For several years, Mario had cornered the market in terms of lovable video game mascots. There wasn’t anyone even close to him on the popularity scale. Then came the next generation of consoles and with it came a shock to Nintendo’s system: competition. Competition came from a little company called Sega. And Sega had a mascot of their own. His name was Sonic and he was a blue hedgehog who had something Mario didn’t have: break-neck speed. Once gamers got a taste for Sonic’s pure speed, they became hooked and thus the console wars began. Time has since been much kinder to Mario, as Sonic has struggled to find his place in a rapidly growing 3D world. But Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis remains one of the most heralded side-scrollers of all-time and now it’s available for the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console for 800 Wii Points. How does it hold up today?
Using the Nintendo GameCube controller or the Classic Controller, gamers take control of the blue hedgehog and guide him in over eight high-velocity worlds. The end of each world would see Sonic taking on his arch-nemesis, Dr. Robotnik (known today as Dr. Eggman), in some repetitive boss battles. Every familiar element of a good side-scrolling platformer is here. Players jump platforms, avoid obstacles, stomp on enemies, and navigate their way through treacherous environments. As mentioned before, what sets Sonic apart from the rest of the pack is the level of high speed that gamers can reach. Most stages, especially the early ones, are cleverly designed around this premise and give the player plenty of room to cut loose and sprint about.
At least until the reach the final few levels. Understandably, the later stages get more difficult, as is normally the case with any game. But it seems like Sonic the Hedgehog sacrifices the fun factor of running around freely in favor of upping the challenge ante. It’s a minor point, because the platforming action is still tops. But it does serve as a minor annoyance to those who find themselves getting addicted to all that high octane action.
The graphics are pure 16-bit goodness. While Mario innovated over on the Super NES with its Mode 7 graphics engine, Sonic had some graphical innovations of his own. Structures and enemies were designed in detail never before seen to that point. The stages themselves were absolutely gorgeous and included nearly all types of conditions, from caverns to fields and even to pinball-style stages with bumpers. It’s a testament to the power of the Genesis how it could keep up with all the action without any noticeable framerate drop. In fact, the framerate remains consistent through the game until Sonic loses a large number of rings. But even then, the drop time is minimal and the game plays on normally once it’s over.
The musical score is fantastic. Sonic’s main theme is still classic, even if it has since been dropped by Sega. The individual stage music is also beautiful and often fits in with the level environment and current situation. Dr. Robotnik’s music is ominous while the level timer going into its final seconds will result in faster music. It’s all the basics, but the basics are what games great and Sonic does it all well. But the music from the first level of the game is the standout, as it paints a perfect picture of the Sonic series. It’s fast, it’s catchy, and it’s playable by all.
But the question remains: Is it worth the 800 Wii Points that it’s going for on the Virtual Console?
The answer, in all honesty, is no.
While the Virtual Console provides a perfect emulation of the original Sega Genesis classic, most gamers may recognize that it’s also available on the GameCube. The Sonic Mega Collection has been in stores for several years and it not only contains this very game, but it also includes many other Sonic titles, including the superior Sonic the Hedgehog 2. And the best part is that this entire package is going for $19.99 at retailers. Wii owners will recall that the new console is compatible with all GameCube titles. So blowing 800 Wii Points on the original Sonic is ultimately a bad choice, in the grand scheme of things.
Want to stop shaking your head over the horrific 3D Sonic series and want to re-visit Sonic’s roots? Well, don’t stop at the Virtual Console. Save your 800 Wii Points and purchase the Sonic Mega Collection instead. You’ll be glad you did. And you’ll be able to hang onto those 800 points for some of the better titles coming up for the Wii’s Virtual Console.