Saturday 6 June 2015

Sonic the Hedgehog (Master System review)

Developer: Ancient
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1991

Sonic the Hedgehog is a platformer that was also released on Sega's Game Gear handheld two months afterwards.

It features six stages with three acts each including Green Hill Zone, Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone. Even though they've been modified to work on the less powerful console they're still familiar and play really well. There are also a couple of fun, exclusive stages that have play mechanics not often seen in a Sonic game. Firstly, there's Bridge Zone that has some tricky platforming and a level that automatically scrolls to the right. Jungle Zone sees you jumping across waterfalls and platforming on perilous wooden planks. It has a vertically scrolling level that's reminiscent of the Waterfall stage in Contra (1988, NES). In Labyrinth Zone you control Sonic underwater and it's the weakest part of the game. Everything comes to a halt and you'll be wrestling with the unresponsive controls while moving in slow motion. The final Sky Base Zone is very atmospheric with its moody skyline and lightning bolts that you need to dodge. If you collect 50+ rings in any zone you can access a cool Bonus Stage where you try to earn extra lives and continues while bouncing off springs. As a whole the game is slightly more difficult than the Game Gear version. It does have a bit of slowdown though which affects the controls as button presses are sometimes ignored. You also won't find any of the familiar loops here as they didn't arrive until the sequel (1992, Master System). The graphics are bright and colourful and do a great job of conveying the unique environments. The music is excellent with many exclusive tracks that rank up there with the 16-bit classics.

Sonic the Hedgehog is an excellent game and a worthwhile experience if you've played its more famous big brother on the Mega Drive. What it lacks in speed it makes up with superb level design and unique zones that fit in perfectly with the rest of the familiar levels.

Random trivia: In some Master System II consoles in Europe this version of Sonic the Hedgehog was built-in and would boot if you didn't have a cartridge inserted.

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