The Sonic Cycle, as illustrated above, is a circle of pain and anguish in which loyal Sonic fans anticipate a new game, get worrying glimpses of it in previews, then play it and are horribly disappointed. With IGN’s reviews of Sonic Lost World on Wii U ( which described the game as a “big blue speed bump”) and 3DS garnering scores of 5.8 and 6.8, it seemed that the Sonic Cycle was in full swing yet again. Or was it? There’s no denying that some low-quality Sonic games are out in the wild, but there have been more hits than misses in recent years than most videogame journalists care to acknowledge. It’s time to peel the curtain back and reveal some of Sonic’s best games in recent history!
1) Sonic Colors (Wii/DS, 2010)
This Nintendo-exclusive title is a true triumph of Sonic Team, with beautiful production values and intense gameplay. Unlike many of Sonic’s 3D outings, Colors eschewed an unnecessary play control gimmick in favor of unadulterated Sonic speed and action. While the development team did slip in color-themed powerups, they’re largely enjoyable to use and aren’t always required to proceed through a level.
For the DS version, SEGA opted to keep Colors a 2D adventure, which was a wise choice, as it played to the strengths of the handheld. Developer Dimps (who you’ll hear more about in a bit) was known for making excellent, traditional Sonic games and maintained that reputation with this fun, albeit short, take on Colors. The powerups carried over to this version, too, but like the Wii’s Colors, they’re generally fun to use and not always required to progress.
2) Sonic Generations (XBox 360/PS3/3DS, 2011)
SEGA followed-up Colors with another gem for Microsoft and Sony’s consoles with Sonic Generations. Like Colors, Generations also abandoned a play control gimmick in favor of focusing on pure running/platforming, but rather then use powerups to spice things up, they split hero duties between modern and classic Sonic, instead. Half the game features 3D gameplay, with the other 2D, and is set in multiple stages based on Sonic’s classic outings from the Genesis all the way up to the present (well, then-present). It was a treat to see Green Hill Zone in blistering HD, and even modern classics like City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2 made an appearance.
For the 3DS iteration of Generations, SEGA again turned to Dimps but focused only on 2D gameplay, with a twist. The duo of modern and classic Sonic was maintained, but the former had his homing ability in tow while the latter speed dashed across the screen. Some of the joy of the console versions was lost in removing the 3D segments, but the handheld take on Generations is still a great Sonic game worth experiencing.
3) Sonic 4: Episode I (Wii/PS3/360/Mobile, 2010) & II (360/PS3/Mobile, 2012)
SEGA’s revitalization of the original Genesis numbering was a smart move, as it declared quite clearly their intent to return classic, 2D Sonic platforming to home consoles (and even cellphones!). Both installments were a blast, with lush graphics and solid controls. Some complain that Sonic’s jumps don’t feel like they did on Genesis, but it’s not such a glaring difference that it detracts from an excellent experience. Oh, yeah, and Metal Sonic. He alone is worth the price of admission! Just to note, the mobile versions are good, but there’s no substitute for a physical controller, so make your purchases accordingly.
4) Sonic Rush (DS, 2005) & Sonic Rush Adventure (DS, 2007)
Dimps has long been a stalwart Sonic developer for awhile now, and they’re crowning achievements remain the awesome DS 2D Sonic games. The Rush titles feature pure, classic Sonic gameplay, but the emphasis is on speed more than platforming. The resultant adrenaline rush (a pun!) from sending Sonic blazing across the two screens of the DS is a sight to behold. There’s also a new sense of verticality to the levels in the DS games, as both screens are utilized simultaneously. Rush Adventure is the weaker of the two titles as it, unfortunately, has some awkward 3D segments crammed in, but they’re brief and shouldn’t deter you from checking out both.
5) Sonic Dash (iOS, 2013)
Temple Run might have been first, but Sonic’s turn as an endless-runner is as fun as it natural. The graphics are crisp, the controls are precise, and the genre is really just an excellent match for Sonic on mobile. That’s not to say 2D Sonic platforming can’t be done on a tablet or phone (see Episodes I & II above), but the lack of buttons makes Dash‘s control scheme much more tenable and enjoyable on the go. Definitely a nice way to pass some time on your commute, or just to blow off some steam at home.
Sonic Lost World might have disappointed some (and I’ll be letting you know how I feel about the 3DS and Wii U versions myself, soon), but there are plenty of good Sonic games out there if one knows where to look. Give these titles a try and see why Sonic has been such a beloved character for all these years. One last thing; they’re older and a little harder to come by, but the Sonic Advance series is also a wonderful take on classic, 2D Sonic platforming. If you have a DS Lite or Game Boy Advance, all three games are well worth your time!