Is it still conceivable that, in 2018, there are gamers out there who have zero experience of Sonic the Hedgehog? As in, they’ve never seen any gameplay footage, and their only knowledge of Sonic is that he’s a blue hedgehog? (That is, if they’ve even heard of him at all!) Picture that person, and then work out which would be the best Sonic game to recommend to them – a title that perfectly captures the magic of the franchise and shows the full spectrum of everything the chilli dog-loving mascot has to offer.
It’s hard isn’t it? I mean, when I look back at the games that first won my heart, I’d be harking back to the Megadrive era – the likes of Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic and Knuckles, etc. But the franchise has evolved so much since then. Sonic 2 is a classic title, but in the 26 years since its release, an awful lot has happened in the interminable war between the ‘blue blur’ and his nemesis Doctor Robotneggman. Sonic 2006 for example – love it or hate it – occupies an entirely different universe of gaming.
Sure, there are the fan favourites. I’m thinking of the likes of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2 and even (not sure why) the divisive Sonic Heroes from the mid naughties, with its slightly clunky gameplay, ropey graphics and no less than 12 playable characters. But people still seem to like it, so I won’t moan. The point about these faves is that they’re pretty atypical. In the Sonic Adventure games, you can only play as Sonic for one sixth of the story. And they both lack the 2D side-scrolling moments that made Sonic a standout franchise at the dawn of the nineties.
So then you can go to the other extreme. With 2010’s Sonic 4: Episodes I & II the developers tried to capture the essence of the Megadrive classics, whilst incorporating the features that had proven successful in the 3D era, such as Sonic’s homing attack and the top-notch graphics. However, these titles were slightly hampered by some questionable ‘ball physics’ and a heavily diluted story, although I must confess that I am a gamer who will defend Sonic 4 to anybody. I think it’s a solid effort. But is it the best Sonic game to recommend to a newcomer? Probably not.
Sonic Colors is a contender, though. This game was exclusive to the Nintendo Wii in 2010, and is a rare example of a 3D Sonic game that was almost universally liked. It was fun, vibrant, creative… It introduced new gameplay elements such as the Wisps, which granted special powers and added some intriguing variety to the various mission attempts.
The thing about Sonic Colors, though, is that it was only available on the Nintendo Wii, and in fact it still is. And the Nintendo Wii is a defunct console. So for a newcomer to play Sonic Colors, they will either have to already possess such console, or go out and buy a second-hand one, which isn’t ideal. Moreover, I may be alone in this view, but I don’t think the Wii controller is ‘the best’ for operating a title such as Colors. Okay, you can substitute the Gamecube controller if you really want, but it still lacks the comfort of the PS4 or, heck, even the Xbox One. So there’s also a certain learning curve in this respect.
Okay, so what are we left with? 2008’s Sonic Unleashed is a game that’s loved by many, but I find it so hard and infuriating that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Sonic Mania is great, but again it’s ‘restricted’ to the format of the Megadrive era. Sonic Forces is solid, but lacking in overall substance. Sonic Lost World is worthy of praise, but arguably breaks with tradition a bit too much. And goodness knows what Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is meant to be.
Therefore, all things considered, I would have to cite 2011’s Sonic Generations as the best Sonic game to recommend to a newcomer. It was created as a celebratory release to mark the franchise’s 20th anniversary in 2011, and it features an almost equal balance of 3D platforming and 2D side-scrolling, re-imagining some of the best levels from the past with a modern day spin. There’s also enough of a story for those who appreciate narrative-driven games, and heck, you can even unlock the original Sonic the Hedgehog game if your noob really wants to learn about the hero’s origins. Plus, on top of all this, Generations is generally a fun and enjoyable title, with a bare minimum of cringe, bugs and general frustration (even if Tails’ helium voice borders on the ridiculous.)
Another great thing about Generations is that there are currently many ways to experience it – PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS. And I’m sure it’s one of those games that will make a resurgence on the platforms of the future, so save a slot on your PS5’s hard drive.
But tell me what you think. Would a Sonic Generations recommendation be a grave mistake? Is Sonic 3D Blast the tip of the iceberg when it comes to quality? Are you one of the people who thinks that Sonic Heroes is wonderful? And if so, why? WHY?? I don’t get it!!
Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading 🙂