Sonic by this point has been through his ups and downs, but in 1991, he was a new kid on the block, competing against the biggest name in gaming to date (Super Mario). Sega decided to use the power of the Genesis to their advantage, the biggest being in-speed. So they came up with at hedgehog that could outrun anyone on the system, strapped on his running shoes, and made him one of the most recognizable names in gaming history.
The premise is this, Sonic is out to save his animal friends who are being captured by Dr. Robotnik, a hefty mustachioed villain with a taste for little forest animal magic. But once you started playing the game, the story didn’t really matter that much. Add in the fact the Sega packed this game with the console, and you had a Super Nintendo killer on your hands.
Sonic The Hedgehog was set against a futuristic backdrop of fast paced rolling scenery. While Mario’s biggest advantage was jumping to the heights of the clouds and taking pipes to his underground destinations, Sonic opted for just catapulting into the sky and flinging himself dangerously close to a lava waterfall. The game runs on a fluid spectrum which allows the player to explore not only the length of the level, but also the depth, which for the time, was something new and invigorating.
Sonic also worked on a continuous health system. All along the level our hero collects rings. Once Sonic hits an enemy or harmful object his rings spray out from his body and start blinking. The player has the chance to try and recollect to rings before they disappear and then continue along the level until he is hit while carrying no rings, at which point he dies and has to start the level over. This health system worked very well for the title as Sonic is sometimes able to avoid the many pitfalls that come up on his so quickly. This allows the player to recoup and continue instead of having a set amount of lives to keep starting the level over. Sonic also had several level up items which included power shoes and several types of shields which allowed the players to get hit and not give up the rings they were holding.
The levels are also interactive, enticing the player to continue moving foward instead of stopping. Land bridges will fall out from under you, Loops and turns require a certain speed to continue through, and fire bursts out of the ground behind and starts following you. Bonus levels took the player one step closer to madness with a full on spinning room which required sonic to bounce around in ball form while collecting as many rings as he can using the chaos emerald. This could be achieved by collecting fifty rings and keeping them by the end of the level.
Sonic was designed amazingly well for it’s time. While comparisons to Super Mario Brothers did exist, there really was no reason for it. Once you actually play the title you realize that the only comparison is that it’s platforming game. Sonic keeps the screen decluttered with only a few numeric displays for rings and bonuses, and while some levels were set up for straight speed, getting through the level as fast as possible means that you might miss out on some well hidden secrets. Combining that with music that is unforgettable and a vibrate set of visuals and you have yourself a winner.