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Sonic the Hedgehog 1 - Sega Mega Drive/Genesis


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I never had a Mega Drive as a kid, but I do remember playing the first couple of stages of Sonic 1 on the demo pods in Debenhams and Curry's. I've had the SEGA AGES version on the Switch for a while and after hitting a brick wall on Sonic Mania, I thought I would give Sonic 1 a try instead. Green Hill Zone is brilliant - I love the graphics and the music, plus you can get some good speed up without any real danger lurking off-screen. It's fast, it's fun. It's what I wanted the rest of the levels to be like if I'm honest. But things take a turn for the worse immediately in the Marble Zone, where you gotta go fast slow. I mean, it's not terrible, but it feels a lot more like a generic platform game compared to the previous zone. There are things that crush you to death, blocks to push, lava sections and spikes to dodge. At least the music is still catchy. Spring Yard Zone had more moving blocks which threatened to crush you if you try to rush through and pinball sections where I felt about as in control of Sonic as I do a pinball once it's left the flipper. The Labyrinth Zone was the most frustrating stage of all with its underwater sections, spikes galore and the worst music. Starlight Zone was mostly alright, great music too. Scrap Brain Zone was very frustrating and I was glad to get it finished. On the plus side, I did like the bonus stages - very trippy with (again) great music. I don't feel like I really got the hang of them though, I think I finished up with just 1 Chaos Emerald. 

 

I guess I was surprised to find out that Sonic The Hedgehog was not a fast, fun game like I had always assumed it was. Is it a classic game or just a historically important one? I'd say the Green Hill Zone is nigh on perfect, but the quality quickly drops from there. Has anybody here enjoyed it without any nostalgic attachment?

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I've always had mixed feelings about the Sonic games. I can't deny that there is lots of quality platforming to be had, but the _gotta go fast_ thing has always been problematic because a speedy section has to present no danger (and the gameplay turns into pushing right on the d-pad) or it becomes frustrating/annoying.

 

The games are still fun though, so maybe just think of  the going fast parts as fun distractions from the main business of platforming (and chasing air bubbles).

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The first game also trolls you by giving you turbo shoes just before areas with spikes, lava or fatal drops.

 

Sonic 2 & 3 emphasise speed, fast transitions and set pieces a lot more. I kind of prefer Sonic 1 though, always loved the curveball that was Marble Zone. Not only does it take the pace down, it makes you go in all directions rather than just charge to the right.

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What @Camel said, really - the games need to have moments of enjoying the speed, but when this is done too much it becomes a bit "hold right to win". The first one was probably more like a conventional platformer than any of the other classic-era games, with moments of speed broken up by careful platforming... but I kind of like it for that reason. :D 

 

I still enjoy playing 2, 3, etc... but if forced to list my favourites I'd probably rate the original over them.

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I feel like the level design and enemy placement probably reward repeated play. I imagine if you only had Sonic 1 to play on your Mega Drive as a kid, you knew the best routes through the levels and when to jump over obstacles in advance of them appearing on screen. 

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21 hours ago, acidbearboy said:

I never had a Mega Drive as a kid, but I do remember playing the first couple of stages of Sonic 1 on the demo pods in Debenhams and Curry's. I've had the SEGA AGES version on the Switch for a while and after hitting a brick wall on Sonic Mania, I thought I would give Sonic 1 a try instead. Green Hill Zone is brilliant - I love the graphics and the music, plus you can get some good speed up without any real danger lurking off-screen. It's fast, it's fun. It's what I wanted the rest of the levels to be like if I'm honest.

 

Yeah, GHZ is a good example of why it often pays off for developers to spend most of their effort on polishing the first section of a game. Either make it the first level started and the last to be finished (like Sonic); or develop the opening level last, so you have as much experience as possible and know what design elements work (like Doom e1m1).

 

21 hours ago, acidbearboy said:

But things take a turn for the worse immediately in the Marble Zone, where you gotta go fast slow. I mean, it's not terrible, but it feels a lot more like a generic platform game compared to the previous zone. There are things that crush you to death, blocks to push, lava sections and spikes to dodge. At least the music is still catchy.

 

I've seen it suggested that Marble Zone was put in as the second level to highlight the contrast between Sonic and the NES games that most people playing it for the first time in 1991 were used to. Once you go underground there are no curved slope surfaces, so it's as if Sonic has been dropped into the your average blocky, flat-surfaced 8-bit game. (It's even got moving blocks, a bit like Mario 3 autoscrollers!)

 

I first came across that idea in a really interesting thread on Sonic 1's level design on the talking-time.net forums (unfortunately that forum seem to have been wiped and reset in the last few months, and that thread isn't on archive.org :(). I linked to it last year in another discussion about Sonic 1:

https://www.rllmukforum.com/index.php?/topic/314904-controversial-retro-opinions/page/2/&tab=comments#comment-12580467

 

In that post I said this about the game's other levels:

 

Quote

Green Hill is definitely the best level in the first game, though Star Light lets you go really fast too. The fact that the sequels had better cave levels than Marble Zone, better water levels than Labyrinth, and better bumper levels than Spring Yard is the main reason I can never agree with people who say that Sonic 1 is better than 2, 3 & Knuckles, or Mania. (It's better than CD, though: now there's a game with some disjointed level design!)

 

I stand by that comment. I still can't understand people who say that Sonic 1 is the best one - or, even weirder, people who claim that Sonic 3 & Knuckles was some sort of step down from Sonic 2!

 

 

21 hours ago, acidbearboy said:

Spring Yard Zone had more moving blocks which threatened to crush you if you try to rush through and pinball sections where I felt about as in control of Sonic as I do a pinball once it's left the flipper. The Labyrinth Zone was the most frustrating stage of all with its underwater sections, spikes galore and the worst music.

 

Years ago I saw this video, and now every time I play the game I get the lyrics from the first 20 seconds stuck in my head:

 

 

 

21 hours ago, acidbearboy said:

Starlight Zone was mostly alright, great music too. Scrap Brain Zone was very frustrating and I was glad to get it finished. On the plus side, I did like the bonus stages - very trippy with (again) great music. I don't feel like I really got the hang of them though, I think I finished up with just 1 Chaos Emerald. 

 

I don't think I have ever been able to get more than 3 Chaos Emeralds in MD Sonic 1. I just cannot get my head round the jump angles at all! I'm slightly better at the rotating bonus stages in S&K.

 

 

21 hours ago, acidbearboy said:

Has anybody here enjoyed it without any nostalgic attachment?

 

26 minutes ago, acidbearboy said:

I feel like the level design and enemy placement probably reward repeated play. I imagine if you only had Sonic 1 to play on your Mega Drive as a kid, you knew the best routes through the levels and when to jump over obstacles in advance of them appearing on screen. 

 

Yeah, that's why I find it impossible to really respond to the criticism that "the games encourage to to go fast, but if you go fast you can't see where the dangers are." I played them so much as a kid that I learned the location of almost all the major hazards you need to approach slowly. (Although Sonic CD is still unfamiliar enough to me that running into unseen hazards is still an issue when I play that.)

 

Also, people act as if getting hit by stuff while running recklessly at full speed is some major, enormously frustrating event that makes you shout at the TV! Coming to a stop like that never really bothered me: I just accepted the hit, recovered some of my scattered rings, and carried on.

 

And then there's the follow-up criticism: "... but if you play them slowly, they're bad platformers." I can't agree with that, as always found the slow bits fun too!

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