Here’s the ultimate Sonic 30th anniversary retrospective

Here’s the ultimate Sonic 30th anniversary retrospective

Sonic has gone all over the place in his first 30 years.

Sonic has had a rich career, starring in over 50 games, and even his own comics, cartoons, and movies. Considering that he’s often paired with Mario, it’s crazy to think that he started off as the masthead for Sega’s fierce rivalry with Nintendo. With his 30th anniversary on June 23, 2021, the iMore gaming team is taking a nostalgic look back on his highs and lows through the years.

There are a lot of Sonic-represented multiplayer games, remakes, collections, and spinoffs, but for this retrospective, we’re only going to look at the core Sonic games. Let’s dive into where this flashy blue guy got his start, speed into his current standing, and end on his future prospects.

How it started: The Sonic Boom

Travel with me back in time to the early 90s. In this era of VHS tapes and baggy, bright-colored clothing, Nintendo essentially held a monopoly over the video industry and Sega was on a mission to break through Mario’s hold. Sega needed a new character and franchise to go with its cool Genesis console (also called the Mega Drive outside of North America). But Sega wanted a very different feel from Nintendo’s polite plumber. This new character needed to be edgy, cool, and likable. After some research and planning, a blue hedgehog with attitude was born.

In the 90s, Sega needed a cool new character to break through Nintendo’s hold on the gaming industry.

His cobalt coloring came from the Sega logo while his sweet shoes are said to be inspired by Michael Jackson’s boots (keep in mind that the pop star’s Bad album had only just released and had broken records as the biggest-selling album in music history). They had the character, now Sega just needed a game to go with him.

Yuji Naka, Sonic’s programmer as well as one of his creators, was inspired to make a fast-moving character due to his experience with Super Mario Bros. World 1-1. As you might know, players are forced to replay the Mario level every time they turn the game on, making it a mundane experience anyone wants to get through quickly. Sonic’s gameplay was designed with a need for speed.

Sonic’s brand new fast approach to sidescrollers allowed him to take off like a flash, and thanks to him so did the Sega Genesis. For the first time in a long while, Nintendo had a worthy competitor to worry about.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) A real ringer

Sonic’s first game released on Sega Genesis in 1991 and shook up the sidescrolling platform genre. The way he used speed to explore multiple paths in a stage gave his game replay value and made it stand out from Nintendo’s platformers. It also introduced the world to Sonic’s arch-nemesis, Dr. Robotnik (who wouldn’t be called Eggman in North America until several years later). A cool fast-moving guy going up against an evil polluting nerd was just what the 90s needed.

Sonic helped the Sega Genesis sell incredibly well against the SNES.

Sonic the Hedgehog became immensely popular and went on to become the flagship game for the Sega Genesis, inspiring a new franchise that helped the console sell incredibly well against the SNES. It’s estimated that Sonic’s first game sold 15 million copies in North America alone. Since then, the game has been remade and ported to several different platforms.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) A tale for two

The first Sonic game had been a massive hit, so of course, Sega was eager to follow it up with a sequel. But how could it up the ante? By adding a player two! This function had actually been intended for the initial game, but Naka didn’t know how to make it happen at the time. Thus Miles “Tails” Prower made his debut in Sonic 2 after the two-player programming had been figured out.

By offering a different skillset from our blue speedster, like the ability to fly with his two tails, this fox introduced competitive local play to the existing Sonic formula. Sonic 2 did very well, selling 6 million copies for the Genesis/Mega Drive, but it wasn’t nearly as big of a splash as the original game.

A modified 8-bit version of Sonic 2 also released on Game Gear and was actually the best-selling Game Gear game of all time.

Sonic CD (1993) Introducing two new characters

This lesser-known Sonic game initially released for the Sega CD (also known as the Mega-CD outside the U.S.), an accessory that attached to the Genesis and had its own library of games. This entry deviates quite a bit from the early Sonic formula. It’s a time-traveling game that has Sonic revisiting several of the same stages only for the player to discover that the music and layout differ depending on the time period.

This was also the game that introduced both Metal Sonic, a robotic version of Sonic created by Dr. Robotnik, and Amy Rose, the pink hedgehog that would go on to become Sonic’s main love interest.

Since owning the Sega CD wasn’t nearly as common at the time, this game sold significantly less than contemporary Sonic titles, only reaching 1.5 million units sold.

Sonic Chaos (1993) A quiet entry

Yet another lesser-known entry, Sonic Chaos released for Game Gear and thus was only initially available to the small demographic of people who owned Sega’s handheld system. But it’s a well-loved entry for any who have played it. In typical Sonic fare, Dr. Robotnik had stolen Chaos Emeralds to manufacture nuclear weapons and it was up to Sonic and Tails to stop him.

While it was definitely a fun platformer, Sonic Chaos didn’t really do anything to stand out from previous Sonic games in the franchise. Combine that with how it only released on the Game Gear and you can see why it wasn’t one of the more popular Sonic titles.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) Seeing red

These days, you can’t think of Sonic without thinking of Knuckles, but it wasn’t until Sonic 3 released that we first met the red echidna. Knuckles was a popular addition to the Sega family and has gone on to star in his own games. He’ll even be in the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 2 movie slated for 2022.

After the events of Sonic 2, Robotnik’s Death Egg crashes on Angel Island and he runs into Knuckles. Here, the evil egghead spins a tale that Sonic is in fact after the Master Emerald, leading Knuckles to thwart Sonic’s plans. Players take control of Sonic and Tails, encountering both Knuckles and Robotnik at various points. There is also a competitive mode for one or two players where Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles race through stages to get to the finish line first.

Sonic & Knuckles (1994) Knuckles locks on

But the fun didn’t stop there. Sonic & Knuckles released the same year and was actually a continuation of the plot in Sonic 3. The Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles cartridges combined together with Sega’s patented “lock-on technology”. By opening the top of the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge and inserting Sonic 3 players could run through both games as one and experience additional features that weren’t available in either game separately — for instance, the ability to save progress, access the previously locked Special Stages to collect “Super Emeralds,” and unlock Hyper Sonic, Hyper Knuckles, and Super Tails.

The Sonic & Knuckles cartridge locks onto the Sonic 3 cartridge to unlock more stages and abilities.

The game starts with Knuckles still fighting against Sonic, only to learn after being defeated that Dr. Robotnik is the real foe. After that, Sonic runs through his own adventure pursuing Dr. Robotnik on the Death Egg. Knuckles, on the other hand, chases after EggRobo in the Sky Sanctuary. The game has different endings depending on if the player has collected all of the Chaos Emeralds.

This cool new integration between the two games, along with the addition of a popular new character allowed both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles to sell four million copies, making them some of the best-selling Sonic games to date.

Sonic Triple Trouble (1994) Arguably the best handheld Sonic

This entry launched on the Game Gear and the Mega System. Strangely enough, this was the first Sonic game to introduce vehicles, but fewer people got to play it since it was only available on the less popular Game Gear.

Despite its smaller audience, Sonic Triple Trouble is looked back on fondly as a handheld game that truly captures the feel of the Sonic Genesis era. In 2012, it was even brought to the Nintendo 3DS with a new saving feature, so players didn’t always have to start over from the beginning.

Sonic Blast (1996) Breakaway depth

Two Sonic games released together in 1996 with very similar names: Sonic Blast for the Game Gear and Sonic 3D Blast for the Genesis/Saturn. Both brought a more 3D feel to the franchise by incorporating new Sonic designs and illusory 3D levels, similar to what had been seen since Sonic 2. The significant difference between the two was that Sonic Blast on Game Gear alternated between side-scrolling levels and 3D ones, while the Genesis game stayed 3D the whole time.

Despite this attempt to change things up, contemporary critics and players alike disliked the new art direction, claiming that Sega was trying to mimic the look of Donkey Kong Country, which had released a couple of years prior. Still, Sonic Blast helped open people’s eyes to the graphical capabilities of the Game Gear, which hadn’t seen this kind of artwork before.

Sonic 3D Blast (1996) Leaving the Genesis with a whimper

Unfortunately, Sonic 3D Blast didn’t fare much better than its counterpart, which is sad considering this was the last Sonic game created for the Genesis. The game received mixed reviews regarding the 3D-style graphics, controls, and even the gameplay. People once again likened the character models to Donkey Kong Country while the isometric perspective of the levels was akin to the illusory 3D levels of Super Mario RPG.

Many players felt that it was difficult to control Sonic at first and then once they acclimated, the levels became too easy. As time has gone on, Sonic 3D Blast has been considered by many as the worst Sonic game ever made. Truly sad, considering that Sonic started the Genesis with a bang and ended it with a whimper. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the last Sonic game to go downhill.

- Rebecca Spear

Joining his rival: Dreamcast and Game Boy Advance years

In the mid to late 90s, video games saw a shift from 2D sidescrollers to 3D adventures thanks to new technology found in consoles like the Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation. The Sega Saturn didn’t fair very well, so Sonic’s first truly 3D game didn’t actually release until the Dreamcast.

Sega also wanted to continue its handheld Sonic games, but considering the low sales of the Game Gear, these games were developed on Nintendo’s successful Game Boy Advance. This was surprising to many since there had been such a fierce rivalry between the two gaming companies up until that point.

Sonic Adventure (1998) A real dream

In 1999, Sega released the top-selling Dreamcast game, Sonic Adventure, which was not only Sonic’s first truly 3D game, but also added an open-world exploration element while still keeping linear gameplay. This was also the introduction of the pet Chao, which had different skills that made them good for competing in minigame-like sports.

The realistic city visuals provided a new level of detail that hadn’t really been seen at the time and toted the Dreamcast’s abilities. In fact, many people felt that this was a milestone that changed the gaming world. This title was so popular that it went on to receive two rereleases down the road: The Director’s Cut and the HD version.

Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure (1999) Leaving Sega consoles

Although Sonic Adventure was a top-selling title on the Dreamcast, the console didn’t perform as expected. Once we said goodbye to the Dreamcast, Sega put a focus on third-party development and created their first title for another company, Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure on SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color. This game returned to the platformer style of the original Sonic games and pulled ideas from many of them, too. Many noted the similarities it had to Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

If you had a link cable and two Neo Geo Pockets, you could play multiplayer with Sonic and Tails. There was a choice between ring collecting or racing competitions.

Sonic Adventure 2 (2001) Sonic reaches a decade

For the 10th anniversary of Sonic, Sega made a sequel, Sonic Adventure 2. It was the last Sonic title on the Sega Dreamcast and was later recreated for Nintendo GameCube under the name Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. As with the previous game, it stuck with the exploration element, stepping away from the traditional platformer and speed focus.

In Sonic Adventure 2, players could choose to play on the Hero or Dark Side. There were different storylines based on which side was chosen. Chao could also be in different alignments. Regardless of which side a player chose, there were levels dedicated to searching for treasure, shooting, and running. This was also the game that introduced Shadow the Hedgehog and Rouge the Bat, who have both gone on to become staple characters in the franchise.

The original Dreamcast game received positive reviews, with people praising the visuals, soundtrack, and playstyle. But strangely enough, the GameCube version, which released six months later, wasn’t received as well with critics saying it wasn’t enough of an improvement over the first game.

Sonic Advance (2001)

This was the first Sonic title to be released solely on a Nintendo system: the Game Boy Advance. While it was similar to the Genesis games, it provided vibrant visuals and new stages for people to explore. One of the biggest criticisms was that it didn’t take very long to beat it and relied too much on the existing Sonic formula. Despite that, it sold over 1.21 million copies, making it one of the best-sellers on Nintendo’s handheld, and it’s still looked back on fondly today.

Sonic Advance 2 (2002)

With Sonic Advance receiving criticism for the short gameplay, Sonic Advance 2 upped the amount of content. There were also graphic improvements as well as difficulty adjustments compared to the original, which not everyone was a fan of.

It also sold well, reaching 1.016 million copies worldwide. The graphics had been updated from the first game and many felt that it had more replay value from previous games due to the large stages that provided multiple ways to complete. However, some noted that the game didn’t really do anything to add to the existing Sonic experience.

Sonic Heroes (2003)

Sega released its first multi-platform Sonic title in 2004 with Sonic Heroes on GameCube, PS2, Xbox, and Windows. With Sonic Heroes, Sega walked away from exploration and integrated a more linear story, but stepped more into 3D platformer territory, adding a modern twist while implementing elements that hadn’t been seen since the Genesis.

However, this wasn’t necessarily what fans were looking for. That and the glitchy camera angles made this a difficult game to love for some. Additionally, some folks didn’t like that the game focused on playing as a team of Sonic characters rather than the titular hedgehog. Either way, this game sold incredibly well, reaching over 3.4 million sales worldwide.

Sonic Advance 3 (2004)

The final Sonic Advance game was also the last Sonic game on the Game Boy Advance. Players selected two characters to play as, one for the main and one sidekick controlled by the computer. The different pairings offered various benefits depending on what characters are chosen. While some thought this new feature made it so you could play the game again and again, others felt like it didn’t add enough to be different from other Sonic titles — a recurring problem that we still see today.

- Alex Huebner

Sonic finds new platforms

Halfway through the first decade of the new millennium seemed like a new era of optimism for the hedgehog. With the advent of new consoles, Sonic was free to land on any platform that would have him. Though Sonic’s first multi-platform game had released in 2003 with Sonic Heroes, the next few years cemented his place among various consoles.

Sonic Rush (2005)

The first title of this era arrived in 2005 on the Nintendo DS. Sonic Rush was a great callback to Sonic’s two-dimensional roots, while also introducing 3D boss encounters. Sonic himself received a visual update that was more in line with the Sonic X anime airing at the time. It’s also notable as the first appearance of Blaze the Cat, who went on to appear in Sonic Rush Adventure, as well as Sonic 06.

Critics and fans enjoyed it, praising the visuals and soundtrack, which was composed by Hideki Naganuma of Jet Set Radio fame. But Sonic Rush wouldn’t prepare anyone for the next entry in the series, a spin-off too notorious to ignore. Of course, I’m talking about Shadow the Hedgehog.

Shadow the Hedgehog (2005)

Shadow the Hedgehog asked the important question: What if we gave Shadow the Hedgehog a gun? To attract an older crowd and perhaps to appeal to Western audiences, Sega cast the titular edgy hedgehog in his own game. The game took place on stages much like we’ve seen in the Sonic Adventure games up until this point, but instead of just knocking an enemy out with a bop to the head, Shadow gunned them down in cold blood. There was even a morality system that gave you a different ending and different powers depending on who got shot throughout the story.

And that story, oh man, the story. In short, Shadow has amnesia and tries to learn his origins. On his quest, he takes missions from either the Guardian Units of Nations (G.U.N), the Black Doom, or Eggman himself. It was an uneven game, lacking in charm while suffering from mediocre third-person shooter elements. While there are fans who do adore how absurd the game is, critics reacted negatively.

It was clear that Sega didn’t quite know what direction to push the series in, and that hit a painful crescendo in the next entry: The infamous Sonic the Hedgehog or Sonic 06.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)

2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog was Sonic’s first foray onto next-gen hardware, appearing on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Early previews were promising, with most praising the game’s speed and visuals, and it promised to reintroduce the light RPG / adventure elements from Sonic Adventure. However, it would land on the systems not with a bang, but with a resounding thud.

Sonic 06 would land on systems not with a bang, but with a resounding thud.

In Sonic 06, you played as one of three hedgehogs, Shadow, Sonic, and Silver, who was introduced in the game. Sonic’s levels were more speed-oriented, while Shadow’s were more action-oriented (though thankfully he left his gun at home). Silver’s segments were slower-paced and physics-based, making use of the Havok physics engine.

Sonic 06’s development was a painful one for the Sonic Team. Sonic creator Yuji Naka left Sonic Team mid-development, and the team was split in two, with one team working on Sonic 06 and the working on an exclusive Sonic game for the Wii (see below). In an interview with Game Informer, Producer Takashi Iizuka stated, “we didn’t have any time to polish and we were just churning out content as quick as we could”.

Sonic 06 was a mess of a game at release and was received just as badly by fans as well as critics, citing the embarrassing story along with the glitchy and unpolished levels as major flaws. After Sonic 06, Sega suffered blunder after blunder in the 3D space.

Sonic and the Secret Rings (2007)

Sonic and the Secret Rings was conceived during Sonic 06’s development, and, in a way, responsible for splintering the Sonic Team. Wanting to develop a game that utilized the Nintendo Wii’s hardware, producer, writer, and director Yojiro Ogawa dropped the idea of porting Sonic 06 to the hardware, instead opting to make something brand new. And they thought the next best thing for Sonic was an Arabian Nights-themed platformer for the Wii.

Sonic and the Secret Rings is an on-rails 3D platformer where players control Sonic by holding the Wiimote horizontally. You tilt the controller to steer Sonic, tilt forward to perform a homing attack, and use the face buttons to jump and brake. Experience points were a new addition to this Sonic game, which could be spent to unlock the hedgehog’s skills.

While the setting was unique and the blend of platforming and racing was a step in the right direction, it didn’t revitalize the hedgehog’s reputation and didn’t do much to stop the bleeding caused by Sonic 06.

Sonic Rush Adventure (2007)

While Sonic was spiraling out of control on consoles, Sega did find some success with the sequel to Sonic Rush, called Sonic Rush Adventure. The DS entry improved on the previous game, particularly during the 3D boss fights, while making use of the DS stylus in some simple but unique ways. The game was also broken up into missions, and the player could tackle objectives as they saw fit. Some missions forwarded the story, while others had to be unlocked.

Sonic’s sea-faring days were short-lived though, as this would be the last Sonic Rush title, which is a shame. They had that old-school Sonic flair while mixing in the non-linear elements that Sonic flirted within the Sonic Adventure titles.

Sonic Unleashed (2008)

Sonic took a short break from crappy video game releases before returning with Sonic Unleashed in 2008, another 3D Sonic game that combined platforming segments with action sections. There was an air of excitement around Sonic’s newest release, as many in the community thought that this game would be the one to return Sonic to his roots. However, the Sonic Team was still committed to blending action and platforming, and they thought that the best way to do that was to turn Sonic into a wolf.

Sonic Unleashed featured daylight, which captured the speed of what you’d expect from a normal Sonic game in both 3D and 2D perspectives, as well as slower-paced, nighttime levels where Sonic transforms into a Werehog. It was Sega’s attempt at tapping that older edgy demographic again, while also juggling the Sonic faithful with more traditional speed-oriented levels. The result was a mashup that made nobody happy.

Critics praised the visuals as well as the soundtrack, and Sonic Team also got props for delivering a game across platforms, but the gameplay didn’t hold up to scrutiny. It was another stumble for the speedster.

Sonic and the Black Knight (2009)

Sonic and the Black Knight was another Wii exclusive and the second entry in the Sonic Storybook series after Sonic and the Secret Rings. Not only did it follow up on Secret Rings, but it also closely followed in its gameplay footsteps. In this medieval adventure, Sonic is transported to the world of King Arthur.

Bizarre setting aside, the gameplay is largely the same as it was in Sonic and the Secret Rings. The skill and experience system made a return, as well as the motion controls. Sonic is hurried down a set path, only able to strafe right or left. New to the game was the addition of multiplayer and a few of Sonic’s friends… and that’s about it.

How do you think this Sonic faired? Well, if you guessed mixed to negative, you’d be right. Sonic and the Black Knight enjoyed a mixed reception, citing frustrating controls lame multiplayer, and just an overall lack of interest.

Beaten and battered and bruised, Sonic suffered another blow to his reputation. But Sonic Team was dedicated to getting Sonic right, and after four years of fumbles and missteps, Sonic finally got his day in the sun with Sonic Colors.

Sonic Colors (2010)

Sonic Colors is a platformer set in space, taking cues from the widely praised Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2. The Wii-exclusive finally broke Sonic’s negative streak and was well received by both fans and critics. In fact, it’s often cited as one of the best entries in the Sonic series.

Sonic Colors is often cited as one of the best entries in the Sonic series.

It was a graphical showcase on the unpowered Wii and featured strong platforming from start to finish. No swords, no guns, no beast transformations, or even any of Sonic’s friends. Just traditional 3D platforming and Sonic’s trademark speed. It also introduced Wisps, which would go on to become a series staple. In a lot of ways, Sonic Colors was a soft reboot. Sega even went so far as to delist the negatively received games leading up to Sonic Color’s release.

It all came together to give Sonic the boost he desperately needed, and the legacy of Sonic Colors will continue in Sonic Colors Ultimate when it comes to consoles this September. Sega had finally got one right, and the new decade seemed bright for our favorite speedster once again.

- Zackery Cuevas

The last 10 years or so

As 2010 hit, the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 were in full force and the hedgehog’s reputation had been boosted by his last entry. With the new PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and the doomed Wii U consoles on the horizon, people were curious to see where the blue blur would go from here. Fortunately, he managed to survive Nintendo’s failed console and still found success on the Nintendo Switch years later.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (2010)

Sonic Team and Dimps wanted to create something that married the classic and modern eras.

Fans were ready to be disappointed by another Sonic game, but the developers at Sonic Team and Dimps were working on something that would marry the classic and modern eras. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was initially meant to be a mobile-only title, but this blended game eventually made its way onto consoles.

With a typical Sonic vs. Doctor Eggman storyline, this game took the 2D Sega Genesis style and made it 3D. Everything from the intro to the levels was a nod to the games that came before it. This is a revival, created in the same vein as New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Though it was a nice return to what made the series great, it wasn’t entirely on par with the classics.

Sonic Generations (2011)

The developers at Sonic Team and Dimps were hot on the nostalgia train. Their next cross-platform title had the brilliant idea to bring the 2D and 3D fans together for Sonic’s 20th Anniversary. What better way to celebrate every version of Sonic than creating a game about it? This game contains both classic and modern hedgehogs, and a modern slim Sonic more akin to what we saw in Sonic Rush.

Levels are split by generation, and the entire game is a remix of soundtracks, level designs, and tributes to everything fans love about the series. The levels here were downright addicting, but the game still wasn’t as good as it could have been. Frame rate issues and laggy controls held this entry back. Plus, it was incredibly short.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 (2012)

As the Sonic Team and Dimps teams promised, the next episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 came out, and this time, it would be more than just a nostalgia trip… at least, that’s what the developers had hoped. The game was released across all platforms, except the Windows phone and Wii. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t run on the hardware.

Set as a prequel and relying heavily on Sonic CD, this game was mostly seen as a rehash of the first episode. While it did feature Metal Sonic and Tails, the latter and the co-op play felt forced into the game. While the first one did well enough, this entry relied too heavily on nostalgia without capturing the magic that made the original great. It didn’t help that the developers meant Sonic 4 to be a trilogy. Unfortunately, it was cut short, and this shoe-horned sequel is all we got.

Sonic Lost World (2013)

Don’t worry. We’re about to go from mediocre to travesty. Sonic Lost World features the speedy hedgehog in his quest to stop the Deadly 6. This title even sees Sonic pairing up with his old nemesis, Doctor Eggman. The title was released on the Wii U and 3DS, and depending on which console you had, your experience was very different. The developers at Sonic Team had a goal of streamlining the controls, making the game longer and more diverse to fix all the common problems with newer Sonic games. However, a lack of exciting boss fights, copy and pasted levels, and wonky game mechanics were consistent problems.

While the art direction may have been on point, the game part was a huge miss. Running and jumping were a chore; Sonic found a way to run up on everything, even if you didn’t want him to, and the multi-lock homing attack was inconsistent. For a platforming game, the blips in this title made playing more frustrating than fun.

The level design was also pretty uneven. Some levels were incredibly creative in fun ways, while others were practically unplayable. Plus, there were random difficulty spikes depending on the system you chose to play it on. Overall, the better experience was on the 3DS. The Wii U had the most problems with terrible co-op, horrible frame rate issues, and overall poor design. Needless to say, it left fans disappointed.

Sonic Mania (2017)

Finally, on the Nintendo Switch, PS4. Xbox One, and PC in 2017, Sonic fans would get what they were waiting for. Sega threw the ball to Christian Whitehead, PagodaWest Games, and Headcannon, for the 25th anniversary, and they got Sonic right! Sonic Mania paid homage to the original Sega Genesis games, but not just by slapping carbon copies of the levels into a game.

Sonic Mania was made by Sonic fans for Sonic fans.

Sonic Mania saw a complete redesign of past games in 12 impressive nostalgia-filled levels. Made by Sonic fans for Sonic fans, this title took the best of Sonic’s Golden age and remixed it into something new. The gameplay was modeled after Sonic 3, took the best parts of all the 2D games, and wrapped it up for a new generation.

With the ease of controls, perfectly pixelated graphics, and tunes that slapped, this was the perfect example of Sonic fan service. The Plus version even added old characters from the SegaSonic Arcade games! This is what Sonic lovers really wanted. It might be true that it relied too heavily on the past, but the gameplay was so fun and different that most people didn’t mind.

Sonic Forces (2017)

Unfortunately, a trend with Sonic games is that what goes up must come down, and Sonic Forces came down hard. Released at the same time as Sonic Mania, Forces was created by the same staff that brought us Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors. There’s a lot to say about this game, but like all other Sonic games created by Sonic Team, this one suffers from huge discrepancies.

Let’s talk about the good first. The game’s presentation isn’t terrible. It has good music, voice acting, and a cool character customization system. It’s great that the game took a few risks, but that’s where everything stops. The gameplay is wonky, there are plenty of technical problems, and the levels are very cookie-cutter. Also, Classic Sonic is sort of just shoved into the story.

There’s a real lack of flow with the levels and narrative (although it’s a Sonic game, the narrative does matter a little). Still, the part that should have consistency, the gameplay, ended up being disjointed and messy. It was cool to create your own character, selecting abilities based on the design. But the boss battles, again, were weak, the game was too short, and it fell very short compared to Sonic Mania.

- Sara Gitkos

BONUS: Sonic in other media

Sonic isn’t just limited to the pixelated cartridges he started on. No, he’s everywhere from books, television, and even on the silver screen. While his games are hit or miss, that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a cross-media icon. When it comes to other media, his long-standing victory is definitely in his comic series, which holds a Guinness World Record for longest-running comic series based on a video game.

Sonic the Hedgehog by Archie comics ran from 1993 up until 2017. Then, of course, he’s had other comic runs, like Sonic X and Sonic Universe, and he’s even had a go in mangas, graphic novels, and Disney’s Adventures Magazine.

Sonic’s comic series holds a Guinness World Record for longest-running comic series based on a video game.

Sonic has also had a stint in television. Starting in 1993, he was featured in not one but two different shows at the peak of his popularity. The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog was a comical series, and Sonic the Hedgehog was more serious. Both had a cult following but were canceled in 1994. Sonic did have a short revival in 1996 with a two-part OVA, and again in 1999 Sonic Underground, but the latter was canceled shortly after it aired.

Sonic hit the small screen again in 2003 with Sonic X and again with Sonic Boom in 2013. Both series were rated well by fans and saw general positive feedback. In fact, there have been rumblings about a 2021 series called Sonic Prime on Netflix following a now-deleted tweet. However, nothing has been confirmed.

Finally, we come to Sonic’s big-time features on the silver screen. While he cameoed in Wreck-it Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet, in 2018, a trailer dropped showcasing Sonic’s very own film. However, it saw immediate backlash because of Sonic’s design.

It was horrifying to look at, really. But the fans spoke, and the creators of Sonic’s live-action movie took the criticisms seriously. They came back with a complete redesign of the character for a February 2020 release, and the film received positive reviews. It is one of the best video game movies, which isn’t a high bar, but still! Sonic earned enough to get a sequel releasing on April 8, 2022, that will include his best friend Tails.

- Sara Gitkos

The future of Sonic

Despite Sonic and his friends’ spotty history in the video game industry, he continues to push out game after game and we don’t see that slowing down any time soon. He’s incredibly iconic and has an appeal that many other franchises would kill for.

A new Sonic game is in development and set to release in 2022.

During the Sonic Central stream that took place on May 27, 2021, we learned about some upcoming Sonic projects. This included DLC for Lost Judgement and Two Point Hospital that would bring Sonic and friends into the games. We also learned that something is happening with Minecraft, only getting a quick flash of a pixelated Sonic running past the screen with a Minecraft chicken behind it.

Aside from several other small announcements, we also learned about the Sonic Colors Ultimate remake and a brand new Sonic game that will be releasing in 2022. The official name of the latter hasn’t been revealed yet, but many are referring to it as Sonic Rangers. It’s currently unclear what the gameplay and story are like since we only saw a quick teaser trailer.

After that, who knows where our speedy hedgehog will go. All we can say is we hope Sega and the Sonic Team have plenty of successes going forward.

- Rebecca Spear

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Rebecca Spear‘s first video game memories are playing Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on Sega Genesis. In fact, the blue blur inspired her life-long interest in gaming and helped her choose the career she has today. Follow her @rrspear Twitter for more gaming-related fun.

Alex Huebner is an iMore gaming writer and long-time Sonic player. Her favorite Sonic memories include raising her beautiful Chao in the Sonic Adventure 2 Chao Garden on GameCube.

Zackery Cuevas Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the first games Zackery ever played on his Sega Genesis, and for that alone, the hedgehog’s 2D exploits will always have a place in his heart. If you’re cool, you can follow him @Zackzackzackery on Twitter.

Sara Gitkos was a video game lover before she could even hold a controller, and has grown up with all the retro games from the NES and beyond to become a life-long fan. She’s always ready to throw on her nostalgia glasses and catch the Blue Blur in all his glory again and again, if only to be let down.

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