Sonic’s had a bit of a rough ride in recent years. From one gaming’s biggest icons to forgotten afterthought – Sega hasn’t treated their most popular icon with the care you’d expect. But hidden among the recent fluff are a series of games that once were heralded as the pinnacle of gaming excellence. So today we’ve decided to dust off our MegaDrive consoles and take a stroll back through memory lane to rank all the main Sonic games This time around I’ve opted to add in as many of the spin-off’s as I’ve played – but obviously there’ll be some games I’ve missed. Let me know what you agree!
38. Sonic 2006 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, 2006) – But of course this game falls into last place. Not only was it a god awful mess that took the Sonic name and ran it into the dirt; it was also intended to be the franchises outing for the 15th anniversary. The introduction of Silver the Hedgehog, a time-travelling hedgehog from the future, leads to a plot that’s both dull and wildly out of sync with the rest of the franchise. It’s clear from the start that the game was rushed out the door with bugs and glitches littering the experience and interrupting the flow of gameplay. This isn’t just considered one of the worst Sonic games of all time – its considered one of the worse period. It’s hard to argue with that assessment,
37. Sonic The Fighters (Arcade, 1996) – I debated heavily whether to include this one on this revised list of games – then I realised Sega had the gall to release the game to the public – and so all bets were off. Attempting to mix Virtua Fighter 2 and Sonic in a bafflingly bad way, Sonic The Fighters feels more like a bad fan project than a proper gaming, with awful controls and tediously laughable graphics throughout. The game suffers from the distinction of being the worst Sonic spin-off in my eyes, lacking any real redeeming features and only remaining off the bottom because…. kindness?
36. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (Wii U, 2014) – The wheels come off the franchise for the second time in a game that makes a solid shout for being the worst experience on Nintendo’s Wii U console. Cutscenes bleed into each other awkwardly (The opening cutscene in particular is poorly edited) while the gameplay is ravaged by a bank of glitches that render entire sections of the game unplayable. Sometimes the worlds don’t load in. Sometimes the enemies won’t spawn. If you’re really lucky you’ll bump into one of the many out-of-bound areas and fall into the abyss beneath the world. It’s a mess and if it wasn’t for the fact that the attempted re-imagining of the characters isn’t awful (Just mildly terrible) then this would have been rock bottom.
35. Sonic Labyrinth (Game Gear, 1995) – Take Sonic, a character known for his blistering speed and land him in a game that plays like it’s running through custard. Add in some glaringly awful graphics and a soundtrack that sounds like the composer was bashing his head against an electric keyboard and you’ve got Sonic Labyrinth. Things probably wouldn’t have been so bad had the game controlled decently; but alas our favourite blue hedgehog moves like a tank – making precise jumps impossible. Thanks for that Sega!
34. Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis (GBA, 2006) – Somehow Sega managed to mess up this port of the original Sonic game – tanking the physics and turning the experience into a complete car crash. It’s the Sonic you know and love butchered for Nintendo’s handheld.
33. Sonic Free Riders (Xbox 360, 2010) – The point at which the Sonic franchise threw its arms up in the air and uttered “why bother”. The graphics look fairly great in this game, but for some earth shatteringly dumb reason, the developers decided to make the game Kinect only. This effectively renders the game unplayable, near impossible to control and destroys the multiplayer aspect of the game almost single-handedly. There is an online component but good luck finding anyone else silly enough to invest in this game. Not even worth the curiosity of a second-hand purchase.
32. Sonic R (Saturn, 1997) – I remember playing Sonic R back when I was a kid and finding it really ambitious. You can imagine the horror of returning to play this game all these years later to see what a mess this game has ended up being over time. It just doesn’t when the controls make you feel like you’re handling a broken Tesco trolley. It’s a shame really as graphically this game is lovely and if there was more of it (The game is hilariously short on content) then I could probably push it up more. But given that I can actually play this, there’s no way I’m putting it below Free Riders.
31. Sonic Spinball (Genesis, 1993) – The idea of taking Sonic and pushing him in a pinball game almost makes sense. Then you realise that the reality of the game is one of pre-determined paths and awkwardly precise button presses. It’s not that the game isn’t fun, it’s just hugely entertaining for long periods – as it tries to combine platforming elements with the pinball mould. As the levels get more complex, things get more frustrating – it’s at this point you’ll probably give up and not return.
30. Sonic Blast (Game Gear, 1996) – This stab at a handheld Sonic avoids turning things 3D (Something the franchise seemed obsessed with at this stage). Sadly the experience it offers up is one that feels lacking in the company of the still fresh 2D games. It’s clunky, not much to look at and frankly all a little bit dull.
29. Shadow the Hedgehog (Xbox, PS2, GC, 2004) – Some people insist this game is misunderstood. If by misunderstood you mean following the gun wielding Shadow as he traverses the world in a shockingly dull affair then yes – it’s very misunderstood. It’s not all bad, some of the levels show brief glimpses of greatness. But with a branching story mode that will see you forced to replay the game over 10 times just to get the “real” ending; it’s really not worth the effort.
28. Sonic Drift (Game Gear, 1994) – Of course Sonic would want to jump into a racing game – Mario did it so Sega weren’t going to be left in the dust. Sadly for them the reality of Sonic Drift is one of disappointment than outright success. The game plays OK but thanks to some incredibly limited track options and a shallow roster of drivers, you’ll be bored long before you have chance to see most of the game. Just play Super Mario Kart instead.
27. Sonic Riders; Zero (PS2, Wii, 2008) – The sequel to Sonic Riders got some things right but dropped the ball heavily in the controls department. Sonic handles like he’s sliding around on Vaseline for the most part – with the kind of awkward loose controls that will have you ripping out your hair in frustration. The multiplayer could be fun and the graphics were a step up, but thanks to awkward choice in controller restrictions (You couldn’t use the Wii Classic Controller), this game never really hit me as a memorable outing.
26. Sonic Drift 2 (Game Gear, 1995) – A more rounded offering than the previous Drift game, if only because there’s more game here for you to enjoy. If you can survive the sharp soundtrack and insanely loose controls the game may be for you – I struggled to ever see the appeal of the game.
25. Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii, 2007) – Sonic tries his hand at on-rail speed sections that feel woefully poor. The Wiimote does no justice to the series as he wildly flings himself around the stages with all the grace of a dancing T-Rex. Things get notably worse when you try to slow down the hedgehog – the game attempting to push you forward and stop you from doing exploring the world. It’s about as basic as the Sonic experience gets.
24. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Master System, Game Gear, 1993) – A game that while sharing a name with the iconic MegaDrive game – plays almost entirely differently. There are vehicles, new enemies and the introduction of Tails as an NPC. There’s a heap of issues with the controls (The hand glider sections are bone gnawing hard) But the game holds up well from a design standpoint – pushing the Master System to its limits and carving out its own identity. Worth a look if you’re looking for a challenge.
23. Sonic Chaos (Master System, Game Gear, 1993) – No where near as good as the 16-bit games – Aspect Co. pushed the old console as far as they could with a game that has as much charm as anything going on over at the 16-bit console. It let 8-bit gamers play as Tails and managed to look better than it’s predecessor. Sadly it’s still limited by the hardware meaning a lot of the bells and whistles that shone over on the MegaDrive didn’t make an appearance here. But the gameplay is solid, the levels well designed and if you fancy rocking out to classic Sonic that’s vastly overlooked, you can’t really go wrong.
22. Sonic Riders (GC, PS2, Xbox, 2005) – Your mileage will vary wildly on this one – as Sonic Riders ejects a lot of the series logic to try its hand at Mario Kart racing style gameplay. I appreciate the effort – and if you were game for the slightly stiff controls then more power to you. But I could never really get into the game as much as other Sonic titles and thus don’t hold the nostalgia that some have for the title.
21. Sonic and the Black Knight (Wii, 2009) – Sonic trades his normal combat for that with a sword. If that sounds like your idea of a good game – you probably shouldn’t be playing Sonic. It’s clunky, it’s fairly ugly and controls like a brick on ice. The battle sequences have all the fun of a bashing two action dolls together and the soundtrack is blisteringly poor – with Crush 40 providing the title track. Thanks Team Sonic.
20. Sonic Heroes (PS2/GC/Xbox, 2003) – Ultimately there’s nothing wrong with this game – it’s perfectly serviceable as a platforming experience. The bigger problem is that it came to represent the issue with the Sonic franchise – mainly that it was creating characters for the sake of filling slots in a game. Half the roster in this game are bewilderingly obscure while the gameplay itself isn’t the greatest.
19. Sonic 3D Blast (Genesis, 1996) – Sega’s half-hearted attempt to bring the franchise into the 3D realm was met with a chorus of groans. The game is isometric and plays insanely haphazardly, with controls proving difficult to judge in the environments. On top of this the game looks like ass – not managing to match the beauty of the 2D games. But it’s the ice like controls that will truly sink the experience for you. Sonic runs around like he’s trapped on a frozen lake – sliding around and into everything like an uncontrollable toddler.
18. Sonic The Hedgehog 4 (360, PS3, Wii, 2010) – Pitched as the spiritual successor the original 2D games – fans were left disappointed by the lacklustre experience offered up in the two episodes that made up this game. Some say it the physics which felt off. Some argue that it was the story – with too many beats close to the original game. Whatever the reason – fans weren’t impressed with the offerings. Rumours suggest there was intended to be more but the poor reaction to the game left Sega scrapping future plans and shelving the entire project.
17. Sonic Unleashed (360, PS3, 2007) – There’s a good game buried in here somewhere – sadly its handicapped by the werewolf features that add nothing to the games experience. At least in the daytime segments the graphics shine and the speed is kept to a relatively healthy pace. Then night-time happens and gameplay comes to a crashing halt; the gamer is forced to engage battle in clunky action sequences so far removed from the franchises core appeal that we’re bewildered why anyone wanted to put it in there. It’s harrowingly poor and manages to turn a good chunk of this game into a mess. A real shame.
16. Sonic the Hedgehog (Master System, Game Gear, 1992) – God bless them for trying. In trying to give 8-bit console owners their very own game; Sega managed to replicate certain aspects of the Sonic experience but hilariously managed to hit it wide on others. Make no mistake – this was a full-blooded effort and that shines through. But with limited capabilities came limited potential – the game having very limited stages that removed the exploration aspect found in the 16-bit cousins. Forgive all this though and the game presents something of a stern challenge.
15. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, 2010) – The shift to racing helped the All-Stars series, with a solid groundwork of mechanics that would ultimately bring the series much success as it marched forward. The karting mechanics are solid while the character selection is hugely worthy of praise. The only thing letting it down was a lackluster online selection of modes that limited the long-term appeal of the game.
14. Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast, 1999) – Aged like milk – this game was heralded as something of a big deal when it came out on the Dreamcast in 1999. It had a hub world, distinctive graphics and Big the Cat. Sadly come back to this game now and it’s all manner of bad – all of the above features that were once cutting edge leave it feeling distinctly old – and not in the good way. There’s a fishing mini game too which is the height of bad. It’s worth looking back at for some of the games more memorable moments – but outside of these it’s nothing special.
13. Sonic Battle (GBA, 2003) – Here’s an interesting little game that turned up during the GBA’s later life. Some people really don’t like this game, seeing it as a silly spin-off. Personally I liked the battle system and the way the game tried its hand at 3D arena combat. The variation of moves on offer means things don’t get too dull and thanks to the multiplayer component, there’s chances galore to take down your friends who keep picking Knuckles. One of those games I’d love to see remade properly for the modern family of consoles sometime – with online support (If you’re reading, Sega!).
12. Sonic Lost World (Wii, 2013) – After the immense success of Super Mario Galaxy, Sega decided to throw Sonic into an equally unique environment – with less successful results. Don’t get me wrong – this game looks gorgeous and the addition of so many new baddies is a treat for the series. But the gameplay never feels quite as fluid as a Sonic game should – stages are notably more linear and feel like they’re designed to break up the pace more than they should. Still very enjoyable though.
11. Sonic Adventure 2 (Dreamcast, 2001) – Fans debate over which of the Adventure games is the better experience – the reality is that neither are particularly show stealing. What pushes Adventure 2 slightly ahead is the tweaks to gameplay, the removal of the hub world and the improved Chao Island side quest. That being said most of the stages outside of Shadow’s and Sonic’s are uninspired while the “story” feels entirely ham-fisted.
10. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, 2012) – Arguably the best kart game Sonic ever managed, certainly the most impressive multiplayer offering in the spin-off games. What really makes All-Stars Racing feel great is the mixture of great tracks, wonderful controls and some highly impressive graphics. Alongside all this is a huge helping of fan-service, which really showcased that those behind the game understood what they were making and who they were making it for. To add to the feature set, the online side of things was enhanced greatly; bringing more fun for gamers who wanted it., I’d make an argument for this being nearer the Top 5 games on this list. As it stands, this is very much a competent outing for the series and one we hope they choose to expand on in the future.
9. Sonic Colors – (Wii, 2010) – The boldest re-imagining of the series in a good number of years saw the series shift focus. With an entirely new cast of voice actors, punchier dialogue and a series of new stages – there was a lot of change for fans. That’s probably why the game splits opinions so heavily – but scratch beneath the surface and there’s a great experience here. The addition of Wisps feels slightly contrived but the game manages to make it work in the context of events.
8. Sonic Advance 3 (GBA, ) – A worthy final note for the GBA line of games. This one sees the introduction of a pairing system that offers multiple ways to approach stages. Thanks to some clever level design and tightening of mechanics, it’s very much worthy of the Sonic name. I’d argue it’s not as strong as the original trilogy of games, but it’s certainly worthy of note in the franchises history.
7. Sonic Generations (360, PS3, 2011) – The game that married nostalgia with the current series – giving gamers an enjoyable twist on the Sonic franchise. Throwing in a mixture of classic 2D and 3D stages, Generations managed to balance the styles of all involved well and threw in a huge collection of side missions to keep things fresh. It certainly didn’t do anything new – but managed to feel like an acknowledgement that the franchise was heading for better days.
6. Sonic Rush – (DS, 2005) – Probably the best handheld Sonic experience going. The game does a good job of mimicking the original trilogy’s feel while marrying in the mechanics that made the GBA games so exciting. The DS’s capabilities are fully utilized and the result is a game that feels solid; at a time when the 3D games were doing their absolute best to ruin the franchise.
6. Sonic Advance (GBA) – Arguably the pinnacle of the Gameboy line of Sonic games and very close to matching out the original trilogy in terms of fun. The Sonic Advance game managed to capture the spirit of the older games nicely, throwing in some great level designs and awesome mechanics that just work brilliantly on the handheld device. Perhaps the best thing I can say about Advance 1 is that it feels like a good Sonic game in its own right.
5. Sonic & Knuckles (MegaDrive, 1994) – More of an add-on for Sonic 3 – the game allowed you to take control of Knuckles and experience his version of Sonic 3. The game opened up a heap of new unlockables and takes place right in the aftermath of Sonic 3. It all gets a touch confusing but as its own beast – this is a fine entry into the series and gives gamers the side-character experience they craved – in all the goodness of the MegaDrive.
4. Sonic the Hedgehog (MegaDrive, 1991) – The game that proudly announced Sonic’s arrival as a gaming icon is also one of his better outings. While it lacks the bells and whistles of later games, it’s focus on solid gameplay and memorable levels means that gamers are rewarded for learning and then mastering the controls. Some of the levels are overly obtuse (Don’t get us started on the underwater levels) while a fair amount of the bosses are uninteresting. But hey, it plays a lot better than most of the games that followed it.
3. Sonic CD (Megadrive, 1993) – Complex in its logic, the game threw a bunch of new mechanics at the gamer that changed the Sonic experience. Here was one where the world could be played in the past and present – radically changing the stages and music. It was a bold idea and the game implements it well. Some purists decry this game – saying it doesn’t allow for the truly experience. We found it to be highly enjoyable and one of the best 2D Sonic games put out there.
2. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (MegaDrive, 1992) – The iconic spin-dash gets introduced while the appearance of Tails opens the game up to new dynamics. In truth it’s got better levels that make more creative use of Sonics abilities – opening up the franchise to more inventive ways to play. The stories also a bit more developed which gives everything more sense of purpose. But it was in this game that the franchise perfected it’s craft, turning the potential of the original Sonic the Hedgehog into something more. While other 2D hedgehog games refined this further, Sonic 2 refined the craft and series to its peak.
1. Sonic 3 & Knuckles (MegaDrive, 1993) – We could have included both of these as separate entities but honestly the two work best in tandem. The lock-on function allows gamers to play Sonic 3 levels as Knuckles or allows Sonic & Knuckles levels to be played as Sonic & Tails. It also unlocks the hyper form for Sonic and Knuckles characters. Put simply there’s a lot of content here and when combined, offers one of the definitive Sonic experiences – giving the gamer a beefy story that incorporates a number of different elements into a seamless experience.