20/04/2017

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (ARCADE)

First Sonic the Hedgehog and now this. That’s two games in a row that you have not only probably heard of but might well have even played yourself. I’m getting dangerously close to the mainstream. The mainstream from, erm, almost thirty years ago, anyway. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll get back to barely-remembered home computer games soon enough, but for today it’s Konami’s 1989 arcade superhit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

A surprisingly bland title screen for such a well-loved game, but not to worry – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles makes up for it with the game’s attract mode, which is a recreation of the TMNT cartoon’s opening sequence, complete with a portion of the show’s theme tune. It’s the “teenage mutant ninja turtles, teenage mutant ninja turtles” bit you get to hear, with none of the parts of the song that explain the turtle’s personality quirks and that they will cut the evil Shredder no slack. They didn’t need those bits of the song, because Konami have included their own descriptions of each turtle to get you up to speed.


Not that you necessarily need a bio for each turtle. The TMNT franchise has been around for over thirty years now, and if you’re the kind of person who has sought out a TMNT arcade game then you’re probably already well aware that Leonardo leads and Michelangelo is a party dude. Back in 1989, though, the turtles were still getting big off the back of their first animated series – the series upon which this game is based – so there might have been some kids who didn’t know who the turtles were. In fact, I can imagine this game being a lot of kids’ gateway drug to full-blown turtlemania.


Turtle number one is Leonardo, the leader of the gang. We all know he’s the sensible, level-headed member of the team, but I think that description has been influenced by years of newer TMNT media, because from what I remember of the 80s cartoon Leonardo was just as much of a pizza-obsessed dork as the rest of the turtles. Nowadays he really is the leader of the turtles, but back then “leader” was a vanity title. Also, you’d think someone who has dedicated their life to the mastery of Japanese swordsmanship would baulk at the idea of using their treasured blades to slice pizza, but give Leo a break. He’s a hideous green mutant who lives in the sewers, it’s not like he can nip down to Wilko and buy a pizza cutter.


Next up is Michelangelo, the party dude, the turtle most likely to require an intervention at some point in the future. “I just like having fun, dude,” he says as his family and friends gather around him, “it’s not like I have a problem.


Then there’s Donatello, who nowadays is much more strongly presented as a “nerd,” but back in the day he just “did machines.” The bloke who fixed my tumble drier also “does machines” for a living, but that doesn’t make him a nerd. I will be playing as Donatello last time, because I played as Michelangelo last time I covered a TMNT game and because I’m hoping Donatello’s resentment at being equipped with a stick rather than a cool ninja weapon will translate into a ferocious fighting style.


Lastly there’s Raphael, and his character has changed even more than Leonardo’s over the years: now thought of as the surly, hot-headed rebel of the bunch, in the first cartoon series Raphael was merely a sarcastic, smart-mouthed type. You know the type, you’re always worried that they’re going to invite you to their open-mic stand-up show.
You’ll notice that the turtle’s bios are leaning very heavily on their relationship with pizza. This is hardly surprising, a love of pizza is one of the turtles’ defining traits – but I think it’s mentioned so often because the developers didn’t have much else to work with. Supposedly the game was designed around just the first five episodes of the cartoon, so there wasn’t as much material there as there would be later on: the TMNT cartoon ran for ten seasons, after all. This means that while TMNT does capture a lot of the spirit of the cartoon – in fact, that’s one of the game’s biggest strengths – there are some elements that are surprising in their absence.


The game begins with a fire. The turtles’ friend and confidante April O’Neil is in that building! Being the heroic amphibians they are, the turtles leap into action with no regard for their personal safety and, apparently, no plan for getting to the building beyond “we’ll jump off this building.” That’s either impressive or foolhardy, depending on how much of a turtle’s famous ability for long-jumps the heroes in a half-shell kept during their mutation.


It works out all right for them in the end. Well, mostly. Michelangelo falls on his arse, so it’s a good job I won’t be playing as him. It’d be difficult to fight the evil Foot Clan with a shattered coccyx.


It’s gameplay time, and yes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a side-scrolling beat-em-up. It works a little differently to what you might be expecting, what with it being developed at the same time as Final Fight (the game that really consolidated the genre’s “rules”). Still, it’s a familiar mix of walking around, jumping, jump-kicking and using your attacks to pummel the various members of the Foot Clan that get in your way. You can see some Foot Clan ninjas above, resplendent in their purple and white uniforms, with the turtles and the Foot Clan locked in a battle to determine which group are the least ninja-like ninjas of all time. It’s the usual “walk right and punch things” formula, then, except I’m hitting the bad guys with a stick rather than punching them.


It’s been quite a while since I played TMNT properly, and I’ve played a lot of other, more (let’s say) “traditional” brawlers in the interim, so some of the things TMNT does differently are really jumping out at me. One is that there’s no “desperation move,” a special attack activated by pressing both buttons together that knocks down all enemies near you at the cost of some of your health. The turtles do have a move executed by both buttons, but it’s more of a big, jumping swing (Raphael’s is slightly different) that doesn’t attack in 360 degrees, doesn’t make you invincible while it’s active and doesn’t reduce your health. That took some getting used to.


Then there’s the throwing mechanics. In most brawlers, if you walk right into an enemy you’ll grab them, and from there you can usually hit them a couple of time or throw them (or both). Not so in TMNT. There are throwing attacks – in Donatello’s case he picks his opponent up with his stick and flips them over – but I’m not entirely sure how they work. You attack the enemies and most times you’ll just whack them, but sometimes you’ll throw them. I never managed to figure out whether it’s completely arbitrary or it’s somehow related to the enemy’s remaining health, but my best guess is that there’s some kind of hidden “timer” or combo counter and when it’s full your next attack will be a throw. It’s unpredictable, and that might be a problem in other brawlers but TMNT is so fast-paced and hectic that it’s never much of an issue. Plus, if you throw an enemy into a wall, they slam into it and then slowly slide down to the ground, so any issues with the throwing system are redeemed by that graphical flourish alone.


Having reached the end of this (very short) first stage, the turtles have located April. Don’t look too closely at April’s face, it really brings down the otherwise excellent graphics. Instead, let’s enjoy the arrival of Rocksteady, Shredder’s mutated rhino-man minion. In particular, let’s take a moment to appreciate Rocksteady’s driving skills, because he’s arrived here by piloting an underground tunnelling machine with a massive drill on the front. Considering April’s apartment is at the top of a skyscraper, that is one hell of a drive to pop up through her living room floor.


Boss battle time, and I don’t really know what the best way to approach this fight is. “Not from the front” is a good bet, because Rocksteady has a machine gun and he’s not reluctant to use it. Even when I avoided the gun, however, I’d land a couple of hits from what I thought was a safe position, only for Rocksteady to boot me across the room. Hit-and-run tactics seem to be your best option, then, while keeping an eye out for the moments when Rocksteady goes bananas and starts wildly firing his gun in all directions. At least Donatello’s stick gives him some much-needed extra range, and it wasn’t long before I’d poked Rocksteady into submission. Wait a minute, that means I’ve rescued April. So… game over, then?


Nope, never mind: Shredder has appeared and grabbed April before jumping out of a window with her tucked under his arm. Makes you wonder why he bothered setting fire to April’s apartment in the first place, really. Unless the fire was a side effect of drilling though a block of flats with underground excavation machinery. Yeah, it’s probably that.


TMNT’s first stage is short enough to feel more like a prologue than anything, but now that the turtles – well, Donatello, anyway – have hit the city streets we’re into full-length stage territory. There are lots of Foot Soldiers about, so the turtles have been forced to abandon their efforts to remain hidden from the general populace, presumably enjoying the sunlight and air that smells significantly less like human effluent as they crack heads, perform many jumping kicks and repeatedly fall down an open manhole cover because they’re not paying enough attention. That last bit might be down to me, actually.
Helpfully, the Foot Clan have colour-coded their minions so you can tell at a glance what you’re dealing with: purple soldiers use their bare fists, yellow soldiers have boomerangs, white-clad ninjas wield swords. It’s good to be able to differentiate melee troops from their projectile-carrying brethren, at least, and the different colours mean it feels like there’s a little more enemy variation. Like I said, Konami didn’t have much material to draw on when designing TMNT, so there aren’t that many different types of goons: Foot Soldiers, Mouser robots and those uni-wheeled whip-armed robot things are about all you get.


Well well, look at this. Some kind soul has spray-painted the word “Caution” on the floor – either that, or they’ve spend a long time painstakingly arranging a puddle into those letters – to warn me of upcoming danger. But where is the threat lurking? Is it that crumbling corner of the pavement? It does look like a sprained ankle waiting to happen, but I’ve already safely negotiated that particular hazard. Maybe there’s a Foot Soldier with a high-powered sniper rifle waiting off-screen? But then you take a closer look at the billboard in the background and notice it says “Trapcorp” on it.


Yep, the billboard is a trap: walk underneath it and a couple of Foot Soldiers will push it onto your head. How wonderful is it that the billboard literally told you it was a trap? That’s one of my favourite little flourishes I’ve seen in a game for a while. And, even though I knew there was a trap there, the billboard still hit me. Trapcorp do good work. Wile E. Coyote might want to look into switching suppliers.


Waiting at the end of the street is Bebop, the warthog half of the Bebop and Rocksteady tag-team. That’s Donatello insulting Bebop’s appearance in that speech bubble, by the way. Getting socked right in the jaw may be more justified than usual. Also, glass houses and all that, Donny. I don’t think you’re ever going to be appearing on the cover of GQ, are you?
Given that they’re both muscular mutants carrying guns, it’s no surprise that this fight is similar to the one against Rocksteady. Bebop’s got a little more space to move around in, though, and he uses this to try to shoulder-charge you once you get too far away. The basics remain the same, however; wait until he’s finished shooting or shoulder charging, whack him a couple of times, move up or down to avoid his counter attacks and don’t get too greedy – if you try to unload a full combo on Bebop, half-way through he’ll just thump you across the stage.


After dealing with Bebop, it’s back to the sewers. Not back from the sewers, that’s one of the Game Boy TMNT games. Anyway, there’s not much new to see and do here- bad guys attack, you whack ‘em with your ninja weaponry, so on and so forth. There are a few traps, like these spiked gates, and some of the Foot Soldiers enter the fray by climbing hand-over-hand along the pipes in the foreground in a manner that’s about as stealthy and discreet as wearing a big neon sign on their head that flashes “I AM A NINJA” whenever they move. Overall it’s a pretty bland stage, though. If videogames have taught us nothing else over the years, it’s that it’s very difficult to make an interesting sewer level.


I hope you got lots of practise fighting those Mousers, because Baxter Stockman has arrived for the boss battle and he’s brought hundreds of the bloody things with him. In the most egregious example of this game not having enough TMNT material to work with, Stockman shows up in his far-less-interesting “deranged inventor” incarnation. I know, I know, a mad scientist is usually a very welcome character to include but later in the show Baxter Stockman is transformed into a half-mad-scientist / half fly monster abomination and we can all agree that would be a much better boss fight. Instead what we get is Stockman flying around in a robot capsule thing – after bellowing “Yippee-I-ay!” at you, the weirdo – and throwing Mousers into the fray. You can attack the Mousers but they’ll just keep coming, so you might as well focus on Stockman. The problem with that approach, and this might just be me, but I had trouble lining up my attacks. It’s because he’s flying, I never seemed to be on the right horizontal plane even with Stockman’s shadow working as a guide. Oh well, it’s not an especially fun battle but neither is it terrible. It’s just kinda… there. And now I’ve finished it. Onwards!


The villains pop up between stages to let me know they’re still holding April hostage. Thanks for that, chaps. I might have forgotten what I was doing otherwise. I notice that Baxter Stockman isn’t with you. I assume he was killed during the previous battle. You have my condolences.


More street fighting now, except all of the player characters are musclebound green freaks and not just Blanka. It’s all motoring along at a fair old clip, and both the turtles and the Foot Soldiers are speedy and agile. Still, the combat itself doesn’t feel quite right. It’s definitely fun, and maybe it’s because it’s impossible to play TMNT without viewing it through the prism of all the other side-scrolling beat-em-ups I’ve played, but there’s something a little off about it. For one thing, it doesn’t feel very solid. It’s a difficult concept to explain, but there’s little sensation of weight behind your blows, perhaps due to the game’s sometimes tinny sound effects. Then there’s your standard combos – in most beat-em-ups, once you hit an enemy with the start of your combo they’re stuck there while you unleash your entire combo on them. In TMNT, however, the enemies can interrupt your combo sometimes, and this seems to be especially true when you’re playing as Donatello because of his slightly slower attacks. You can also move while you’re comboing, so if you’re holding the joystick when attacking your turtle will slide around a bit in between each attack. It adds up to gameplay that feels a touch loose, a hair floaty, but because it’s such an all-action, high-impact spectacle you’re left with very little chance for it to become a problem.


Bebop and Rocksteady are back. I’m happy enough with that, I like Bebop and Rocksteady. They were good in Turtles Forever, anyway. It’s a bit of a pain having to fight them both at the same time, especially as they both have guns, but on the plus side they’ve got a move where they both charge at the same time and smash into each other face-first. Being a rhino, I reckon Rocksteady will have come out of that collision better than Bebop.


April has been rescued! You could see her in the background of the previous fight, actually. Bebop and Rocksteady probably should have left her back at the Technodrome, really, but she’s free now and she rewards Donatello with a kiss on the head. Donny doesn’t look much like he’s into it, does he? Then again, why would be? Not many people would want to kiss a mutant turtle, and presumably it works the other way around. If you’re about to send me links to certain website with pictorial evidence that some people do want to make out with the ninja turtles, please keep it to yourself. We both know it’s out there, let’s just leave it at that.


Ah yes, the secret factory. So secret, in fact, that this is the first I’m hearing about it.


The Foot Clan Air Force is suffering from cutbacks, I see. I wonder what transgressions these poor ninjas made to be ordered into battle carrying bombs over their heads? It can’t be “being completely ineffectual in stopping the turtles,” because then the entire Foot Clan from Shredder down would be up for court-martial.
So, the turtles make their way to the secret factory by walking right down the middle of the highway, despite the previous stage showing that they own a van. Okay, sure, whatever, but that does leave them prone to being run over.


Say what you will about the Foot Clan, but they know how to ride in style.


Now we know where the Ninja Air Force’s budget went, they’ve spent it all on these one-man attack helicopters that are unsuited to carrying large ordnance. Donatello is riding a skateboard now, because of course he is. I wonder when the skateboard went from being shorthand for cool to shorthand for trying to be cool but failing? About five nanoseconds after the first advertising exec signed off on a skateboard-riding mascot, I suppose. That won’t bother the turtles, mind you: they love skateboarding, especially rocket skateboarding, because slapping a jet engine on a wheeled plank of wood is the best way to get through the sewers quickly.
It might look like this stage is trying to do something new and exciting, and I guess it is trying, but it doesn’t really work. The skateboard’s always directly under your two-toed feet so it’s not like you have to worry about falling off – all it means is that you have to spend the entire stage doing jumping attacks. It’s all a bit of a pain, really.


Oh, now the Turtle Wagon shows up. Coulda saved me a lot of time and frustration there, lads.


You know what? I’m just going to come out and say it - turtles shouldn’t be allowed to drive. Think about it, there’s no way they’ve got licenses. I’m sure the DVLA would agree that they’re a menace to themselves and others.


While the turtles were busy causing major delays on the city’s roads, Splinter has managed to get himself kidnapped. “We gotta save Splinter,” says Donatello, before standing still and letting the Mousers carry his master away. Good ninja reflexes there, Donny. Very sharp. It’s odd, because it’s not like the turtles need a rescue mission to motivate them, the desire to slap Shredder around should be more than enough to get them moving.


This’ll be the secret factory, then. It features the same Foot-fighting action as the other stages, and it’s particularly notable for featuring a bunch of these spear-carrying Foot Soldiers. They are a colossal pain in the backside, because not only do the spears give their melee attacks far greater range than even Donatello’s whackin’ stick, but they can also throw their spears at you for a projectile attack. I think I lost more health to these pricks than I did to the swarm of gun-toting attack helicopters. Oh, and there are more traps than ever in this stage, notably the mechanical-looking things on the platform below Donatello’s feet. Those are laser beam emitters that damage you if you stand in front of them, so in this case the machines did Donatello.


Halfway through the stage, Shredder sends up one of his drill machines packed with laser-spraying, insectoid drones. I’m sure Shredder doesn’t think they’ll actually stop the turtles – they certainly don’t pose much of a challenge and to call it a boss fight would rather devalue the rest of the game’s bosses. I think he just sent them up to annoy the turtles, then. Well, it didn’t work. Now I’m not on a skateboard I’m having too much fun to get annoyed.


The stage’s real boss is this curiously bird-faced rock soldier. One of Metroid’s Chozo statues gone rogue? Maybe. All I know is that being made of granite doesn’t prevent him from taking damage when I bash him with my stick, which you’d think would be entry number one on the “reasons why being a stone soldier is awesome” list. Anyway, the stone soldier fights very similarly to Bebop and Rocksteady: he’s got a gun (a flamethrower, in this case) and he’ll hit you with a powerful strike if you get greedy with combos or have the temerity to jump towards him. The same tactics for defeating him apply, you just have to be a bit more careful. Before he’s reduced to decorative aquarium gravel, however, take a good look at his flamethrower. That is definitely the Pulse Rifle from Aliens mixed with, erm, the flamethrower from Aliens. Maybe Konami knew they were going to be starting work on an Aliens arcade game right after TMNT came out so they figured they’d get in some practise drawing the movie’s weapons.


Oh, I get it – it’s called the “secret factory” because it makes secrets. Secrets like the Technodrome, the mobile fortress belonging to Shredder’s boss, Krang. That’ll be the final stage, then. I wish more final stages took place in enormous spherical death-tanks with robots eyeballs sticking out of the top.


Well, this shouldn’t take long.


The inside of the Technodrome is about what you’d expect: lots of vaguely sci-fi-looking scenery and dozens of Foot Soldiers. Here, you can see a Foot Soldier is about to harm Donatello by throwing a spear into his back. You’d think the one thing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be safe from is spears in the back, but the ways of ninjitsu truly are mysterious.
There are also a lot of traps in this stage. Electricity blasters, gun turrets, freeze rays, it’s like a Bond villain’s jumble sale. I’m happy for all these deathtraps to be here, because it certainly enlivens proceedings. Some of the earlier stages were a little bland, especially the sewer, so more stuff to avoid is fun. I had enough chances to use the environment against the Foot Clan – by kicking traffic cones at them or detonating exploding oil drums or opening fire hydrants – that a bit of turnabout actually does feel like fair play.


TMNT even mixes up the standard beat-em-up “ride an elevator while enemies jump in” section by replacing the goons with big steel balls. That made a nice change, mostly because I didn’t have to worry about getting a spear in the back. Plus the turtles can jump really high in this game, so it’s not much of a challenge to avoid the balls.


Here comes another boss, and in fact the game is all bosses from here on out. This one’s another rock bloke – General Traag, to be precise. The fight got off to a bad start, because I was standing next to the door when Traag kicked it open at the start of the battle. Then it got worse when I tried to circle around him and accidentally touched the laser grid covering the now-open doorway. The look of sheer misery on Donatello’s skull is going to haunt me for a while.
So, another day, another rock man. This one also has a gun. I honestly can’t remember if there’s any differences between Traag and the last rock man I fought, other than Traag wearing kicky purple boots. They’re both got the prominent rocky codpieces, I know that much. As with the other rock man, and most of the bosses in the game, it’s more hit-and-run fighting only with more running than hitting. If you’re trying to get through the fight safely, it can take quite a long time, which makes sense when you’re trying to destroy a walking boulder by hitting it with a wooden stick. It doesn’t make for the most thrilling gameplay, though.


Once you’ve beaten Traag, it’s time to face Krang! You know, Krang, the alien brain-creature riding around inside the belly of a bald robot wearing underpants and suspenders? Krang is Shredder’s boss, so it’s a little odd that we haven’t seen him in the game before now and he wanders out of the teleporter screen with very little fanfare. Maybe Konami were trying to keep his appearance a surprise. By the way, Shredder built Krang’s robot body, which tells you a lot about how highly Shredder regards Krang.
As for the fight, at the risk of repeating myself it’s yet another cautious affair where getting a single hit in then running away is your best strategy. Krang attacks with eye beams and a hefty kick, but because he’s bigger and consequently slower than the other bosses he’s probably the easiest one in the game to beat. It’s something of a disappointment, and he was much cooler when he appeared in his giant mode in TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, but just look at his joyous, squishy little face in the screenshot above. Krang’s having such a good time that it’s impossible to be too disappointed.


With nary a moment to draw your breath, once Krang’s been dealt with Shredder appears for the final confrontation. And when I say Shredder, I mean two Shredders. He’s used his ninja magic to create a doppelganger, and I never did figure out if one of them is the “true” Shredder that you should be focussing on or if they both take damage, so I pummelled both of them just about equally. It’s a much more enjoyable fight than the last two, as well – for starters, you can actually get a combo off against Shredder without having to leg it after each successful hit, and as he slashes at you with his sword and you dodge out of the way while trying to keep the other Shredder at bay, it all gels into a fun, fast and slick battle that’s definitely suitable for the game’s final set piece.


It’s a real shame, then, that Shredder also has a wide-range special move that’s an instant kill if it hits you: he whips out his retro-muto-thingamabob and fires it in a three-way spread, turning any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle back into a regular, non-mutant, non-ninja (though presumably still teenaged) turtle. It is avoidable and if you’re quick you can knock Shredder out of the attack while he’s pulling his gun out, but it still feels ever so slightly like bullshit. Does it help that if it does hit you, you’re replaced by a special sprite of a tiny, adorable turtle? Yes, yes it does.


Eventually, though, Shredder was defeated and the Technodrome exploded. Of course it did, this is a Konami arcade game. If the enemy base didn’t blow up at the end I’d ask for my money back. There’s not much to the game’s ending, with it basically telling you what you already know: you won. It is frankly astonishing that there’s not a single mention of pizza in here – instead we’re left to wonder about the mechanics of vaporising something into milkshake. Surely that would be liquidising, not vaporising.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the most widely-loved arcade games of all time, but in some ways it’s probably not as great as you remember it being. It’s core gameplay is still fun, in concept and mostly in execution, but it has problems like some not-very interesting boss battle and a light, slippery feel to some of the combat. On a purely mechanical level it’s not as good as something like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, then, but here’s the thing – that doesn’t really matter in this instance. Whatever its flaws, TMNT makes up for them with the pure joy of its presentation. Just look at it – it’s so colourful, so vibrant, so charming in its spritework and animation, and best of all it absolutely, one hundred percent nails the look and feel of the TMNT cartoon. This is the closest you can get to being a mutant ninja turtle yourself without strapping a load of terrapins to your naked body and running through the Chernobyl exclusion zone. As well as the graphics, there’s the excellent soundtrack:



It combines the cartoon’s soundtrack with Konami’s arcade music sensibilities to create a thoroughly danceable set of tracks, if you don’t mind being caught dancing to old videogame music. You won’t be able to help dancing, I assure you. This game probably has the weakest of all Konami’s classic TMNT game soundtracks, but that’s only because they’re all deeply excellent, and TMNT IV: Turtles in Time has one of the best arcade soundtracks ever.
On top of that, there’s one other thing that gives TMNT a push towards greatness…


The four-player mode! Grab three of your friends, neighbours, randos off the street, whoever, and let them play as a turtle each for the true half-shell experience. As you can see, the action reaches a level you could safely describe as “fairly mental” and it’s so much more fun as a result. I’d say it’s about 400% more fun than in single-player, appropriately enough.
Well, that was fun. Enough fun to make me say “cowabunga!” out loud? Maybe if I wasn’t alone in a very quiet house while writing this. There’s something quite dismal about saying “cowabunga” in that setting. Still, y'know, it was fun.

16/04/2017

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (MEGADRIVE / GENESIS)

Spring is in the air, the cherry trees outside my house are in full bloom and my hayfever’s staring to kick in. It can mean only one thing: it’s just about time for VGJunk’s birthday! That’s right, today is the site’s seventh anniversary, which is definitely a long enough amount of time to keep me awake at night as I think of all the good I could have done in the world instead of writing bad jokes about videogames for seven years. Anyway, to celebrate these anniversaries (and also because it’s my actual birthday tomorrow) I usually write about a game I genuinely love, but this year I’m doing something a bit different – I’m covering a game that lots of other people love, but which I’ve never fully taken to myself. It’s Sega’s 1991 Megadrive / Genesis gotta-go-fast-em-up Sonic the Hedgehog!


Here’s Sega’s beloved mascot now, with a smirk that betrays the slightest hint of his trademark “attitude.” Sonic looks young, fresh-faced and surprisingly shiny, as you might expect him to in a time before he gained an ever-growing coterie of friends and rivals, before he became a were-hog, before he started making out with human women. That said, Sonic did have a human girlfriend early in this game’s development, but she was eventually cut, thus paving the way for Amy Rose’s later introduction. She doesn’t appear in this game, though, and neither do any of Sonic’s other friends and hangers-on. It’s just Sonic and Dr. Robotnik – or Dr. Eggman, if you prefer – battling it out for the future of their world.
Before I get into the game proper, I should just say that if you are a hardcore Sonic fan and you’re heading to the comments section to leave an angry message about me not liking Sonic, then cool your jets. I certainly don’t think Sonic the Hedgehog is a bad game. In fact, I think it’s a good game, but I’ve never understood why people love it quite so much – that is, to a degree that even childhood nostalgia can’t really account for. So, I’m giving it another chance to get its hooks into me properly. I await enlightenment.


The game begins in the not-inappropriately named Green Hill Zone, a lush and verdant place of green grass, palm trees and chequerboard-patterned cliffs that for some reason always make me think of biscuits. Granted, it doesn’t take much to make me think about biscuits. Sonic the Hedgehog is split into several differently-themed “Zones,” with each Zone having three “Acts” and a boss fight at the end, so we get to enjoy Green Hill Zone’s scenery for a fair while – and doesn’t it look nice? The blue skies, the abundant flora, an amount of colour rarely seen outside a Dulux testing facility, it’s definitely a treat. I’ve never really realised it before, but Sonic the Hedgehog has the look of Sega’s arcade games of the time. Of course, it’s obvious that it would look like the OutRun of platformers, but it never occurred to me until now.


So, what can Sonic actually do in this game? Surprisingly little, as it turns out. He can run, he can jump and that’s about it. He curls into a ball when he jumps, and you can use this ability to jump on the evil robots that populate the stages, smashing them apart and freeing the woodland critters that Robotnik has imprisoned inside. You can also curl into a ball while running by pressing down on the d-pad, which lets you roll through enemies and around the scenery. Running and jumping is more than enough to get Sonic through the game’s levels, but nowadays it does feel rather limited – especially the lack of the spin-dash, which wasn’t introduced until Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Compare this to Super Mario Bros., which was released six years earlier – even Mario could swim and throw fireballs in that early incarnation. Ah yes, Super Mario. You can’t really talk about Sonic without mentioning Mario, can you? I have no qualms about comparing the two series, especially as comparing Sonic to Mario was basically Sega’s entire marketing strategy at the time. Mario definitely wins out in terms of complexity, then, but simplicity’s not necessarily a bad thing so I wouldn’t say its a mark against Sonic.


This simplicity is at its most effective when Sonic is doing the thing he’s most famous for – going fast. And boy howdy, he can go fast. Hold right on the d-pad and watch him fly thanks to theblast-processed power of the Megadrive, around loop-the-loops, through twisting passageways and catapulted off springboards into spike-pits and robot wasps. It’s no surprise that when people think of Sonic they tend to remember the games’ early stages – your Green Hill Zones and Emerald Hill Zones and the like – because their more open layouts and lower difficulty mean that’s where Sonic can spend the most time running around like a greyhound that’s swallowed a cruise missile. That’s when the game play is the most enjoyable and the most Sonic-y and yes, running through them as fast as possible is a lot of fun.


A lot of that fun comes from the level design which, for the most part, is very good thanks to the inclusion of various routes through each Act. You can generally take a top path for a more challenging but more rewarding (usually in terms of the golden rings that Sonic hoards and uses as a life bar) path though each stage, or a lower, slower but steadier route, often with a middle path and the opportunity to switch between routes. This is especially effective in the context of the game’s extremely high pace: it encourages you to play to the game’s strengths by going as fast as you can, knowing that if you mess up a jump you’re (probably) not going to fall down a bottomless pit and you’ll be able to continue along a different route.


Ah yes, rings. Every nineties platformer was littered with shiny objects the player was tasked with collecting, and Sonic the Hedgehog is no different. In this case it’s rings, an object presumably chosen solely because it’s neither a coin nor a jewel. As usual, collecting one hundred rings gives Sonic an extra life, but their more important function is protection. I’m sure 99.999% of people reading this know how rings work in a Sonic game, but in case you don’t: if Sonic takes damage – by touching an enemy or, far more likely, making contact with some kind of spike – and he isn’t holding any rings, he dies. If he is holding rings, he doesn’t die but he drops all his rings, scattering them nearby. If you’re quick, you can pick up some of the rings you just dropped. I really like this system as a replacement for the standard health bar, for two reasons: it gives you a chance to immediately recover from whatever dumbass mistake you just made, and because the more rings you’re holding the more rings you drop when you’re hit, so you’re still encouraged to collect rings rather than simply holding on to one ring like some spiky Gollum. There’s also another reason for stockpiling rings…


If you finish any of the first two Acts in a Zone with more than fifty rings in Sonic’s sweaty, begloved hands, a huge ring appears at the end of the stage. Far from being merely a more extravagant version of the regular rings, it’s actually a portal to a universe of dizziness and eye-punishing graphics. Jump into the big ring and welcome to… the Special Stage.


Well, this is all very different, isn’t it? And not in an enjoyable way, not with the background constantly warping and cycling through an extremely bright colour palette in the manner of a particularly obnoxious Amiga cracktro.
The Special Stages don’t just look bananas, they work in a very different way to the rest of the game. The entire stage is a maze of blocks that constantly rotates, with Sonic trapped inside, curled up into a ball. You can “jump” while you’re in the special stage, although it’s more like you’re “pushing” yourself off whatever wall you’re touching. There are special blocks within the Special Stage, including pinball-style buffers that ping Sonic around the maze and blocks that speed up, slow down or reverse the direction of the maze’s rotation when you touch them. There are also “Goal” blocks, and if you touch those you’ll be set free from this potentially nausea-inducing spinning prison – but don’t touch the goal, because there’s something more important to do in the Special Stages.


Each stage contains one of the fabled Chaos Emeralds, generally located at the centre of the maze and always surrounded by a cluster of blocks that you have to grind Sonic against multiple times before they disappear. Obviously your goal is to grab the Chaos Emerald, although it’s never explained why you would want to do so, at least not in the non-Japanese versions of the game. Greed will have to act as Sonic’s prime motivator, then.
The only reward for collecting all the Chaos Emeralds is a slightly different ending, and after playing a couple of Special Stages I very nearly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t bloody worth it. They’re just not much fun, is the thing, and they’re definitely not a patch on the Special Stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. There’s just enough of a random element and lack of control that they feel frustrating and awkward rather than challenging and unique, plus the graphical aesthetic of “Lisa Frank meets bootleg Columns clone” is not one I wanted to expose myself to any more than was strictly necessary.


I did it, though. For you, Dear Reader. Well, I’ve already collected two of the six Chaos Emeralds, I suppose I might as well try to get the rest.


Back out into the real world, and after much running, jumping and bouncing off springs, it’s time for Sonic’s first confrontation with his arch nemesis, the evil Dr. Robotnik. That’s right, Robotnik. He’ll always be Robotnik to me. Anyway, Robotnik wants to take over the world for vague reasons, but he specifically wants to give Sonic a hard time because he really hates the little blue spikeball. The Japanese manual implies that Sonic and Robotnik have fought each other many times before, only this time Robotnik has turned all Sonic’s animal friends into robots, presumably in the hope that increasing Sonic’s friend-rescuing workload will give him more time to conquer the planet. That still doesn’t explain why Robotnik is so bent on world domination in the first place. Maybe he was driven to insanity due to the loneliness of being the only roughly human-shaped person on the planet. Perhaps he foresaw the release of Sonic 2006 and is doing whatever he can to prevent it. Whatever his twisted motivations, he’s here to destroy Sonic, and he’s brought a big flying wrecking ball to get the job done.


Unfortunately for the portly mad scientist / hedgehog hater, if Sonic stands right in the corner of the screen the ball and chain can’t actually hit him. That’s what we call a “design flaw,” Robotnik. Once you’ve figured out the limitations of Robotnik’s flying death machine, it’s a simple matter of hopping up to the platform above and bouncing into Robotnik once or twice before retreating to the safety of the corner. Repeat this a few times and Robotnik’s weapon will explode, forcing him to retreat in his flying machine which is now powered by pure embarrassment.


After that, all that’s required to end the Zone is to break open the containment unit holding dozens of Sonic’s animal friends. These animals are the lucky ones. There were plenty of robots in the preceding stages that I didn’t bother to destroy, leaving the animals inside trapped within their metal prisons. On the plus side, they’re robots now. That’s pretty cool. They’ve got wheels, or they can fly, or turn invisible. If I was a hoppity-floppity widdle bunny, I would probably consider being turned into an invisible chameleon robot an upgrade.


Onwards to stage two, the Marble Zone. It’s got an ancient-ruined-civilization feel to it, and it’s always seemed familiar to me but I’ve only just realised why: it’s because it looks like first stage of Altered Beast should be taking place just off camera.


It also has a lot of lava, so we can probably guess why it’s a ruined civilisation. The setting raises even more questions about the world of Sonic the Hedgehog, because surely these buildings weren’t constructed by chicks and rabbits? Were they the home of Robotnik’s ancestors, and he’s the last, doomed survivor of an ancient race? I’m not particularly au fait with Sonic the Hedgehog’s no-doubt vast and convoluted lore, but I don’t think these questions have ever been answered. Of course, there are many, many questions about Sonic’s universe that have never and probably can never receive a satisfactory answer. Can Sonic naturally run very fast or, as is implied in the game’s original manual and posited by NBA Jam, is it the shoes? Why is there so much Sonic the Hedgehog pornography on the internet? What the hell does “toot toot Sonic warrior” mean? I have no answers, my friends, only questions upon questions.
Oh, and I really like the platforms pictured above: they sink into the lava when you stand on them, just far enough that the grass on top catches fire and chases Sonic as he makes his way across them. It’s more interesting that the usual “platforms that collapse a couple of seconds after you stand on them” set-up, I’ll give it that.


Most of the Marble Zone actually takes place underground, amongst the lava pools and crushing spiked platforms. Sonic will be back here in the winter months when he’s ready to hibernate, but for now he’s got to outrun the cascading magma and ride moving masonry over the molten rock. It’s a set of trials and traps that look more dangerous than they really are, and most of the damage you’ll take in this stage will come if you panic. Taking it slowly is the best way to get through the Marble Zone, as wildly inappropriate as that may be.


Even Sonic himself looks annoyed at being forced to slow down, as well he might. In fact, he almost always looks relatively surly during the game, especially when he’s standing there with his hands on his hips. I say hips, I mean the part of his body where his legs slot into his tubby lil’ torso.


For the Marble Zone’s boss battle, Robotnik has taken inspiration from the natural world around him by creating a lava-dribbling machine. He drops a blob of lava on one side of the screen, setting that platform on fire, before flying over to the other side and doing the same thing, over and over again, forever repeating his ineffectual attempt to defeat Sonic in a manner that sums up the Robotnik / Sonic rivalry rather nicely. My advice? Don’t stand on the platform that’s on fire. There really isn’t much more to it than that, folks.


Next up is the Spring Yard Zone, and where the previous two stages had easily-defined themes – pastoral tranquillity and lava ruins, respectively – the Spring Yard Zone is a difficult one to sum up. A pinball table mixed with a scrapyard, maybe? Or maybe I’m only thinking of a scrapyard because it sounds like Spring Yard? No, a lot of this stage is made of irregular orange-brown metal that looks like rusted iron, that’s pretty scrapyard-ish. Whatever the intended mood, it features a lot of pinball buffers that spang Sonic around the stage and U-shaped “half-pipes” to roll around in, and on the whole it’s a lot more open than the Marble Zone and is consequently more enjoyable. Sonic the Hedgehog plays best when it’s got a bit of room to breathe.


Cope? Look, I’m trying my best but sometimes life just gets you down, you know? Writing this article one-handed while my other hand is shoved in a big bucket full of Easter sweets is definitely helping me to cope, though.


Here’s me making a real hash of avoiding these spiked balls. There are way more spiked balls in this game than I remember. I’m sure there are some interesting psychological insights you can gain from Robotnik loving spiked balls so much and Sonic spending a lot of his time being a spiked ball.
The majority of the Spring Yard Zone finds a good balance between high-speed action and more cautious platforming, with lots of areas that you can charge through at top speed if you’re feeling confident, (or you know the stages well,) but if you mess up and lose your momentum the platforming is still enjoyable as you delicately jump between the deathtraps.


Spring Yard Zone Act 2 offers your sixth chance to enter the Special Stage, so by now I’ve used my pro gamer skills to collect all the Chaos Emeralds. No, of course not. I used a bunch of save states, it’s far too easy to mess up a jump and land on the “Goal” tiles before grabbing the emerald and the Special Stages aren’t nearly enough fun for me to actually practise them.
Like I say, your only reward for collecting all the Chaos Emeralds is a very slightly different ending. There are no familiar-looking pointy-haired golden power-ups to unlock in this one, as Super Sonic wasn’t introduced until Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Therefore, I have concluded that Sonic’s sole reason for collecting the Chaos Emeralds is just because it’ll annoy Robotnik.


Robotnik’s back for another boss battle. This time, he’s put a spike on the bottom of his eggmobile so he can gradually remove chunks of the floor. This might have been an effective strategy if he wasn’t so bloody slow about it, but as it is he lumbers between the blocks at a snail’s pace, giving Sonic plenty of time to smash him up as long as he remembers not to jump into the spike on the bottom of Robotnik’s ship. The way he manages to stretch out the time it takes to complete this basic demolition work might draw appreciative remarks from the world’s builders, but it’s not helping him defeat his nemesis, is it? What Robotnik needs for his robot killing machines is evolution, not revolution. If he’d combined the fire-spitter, the ball-and-chain and the spiked floor ruiner, Sonic wouldn’t stand a chance. But no, he’s got to come up with something completely different every time.


Moving on, and Zone four is the Labyrinth Zone. It’s another ancient ruins-themed area, only this time it’s more Atlantis than Pompeii and there’s a lot of water to traverse.


It’s not much of a labyrinth, either, but Stand On The Switches Zone is a far less catchy name. Least Fun Zone might have been a good name for it, too, because it really is, and it sums up the reason that while I can enjoy classic Sonic games they never get anywhere near my all-time favourites list. Sonic spends the majority of this stage underwater, which means he can’t go fast. His entire ethos, his main selling point, the essence of his character has been completely excised from the gameplay as he sluggishly wades through the briny deep, not only moving slowly but being forced to stop and wait at the pockets of bubbles so he can replenish his oxygen supply. The Labyrinth Zone is an extreme example, but it’s the case in almost every Sonic game that there’s a point where going fast starts becoming a less and less viable strategy, making the gameplay less and less enjoyable.


Obviously, there’s a difficult balancing act when it comes to designing Sonic stages. You want Sonic to be able to move freely and put his famous speed to good use, but if stage after stage were designed like Green Hill Zone the gameplay would become pretty repetitive, and there are some Sonic stages where it feels like all you’re doing to get through them is holding right on the d-pad. It’s a balance that’s possible to get right - Spring Yard Zone and the Zone after this one manage it well – but Labyrinth Zone stops the game’s momentum dead with a dull, finicky section of mostly-underwater platforming and annoying spike traps. Contrast this to the classic Super Mario games: it’s extremely rare that they suffer from a sudden dip in quality between worlds, because they take Mario’s skill set and gradually ramp up the complexity of the stages without ever taking away any of Mario’s core attributes. Also, Mario can swim. Sonic cannot, which is odd because hedgehogs can swim.


That’s not to say that the Labyrinth Zone is a completely miserable experience. Most of it is just okay, certainly no worse than a thousand other mascot platformers of the era, and Sonic has something else that helps it get by: charm. It’s just a very cute game, you know? Check out Sonic’s goofy face as he’s forced down this water slide, that’s the kind of thing I mean. Everything’s so nicely designed and full of character that even when the gameplay flags, there’s always something worth looking at, be it the background details, Sonic’s wobbly pose when he’s standing right at the edge of a platform, or woodland creatures scurrying away from their robot prisons.


Speaking of robots, I think Dr. Robotnik might have been starting to lose interest when he designed a robot that’s just a sphere with eyes. Not to worry, though, he jazzed it up with a few spiked balls. Dr. Robotnik and spiked balls, it’s the greatest videogame love affair since Pac-Man and dots.


Unfortunately, Labyrinth Zone ends with what is probably the lowest point of the entire game. Rather than having a proper boss fight, you have to chase Robotnik up a narrow passageway of platforms while the water level rises beneath you. If you’re not quick enough – or you brush up against one of the many fireballs or spears that line the route – you’ll end up underwater, slowed down by the current and, most likely, drowned. It’s just no fun to navigate, because “straight up” is the only direction that Sonic’s not very good at going fast in, and the small jumps and restricted safe zones do not play well with the blue blur’s somewhat slippery jumping physics. I’m sure the onrushing water is intended to heighten the tension of the situation, but (for me, anyway,) it overshoots “tense” and marches into “annoying” territory, trying its hardest to plant its flag atop Pain In The Arse Mountain.


The entire ordeal is almost redeemed by Robotnik’s reaction to Sonic escaping from this deathtrap. He looks like he really, genuinely expected Sonic to be dead, and then he panics and flies away. This is what I mean when I say Sonic the Hedgehog has charm.


We’re back to the good stuff with Star Light Zone, a place that I think is supposed to represent an under-construction skyscraper, albeit in a pretty abstract manner. There’s lots of running around loops and over curves, with a few new obstacles to contend with that fit nicely into the action. It’s also got my favourite stage theme in the game, which is quite an accolade because if there’s one facet of Sonic the Hedgehog that I can give my complete and unreserved praise, it’s Masato Nakamura’s soundtrack. The Sonic games almost always have good music, and the original is no exception, so let’s have a listen to the Star Light Zone theme.



Here’s my advice: if you’re thinking about learning to play bass guitar – perhaps you’ve realised you’re not cool enough for lead guitar but still have too much dignity to become a drummer – then the Star Light Zone theme makes an excellent first song to learn.


Later in the stage, Sonic is halted in his tracks by a goddamn desk fan. Let’s hope for his sake that Robotnik never finds out about those Dyson bladeless fans.


Star Light Zone gives Sonic plenty of opportunity to roll around at the speed of sound, but when it does slow things down it does so in a far more enjoyable way than the Labyrinth Zone. I particularly like these see-saw / trampoline things, powered by – what else – spiked balls. Jump onto the non-spiky side to catapult the ball into the air, move over to the other side of the see-saw and when the ball lands it sends Sonic flying. It’s a simple yet extremely satisfying mechanic, but the real joy of these platforms is the “bwoing” sound effect they make.


It’s a good job I like the catapults so much, because the boss fight is all about them. Robotnik’s obsession with spiky metal balls has reached its most fevered heights, but like Icarus flying too close to the sun the doctor is overcome by the power of his own creation. He tries to drop spiked balls on Sonic’s head, you see, but the see-saws mean that either a) Sonic can launch the balls back up to Robotnik to damage him or b) the balls can launch Sonic up towards Robotnik. Either way, something spherical yet pointy is going to ruin his plans. These particular spiked balls do explode into deadly shrapnel after a while just to keep Sonic on his toes, but it’s still a relatively easy boss battle in a game packed with easy boss battles.


Then it’s on to the Scrap Brain Zone, the final full Zone in the game. If you like moving mechanical parts, dangling saw-blades that would most definitely not pass a Health and Safety inspection and Sonic’s ability to defy gravity while standing on a gear wheel, then this is the stage for you. There’s not that much to say about the first two Acts, honestly. It’s mechanical, you spend too much time waiting around for platforms to move into the right place, it’s a bit tougher than the other stages and it’s very grey.


There’s also a lot of opportunity to get squashed between moving platforms, which results in immediate death and accounted for roughly seventy percent of the lives I lost playing this game. I can understand that being crushed between two implacable slabs of metal is a good reason to lose a life, but there’s something about the way Sonic the Hedgehog handles the hit detection of these crushing areas that never felt quite right to me. Sometimes you’ll be able to escape even once the platform is already pressing into Sonic’s grossly-oversized skull, but other times you’ll be killed simply for standing near two touching surfaces. It’s an odd quirk of the game engine, I guess, and it hardly ruins the experience, but it’s something you should be aware of any time there’s the potential to get squashed.


Here’s a question for you: if you could find someone who’s never heard of Sonic the Hedgehog and showed them a picture of Sonic himself, do you think they’d be able to tell what animal he is? I honestly don't know, probably because I’ve known about Sonic the Hedgehog since I was a kid. I mean, he’s got a hedgehog-ish little snout and spines on his back… except they look more like hair than spines. Also, he’s blue. Not a common colour for hedgehogs, as a rule. I think there’d be a fifty-fifty chance of identifying him as a hedgehog, which makes sense because there’s a continuum of how much a Sonic character looks like the animal they’re supposed to be and Sonic lies somewhere in the middle. At one end you’ve got Tails, who is more or less just a fox (extra tail notwithstanding) and Cream the Rabbit, whose ears are a dead giveaway. On the other extreme is Knuckles, who looks about as much like an echidna as I do. I don’t know what I’d think Knuckles was supposed to be. Some kind of mole, perhaps. Then there are outliers like Big the Cat, who almost looks like a cat but looks more like a golem created by a race of cat people to protect them from persecution.


Anyway, back to the game, and Sonic has finally caught up with Robotnik. Robotnik is hiding behind a force-field, however, and not even running into it really fast can penetrate this barrier. Then, with an expression of glee so pure and heartwarming that it’s a wonder anyone ever roots for Sonic in these situations, Robotnik stamps on a button that opens a pit beneath Sonic and drops him into a new stage.


Oh, come on. Back to the Labyrinth Zone? Boo. Okay, so while I would definitely have preferred Star Light Zone Act 4, this stage isn’t bad at all. It feels a damn sight more like a labyrinth, anyway, and the pale grey and purple colour scheme is rather appealing. It’s like I’m fighting through a retrospective of 80s graphic design.


I like that this stage feels as though it has a purpose, too – showing Sonic’s resolve by having him haul his spiky arse back up from the depths of Hell just to ruin Robotnik’s day. The end of this stage isn’t nearly as unpleasant as the end of the Labyrinth Zone proper, but it does get pretty hairy as you squeeze through the narrow final corridors. Knowing that the climactic boss battle was coming up, I oh-so-carefully negotiated the fireballs and spikes, determined that I’d go into the final encounter with a healthy supply of rings. It was tricky, but I made it through unscathed. Then the game took all my rings off me anyway. Cheers, Sega.


Here is the final battle, and given what I said earlier about suffering a lot of deaths through crushing I was a little concerned that Robotnik’s entire plan is to flatten Sonic using these giant pistons. Two of the four pistons move into the screen at a time, and Robotnik’s hiding inside one of them. Jump into him when you can, but try to stay patient. In between piston attacks, four balls of electricity will appear above Sonic and then descend towards him, but there’s a big enough gap between them that you can avoid them by jumping straight upwards at the appropriate moment. If that all sounds very straightforward, that’s because it is – the only problem you’re going to have is that any mistake means immediate death, either because you were crushed or because the electricity touched you and the game already took away all your sodding rings. Not a particularly thrilling end to the game, then, but at least the Sonic franchise would have much more interesting bosses in future games.


Before Sonic can deal the finishing blow, Robotnik manages to jump into his eggmobile and fly away. Good. I’m glad. I like Robotnik way more than I like Sonic, so I’m happy to see him escape to safety, back to his evil lair where he will probably give Dr. Wily a call and ask him how he copes with being regularly defeated by a small blue pest.


As the freed animals scamper around the Green Hill Zone and Sonic leaps towards the screen pointing an accusatory finger at the player, as though he’s telling us he’s coming for us next, Sonic the Hedgehog draws to a close. If you’ve collected all the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic watches them spin around above his head which cartoony flowers bloom in the background. If you don’t have the Emeralds he, erm, doesn’t. Either way, all the animals are saved and Robotnik has retreated to lick his wounds, where he will spend his time off watching Star Wars and thinking “hmm, a giant spherical space station, you say?” to himself.


After the credits have rolled, there’s one final scene: if you don’t have the Emeralds, Robotnik juggles them around and tells the play to try again, but if you’ve got them all he stomps on the end title like a petulant child, which rather confirms the whole “grab the Emeralds to piss Robotnik off” scenario.


So that’s Sonic the Hedgehog, a game beloved by millions. Beloved by me, though? Not quite. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good game. Very good, even, with lots of things to recommend it: the presentation is impeccable, with some wonderful graphical flourishes and a killer soundtrack. There are dozens of fun, engaging flourishes in the level design, like the see-saws and the water slides, and when Sonic gets up to top speed and you’re ricocheting from enemy to springboard and round a loop-the-loop it’s easy to see why it’s the favourite of so many. In fact, I think I enjoyed playing it more this time than I ever have before, perhaps because I’ve played so many god-awful platformers for the site. Still, there’s something about Sonic – this game, and the “classic” series as a whole - that prevents me from truly falling in love with it. With Sonic 1, the Special Stages are a part of it, because I really did not enjoy them, but it’s more that so often the most fun bits of the game are cruelly cut short and replaced by finicky platforming and waiting for moving blocks.


Sonic the Hedgehog might not be quite my dream game, then, but it was fun to play through it and it was a suitable subject for the seventh VGJunk anniversary. Good work all around, everyone, much patting on backs, etcetera. Hopefully I’ll still be doing this for a good while yet. There are just so many licensed Game Boy Color games to suffer through, after all. Plus, if you’ll allow me to get sentimental for a moment, the past two years (and particularly the last six months or so) have been a deeply miserable time for me, but writing these articles was a ray of sunshine in difficult times – the idea that people seemed to be tolerating or even enjoying these bad jokes about videogames made it feel like I was doing something right when everything else was going wrong. Thanks for that, everyone. Right, I’m off to enjoy my birthday activities, which this year seem to involve emptying out my garage. If anyone wants any half-empty paint cans or garden tools so rusty and neglected they look like set dressing from an allotment-themed horror movie, let me know.

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