them back to a safe “ring”. By doing this you will be able to advance to the next level, which happens to look almost exactly like the level you were just on. Each level is essentially the same thing, and not a second of it is fun in any way. In fact, this is by far the worst Sonic game ever made.
Not once does the game even attempt to look good. The opening cinema, for example, is so cluttered with chunky pixels that I found it almost impossible to make out what was even going on. The game itself doesn’t look that bad, but it’s a huge step back from the beautiful graphics in Sonic & Knuckles.
The Mega Collection does manage to pack in a few extra games, including a number of classic Genesis titles that really have nothing to do with Sonic (Ristar, for example). These games were appreciated, but it’s the one title they left out that leaves me with the worst taste in my mouth.
After all these years, why is Sonic CD, the absolute best Sonic game out there, still getting no respect? The U.S. version of this Sega CD game already suffered from a redone soundtrack, and this was the opportunity for Sega to right the wrong. But no, instead we get Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast. Hardly seems right.
Nothing has really changed with these games, they are all the same games you will remember playing a decade ago. The only real difference between then and now is the use of the analog control, which is a bigger improvement than I ever would have imagined.
The Sonic Mega Collection has the misfortune of being released right in the middle of the busy holiday season. Had it been released earlier this year, or perhaps early next year, it would not have to compete with games that use the newest technology, hottest features, and best graphics.
But hey, Sonic can stand on his own. He was able to turn Sega into an industry leader, and prove to the world that Nintendo isn’t all that tough. And if you don’t have any first hand experience with this, then this is the collection for you. There’s something for just about everybody in the Sonic Mega Collection.
For gamers who have never owned Sonic 3 or Sonic & Knuckles, go buy this game immediately. It might not offer every 16-bit Sonic game, but what is offered is more than worthwhile. With 12 games in all, there is enough here to keep you busy for quite awhile, even if it does end up feeling like a cash cow.