Mike Grindle is a freelance culture writer with a love for film, music, and literature.
Sonic the Hedgehog sped into the video game market in 1991 on the Genesis/Mega Drive and changed gaming history forever. But while the blue-haired one was tailor-made for the 16-bit world, he also made some forays onto 8-bit consoles, namely the Master System and the Game Gear.
These games weren't as fast or visually appealing, but they had their own unique charm. And for many gamers in Europe and Brazil, where the Master System was a big hit, this would be their first introduction to the Sonic franchise.
In this article, we'll be looking exclusively at the games that made it onto the Sega Master System, which are:
- Sonic The Hedgehog
- Sonic The Hedgehog 2
- Sonic Chaos
- Sonic Blast
Sonic the Hedgehog (8-Bit)
In terms of visuals and sound, the first Sonic game on the Master System bears the closest resemblance to its Genesis/Mega Drive counterpart. It borrows similar aspects regarding level design and features some similarities regarding the soundtrack.
Despite this, developers Ancient went for a very different feel to the 16-bit version, focusing on creating a Sonic game that worked within the limitations of the Master System (and Game Gear). The approach is one that, for the most part, pays off.
Sonic on the Master System plays a lot like a traditional Mario-style platformer. The game understandably feels and looks slower, and the level designs are kept quite simple. The gameplay, though relatively easy, feels satisfying, and it's one of the most visually appealing and best-sounding games you'll ever see on an 8-bit console.
Little extras like a progression map, a bonus stage that is actually fun to play, and the implementation of new mechanics make this a worthwhile play for any Master System or Sonic fan.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
With Sonic 2, the development of the 8-bit Sonic games moved over to a company called Aspect, who would go on to develop the rest of the 8-bit Sonic games. The team behind Aspect would take a much different approach to Ancient, aiming to make a game that felt just as fast as the 16-bit versions and pushed the limits of what 8-bit Sonic could do.
This game is faster, bigger, and more complex than Sonic 1. The team also added many gameplay mechanics, from mine carts to air gliders. But these improvements also come with some significant caveats.
The game doesn't look nearly as appealing as Sonic 1, with much of the lush level design replaced with bland, repetitive tiles. The music isn't anywhere near on par either.
Then there's also the handling of the new character Tails. He's everywhere in this game: the intro, the menu, the cutscenes, and the ending. However, he is not in the actual game itself. So not only is there no two-player option, but the guy all over the game's cover art isn't even playable.
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The biggest issue, however, is how frustrating Sonic 2 is to play. Many of the new mechanics aren't that well implemented, and the labyrinthian-styled levels are chock-full of frustrating moments where glitching your way through seems like the only course of action. Also, the game's tiny field of vision often leaves you having to take leaps of faith into the unknown to progress.
If you were a Master System owner in the early 90s and wanted a "fast," challenging Sonic game, you'd probably be more forgiving of this game's issues. But for the retrospective player, Sonic 2 on the Master System doesn't offer much worth revisiting for anyone but the biggest Sonic fan.
Sonic Chaos is the spiritual successor to Sonic 2. At first glance, it seemingly fixes many of that game's issues. For example, tails is now a playable character. Both he and Sonic now have a bunch of unique special abilities. In addition, most of the poorly thought-out mechanics have been ditched, and while the level designs are somewhat bland, they're not nearly as frustrating.
If Sonic 2 is frustratingly tricky, however, Sonic Chaos has the opposite problem. Removing the labyrinthian elements from the last game means that you can reach the end zone in around 30 seconds flat, even in the late game, with little issue.
The game tries to combat this issue by making it so you have to collect 100 coins each level to complete the game fully. That means exploring every nook of each zone. But while exploring this 8-bit world is interesting for a while, obsessively collecting coins isn't. Oh, and it's worth mentioning the game also has some frame rate issues.
Still, on the bright side, Sonic Chaos has some pretty decent boss fights. And while it may be all too short an experience, it is good fun while it lasts.
Sonic Blast makes this list on something of a technicality. Originally released on the Game Gear worldwide, Sonic Blast would see a limited release on the Master System in Brazil.
Not to be mistaken with Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Blast is particularly notable for its use of pre-rendered graphics. This may have been an attempt to coattail the success of the Donkey Kong Country games. But while Donkey Kong Country may have suited the pre-rendered style, the hedgehog and crew don't.
While the game's visuals may be impressive from a technical standpoint and a genuine curiosity for the system, there's no getting around that Sonic Blast is a hideous game to look at. Not only do the sprites look and act clunky against the 8-bit world around them, the gameplay is slow and monotonous with uninspired level design and enemies.
Sonic Blast has long been panned as one of the worst Sonic games ever made. And in truth, it's right down there with the 2005 reboot. So unless you're a collector looking for a rare (in the West) cartridge to add to your collection, it's best avoided.
If you're looking to dive into some 8-bit Sonic, then the original 1991 game is the best place to start. Indeed, it's the only game that could be said to hold its own against the 16-bit games by offering a take on the franchise that plays to the Master System's strengths.
Sonic fans will likely enjoy what Sonic Chaos has to offer as well, but everything else serves as a curiosity at best.
© 2022 Mike Grindle