Although Sonic the Hedgehog is best known for his 16-bit Genesis adventures, Sega managed to spread the wealth onto as many platforms as they could back in the early 1990s. This Sega Master System version of Sonic's first outing was released soon after the Genesis cartridge, and surprisingly it's actually a pretty solid game. It may not have the graphics, animation and crazy locations, but that doesn't mean that you aren't going to have a fun time with a solid 2D platformer if you decide to go with the 8-bit Master System game.
Sonic the Hedgehog was Sega's answer to Mario, a cool looking animal mascot that had enough attitude for a bunch of sequels (but apparently not enough attitude to keep the series cool into the 21st century). Released at a time when everybody was on pins and needles for the fourth Super Mario Bros. game, Sonic the Hedgehog managed to swoop in and steal a lot of Nintendo's thunder. The first Sonic game is a simple affair, it only uses one button and is all about going fast and picking up items. But just because it's simple doesn't mean it's shallow, something that sets this Master System game apart from the rest of the platformers on the system.
There isn't much of a story behind this first Sonic game, it seems that the evil Dr. Robotonik has captured all of the animals in the forest and it's your job to save them. To do this you will have to jump, spin and run through a half dozen levels, each with three sub-sections and a boss battle. This Master System is a nice mix of new and old; it offers three levels you saw in the Genesis game (Green Hill Zone, Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone) and three that were made specifically for this game (Bridge Zone, Jungle Zone, and Sky Base Zone). Like its 16-bit counterpart, each of these levels offers different obstacles and some crazy traps to mess you up.
The crux of the game still remains the same, you run through a level picking up rings and dodging enemies. If you manage to make it through the entire level with enough rings you will be transported to a brand new bonus stage, a pinball-style area that gives you hundreds of rings to collect and the ability to earn more lives and continues. Not that you are going to need too many lives and continues, the nice thing about Sonic is that it's pretty easy. The entire game can be beaten in no more than an hour, which makes sense given the inability to save your progress.
The quality of this Master System game is certainly an argument against the idea that Sonic needed to be a 16-bit title. The controls are nice and responsive, the game runs at a smooth rate and there's plenty of variety in the level designs. This stripped down Sonic doesn't feature everything that was in the 16-bit original, but you'll hardly miss that stuff when you're playing around with this game. The biggest differences are mostly cosmetic, the graphics aren't great and the music isn't good at all. But who cares about all of that when you have a great playing game that is this much fun to play?
With all of the attention put on the Genesis Sonic games there are a lot of people that forget about these 8-bit adventures. With brand new levels and some interesting bonus stages this stripped down version is actually worth playing, even if you've grown tired of the original 16-bit title. The game is a tad short and I'm not sure how many times you'll want to come back to it after you've beaten it, but it's well worth a few hours of your time. With a game like this it's easy to see why Sonic the Hedgehog was so successful, here's hoping that Sega can rediscover some of that magic and create a new Sonic game all of us fans have been waiting for.