Review: Sonic 1 (8-bit)

Released on the Master System in October 1991 the 8-bit version of the first Sonic the Hedgehog game came out two months after the Mega Drive version hit stores, and was released to follow through on SEGA’s plans to push Sonic as their front-line mascot, by publishing game featuring him on all three of their major platforms, the Mega Drive, Master System and Game Gear (a port of the 8-bit version was released on the Game Gear in December) and this meant that Sonic was ingrained as a product for SEGA’s entire market.

But the 8-bit version of Sonic 1 is not simply a scaled-down port from the Mega Drive version, it is an original game unto itself. It has three completely original zones, and the 8-bit versions of Green Hill, Labyrinth and Scrap Brain Zones have original layouts and boss fights. There are also game play mechanics that are unique to this game and its sequels in the 8-bit Sonic series.

“some of the game’s qualities are somewhat inferior to the original Genesis version.”

The Chaos Emeralds, which in the majority of Sonic games are found in special stages; are here found hidden throughout out the levels, one in each of the game’s six zones. As with the 16-bit version of the game, completing the game with all six emeralds in hand rewards the player with the game’s ‘good ending’. The spinning signpost that signifies a levels ending throughout the Sonic games has a different purpose here. It will land on certain panels, depending on the amount of rings a player holds, and these panels will reward the player differently.

Of course, being on a less advanced system means that some of the game’s qualities are somewhat inferior to the original Genesis version. Obviously the graphics aren’t mind blowing, but for a Master System game they’re fairly good, a result of being released so late in the console’s lifespan (at least in North America, where the console stopped selling practically in the following year, 1991).

“apart from the somewhat difficult jumps, and the lesser graphics, this 8-bit version of Sonic is nothing to scoff at”

This also affects the resolution of the game, or the screen’s size. This may not seem like an issue, but combined with the play-style I’m used to with Sonic games and the level design on hand here, it could lead to some fairly nail-biting moments. There are many blind jumps where Sonic is standing in the midst of a nothing, on a tiny platform, but the landing point of a jump is just out of view, and below is a bottomless pit of death. The player attempts to jump the gap, and misses, or worse: overshoots the next platform, losing a life and some of their patience. Expect a lot of frustration during the waterfall parts of Jungle Zone Act 1. This was helpfully fixed in the Game Gear version of the game partially by warning signposts before particularly difficult jumps.

But apart from the somewhat difficult jumps, and the lesser graphics, this 8-bit version of Sonic is nothing to scoff at. It sparked off the 8-bit series of Sonic games that continued onto the game gear with Sonic 2, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Triple Trouble, and Sonic Blast (sort of), as well as a smorgasbord of spin-offs, for the Game Gear and Master System including racing game Sonic Drift, the isometric Sonic Labyrinth, and the fan favourite Tails Adventure.

The legacy of the 8-bit sonic games is seen in what is now called the ‘handheld series’ of Sonic games, which stand alongside to the ‘main series’ games, and include the Advance and Rush series games, as well as the 3DS version of Sonic Generations, and the upcoming 3DS version of Sonic Lost World. The Advance and Rush Sonic games in particular are similar to the 8-bit games in there originality compared to the main series Sonic outings of their time. And for a time, handhelds were the only place to get 2D platforming Sonic goodness, with the main console games being generally considered lesser. Apart from the historical value Sonic for the Sega Master System can be found here on Boss Level, or on a multitude of ports for modern consoles and PCs, and is well worth the buy, in this Sonic fanatic’s opinion.

 Originally posted on BOSS LEVEL РRetro Game Gear.