As anyone that grew up in the early 90’s onwards knows, the 16-bit era of gaming was divided into two camps; you were either a Nintendo kid or a Sega kid. I was part of the first group, opting to play Super Mario games and The Legend of Zelda instead of venturing anywhere near the company with speedy blue hedgehog with attitude for a mascot. As a result of this, I never actually properly played the Sonic The Hedgehog games until I was in my early teens, and while I’m admittedly still more of a Nintendo kid, I enjoy and very much appreciate the Sonic series.
So, without the lens of nostalgia affecting anything, here’s my top 5 levels of the very first Sonic The Hedgehog game…
Green Hill Zone: Act 1
The first entry in this edition of Pet Wolf Gaming‘s top 5 levels is the first part of the game’s initial zone. There’s nothing particularly special in terms of extra features, secrets or tough enemies to face, but it does a fantastic job of introducing players to the basic game mechanics that would be seen in almost every following Sonic The Hedgehog title in the long-running series.
Everything from the music, the loops that you can run through and the springboards that fire you across the screen, to the deadly spikes, deceptive enemies and the spinning sign at the end of the stage; it cannot be denied that Act 1 of Green Hill Zone is an perfect Sonic experience.
Marble Zone: Act 2
Part 2 of the second zone in the game is where things start to change-up slightly. Instead of just having to avoid enemies and spikes, Sonic now has a new natural hazard to worry about; molten lava. While this environmental factor is introduced in Marble Zone’s first act, it is here that it truly becomes something to be concerned about if players are to make it to the end of the stage in one piece.
Maneuvering over floating platforms while trying to reign in Sonic’s lightning speed is no easy task, especially when you have fireballs flying around, waves of deadly lava quickly approaching and some heinous new spike traps to avoid. It’s a challenge, but a welcome one nonetheless.
Labyrinth Zone: Act 3
Water; absolutely vital for our survival, but also an incredibly fatal natural resource if introduced in large enough amounts. It is also one of the most divisive elements in video game level design. From the positive (the serene Aquatic Ambience in Donkey Kong Country) to the downright frustrating (pretty much any water level in the original Tomb Raider series), it’s an important feature to have in a game, offering wildly different experiences each time.
In Sonic The Hedgehog, water is an absolute nightmare, but makes the final act of Labyrinth Zone totally unforgettable. Not content with just having a tricky maze to navigate through, the level rapidly fills up with water. As Sonic can only hold his breath for so long, the music immediately switches from the quirky BGM to a panic-inducingly loud and frantic piece of music that speeds up as Sonic runs out of air. The couple of seconds of silence as the timer reaches 2 is heart-stopping.
On paper, it sounds like a horrible gaming experience, but it is quite the opposite. The feeling of relief as you discover an air bubble to replenish your air supply is astonishing, and finally beating the maze is a pretty satisfying victory too.
Star Light Zone: Act 2
The middle act of Star Light Zone is a relatively quick one to finish, but is filled with enough interesting features to make it into the top 5 list. While there aren’t many enemies, the ones that do appear can empty Sonic‘s supply of rings in an instant, and are a threat that can’t be undermined. The main part of this level that caught my attention is the platforms near the end, where Sonic has to launch a weight onto the see-saw like structures in order to gain enough jump height to make it to the sign. It’s deceptively tricky, as I spent ages trying to get the timing right and fell to my death more times than I care to discuss.
As a side note, this zone contains some of my favourite level music in any Sonic game. It has a “victorious” vibe to it, while at the same time feels like it’s mocking you with MIDI trumpets as you try to figure out the platform puzzle near the end. Slightly rage-inducing, but awesome.
Scrap Brain Zone: Act 3
Finally we get to the final part of the Scrap Brain Zone. Remember the immensely difficult water maze that I mentioned earlier in Labyrinth Zone: Act 3? Well, it’s back again here, but with more obstacles and enemies to overcome, and far less air bubbles to keep you alive. It’s fitting that the last proper part of the game before the final encounter with Eggman is so damn tricky, though seasoned veterans of the game will already know of the secret shortcut that pretty much makes this one a breeze to get through.
Also calling back to my point in Star Light Zone: Act 2, the music here is absolutely incredible, to the point where this ranks highly on my list of my all-time favourite 16-bit game soundtracks (without the “OH SHIT I NEED TO FIND SOME AIR BUBBLES OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO DROWN” tune, of course).
As a relative latecomer to the Sonic The Hedgehog series, there is plenty that I appreciate about the first Sonic The Hedgehog. Its stunning presentation, unforgettable music and heart racing speed make it a very positive gaming experience over 27 years after its release. It may not be as impressive as some of the sequels that followed it, but it’s still an essential starting point for anyone who is interested in the series.
What is your favorite level from the first Sonic The Hedgehog game? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!