The blue blur of nostalgia hasn’t always hit the mark, but he hasn’t stopped trying. Being a part of gaming for over 30 years is an accomplishment, though. So, in reverence to what he’s done so far, here are the 15 best Sonic games of all time:
1. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (1992)
Continuing and elevating the concepts pioneered in the original Sonic game, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 stands out as the clear pinnacle of the franchise. The more flamboyant levels, iconic music, and addition of Miles “Tails” Prower as a new playable character made a perfect trifecta of ideas from Sonic Team. Functionally, it resembles the original game. Players speed around the levels, bop enemies on the head, collect rings, and take on the occasional bonus level. The execution of these things makes it the perfect sequel. Levels and enemies vary more, which adds interest. The bonus stages better show off the capabilities of the Genesis. The new soundtrack features bold and iconic music. Playing as Tails and fly-around levels is the cherry on top. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is not only the best example of Sonic games, but also one of the finest 2D platformers of all time.
2. Sonic The Hedgehog (1991)
Few 2D platformers have managed to outdo the original Sonic The Hedgehog. Even today, it stands tall among its contemporaries with outstanding level design, fun boss battles, and extremely memorable music. It spawned one of the most iconic franchises of all time while also serving as a shot across the bow to Sega’s primary rival. While the fun factor doesn’t translate across all levels, and the bosses don’t always satisfy, there’s no denying this is easily one of the better games in the series.
3. Sonic 3 & Knuckles (1994)
Sonic 3 has several different versions, as players can play it with or without the Knuckles expansion. Sonic 3 & Knuckles expands on the shield concept by adding different types like fire, magnetic, and bubble shields. These have different abilities that affect traversal, but all provide that precious extra hit point that lets Sonic keep his rings. On top of that, the characters get new, slightly more detailed sprites. Sonic 3 & Knuckles brings an entirely new slate of levels and music. Some of these are as outstanding as ever, albeit not as iconic overall as what the first two games introduced. The new bonus stage type doesn’t satisfy at all, with tedious gameplay after the first couple of rounds. Those complaints aside, as far as Sonic games go, this is still an excellent one.
4. Sonic Mania (2017)
Sonic Mania proved that Team Sonic isn’t the only worthy caretaker of the Sonic IP. Christian Whitehead’s team managed to combine much of what the Sonic fandom-inspired Freedom Planet got right, combine it with a deep understanding of Sonic itself and create one of the best Sonic games of all time. The large levels and 3D bonus stages might evoke Sonic CD more than the original trilogy, but to many long-time fans, that’s a good thing. As an effective sequel to Sonic CD, it hits a lot of the right notes for a large chunk of Sonic fans.
5. Sonic Advance (2001)
A different look with new character sprites with a similar level design to the original Genesis/Megadrive games brings a unique identity to Sonic Advance. The introduction of Amy as a playable character also adds some flavor, with her hammer slamming making her an interesting choice for boss fights. Tails and Knuckles joining the fray also makes it feel like a logical evolution of the original trilogy. This game also spawned two sequels. Bottom line? This is a great Sonic game.
6. Sonic Colors (2010)
Largely considered the definitive version of “modern” Sonic, Sonic Colors has everything that works about more divisive games like Sonic Unleashed and Sonic ‘06 without any of the baggage. Being trapped on the Wii is no longer an issue, with an optimized port dubbed Sonic Colors Ultimate now available for modern systems. The introduction of whisps might not have pleased everyone across the Sonic fandom, but there’s no denying the bursts of pure joy that the speedy 3D gameplay can conjure.
7. Sonic CD (1993)
The tail-end of the 2D platformer craze saw a lot of rocky releases. Among the many duds of the mid-nineties stood Sonic CD, a 2D platformer that used this new-fangled CD format to its advantage but still steered clear of the pitfalls of going full 3D. Only dipping its toes into 3D visuals for bonus stages was a conservative approach considering the capabilities of the Sega CD and the high expectations of gamers. Sonic CD bridged that gap with CD-quality music, much bigger stages, and a fully animated cartoon intro that was sure to get those Sonic juices flowing. Purists contend that Sonic CD had too much complexity for its own good, though, and they have a point. The time-traveling, enormous layouts, and branching paths can make the levels feel convoluted. Certain paths leading to dead-ends also fly in the face of what Sonic games had done up to this point. CD wasn’t judged too harshly for any of this, though, as its beautiful levels and outstanding music still kept things from feeling mediocre for most.
8. Sonic Generations (2011)
2011 was an inflection point for Sonic games. Everybody still fondly remembered the 2D entries, and Sonic’s track record with 3D was spotty. Perhaps as a result, Sonic Team seemed to fancy a little-bit-of-everything approach for Sonic Generations with a combination of third-person 3D and 2D platforming levels. It mostly worked, too. Generations fully acknowledges the two distinct hemispheres of Sonic fandom within the story as well. Young Sonic and current Sonic Team up to rescue their/his friends, and each have levels that correspond to their respective eras. While the 2D levels aren’t truly 2D, and use modern 3D assets, it’s still a cute idea and a decent Sonic game.
9. Sonic Heroes (2003)
In the middle of the Sonic series’ biggest downturn, the Sonic Team still released a surprisingly decent couple of games. One of them was Sonic Heroes. Seeming like a fairly typical 3D platformer on the PS2 or Gamecube, Sonic Heroes was anything but. Switching between Tails, Knuckles, and Sonic to accomplish tasks that align with their individual skill sets was a neat idea that set it apart in the series and the genre. Ultimately, the repetitive nature of those tasks weighs the game down quite a bit, though. The spotty controls and the finicky camera didn’t help, either. Still, it’s an interesting attempt that certainly has its moments.
10. Sonic Adventure 2 (2001)
While the original Sonic Adventure doesn’t hold up well, its sequel, Sonic Adventure 2, has aged much better. Performance was noticeably ironed out since the last game, and the gameplay itself is much more focused on doing Sonic stuff with less downtime than Adventure. Couple that with the punk-rock soundtrack for a game that oozes 2001 Sega in every possible way.
11. Sonic and The Secret Rings (2007)
Arriving a few months after the baffling Sonic ‘06 might have been a blessing in disguise for Sonic and the Secret Rings. It certainly wasn’t a good game, but it wasn’t horrible either, which is far more than anyone can say about Sonic ‘06. Thus, this game looked much better by comparison. This game smartly slimmed down its scope and refocused on Sonic entirely. The gameplay philosophy lands somewhere between the modern third-person style of Sonic Colors and the pulled-back look of Adventure, and in hindsight, it works well enough. Upgradable powers, corny music, and the strange motion controls of the Wii have proven divisive elements of the experience, though. With better 3D Sonic games out there today, it’s not even close to our first choice, but it’s worth a play for die-hard fans.
12. Sonic Riders (2006)
One of the more controversial Sonic games ever made is ironically a racing game- the most logical genre for a Sonic spin-off. Sonic Riders isn’t off-putting for its genre, though, but rather, because players have a hard time grasping the flavor of this game. After enjoying the much more approachable Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing, and Diddy Kong Racing games, playing Sonic Riders feels like dropping into Elden Ring after playing Devil May Cry. Pulling off tricks, nailing the landings, and hitting ramps with the perfect amount of speed poses some major challenges. This understandably rubbed some fans the wrong way who were expecting something much more accessible. Different types of racers with different abilities add some depth, too, so if players can get into it, there is a fairly rewarding experience here.
13. Sonic Unleashed (2008)
The duality of Sonic Unleashed makes it a rather interesting entry in the series. On the one hand, it marks a slightly improved version of the promising 3D gameplay from Sonic and the Secret Rings. On the other hand, the game has a series of very bad beat ‘em up-style levels that bring the fun to a complete halt. The asinine “werehog” storyline might have worked as a narrative, but once it manifested as bargain bin action gameplay, it became clear Sonic Unleashed shot itself in the foot. The non-werehog levels were some of the best 3D Sonic had to offer, but that just isn’t enough to save the overall experience.
14. Sonic Adventure (1998) Sonic Games
Sonic Adventure deserves note for multiple reasons. Being particularly good isn’t one of them, though. This may come off as a controversial take, but before clicking off the page in a fit of rage, just play the game. Just try to play it. Sonic’s premature jump into the 3D space was as unnecessary as poorly executed. Performance was all over the place, with frame drops and clipping environments abound. The camera would also prove a deadlier foe than any boss. The great music and reasonably fun bonus missions keep it from falling too far, though. It’s ultimately far from the worst Sonic game, and when viewed through 1998 nostalgia goggles, it can certainly elicit some respect, but it’s not a great game, generally speaking.
15. Sonic Frontiers Sonic games
Sonic Frontiers is not a game that most Sonic fans will enjoy. It doesn’t retain much of what makes Sonic great, nor does it nail the new “open zone” concepts particularly well. It has an apparent influence from the newer Zelda games, with open-ended gameplay that lets players accomplish tasks at leisure. This isn’t a bad idea, but the various tasks mostly just feel like irrelevant busywork and a means to unlock the next section, which is also full of irrelevant busywork. Worst of all, it just doesn’t run well. Across all platforms, despite its simple graphics, texture popping and frame rate dips are nearly constant. The few handful of levels where the game breaks away from the open zones are the better parts, and we can always reward the willingness to take risks, but overall, there’s just not much here to like.
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