Sonic the Hedgehog - Returning To My First Video Game & Looking For Closure
Earlier this year I returned to and finally completed my first video game, Sonic the Hedgehog, whilst keeping a running blog:
My first video game was Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Master System. I played it to death as a child, yet I could never complete it. Fast forward the best part of twenty years, and I've decided to finally get that hedgehog off my back. It turns out that my MSII, which for years I thought to be broken, was only in need of a replacement AV cable, which I now have. So my intention is, writing on this sunny Saturday morning, to complete Sonic in one sitting and record my thoughts along the way.
Having not played this incarnation of Sonic for well over a decade (the 8-bit version was an entirely different game to the 16-bit model), I'm not too sure how I'll fare. Nor am I sure of what I hope to achieve, but I really like the idea of coming full circle and revisiting the game that first got me hooked all those years ago.
This isn't a good start. I knew that HDTVs and retro consoles do not make for a perfect match, but I didn't realise it would be this poor. So it's on to plan B, and I have set up my old portable telly. It took a fair amount of tuning, but I've finally got a good picture though the sound isn't great.
Green Hill Zone (3 Lives remaining)
Ah, spikes and palm trees just as I remember it. I feel like I'm returning to a childhood memory; a holiday in the countryside littered with rings and mechanical crabs. I have already made the mistake of being too eager with my ring collecting, getting stung by a Robotnik creature in the process.
Even on the opening level, game designers were not averse to throwing a curveball. Rushing through the stage, nearing the exit and thinking its all clear, I'm greeted by an enemy. He is the last thing you see before the finish line, and a mistimed jump could be the difference between carrying over your rings, or dying and heading back to the mid-level checkpoint. You don't tend to see that kind of level design these days, for better or worse.
Playing through the second Act, I am surprised how well I can remember the locations of the lives and all important Chaos Emeralds.
Having the pause button on the console is almost unbearable. I've already lost count of the number of times I have blindly thumbed the controller looking for pause. Who could have possibly thought that this was a good idea?
Bridge Zone (6 lives remaining)
I'm on cruise control, with another extra life and the Chaos Emerald in the bag. A great use of a simple mechanic, a constant forward push by the camera forcing you to stay in the screen or die, makes an otherwise dull level very memorable.
At the outset of the 3rd Act, I walk backwards to pick up an extra life. For all the enduring memories from this iconic game, this is the one miniscule moment which has had a profound influence upon the way that I play video games. To this very day, whenever I spawn into a new level, the first thing I do is instinctively check the surroundings directly behind me before pushing forward, no matter the game. And it's all due this tiny moment in Sonic.
I'm ashamed to say that I just died six times trying to remember the best way to defeat Dr. Robotnik. One of them wasn't my fault (knock on the front door), but I can take full credit for the others.
Jungle Zone (4 lives remaining)
I remembered the location of another Chaos Emerald, and I've never been so proud.
Things have started to get more difficult, as Act 2 has a similar mechanic to Bridge Act 2, only this time the camera is constantly forcing you upwards through a waterfall, where any drop leads to instant death.
There is only one thing more unnerving than collapsing platforms: traversing said platforms with a controller the size of a small chocolate bar.
It's nearly time for lunch, better start speeding this up. No problems with Robotnik and his oversized balls.
Labyrinth Zone (5 lives remaining)
Labyrinth is my old foil. I can count the number of times I got past this stage on one hand, and between spears, drowning and shooting gargoyles, I'm getting slaughtered once again.
Just want to get these excuses out the way now: the controller is too small, my hand is too big, I'm hungry, the TV screen is too small, the controller is broken and most importantly, I didn't tell the game to do that. Got it?
Fucking hell, game over! Thank god I've been collecting continues in the bonus rounds.
Another Chaos Emerald in the bag. Maybe I'll be able to get them all.
Scrap Brain Zone (2 lives remaining)
This is the furthest I ever got, and these levels seem far easier than the previous two. Still pushing forward.
I like the red cityscape, with silhouettes of industrial buildings and skyscrapers lining the background. I do recall associating this level with Japan, by which I mean Tokyo. I guess the idea of a futuristic city and electronic music fit in neatly with a child's blinkered view of Japan. More than anything, the Tokyo stage of Road Rash 3 on the Mega Drive shaped my perception of that bustling metropolis. Right up until moving to Japan, whenever I imagined Tokyo it was always dark, full of motorbikes and accompanied by eighties electronica, and it was all due to Road Rash 3. This was the same stage that featured cows and jumpable tractor trailers! Just like the real thing.
Chaos Emerald got! I completely fluked that one.
Sky Base Zone (4 Lives remaining)
This is uncharted territory, and I'm burning through my lives and continues accordingly. I'm losing patience and trying to speed my way through sections that require a more deliberate approach.
This cant be happening. I have no idea how to get past this bomb type creature that is blocking the exit, and now I have only one life left and no continues to figure it out.
Well that didn't work. GAME OVER.
2 Hours and some lunch later.........
Sky Base Zone Act 3 (14 lives remaining & 4 continues)
I'm back to where I kicked the bucket last time. I went back to the start of the game and have barely lost a life up to this point. I've also found a different way round this problematic level, which also took me to the final Chaos Emerald.
Dr. Robotnik was a breeze, and I have finally beaten Sonic the Hedgehog after 18 years, and with all the Chaos Emeralds no less. It's a rather brief ending, not quite worth two decades of waiting, but it is an ending, and that's what is important. I'm quite content enjoying the static picture of Sonic holding a red microphone, enjoying a karaoke session all on his lonesome.
By the way, if the credits are to be believed, only 5 people worked on this game. How big was the team that made Assassins Creed 2? Bold prediction: the industry will be changing soon.
Final Result (2nd successful playthrough)
All Chaos Emeralds collected
14 lives remaining and no continues used.
I have come full circle. What started on a Christmas morning in the early Nineties, with a Hedgehog with attitude to spare, has developed into a passion that continues to this day. From Sonic to Heavy Rain, it's been quite a journey.