Sonic the Hedgehog – 8-bit review
Rather than being a scaled down version of the Mega Drive outing, the Sonic the Hedgehog that appeared a few months later on the Master System and Game Gear is a completely unique title that plays to the strengths of the weaker systems. Developed by Ancient (a company started by Yuzo Koshiro’s Mother – yes, really) working together with Sonic Team, the 8-bit Sonic title is a little more straightforward than it’s big 16-bit brother. Once again the player controls Sonic as they go up against Dr Eggman in an attempt to rescue his woodland chums. The game is split into six areas (like the 16-bit version), each with three acts – the last of which features a battle against the evil Doctor. The same enemies from the main game have made it across to this version, although the stage designs, along with some whole areas are completely different. Another change is in the special stages – they now no longer contain the chaos emeralds and instead just give the player an opportunity to earn extra lives. The chaos emeralds are in fact now hidden within the stages themselves, which lends itself nicely to the slower pace and emphasis on exploration that this title seems to gravitate toward.
Obviously the game is not as pretty or well animated as its big brother, but the game is still colourful and moves at a blistering pace. The screen is far less busy, allowing enemies to be clearly seen, although they can appear a bit on the small side – especially in the Master System version of the game. A special mention must go to the Jungle area, which has outstanding visuals for an 8-bit system, and features an amazingly detailed and colourful background that almost wouldn’t look out of place in the 16-bit version. The Game Gear version goes a step further by featuring a much broader variety of colours, and packing in a bit more detail… although due to the small screen Sega have ‘zoomed in’ a bit so the sprites can be seen properly – at the expense of some field of view.
Apart from the title music and the music to Green Hill Zone, the rest of the music in this game is completely different to the 16-bit version, and was composed by legendary video game and chiptune composer Yuzo Koshiro. The tunes on offer here are arguably less iconic, but are still pretty catchy (especially the music to ‘Jungle’) and complement the on-screen action pretty well.The special stages make me want to eat twister ice creams…..
Sadly, where this version of the game falls down is in the gameplay department. Sonic is just not quite as responsive here as he is in the Mega Drive game, feeling slightly slippery and imprecise to control. There are noticeable framerate issues – especially when taking a hit, and in some of the tougher later stages this makes for a slightly frustrating experience. There are also some collision detection issues, with Sonic sometimes passing through an object whilst damaging it. An example of this would be the boss fight at the end of ‘Jungle’ Act 3. If Sonic damages Eggman just as he drops a bomb, occasionally Sonic will pass through him and end up being killed by the bomb through no fault of the player. The performance on the Game Gear version is marginally better, but is still problematic due to the screen being zoomed in – meaning reacting to upcoming obstacles is… somewhat arduous. The game in general is much more difficult and has a far more deliberate pace than the 16-bit outing – thanks to some auto-scrolling stages. This particular version is also much shorter (despite having more or less the same number of stages as the MD version, each Zones’ Act 3 is practically just a boss fight) and has far less complicated stages.
+ Clean and detailed visuals
+ Really fast for an 8-bit platformer
+ Great music
– Framerate and performance issues
– Some enemies can be hard to see
– Slightly sluggish controls
All in all the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog, despite its technical issues is still a solid platform game with a nice variety in stages and catchy music. It will always be overshadowed by its big brother on the Mega Drive, but is still well worth playing for fans of the series or newcomers alike.
Sonic the Hedgehog was originally released for the Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System and Game Gear in 1991. It has been re-released countless times over the years for various systems, and the Mega Drive version is available currently on the XBox 360, PS3 and Steam, with a 3D version available for the Nintendo 3DS.
Andy O’Flaherty – follow me on Twitter @mambatabac