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Sonic the Hedgehog in 16-Bits: Magazine Reviews From the 1990s
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on June 23, 2016   |   Episode 21 (Show Archive)  

   
Sonic. Tails. The scientist formerly known as Dr. Robotnik. They're all together and celebrating Sonic the Hedgehog's 25th birthday. To help celebrate what I'm sure will be a speedy anniversary; we're taking a look back at Sonic the Hedgehog's 16-bit adventures. Join us as we analyze what magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly, GamePro, Next Generation, Die Hard Game Fan and CVG thought of the Sonic games released on the Sega Genesis. Which 16-bit game came out on top? I think the answer may surprise you.


SONIC THE HEDGEHOG

Prior to Sonic, Sega had been slowly building momentum for the Genesis with ports of Capcom classics and a string of well-received arcade games. But Sonic was different. Critics knew right from the start that the blue Hedgehog wasn't going to be another Alex Kidd or Wonder Boy, Sega had a real winner on their hands. Sonic the Hedgehog was deemed the next Super Mario.

Released in the summer of 1991, Sonic was met with strong reviews across the board. Mega Play called it "the best Sega adventure game yet" and gave it a 10 out of 10. GamePro also gave it a perfect score, calling it "a class act all the way." Computers & Video Games and Sega Pro also came out with high scores, giving Sonic grades in the mid- to high-90s.

Electronic Gaming Monthly was especially impressed with Sega's newest mascot. Not only did the editors give the game solid 9s, but they even named Sonic the best video game of 1991. "The popular comparison may be Mario 4 on the Super NES vs. Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis but when it comes right down to it, Sonic is the clear winner."

While everybody enjoyed this new platformer, a few of the UK magazines were a little less enthusiastic. MegaTech noted that the "hyped-beyond-belief" character was inspired by Mario and complained about the gameplay. Mega Drive Advanced Gaming agreed, noting that Sonic will not age well. Mean Machines Sega gave the game an 85% and called the game too easy.

But even with a few critical reviews, Sonic the Hedgehog still managed to average a score of 90% across 10 different publications.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2

With critics and consumers flocking to Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega knew they had a hit on their hands. They followed the platformer up with a speedy sequel that introduced gamers to Miles "Tails" Prowers and even faster gameplay. Critics were completely caught up in the excitement over "blast processing," giving this sequel even stronger scores than the original.

Electronic Gaming Monthly's Ed Semrad gave the game a rare 10 out of 10, calling it "the best all-around game on the market." GamePro agreed, giving it a flawless 5 out of 5 and saying that "best thing about Sonic 2 is that it's just plain fun." While Game Informer didn't give it a perfect score, they did name it the Best Action/Adventure Game of the year in their First Annual Video Game Awards.

No magazine was more impressed than Mean Machines Sega, who went from giving the original an 85% to giving this sequel a 96%. That's just one point away from tying Ecco the Dolphin and Eternal Champions as the top rated Genesis game of all time. They said that Sonic 2 was "faster, slicker, more colourful, louder, bigger and much, much tougher than the original." They also called it a "blinding stonker," whatever that means.

While there were a few magazines that gave Sonic 2 scores in the high 8s, the majority of the reviews saw 9s and 10s. That brings the average up to 93%.

SONIC CD

While it looks and feels like a typical 2D platformer, Sonic the Hedgehog CD was always a little different. Between the time travel gimmick, the wide-open bonus stages and that animated intro, it's safe to say that Sonic's first CD adventure took many by surprise. Critics were mostly into it, with GamePro giving the platformer a perfect 5 out of 5 and Game Players handing over a score of 91% and calling it the best CD game of the year.

Electronic Gaming Monthly's Ed Semrad called the game "Excellent, Excellent, EXCELLENT!" and said it was "the best version of Sonic to date!" Game Informer also liked the game, warning that "Sonic is back with a vengeance." They liked that Sega gave Sonic "more human qualities, such as having a girlfriend and caring about the planet."

The real story is Die Hard Game Fan, who initially gave the game four perfect scores. That's four critics giving it 100%, making it the best reviewed game in Game Fan's history. "The perfect game for the Sega CD," they called it. "Heaven on earth has arrived in the form of Sonic CD," starts K. Lee. "To call this game a masterpiece is a gross understatement."

Only two months after giving the game four perfect scores, Die Hard Game Fan came back with a revised review. Instead of being "the perfect game for the Sega CD," the editors bumped the scores from 100s down to the mid-70% range. What went wrong? They changed the soundtrack. "Why! Why would anyone change the music in Sonic CD?" wondered K. Lee. The magazine criticized Sega for the bone-headed decision and ultimately decided that this change alone took the game from 100% down to 78%.

This is one of the biggest overreactions of all time, suggesting that changing the music was enough to ruin an entire experience. I agree the Japanese soundtrack is better, but how perfect can a game be if changing the soundtrack drops it from 100% down to 78%? Collectively, when we add in the other magazines, Sonic CD averages out to a respectable 87%.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 3

More than twenty years after it first hit the Sega Genesis, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 has taken a hit in popularity. Many of today's gamers seem to think this was the first sign that Sega was going to spend the next twenty years bumbling around with the Sonic brand. But that was definitely not the consensus at the time, where it was impossible to find a score lower than 90%.

Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the game not one, but two perfect scores, making Sonic 3 one of their best reviewed games of all time. "Sonic 3 is simply the perfect Sonic game," raves Ed. "It beats out all of the previous Sonics with outstanding graphics, more hidden items and new items like the many types of shields." Danyon agreed, saying that "Sonic 3 completely blows away everything you've ever seen in an action game."

Die Hard Game Fan didn't give the game a unanimous 100%, but they also didn't revise their scores two months later. Giving it a range of 90% all the way up to 94%, the editors agreed that "you really can't argue with the design and quality of Sonic 3." Brody notes that "it's games like this that are going to make Sega hard to beat in '94 and beyond." Well, not too far beyond '94.

This was a sentiment shared all across the industry. Computers + Video Games gave Sonic 3 a 94%, the same score as Mean Machines Sega. GamePro gave it a perfect score and said "Sonic 3 proves that you can teach an old hedgehog new and exciting tricks." Believe it or not, the stellar reviews bring the game's average to 94%, by far the best received Sonic game of all time.

SONIC & KNUCKLES

A weird mixture of expansion pack and mod, Sonic & Knuckles gave fans a brand new way to experience the Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy. This weirdly-shaped cartridge allowed players to not only race through a batch of brand new levels, but it also gave you an opportunity to use Knuckles in the older Sonic games. This was an incredibly cool idea, even if some of the critics were a little burned out on the Sonic formula.

"I feel like I've been here too many times," laments Die Hard Game Fan's Skid. His colleagues were a little more generous with scores, but a lot of the excitement came from the technology. "This type of backward compatibility has been the norm in the computer game world for a while, hopefully it'll catch on with video games too!" explains Mr. Goo. "Imagine a backward compatible Phantasy Star cart or something." Mr. Goo must not remember the Power Base Converter, which brought backwards compatibility to the Sega Genesis. Including Phantasy Star.

Electronic Gaming Monthly was a lot more enthusiastic about their praise. Once again, Ed Semrad gave the game a perfect 10 out of 10 and called it "the ultimate Sonic game." Both Al and Sushi-X agreed the Sonic formula was getting a bit stale, with the two critics starting their reviews with almost the exact same wording. "I must admit that I am getting a bit tired of the same Sonic theme."

Next Generation explains it succinctly: "Basically, this is the same Sonic game that Sega has sold for the last three years, just wrapped up better and with a prettier ribbon." Reviews were strong across the board, but down a bit from the highs of Sonic 3. This weird expansion pack averaged a total of 90%.

SONIC 3D BLAST

Given the overwhelming success of Street Fighter II, it was only a matter of time before the heroes in a half-shell found their way into a one-on-one fighting game. Konami ran with this idea in 1993, creating three very different versions on the Genesis, Super NES and Nintendo Entertainment System.

We'll start with the 8-bit game, which is both the rarest to find and the most maligned by critics. "Ouch!" Yells GamePro. "This TMNT game hurts, and it's not just from the fighting." Electronic Gaming Monthly was a little more kind, but still gave the game mostly 7s. "Well, it wasn't exactly essential to do a version of this game for 8-Bits, but on the smaller platform, TMNT: TF does pretty well." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Critics were a bit more receptive to the Genesis version, which scored a 68% from Force Mega and 79% from Mean Machines Sega. GamePro called it a "fun way to work up a fighting sweat, but major league Street Fighter junkies should not approach this cart with a killer attitude." Even Die Hard Game Fan turned on the Turtles, with scores ranging from 49% all the way up to 70%. "What happened?" asks K. Lee. "My worst nightmare has come true: KONAMI MADE A BAD GAME!" Calm down, it's going to be okay. Konami has plenty of bad games ahead of them.

Of the three iterations of Tournament Fighters, the Super NES version was by far the best reviewed. Die Hard Game Fan went from hyperventilating about Konami's track record to giving it scores as high as 96%. "If Street Fighter 2 didn't exist, I honestly think Tournament Fighters would be the best fighting game of all time," explains The Enquirer. Super Play backs that up, giving it a 90% and calling it "great fun and a worthy bed-fellow to SFII." You also saw high scores from SNES Force, Game Informer, Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly, who called it a "real surprise."

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