If you’re a gamer of a certain age, then you’re bound to have played the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Even if you weren’t a Mega Drive / Genesis owner back in the day, the Blue Blur’s blistering debut has been ported to a wide range of Nintendo systems over the years, including GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Wii and 3DS – and has also found its way onto Sony and Microsoft hardware in the past. Taking this into account, you could argue that this 1991 classic is a somewhat uninspiring way to kick off the Sega Ages line on Switch, but like Tetris, Super Mario World and Zelda: A Link to the Past, there’s something timeless about Sonic’s first outing – and indeed all of his 2D 16-bit adventures.
We won’t waste too much time talking about the gameplay seen here, as we’re pretty sure you know the drill. Sonic speeds through a wide selection of levels collecting rings and spinning onto enemies; the aim is to blast through each of the three-zone worlds and defeat the boss waiting at the end, but there are other objectives – such as collecting enough rings to trigger the bonus stage where you can grab Chaos Emeralds, and finding hidden routes for bonuses and additional lives.
Compared to the rather sedate nature of the Super Mario games, Sonic felt like a revelation back in the early ’90s – not just because it placed an emphasis on speed, but because it looked so much better than any 2D Mario outing up to that point. Sonic’s focus on pace has been a bit of a double-edged sword over the years; while there are moments where it’s truly exhilarating to dash through each level in the swiftest time possible without taking a hit, there are some points (especially during the second and fourth levels) where either the stage design flat-out prevents you from moving fast, or the need to be extra careful around multiple hazards makes it unwise. Despite this, Sonic is still a fun experience even when you’re not moving at full speed, thanks to its precise platforming and tight controls.
Japanese emulation expert M2 is behind all of the Sega Ages ports, and like the 3DS version before it, Sega Ages Sonic the Hedgehog is a perfect replication of the 16-bit original. Thankfully, the company’s penchant for adding value to its remasters has carried over here, and Sonic comes packed with bonus modes to sample once you’ve familiarised yourself with the core gameplay. ‘Ring Keep’ mode not only starts you off with 10 rings but also allows you to hold onto a few when you get hit, making things a little easier for novices, while ‘Challenge’ mode features Time and Score Attack modes which test your Sonic skills.
Dig deeper into the options and you’ll find more goodies; the Spin Dash from Sonic 2 and Drop Dash from Sonic Mania are both enabled by default, but you can turn them off if you’re hankering for the ‘pure’ experience. It’s also possible to select between the Japanese, International or Mega Play versions of the game; the first two are pretty self-explanatory, but the third is the super-hard arcade variant which presents a stern challenge even for seasoned Sonic fans. Time limits are reduced, you don’t get extra lives when you cross over the 100-ring marker and there are fewer zones to contend with.
It’s possible to tinker with the controls (although this feels a little superfluous in a game where every button does the same thing) as well as change the display mode and select between unfiltered, scanlined, smoothed or smoothed and scanlined overlay effects. There are also loads of wallpapers to select from, which surround the play area when you’re not using the full-screen view option. Finally, it’s possible to keep track of your current ‘Ring Chain’ and ‘Maximum Ring Chain’, which will appeal to score-chasers.
In short, it’s a pretty comprehensive package and certainly one of the best ways to experience Sonic’s seminal debut, but if you could argue that the rather steep price point is difficult to stomach when we know that Sega is releasing a whole bunch of its Mega Drive games in its upcoming Switch collection; if you’re not all that fussed about the extra features then it might be wise to wait for that. We also miss the amazing autostereoscopic 3D effect seen in the 3DS edition of the game, which seemed to breathe new life into the character; if you already have that version, then it could be argued that there’s little reason to invest in this, outside of owning Sonic on yet another console.
Familiarity does breed contempt, but Sonic’s first game remains a classic despite the number of times we’ve played it. Sure, the sequel may be the better outing and both Sonic Mania and Sonic CD are arguably superior releases, but there’s a pureness to this title that makes it worth a look, even in 2018. The only complaint that can be raised against the Switch version is that, like a great many of the upcoming Sega Ages Mega Drive titles, it could end up being surplus to requirements when the Sega Mega Drive Classics collection arrives; a slightly lower price might have made this easier to wholeheartedly recommend, but we know this very minor complaint will fall on deaf ears if you’re a diehard Sega fan.