Games

The unofficial Sonic The Hedgehog 30th Anniversary Awards

30 years of Sonic (pic: Sega)

A reader celebrates the 30th anniversary of Sonic The Hedgehog with his own rewards for best level, best soundtrack, and best overall game.

As Sega don’t seem to celebrate the fast, blue one that nearly won them the fourth generation console war – you know, the big one – allow me to host a pompous, meaningless awards ceremony for the little guy. Like the Oscars. But for an alien hedgehog.

Best Companion – presented by Bubsy the Bobcat and Cool Spot. The red spot in shades.

Let’s start with the category that is most certainly least cared about. Even by me. Rouge is not going to be here. You dirty furries. Go back to DeviantArt where you belong. You know DeviantArt was already a year old when she made her debut in Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast way back in 2001? They knew what they were doing…

And the nominees are:

  • Miles ‘Tails’ Prow;er from Sonic The Hedgehog 2 on the Mega Drive, 1992
  • Amy Rose from Sonic CD on the Mega CD, 1993
  • Knuckles the Echidna from Sonic The Hedgehog & Knuckles 3 on the Mega Drive, 1994
  • And Blaze the Cat from Sonic Rush on the Nintendo DS, 2005. Mostly because I needed a fourth candidate.

And the winner is… Tails! From Sonic 2! Because, come on now, there isn’t really a contest here is there?

Best Visuals – presented by Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. They’re apes.

A surprisingly tricky category as time has gone on. The series is known for spectacle and graphics that can sell a console. Back in the early 90s. Sonic Adventure had some very impressive visuals. But the character models were dodgy even at the time and let’s not even start on the facial animation. So, strap in for what might be some puzzling nominees, which are…

  • Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Sonic & Knuckles 3, Mega Drive, 1994
  • Sonic Colours (because that’s how it’s supposed to be spelt!), Nintendo Wii, 2010
  • Sonic Mania, multiple formats, 2017

And the winner is… Sonic Mania! And that’s clear to see as early as Emerald Hill Zone, Act 2.

Best Art Direction – presented by Conrad B. Hart (the dude from Flashback) and Headdy from Dynamite Headdy. Because they’re kinda artsy…? I guess?

Yes, it is different to graphics! This all about the imagination and ideas. Which would mean that as Sonic Mania is mostly derivative of older games, it is disqualified from this category. And the nominees are:

  • Sonic The Hedgehog, Mega Drive, 1991
  • Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Sonic Spinball, Mega Drive, 1993
  • Sonic & Knuckles 3, Mega Drive, 1994

This is very tough. On the one hand, the original is the basis for everything that follows. Spring Garden and Starlight Zones remain lovely to this day, just as Scrapbrain is spectacular when you see the polluted, industrial skyline. The grey, Labyrinth Zone reprise just before the final boss is much less impressive – at the conceptual level. It’s so boring to look at.

Sonic Spinball has those wonderfully horrifying bosses that would be not out of place in a Soulsborne game. And kudos to making the first level – a bloody sewer – look great. In a really awful way. But still great. And then there’s the endless delights of Sonic & Knuckles 3 like the gumball machine, the prophetic mural in your fight against Knuckles, the weirdly slow teleporter rides, and the anti-gravity chambers, to name but a few.

But the winner is… Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive! Now, the night stages are vastly superior to the daytime stages in terms of visual design at the very least, but wow. I hate Las Vegas on an almost spiritual level. Stephen King was right: that place deserves to be nuked off the face of the Earth. But I would love to go to Casino Night Zone. And Chemical Plant. And even Oil Ocean! Which is weird as they’re clearly heavily polluted, toxic nightmares that could barely support organic life. If at all. Which also describes Las Vegas quite well, incidentally. Also, the sprite of Sonic and Super Sonic is the best drawn in the series. In my opinion.

Best Bonus Round – presented by Earthworm Jim and Sir Sparkster (he’s a Rocket Knight)

At first, I didn’t think there would be enough variation here to bother with this. But there is. So, not just being the Special Stages where you nab Chaos Emeralds, the nominees are:

  • The Sonic 2 half-pipe, 1992
  • The Sonic Spinball bonus and multi-ball tables, 1993
  • The Sonic & Knuckles 3 blue spheres planetoids, 1994
  • The Sonic Mania racetracks (an improvement on their Sonic CD origins, I feel), 2017.

And the winner is…. blue spheres from Sonic & Knuckles 3! A slightly controversial pick, here, as I presume many would have gone for the Sonic 2 half-pipe – but I feel this has the smarter gameplay and is satisfying enough to be a game in its own right. Which it is, technically…

Best ending – presented by Shantae and Hani (The Hat Kid)

The pickings are very slim here. And I mean ‘end sequence’ by this. Or end movie. Whatever you prefer to call it. Sonic isn’t that great at this, barring two remarkable exceptions. I mean, Sonic Mania had a rubbish ending. Thing blows up, Sonic runs off, the music it’s set to is bland. What a shame. Anyway, the nominees are:

  • Sonic The Hedgehog, Master System, 1991. He sings karaoke at the end! How adorable!
  • Sonic The Hedgehog 2, ‘Sad Ending’, Master System, 1992. Tails dies!
  • Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Sonic & Knuckles 3, Sonic and Tails’ endings, 1994

And it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the winner is… Sonic 2! For the Mega Drive! Mostly for that music. It goes downbeat just towards the end, as Tails appears to be arguing with a bird making us think that Sonic won’t make it (well, not really but nice effort Sega) before it reaches the triumphant crescendo where, if you didn’t get all the Chaos Emeralds (which is very likely on your first time completing the game), Tails catches Sonic safely on the wings of the biplane. It’s beautiful. Special mention must go to the Master System version for being as sad as it was. You don’t see Tails’ corpse or anything, but still. And the music only gets more affecting the older I get.

Best Boss – presented by Doctor Ivo Robotnik and King Bowser. Seems only fair.

Now this is a category where Sonic truly excels! At the height of their powers, Sonic Team could compete with Treasure. Just not as hard, naturally. Entry level Treasure bosses if you will. As such, we will need six nominees here. And they are:

  • Final Zone Crushers, Sonic The Hedgehog, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Silver Sonic, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Master System, 1992
  • Robotnik’s Rotten Red Robot, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Battlestar Robotnika, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Mega Drive, 1994
  • Final boss, Sonic 3D Blast, (let’s go disco, baby!) Mega Drive, 1995
  • The Biolizard, Sonic Adventure 2, Dreamcast, 2001
  • Metal Sonic, Sonic Mania, multiple formats, 2017

And the winner is… Battlestar Robotnika from Sonic 3 & Knuckles! I do love a boss where you run them through with their own sword and this boss is one of the greatest of all time. What a breathtaking finale it remains to this very day. Special shout out to the Biolizard from Sonic Adventure 2, who really should have been the final boss of the game and was unfairly robbed by Sonic Team wanting to push it just a bit more. Which was very much a mistake.

Best Level Design – presented by Lara Croft and Nathan Drake

This is for level design overall, throughout the entire game. Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive had Chemical Plant Zone one minute and then Aqua Ruin the next. And while Aqua Ruin isn’t dreadful, it isn’t very memorable either. And once, again we will have six nominees. And they are:

  • Sonic The Hedgehog, Mega Drive, 1991
  • Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Sonic Spinball, Mega Drive, 1993. Yes, really
  • Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Mega Drive, 1994
  • Sonic Adventure, Dreamcast, 1999
  • Sonic Mania, multiple formats, 2017

And the winner is… Sonic Mania! Which I’m sure you could have guessed by its very inclusion. Bouncing on chemical lakes, shot around by popcorn cannons, navigating a transforming airship, and taking a dive on submarines in a burning sea – Sonic 3 & Knuckles may have been quite the high bar to clear, but clear it Sonic Mania most certainly did. And almost made it look easy, too.

Best Level – presented by Mario and Princess Peach

Yes, this is very tough. And who better to present it than purveyors of some of the greatest levels of all time? So, let’s get straight to it! The nominees are:

  • Starlight Zone from Sonic The Hedgehog, Mega Drive, 1991
  • Casino Night Zone from Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Showdown from Sonic Spinball, Mega Drive, 1993
  • Death Egg Zone from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Mega Drive, 1994
  • Twinkle Park from Sonic Adventure, Dreamcast, 1999
  • Titanic Monarch from Sonic Mania, multiple formats, 2017

Honourable mentions should go to Jungle Zone from the Master System version of Sonic 1 for being just darn jolly and the Halloween levels from Sonic Heroes (2003!) for also having a great atmosphere. It was just a shame it was in Sonic Heroes. Titanic Monarch might confuse a few of you, but I think that. overall, it is the strongest original level in the game. Yes, I know Studiopolis is great. You don’t have to tell me that.

But the winner is… Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2! That said, if you have any vulnerability to headaches and migraines, this level is not your friend. You may end up feeling like a coin inside a cash register just full of other coins being thrown down the stairs of the Empire State Building. But that floating fruit machine that you can use to rack up extra rings is just so addictive! The first time where the 10-minute limit felt too restrictive. And of course, I’m immune to headaches so I’m alright, Jack.

Best Soundtrack – presented by Beat and Gum from Jet Set Radio

This may seem a more trivial category. But it is not. The soundtrack is always the very soul of a great Sonic experience. An area where something like the recent Sonic Mania is only partially successful. Certainly not bad but nowhere close to being the best. Which is why it won’t be listed here. I deemed this category so vital that I have split into three sub-categories! So, here are the nominees:

  • Sonic The Hedgehog, Master System, 1991
  • Sonic The Hedgehog, Mega Drive, 1991
  • Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Mega Drive, 1994
  • Sonic 3D Blast, Mega Drive, 1995
  • Sonic Adventure, Dreamcast, 1999

I do realise how foolish this endeavour may seem but let us try to agree on a few ground rules. I think that for a game to have a great soundtrack, it must have between 10-12 pieces that you enjoy listening to outside of the game. For example, I would never listen to the themes of either Casino or Carnival Night Zones, yet they perfectly match the action.

The competition is ferocious here, but the winner is… Sonic 2! I’m not sure it has the most pieces that I like but I know that it has most of my favourites – the clincher being that end sequence theme. Just beautiful.

Best Boss Music – presented by Alucard and Trevor Belmont – because they’re dark…

I didn’t want to overlook these because there have been several villainous themes that are very enjoyable to listen to and Sonic has given us some of, if not the very best, boss themes of all time. So here then are the eight nominees:

  • Final Zone theme, Sonic The Hedgehog, Mega Drive, 1991
  • Boss theme (there was only one), Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Master System, 1992
  • Final boss theme, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Boss theme (again, only one), Sonic Spinball, Mega Drive, 1993
  • Doomsday Zone theme, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Mega Drive, 1994
  • Final boss theme, Sonic 3D Blast, Mega Drive, 1995. It’s so disco, baby!
  • Perfect Chaos theme, first part, Sonic Adventure, Dreamcast, 1999
  • Biolizard theme, Sonic Adventure 2, Dreamcast, 2001

And as you can see this is extremely tough. From the chilling anthems of Sonic 2 on the Master System and the accompaniment to the Giger-esque horrors found in Sonic Spinball to the more heroic melodies of the finale of the Mega Drive version of Sonic 2 and the battle against the Biolizard – every single one of these is amazing.

But the winner is… Perfect Chaos, part one, from Sonic Adventure! The boss was a bit of a wash out (ha ha), but music was genuinely scary. Wasted on such a damp villain, of course.

Best Piece Of Music – presented by Mae Borowski and Gregg Lee from Night In The Woods

Once again, we will need eight nominees and even that doesn’t feel like it does the musical achievements of this series justice. And those nominees are:

  • Starlight Zone theme, Sonic The Hedgehog, Mega Drive, 1991
  • Sad ending theme, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Master System, 1992
  • Ending theme, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Showdown theme, Sonic Spinball, Mega Drive, 1993
  • Endless Mine theme, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Mega Drive, 1994
  • Diamond Dust Zone, Act 2 theme, Sonic 3D Blast, Mega Drive, 1995
  • Pleasure Castle theme, Sonic Adventure, Dreamcast, 1999
  • Hero Garden theme, Sonic Adventure 2, Dreamcast, 2001

Yes, there were a lot of heartbreakers I had to leave out. The adorably upbeat sounds of Jungle Zone and Green Hills Zone from the first two Master System outings, the latter of which would go on to become the basis for the (in)famous ‘Toot Toot, Sonic Warrior’ song from Sonic CD. Stone cold classics like the Chemical Plant and Metropolis Zone themes, not to mention Lava Reef, Act 1, Sky Sanctuary, Death Egg Zone, the Twinkle Park bumper car section, and still more besides!

Before I declare the outright winner, a special mention should go to the Endless Mine theme from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, which always leaves me feeling strangely melancholy, and the Hero Garden theme – which must be what heaven is like for Sonic characters.

So, the winner is… the ending theme of Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive! I’ve already mentioned it elsewhere so you may have guessed this would be my choice, but it was not an easy one! It’s very triumphant whilst also having a little narrative of its own, trying to make you think Sonic has paid the ultimate price for defeating Robotnik and his Death Egg. Not likely, this is a game for young children and Sega were never going to kill off their biggest money-maker. But still, credit for having a go at trying…

Best Game – presented by Sonic the Hedgehog and Amy Rose, also a hedgehog. Except pink.

So at last we come to grand prize! I’m sure anybody who has got this far will have a good idea as to the final winner. But, nonetheless, here are the four nominees:

  • Sonic The Hedgehog, Mega Drive, 1991. Only seems appropriate, no?
  • Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Mega Drive, 1992
  • Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Mega Drive, 1994
  • Sonic Mania, multiple formats, 2017

And the winner is… Sonic Mania! And even if you disagree with me, Mania didn’t charm everybody for a few very good reasons – what do you notice? Because I imagine your own choice is quite old now, isn’t it? Sonic Mania leans heavily on to the past, which is both to its credit and detriment. Plus, Sonic Mania is now four years old. The future is extremely uncertain. Do any of us actually believe that Sonic Team even want to make Sonic games anymore? But you can look to the past whilst not being a slave to it. I really hope so because I really hope that there’s even more to celebrate when it comes round to Sonic’s 50th anniversary…

By reader DMR

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

You can submit your own 500 to 600-word reader feature at any time, which if used will be published in the next appropriate weekend slot. As always, email gamecentral@ukmetro.co.uk and follow us on Twitter.


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The unofficial Sonic The Hedgehog 30th Anniversary Awards – Reader’s Feature

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