Review: Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Master System)

In this review, we throw on some sneakers as we run through the Sega Master System version of Sonic the Hedgehog.

This game was released in 1991, the same year the more well known version, the Sega Genesis version, was released. This is one version that was the first in the series.

The plot seems to be that Sonic is trying to steal back animals stolen by Dr. Ivo Robotnik and kick him off the island for the crime.

Sonic can run by simply going back and forth. While he can get up to speed depending on the slope of the ground, he can gain far more speed when he utilizes the roll ability which can be executed by pressing down while standing at the top of a hill.

Sonic can also attack enemies either by jumping on them Super Mario Bros style or by jumping up at an enemy with his jump attack. There are a number of enemies including a walking lobster, a jumping red fish, a reptile, and numerous others. Some enemies can fire a shot at you as well.

Along the way, Sonic can collect a small assortment of pickups. The most common pickup item are the gold rings. If you collect one or more, you can withstand a single hit. If you get hit, though, you lose all of your gold rings. If, however, you collect 100 gold rings in a single level, you gain an extra life.

Also found on the various levels are a small variety of television screens. If you jump on one, you collect the item within. The most common is the down arrow which is merely a checkpoint. If you die, you’ll respawn at the down arrow. It should be noted that if you don’t know if you’re going to make it through the second time either, you have to jump on that same checkpoint again for it to count. Otherwise, you’ll fall back to the beginning of the level if you die a second time. Another item is the force field. If you collect this item, you’ll have a small bubble appear around you. This flashing bubble will let sonic take a hit without losing rings or his life. The final item that was noticed is the elusive free life. These are often hard to obtain, but if you smash a TV with the Sonic icon on it, you gain a full free life.

The final item of note are the chaos emeralds. While very rare, they don’t seem to really have much of value until you get to the end of the game. Each one you collect nets you a nice sizable point bonus.

At the end of each level (or “Acts” as they are called in this game), you’ll be able to hit a sign that can generate an assortment of bonuses. Often, though, you’ll just get the Doctors mugshot. In which case, you get nothing. Still, you can access bonus levels and even get bonus gold rings if fortune smiles on you.

Also at the end of the level, you’ll get a tally of how well you did through point bonuses. For every ring you collected, you’ll get 100 points each. The bigger point bonuses, however, appear to be time bonus. You’ll notice that in most levels, you’ll see a timer that counts up. The faster you complete the level, the more points you get. There seems to be a par time and the faster you beat that par time, the more points you get. Points can play a role in your game in that for every 100,000 points you earn, you get a free life.

The game is divided into different areas. Each area has 3 acts. On the third act, you face off against the evil doctor in yet another device he’s built. If you defeat him, you not only access the next level, but also free an assortment of captured forest animals in the process. There are 6 areas in total.

One element that should be noted in this game is the idea of momentum. While it plays a small role in the game, understanding that there is momentum can help you land difficult jumps. If you are going to land on a platform, but overshoot it, jumping a second time can allow you to fly back onto the platform in question.

The difficulty curve in this game was quite well done. The first few levels are quite easy, but the later levels are no pushovers either. This game will challenge you, but is also nicely approachable. That is definitely something I like seeing in a game.

An irritant I have of this game are the slowdowns. Once you get into water levels, you’ll notice the game slowing down. The shield also can slow things down a bit. Throw in a few enemies, and you’ll play this game in slow motion at times.

Another small quibble I have of this game was that it’s a little on the short side. You can easily blow through this whole game over the course of an afternoon. Each act can take about 5 minutes or less to complete, so finishing this game in the span of a few hours isn’t exactly impossible. I think if there were four acts in each level, it might have been a bit better in this regard.

Still, I like the variety found in this game. There are waterslides, underwater sections, ramps, jumps, moving platforms, sliding floors, warps, and even switch activated doors. The variety within this short game was nicely done.

Graphically, this game seemed to be a bit late to the party. As an 8-bit game, it wasn’t bad, but other games that existed at around this time such as an assortment of SNES games kind of have this game beat. They were good, but nothing special.

The audio was a bit hit and miss. Some of the sound effects were pretty good. The music did little to make me say it was memorable. The Brain Scrap region music was decent enough, but nothing too memorable.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good distraction. The gameplay was decent and the variety found in this game was impressive. The controls were decent enough once you get used to them. The things you can collect were fairly straight forward and did make this game interesting. While the difficulty curve was very nicely done, the game was a bit short for my tastes. The graphics were decent enough, but compared to other games floating around at the time, they weren’t exactly special. The audio was a bit hit and miss as well. So, if you want something to play for a few hours with decent gameplay, this isn’t a bad choice. Just don’t expect too much flash.

Furthest point in game: beat the game with over 200,000 points.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 70%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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