On June 23, 1991, Sega’s superfast mascot ran onto the Genesis console. And from that point forward, gamers fell in love with the “Blue Blur” as he transcended the realm of gaming and became a mainstream cultural icon.
Sonic the Hedgehog entered the scene as a clear rival to Nintendo’s Mario and gained a massive fanbase of his own due to his spunky attitude, fast-paced gameplay focus, and instantly recognizable design. Sonic has gone from moving from left to right on a 2D plane to exploring wide-open environments within evolutionary 3D experiences.
While everyone’s favorite hedgehog has dipped his toes into activities other than platforming adventures, he’s most known for running, jumping, and making every attempt to foil Dr. Eggman’s evil plans. The highs have definitely been high for Sonic and the lows have most certainly been low. But through it all, the Sonic the Hedgehog brand has continued to stay strong and produce batches of new content and merchandise for new & old fans alike.
We’d like to commemorate our guy Sonic by taking a look at the very best platforming games he’s been featured in. The following 16 titles are the very best of Sonic’s long-lasting career.
And here it is! This is the one that started it all. Sega introduced Sonic the Hedgehog to the gaming public and kickstarted a 90s phenomenon. Sonic started out on his own here as he traversed a series of wonderfully designed zones as quickly as possible. The joy that comes with speeding through a level while collecting rings, leaping high into the air, and foiling Dr. Robotnik’s latest inventions is still unparalleled. The first-ever Sonic the Hedgehog 2D platformer revolutionized the platforming genre as a whole and solidified the Blue Blur as one of the greatest anthropomorphic characters in gaming history.
And then came the sequel. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 streamlined the zone formula by featuring two stages per zone rather than three, which made progressing through the game feel better paced. The newest batch of zones introduced some very memorable gimmicks, such as loop de loops, boost pads, and even slot machines. Sonic 2 also improved upon the first game’s winning formula by adding in another character named Miles “Tails” Prower, who ended up being a big help during the main campaign and a viable option for the addictive multiplayer mode. Not only is Sonic 2 a quality 2D entry in the series, but it also holds the distinct honor of having one of the best original soundtracks in all of gaming.
Sonic CD has so many great things going for it – the animated opening sequence is awe-inspiring, the theme song that accompanies it is amazing, and the game’s time traveling mechanics made it feel more unique when compared to its predecessors. Grabbing rings and jumping on enemies remained fun as ever, but the ability to utilize time travel in order to access different forms of each stage added to the game’s already high fun factor. The graphics themselves got a nice shot in the arm alongside its audio – the music in Sonic CD also deserves props for being so damn catchy. Sonic CD is also one of the greatest Sonic the Hedgehog games of all time since it’s the one that debuted the diabolical (yet entirely awesome) Metal Sonic.
Fun fact – Sonic the Hedgehog 3 originally proved to be too big, which led to it being split into two halves of a full game. The first half of that lofty project shows just how much the series as a whole evolved during its 90s heyday. Sonic and his pal Tails looked a bit cooler as they contended with their newest rival, Knuckles the Echidna. New power-ups came into play, such as the flame, water, and lightning shields. The stage layouts proved to be even better than past games’ iterations (that dreaded section during the Carnival Night Zone still puts the fear of God into our hearts, though). Sonic 3’s bonus zone was just as good as the ones in the last two Sega Genesis Sonic games, too. All of those elements came together to produce the next evolution in Sega’s strongest franchise.
If Sonic & Knuckles came out today, it would probably be designated as an extensive expansion to Sonic 3. As it stands, this pick on our list stands as the second portion of Sonic 3 yet still manages to be great in its own right. Knuckles goes from enemy to ally here and produces an instantly likable addition to Sonic’s collection of playable critters. Sonic & Knuckles is one of the tougher Sonic games on this list, but it presents an entertaining challenge that compels you to see it through to its very end. The special lock-on technology is another part of this game that makes it such a masterwork – attaching Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 to this game increased its replayability factor thanks to the ability to play through different stages as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles. The fourth release in the Sega Genesis Sonic saga is a bonafide classic.
Do you remember where you were when you first saw Sonic Adventure in motion? We know plenty of eyes were opened extra wide at the sight of Sonic hitting top speeds in fully realized 3D stages. This game put the Sega Dreamcast’s processing power on full display and showcased how far the Blue Blur had come up until this point. Sonic Adventure did things differently by offering up other playable characters that produced varied gameplay styles, which gave the game a ton of life. The songs that accompanied each stage playthrough are still incredible. And getting the chance to explore hub worlds as Sonic and his buddies was a revelatory experience at the time. Sonic Adventure is considered a GOAT-tier Sonic game for very good reason.
The sequel to Sonic Adventure switched up the formula and succeeded in the process. Instead of playing through several campaigns as different characters, Sonic Adventure 2 lets you command the signature skills of three characters per campaign, which were the Hero and Villain campaigns. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles provided speedy stages, shooting galleries, and Chaos Emerald treasure hunts. The presence of Shadow the Hedgehog, Dr. Eggman, and Rouge the Bat provided their very own spin on those three enjoyable gameplay styles. The visuals got improved here, the music slapped tremendously, and the gameplay as a whole felt that much more delightful. Plus we got to shout out the deceptively addictive Chao Garden game, which had no right being as engrossing as it was.
The news of Sega leaving the hardware market shocked the gaming industry to its core. So when the time came for Sonic to run over to non-Sega platforms, he shocked everyone by making a play for the Nintendo Gamecube and Game Boy Advance. Speaking of the Game Boy Advance, Sonic Advance arrived on that handheld device and ended up being a nice return to form when it came to Sonic’s 2D exploits. The mega-talented development studio Dimps stepped up here to produce a classic Sonic game that included everything that fans loved about the series from the 90s. The anime-inspired sprite art was a nice change of pace visually, plus the ability to grind on rails offered a new fun approach to on-foot exploration. Sonic Advance is a Sonic series standout for all those aforementioned reasons.
The Sonic Advance series knocked it out of the park on the very first try. And when it came time to deliver a follow-up, Dimps and Sonic Team managed to deliver another worthwhile Sonic the Hedgehog experience. Like the first game, Sonic Advance 2 featured multiple playable characters. But this time, Cream the Rabbit and her cutesy Chao Cheese joined the fray. Sonic Advance 2 also deserves to be mentioned among the top Sonic games due to its improved character animations, varied approaches to exploring each zone, and incredibly catchy music. This sequel built upon the already strong foundation set by the amazing first game in the series.
Sonic Heroes was such a sharp departure from the other 3D entries in the series. And for that reason alone, we ended up loving every part of its focus on team-based gameplay mechanics. Each of the game’s trio’s offered their own style of play, which increased the game’s replay value tenfold. It was so addicting to play and figure out the best approach to getting farther during each stage by selecting the right character for the job. Going super fast as Sonic, taking to the air as Tails, and smashing through enemies as Knuckles was and still is a clever method towards utilizing each character’s skills simultaneously. Sonic Heroes certainly had its issues (that camera was damn sure a problem!), but its positives certainly outweigh its negatives.
Nintendo and Sega’s blossoming partnership in the early 2000s worked out so well for the Game Boy Advance as evidenced by the Sonic Advance trilogy. Sonic Advance 3 sped onto the handheld console and finished off the series in an impressive fashion. The series’ quality level design paved the way for a fun co-op mechanic that allows players to bring two characters together. The synergy between each character added a cool new wrinkle to the series as a whole and freshened up its familiar gameplay feel. Sonic Advance 3’s implementation of teamwork between Sonic and his most trustworthy allies ended up being the most beloved feature of this handheld classic.
Once Nintendo released the successor to the Game Boy Advance in the form of the Nintendo DS, Sonic made his way over to its greener pastures. His newfound journey upon that revolutionary handheld device was Sonic Rush, an incredibly fun side-scrolling romp that made good use of the DS’s double-screen feature. Running through crazy loops as Sonic and the newly introduced Blaze the Cat was a visual treat now that those speedy runs could take place across both screens. Sonic Rush’s grading system provided an incentive for players to complete each stage in a quicker fashion, plus the “Tension Gauge” mechanic played a huge part in magnifying the game’s unique trick system. Sonic’s first-ever DS trek was and still is a must-play for platforming fans everywhere.
Sonic vs. robo pirates? SIGN US UP! That’s exactly what we said once Sonic Rush Adventure dropped back in 2007. The first Sonic Rush was already great enough, but its sequel pushed things even further in the right direction. Sonic and Blaze’s had their usual gamut of platforming goodness to rely on, of course. The newest batch of content that came with this game offered up actual sea traveling segments that made exploration even more of a fun activity. There wasn’t a ton of innovation on offer here, but that’s beside the point – Sonic Rush Adventure still ended up being another great entry in the Sonic the Hedgehog series.
Out of all the Sonic games that came to the Nintendo Wii, this is the best one by far. Sega clearly realizes this since they’re remastering it for current-gen consoles. For those of you who played it during its original launch, you know exactly what’s on offer here – Sonic’s tried & true superfast running, jumping, and drifting. And he got to do all that across some visually striking levels that gave you fun routes to explore thanks to the ability changing Wisps. Drilling through the ground, getting stuck to platforms, and taking to the air as a rocket are just some of the cool ways in which you could become one with a cute lil’ Wisp. Sonic Colors is 3D Sonic at his best.
Sonic Generations is a true celebration of Sega’s most beloved mascot in the best ways possible. Fans got to speed through a dope playlist of the series’ best stages from two different viewpoints (2D and 3D). Exploring City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2 as Modern Sonic got even better here, but getting to venture through that same level as Classic Sonic was a pretty enlightening experience in its own right. The presence of classic boss fights added onto the “best-of” feel Sonic Generations relied on. Sega curated this love letter to Sonic and provided fans with something to truly be happy about.
Sonic Mania was a true return to form. Thanks to the combined talents of Christian Whitehead, PagodaWest Games, and Headcannon, we got to hop into a retro Sonic game that felt like the unofficial fourth game that should have come out on the Sega Genesis. Not only did it offer up new stages that fit the theme of a retro Sonic game perfectly, but it also threw in some throwback zones that got a nice refresh. The original version of Sonic Mania and its Sonic Mania Plus expansion do right by the blue speedster by producing a 2D platforming gem that sticks to the classic beats of the 16-bit era. Here’s hoping we get a sequel to this classic platformer someday.