10 Best Sonic the Hedgehog games

To celebrate the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, we count down the best games in the series.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog runs his way onto the big screen today for the first time in live-action voiced by Ben Schwartz. The blue blur takes on Jim Carrey’s Dr. Ivo (Eggman) Robotnik in a film that surely has tons of longtime fans of the series like me excited.

Sonic the Hedgehog has been the face of Sega for nearly three decades, starring in everything from platforming games to racing, fighting, and pinball games. He was the sole reason Sega had a name in the 90s console war with Nintendo. His cool attitude combined with the Sega Genesis’ “blast processing” gave the underdog console manufacturer a name during a time that Mario and Nintendo were clear kings of the industry. Sega may no longer make consoles, but Sonic remains its iconic franchise with regular game releases. While there have been plenty of bad examples of his games (Sonic BoomSonic (2006), etc.), you don’t last this long and build a devoted fanbase without gems. Here are the ten absolute best Sonic the Hedgehog games.

10. Sonic Advance

Image via Sega

Our list starts with the very first Sonic game developed for a Nintendo console. Sonic Advance released for the Gameboy Advance in 2001 and came out in a time where Sonic would be exclusively on his 3D platforming run for quite a while on home consoles, so getting 2D games in the GBA series was a nice change.

Sonic Advance didn’t do anything special or different from other 2D games in the series. You have four characters to choose from Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy Rose. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles play almost identically to how they played on the Genesis. Amy is a bit slower than the rest of the group but can destroy enemies with her hammer.

Sonic Advance didn’t rewrite the series in any way. All it did was provide a solid, fun (although short) game that was a strong start to Sega’s third-party games.

9. Sonic the Hedgehog

Image via Sega

Every series must start somewhere, and the very first Sonic the Hedgehog game was a strong beginning for Sega’s famous mascot. Combined with Sega’s excellent marketing surrounding the release of the game, the first Sonic game introduced the world to the cool blue dude with an attitude in what at the time was a fast-moving fun platformer.

By today’s standards, this game doesn’t hold as well. Green Hill Zone is still an iconic set of levels, but once you progress just a couple levels in, you start noticing how downhill the level design goes. It also did not have the charge mechanic that would be added and featured in almost every Sonic game going forward. As it stands, the original Sonic the Hedgehog is a good start for a series and was essential for Sega, but looking back is not necessarily as fast and fun as you remembered as a kid.

8. Sonic Adventure 2

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Sonic Adventure 2 was the Sega Dreamcast’s last hurrah before the company shut down development and began focusing on being a third-party software company. As opposed to the first game, the sequel cut down on the story modes to only three play styles spread between two campaigns, hero and dark. In hero, you play as Sonic racing through levels, Tails in mech shooting levels, or Knuckles in treasure hunting areas as they try to save the world. On the dark side, a darker version of Sonic named Shadow the Hedgehog was the speedy variant, Eggman had his mech, and newcomer Rouge the Bat was the treasure hunter. As with the first Sonic Adventure, the levels focused on speed were the ones that tended to be more popular. While mech battles and treasure hunting were not as unpopular as fishing, they seemed unneeded.

One thing that cannot be ignored with Sonic Adventure 2 is the amazing soundtrack attached to it. “City Escape” remains one of my favorite gaming songs of all time, and the presentation of the game was a vast improvement over the original Sonic Adventure. Later versions of the game included multiplayer modes that weren’t terrible but was no selling point of the game. The Chao Garden returned and was a decent waste of time for breaks from the action.

7. Sonic Colors

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Image via Sega

Sonic Colors was a subtle shift for Sonic Team, who, at this point, had released a few disappointing games. Colors were released in 2010, two years following the disappointing Sonic Unleashed (which had about half of a good game in it) and also the abysmal games Shadow the HedgehogSonic the Hedgehog (2006)Sonic and the Secret of the Rings, and Sonic and the Black Knight.

Dr. Eggman has enslaved an alien race called wisps who can affect people in varying ways depending on the color they are. Sonic races through his amusement park set in outer space to release the wisps and prevent Eggman from launching a mind-control ray that would allow him to conquer Earth.

Sonic Colors was a game where Sonic Team focused on fixing issues certain games in the series had been dealing with within the 2000s. No annoying side characters are playable, and there was a focus to balance speed and platforming. They took what was good about Sonic Unleashed’s daytime levels and focused on that while adding in the wisps as power-ups to finally make a Sonic game for the Wii that not only played good but looked good as well.

6. Sonic Adventure

Image via Sega

Sonic’s first leap into a 3D plain, Sonic Adventure, was a significant change up to what a Sonic game was. The game featured a story that let you play six different characters with varying controls. Sonic, of course, was focused on running as fast as possible through levels. Tails would race Sonic to the end of each course and could shortcut by flying. Knuckles had to search for three randomly hidden master emerald pieces. Amy had to run away from a robot trying to capture her. Big the Cat would fish for his friend froggy. Finally, E-102 had shooting levels. Some character campaigns were better than others. For example, Big the Cat’s campaign is infamous for having very frustrating fishing controls while Sonic levels are more in line with what the series had seen thus far.

Sonic Adventure’s story was also much more in-depth than other games in the series past. Up until this point, each game was primarily focused on Robotnik putting animals into robots. This time, there was a new threat in Chaos, who would transform and become more of a monster with every chaos emerald he was given, culminating into an epic final boss fight where you fly through a flooded city as Super Sonic while dodging his attacks.

Besides questionable game mechanic choices, what holds back Sonic Adventure from being higher on this list is the presentation. Character models and animations are laughably bad at times. While this was an experimental time for Sega, Sonic Adventure has not aged well. However, the things that the game did right make it one of the most popular Sonic games in the series still for fans that grew up with it.

5. Sonic & Knuckles

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Sonic & Knuckles is a genuinely unique game released in 1994. Not that the gameplay was any different from other Sonic games at the time, but the situation surrounding its development was odd. S&K was initially intended to be a part of Sonic the Hedgehog 3. However, a combination of cartridge storage capacity issues and production time led Sega to release it separately. 

The genius part about the game, though, is they used what they called “lock-on” technology that allowed you to insert another game in the top of the cartridge. If you put Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in, you could play through that entire game as Knuckles with his gliding and wall-climbing abilities. If you put Sonic 3 in, you combined both Sonic 3 & Knuckles into one game so you could play them the way they to be played. This unlocked Knuckles in Sonic 2 and Tails (as well as a save state) in S&K. Also, if you collected the chaos emeralds in Sonic 3, you could now collect the super emeralds in S&K.

4. Sonic Generations

Image via Sega

Sonic Generations was a celebration of 20 years of Sonic the Hedgehog. A monster has been interfering with time and pulled modern Sonic and the younger, classic version of Sonic together, and they pass through the series most iconic levels. Each level consisted of two acts. The first one was played through as modern Sonic in a 3D set-up that played similarly to Sonic Colors. The second act played as a side-scrolling 2D level as classic Sonic.

Sonic Generations was a brilliant recreation of Sonic’s highest (and even some of his lowest) moments. It was divided into three sections. The first three levels were recreations of levels from the Genesis-era games, the middle three were Adventure era, and then the final three were the most recent games (at the time). Each level also included remixed songs for the modern and classic versions, and the collectible red rings and unlockables were good reasons to replay all the stages continually.

3. Sonic the Hedgehog 3

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As stated above, Sonic 3 was the other side of Sonic & Knuckles. This game featured the introduction of Knuckles and also had cutscenes in-between levels.

Sonic could take advantage of brand new powerups, including a bubble for bouncing and a fireball that would launch him forward. Levels were unique and fun throughout the third game (even the underwater levels in the second zone are more tolerable than usual). Save from one very poor example of level design in Carnival Night Zone, each zone is set up brilliantly and makes this a lot of longtime Sonic fan’s favorite game.

2. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

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We go from the introduction of Knuckles to the introduction of Tails, who could be controlled by your younger siblings plugging in a second controller while you were playing. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 released one year following the original game and brought with it better level design, music, and slightly better controls.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was the first time Sonic and Tails could charge up and speed off. This was where they would come to a complete stop, crouch into a ball, and rev themselves up before blasting forward. This was a small inclusion that made a big impact. You no longer needed to build momentum to get past places. If all enemies around you were destroyed, you could instantly pick up your speed again.

Another positive addition was the new special stages. To access these, you needed to have at least 50 rings and pass a checkpoint. At this point, you can jump into a ring that will place you on a track to collect rings. This mode is probably the most fun of any special stage in the series. It nails that feeling of running fast and using your reflexes to avoid bombs and pick up rings. It feels a lot like a current day Sonic game from the 90s.

Finally, the most badass inclusion in Sonic 2 is the introduction of Super Sonic. The obvious nod to Dragon Ball Z makes Sonic invincible to all attacks, runs faster, and jumps further. To access the transformation, the player needs to collect all seven chaos emeralds from the special stages, have 50 rings, and jump. Super Sonic was a feature to strive for, and when you got him, you knew you were a master at this game.

1. Sonic Mania

Image via Sega

The absolute best Sonic the Hedgehog game is 2017’s Sonic Mania. This game is what should be considered Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (let’s forget those Xbox 360 games exist). It was created by Christian Whitehead, who had a history of porting Genesis Sonic games to mobile. Like Sonic Generations, Mania had quite a few levels remade from classics in the past. The difference is this game was built entirely from the ground up to feel like a Genesis/Saturn game, and they thoroughly nailed it.

Sonic Mania’s presentation is unmatched in the series. It nails that perfect feeling of nostalgia in its pixel graphics combined with smooth gameplay across all playable characters (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Mighty the Armadillo, and Ray the Flying Squirrel). Sonic has a new move called the drop dash that an ever faster and safer way to speed yourself up without stopping and charging yourself. 

Sonic Mania was lovingly put together by fans of the series original beginnings from start to Sonic CD. If you were playing a Sonic game at any point in the 90s, there is a good chance you will find something that will make you smile in this game. It is the absolute best Sonic game ever made, and Sonic Team didn’t even make it.

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