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Sonic the Hedgehog: The simple beginning

Robert Akio

Sayaka Miki
Joined
May 30, 2018
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Hello again everyone. Robert here, and it is time for me to once again talk about a video game. This time, the one I'm talking about is the one that started it all. I guess you can say this can be in celebration of the new movie that came out. This.. is Sonic the Hedgehog.

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To start things off, why don't I give off a bit of a history lesson? Sonic the Hedgehog was created in the year 1991 by Sega. The company had been trying to make a new mascot to replace their former mascot, Alex Kidd and compete with Nintendo and the SNES. This rivalry can even be seen in some of the advertisements Sega had for the Genesis. There were many ideas set in place, from a guy who resembled Theodore Roosevelt, a rabbit, and a hedgehog. Ultimately, the hedgehog managed to win out, and after some touches were given to him, Sonic the hedgehog as we knew him was made.

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Sega advertised their new mascot pretty hard. They intended on him becoming the next big video game icon, able to surpass Mario. But does his first game live up to the test well after 30 years since it was made? Let's find out. Sonic the hedgehog was released on June 23rd in the year 1991. The story for the game goes like this. Dr. Eggman, a mad scientist with an IQ 0f 300 invades South Island and begins his schemes for world domination. He puts the animals that live on the island into his robots, using them as a power source while he tries to find the Chaos Emeralds. 6 gems of seemingly unlimited power. There's only one person who can find the emeralds first and stop the doctors schemes, and that's Sonic the Hedgehog. Going from grassy plains, to a starlit city, Sonic chases Eggman to his base on the island and puts a stop to the doctors schemes. With the Chaos Emeralds collected as well, Sonic manages to bring new life to the island while the emeralds fly off to who knows where.

Now, yes. That is only the good ending of the game. But the bad ending is different only in there not being extra flowers, and an end screen of Eggman juggling whatever Chaos Emeralds you didn't collect. However, I get the feeling that at the time, Sega wasn't all too interested in trying to tell a story. They would get more ambitious with later entries, but that's all right. So, how does the game play like?


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Like other games of its time, Sonic the hedgehog was a 2d platformer. The players only goal being to get from the start of the stage to the end of it, as well as overcome whatever challenges the level design throws in their way. Also like in Mario, Sonic has a time limit for how long he can be in a stage, only instead of something like 500 or 300 seconds with it ticking down, Sonics timer ticks up to 10 minutes, and is like that for every stage. Another thing similar to Mario is Sonics simple moveset. All Sonic can do is run, jump and curl into a ball. However, Sonic has no rub button. Instead, he gains speed gradually by moving forward. Along with this, Sonic has a different health system. While Mario has power ups as health, Sonic uses rings. If he gets hit with one, he can survive whatever hits him and then pick the ring up again. However, he does still have power ups. From a shield that gives a free hit, to 10 rings, invincibility and speed shoes. Sonic can also get extra lives either by opening a monitor with his face on it, or collecting 100 rings.

This isn't the only difference in Sonics gameplay. The physics of the game help to make the game stand out against a game like Mario or Megaman. In those games, Mario and Megaman have rather static physics. They always only move at one set speed at all times. But Sonic? Sonic can be affected by slopes. He can lose speed running up a slope, and while curled into a ball, he can gain speed by rolling downhill. Even his jump arc can be affected by jumping off a slope, allowing him to jump higher than he normally would if he has enough speed.

This here is the key to Sonics change in how a 2d platformer could be like. Yuji Naka had gotten the idea of it from replaying world 1-1 of Super Mario bros, which led to him trying to clear the stage as fast as possible. So he and everyone else at what would become known as Sonic Team tried to do just that. Each of the zones in the game all have their own themes and ways of attempting to juggle speed with platforming and exploration. So lets see how each of these zones are.

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The first of these zones of course is Green Hill zone. It may have become repeated way, way, waaaaay too many times, but there's a reason for this. Green Hill zone was and still is one of Sonics most iconic levels. Already, the game stands out visually from the flowers, the trees, the checkerboard pattern on the floors and all the slopes you'll find inside, and this is all while teaching players about the mechanics still. For example, take the loop in Green Hill act 1. The first solution for getting past it is just running straight through it. However, you could also instead choose to do some platforming to reach the areas above the loop as well as get a few extra rings. Or you could instead reach that same upper area by running through the loop and jumping up the slope. But if you just run straight from there, you'll instead encounter an S-tube that forces the player to watch how rolling down slopes lets Sonic gain speed, and launches him up to a set of rings. It's truly genius level design. Which is why its an issue when you reach Marble zone.

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Marble zone takes a much different route from what Green Hill had. In fact, this zone is known for being one of the slowest ones in Sonic history. There are very few slopes in this zone. Instead, Sonic has to contend with timing jumps over lava, avoiding fireballs, pushing blocks, and waiting for platforms to move into place for him to progress. While this is fine, the game had previously established itself to be a faster paced platformer. For it to go from the lush, rolling Green Hill zone to the slow, blocky Marble zone feels like a contrast. A contrast that reeks of first game syndrome.

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Spring Yard zone is the next one to follow. This zone still has sections of waiting on platforms to move for you to progress, but it also brings back some of the more sloped level design Sonic is known for. Along with this, the zone is full of bumpers that bounce Sonic around when he hits them. Overall, Spring Yard is a pretty decent zone. However, the next zone to follow is one that will make people wish they were back in even Marble zone. A difficulty spike so big, that has surprisingly appeared in the movie Sonic 2. Labyrinth zone.

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Labyrinth zone is another slow paced, blocky level. However, its gimmick is the use of water. For one reason or another, Yuji Naka had thought hedgehogs were unable to swim. Because of this, Sonic controls the same as he does when out of water. However he is considerably slower when he is. To make matters worse, Sonic has a limited oxygen supply. If he doesn't get a breath of air in 30 seconds, he'll not only drown, but the music will let you know its about to happen. This wouldn't be quite so bad if the boss of the zone wasn't one that was a race against time to keep from drowning. This one boss is the reason I call Labyrinth a difficulty spike. If you are not careful during it, you will get hit into the water and drown. Thankfully, after this zone, the game decides to go back to a much faster paced zone akin to Green hill.

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Star Light zone is a breath of fresh air after trudging your way through Labyrinth zone. Fun fact. Star Light zone is the second zone in Sonic 1 to feature loops to run through. In addition to this, the gimmick this zone brings isn't a considerable pace breaker like having to navigate a lava filled temple or wade through the depths of a place flooded with water. The flow that Green Hill had is back in full force here. This zone, along with Spring Yard and Green Hill are probably the best zones in the game. After this one though? You reach the final zone of the game.

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What all can I say about Scrap Brain zone? If you hold right in the first few seconds while doing nothing else, it leads to you falling into a bottomless pit. Along with that trap, this pollution filled zone has flame throwers, electric traps, these platforms that you can only step on when they aren't spinning, disappearing, reappearing platforms, and in Eggmans most devious trap, act 3 of this zone is Labyrinth Zone act 4. Truly, this was the nightmare of many people who had reached this level back when they were younger. Thankfully, act 3 of Scrap Brain and the boss fight are separated into two different levels, meaning as long as you have enough lives and continues, you won't have to repeat this level to fight the final boss.

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Oh yeah. I haven't mentioned the special stages yet. Where to begin? For starters, in order to reach a special stage, you need to carry a minimum of 50 rings by the end of act 1 and 2 of a zone. If you don't have at least 50 rings, the giant ring to lead you there won't appear. But if you do have the requirement, all you need to do is jump into the ring and before the next act can start, you'll go through a special stage. While in the special stage, you have to navigate a rotating maze, trying to find your way to the Chaos Emerald at the end of each of them all while avoiding the blinking GOAL icons that eject you from the special stage without collecting the emerald. While in the special stage, if you collect 50 rings, you'll earn yourself a continue to use if you get a game over. But be warned, the only zones you can access the special stage in are Green Hill zone up to Star Light zone. If you reach Scrap Brain zone without all 6 Chaos Emeralds, you can not access the special stage. This gives you a total of 10 chances to try and get the Chaos Emeralds. If you don't do so, then you'll be locked into the bad ending of the game, which as I said already, isn't too different from the good ending.


Well. There we are. Once again, we reached the end. So, what is my conclusion for Sonic 1? Is it good? Bad? Well, I would say that it was a pretty decent attempt. Sega certainly had something going with this game, and a lot of people probably felt that way too. It was thanks to this game, and Segas aggressive marketing that they were on their way to topple Nintendo, cementing Sega as Nintendo's rival during the 90s. Now yes, Sonic 1 hasn't aged all that well. Labyrinth zone and Marble zone being the two best examples of this. But for me, that isn't enough to put a damper on what I feel is still a pretty fantastic game. I would say to give it a try. If any of you do, I recommend going with either the Sega Ages version of Sonic 1, the Sega 3d classics version for the 3ds, which comes with 3d support, and especially the 2013 mobile version of Sonic 1 created by Christian Whitehead as those are what I believe are the definitive versions of Sonic 1. I thank you all for reading this, and I hope you enjoy.

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