It’s hard to believe, but it’s the 25th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog, that blue blur who gave Mario a run for the money (coins? rings?) back in the ’90s.
That was a time when Nintendo and Sega were big rivals, with the SNES head to head against the Genesis. I didn’t have much loyalty to either brand at the time. My first console was Super Nintendo, but I remember hungering to own a Sega Genesis. Sadly, my parents refused to buy me a second gaming system.
It felt a little like fate that day at Genuardi’s when I learned the grocery store had a lottery to give away a new Genesis core system. All you had to do to enter was fill out a form and stick it in the box. Naturally, I filled out five forms…on every shopping trip for a month.
I won! I figure it was either probability (I did stuff the ballot) or the store manager’s pity (“Wow, this poor Adam Bender kid REALLY wants a Genesis.”) Look, the important thing is that I got the Genesis. The first game I played Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
I loved the concept of Sonic. He was really fast, he looked cool and yet kind of angry, and his best friend was a flying fox — not like a massive Australian bat, but an actual fox who could fly! (Please note that this blogger was in elementary school at the time.) But I’ll be honest with you — I was pretty bad at this game. The level pictured above, Chemical Plant Zone, comes fairly early, and yet it took me forever just to survive the part where pink toxic water fills up over Sonic’s head and you have to get him out before he drowns. Plus, there was no way to save (this feature was pretty rare in the early ’90s), so Game Over meant playing the whole damn game over.
I got pretty far with the help of my friend Adam (yes, he was also Adam; no, he wasn’t imaginary). We’d take turns, switching off every level or when one of us lost a life. On one particularly brilliant day, we worked out that it was easier to focus if you muted the soundtrack. I don’t think we ever beat the game, though. But you know, even though there were so many times when I wanted to slam my controller into the wall, I can’t deny that game provided many hours of fun. And I guess I’ve always looked back fondly at Sonic since then.
I didn’t play much Sonic after that. I never got a Dreamcast, so I missed Sonic’s foray into 3D adventures. There wasn’t much incentive, either, since most of these new Sonic games received mixed reviews. Also, Sonic just wasn’t as cool as he used to be. Apparently, spunky mascots with ‘tude belonged to the ’90s.
Nowadays, there just isn’t the same fanfare when a new Sonic games comes out, which is pretty damn often. Maybe that’s the problem. Whereas there tends to be multiple years between each major Mario game (not counting various spin-offs, remakes, etc.), it feels like there’s at least two new Sonic games a year.
So when Humble Bundle recently announced a 25th anniversary Sonic bundle, you might say I was conflicted. One the one hand, it included Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and a bunch of other Sonics from that era — nostalgia! But then again, it also included a bunch of the newer Sonic games that I’d come to equate with mediocrity. Still, I could get them all for $10…
So I did it. I skipped lunch* and used that $10 instead for Sonic games. And guess what? I’m happy I did! Here’s the kicker: I say that not for the nostalgia of playing old Genesis games, but for the nostalgia-rama that is Sonic Generations.
In Generations, classic-look Sonic meets his 21st century update. You get to play as both, racing through classic side-scrolling levels as the old Sonic and grinding through 3D roller-coasters with the new one. Amazingly, both styles are fun!
I feel like Sega made this game just for old Sonic fans like me. The developer basically remade all my fond memories of Genesis-era Sonic with beautiful graphics, then added the modern platforming genre conventions to which I’d become accustomed. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a platformer since Kirby’s Epic Yarn, or maybe even Super Mario Galaxy.
Please note that I did not say Sega remade Genesis-era Sonic, but rather my fond (and possibly incorrect) memories of that Sonic. This is very deliberate, because the truth is that when I played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 again, I still nearly threw the controller at the wall. Not so with Generations! I’m not terrible at it! I can save my game!
Also, those same qualities that made Sonic a total badass in 1992 now make him … actually quite cute! The real shame is that classic Sonic has to share the game with the modern version, Sonic the still-dated-but-slightly-less-so Hedgehog. In fact, by embracing classic Sonic’s datedness, classic Sonic has somehow transcended into the less dated of the two hedgehogs! And here is a final sentence in which I use the word dated!
The crazy thing is that Generations came out like a million lame Sonic games ago (2011). And yet I missed it due to an assumption that if most Sonic games these days are just-OK, all of them are just-OK. I’m sure many of you have made the same mistake. But here’s the good news — you still have a chance to correct course and restore your positive memories of a gaming icon!
Happy birthday, Sonic.
*I didn’t actually skip lunch. That’s just crazy.