The 10 best Sonic the Hedgehog games, ranked

These are the highest of highs this hedgehog has seen.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog has been the face of Sega for over three decades, starring in everything from platforming games to racing, fighting, and pinball games. He was one of the biggest reasons 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 chance during a time when Mario and Nintendo were clear kings of the industry.

Sega may no longer make consoles, but Sonic remains an iconic franchise with regular game releases. While there have been plenty of bad examples of his games, you don’t last this long and build a devoted fanbase without gems. Here are the ten best Sonic the Hedgehog games.

Related: The 10 best Sonic the Hedgehog spinoff games, ranked

The 10 greatest Sonic the Hedgehog games ranked from worst to best

10. Sonic Heroes

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In Sonic Heroes, rather than control one character through platforming sections, you swap in-between a team of three characters. Each team has a speed, power, and flying-centric person that will help you advance through various obstacles. This game was a good change of pace for 3D Sonic games at the time and incorporated some interesting ideas. While it does have quite a few bugs that bog down the experience, this is a unique experience that you will not find anywhere else in the series.

9. Sonic Advance

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Sonic Advance released for the Gameboy Advance in 2001 and came out at a time when Sonic would be exclusively on his 3D platforming run for quite a while on home consoles, so getting 2D games in the handheld market was a nice change. It didn’t do anything special or different from other 2D games in the series. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles play almost identically to how they played on the Genesis and the newcomer Amy Rose is a bit slower than the rest of the group but can destroy enemies with her hammer. Overall, it’s a very solid entry that has some good sequels as well.

8. Sonic Adventure 2

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Sonic Adventure 2 was the Sega Dreamcast’s last hurrah before the company shut down console development and began focusing on being a third-party software company. The story was cut down to only three playstyles spread between two campaigns: Hero and Dark. This is where Shadow the Hedgehog was introduced, one of the series’ most popular characters even today. As with the first Sonic Adventure, the levels focused on speed were the ones that tended to be more popular. One thing that cannot be ignored with Sonic Adventure 2 is the amazing soundtrack attached to it. “City Escape” and “Live and Learn” remain some of the community’s favorite gaming songs of all time.

7. Sonic Frontiers

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Sonic Frontiers took the series in a new direction, setting the gameplay in larger open maps. Running around these areas, completing puzzles and platforming challenges, is fun and eats up quite a bit of time. A bunch of linear levels from the past were recreated here, although some play a bit worse. The big highlight is the boss fights, which have you transform into Super Sonic. These are accompanied by harder rock songs than we are used to. Also, the story dramatically improved over recent games, with Sonic’s friends and Eggman feeling much more alive than usual.

6. Sonic & Knuckles

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Sonic & Knuckles is a genuinely unique game released in 1994, not for its gameplay but for the situation surrounding its development. S&K was initially intended to be a part of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, but a combination of cartridge storage capacity issues and production time led Sega to release it separately. The genius part about the game is they used what they called “lock-on” technology that allowed you to insert another game into 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 were meant to be played.

5. Sonic Adventure

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Sonic’s first leap into a 3D plane, Sonic Adventure, was a significant change to what a Sonic game was. The game featured a story that let you play six different characters with varying controls. The game’s story was much more in-depth than other games in the series’ past. Up until this point, each game was primarily focused on Eggman putting animals into robots. This time, the world was larger and featured a god-like monster antagonist.

The presentation holds this game back a bit. 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 for fans that grew up with it.

4. Sonic Generations

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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, set with 2D side-scrolling and faster 3D boosting. Sonic Generations was a brilliant recreation of Sonic’s highest (and even some of his lowest) moments. Each level included remixed songs for the modern and classic versions, and the collectible red rings and unlockables were good reasons to replay all the stages.

3. Sonic the Hedgehog 3

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As stated above, Sonic 3 was the other half of Sonic & Knuckles. This game featured the introduction of Knuckles and also had cutscenes in-between levels for the first time. Levels were unique and fun throughout the 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 fans’ 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 a second plugging in a controller while you were playing. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 released one year after the original game and brought with it better level design, music, and 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. Wherever you were, you could pick up speed quickly. Also, this game introduced Super Sonic and has many memorable levels that are enjoyable to play today.

1. Sonic Mania

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The absolute best Sonic the Hedgehog game is 2017’s Sonic Mania. It was created by a group of Sonic fans who had a history of porting Genesis Sonic games to mobile and creating fan games online. 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 was lovingly put together by fans of the series’ original beginnings. 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.