It was 30 years ago that Sonic the Hedgehog — the blue dude with the most 'tude — first burst forth onto the Mega Drive in Japan and Sega finally presented a credible challenger for the platforming crown Nintendo's jumping plumber had been wearing since the mid 1980s. In the three decades since, the blue blur has starred in a host of platform games: some 2D, others 3D, some fantastic, others not-so-much.
Regardless of his myriad hits and misses, Sonic has proven that he has something far more important than merely his speed and aforementioned 'tude: Sonic's got staying power.
To celebrate his 30th birthday we asked Nintendo Life readers to rank every 2D Sonic game, and by combining the results with an existing list of the 3D games, we can now present to you the definitive ranking of every Sonic game ever — the ones that appeared on a Nintendo platform, that is (sorry-not-sorry Sonic 2006).
Remember: the order below is updated in real time according the each game's corresponding User Rating in the Nintendo Life game database. Even as you read this, it's entirely possible to influence the ranking below. If you haven't rated your favourites yet, simply click the 'star' of the game you wish to rate below and assign a score right now.
So, grab a chili dog and a companion from your ever more ragtag bunch of sidekicks, and let's check out the best (and worst) Sonic games on Nintendo systems.
Please note: We're only featuring Sonic platformers that have appeared on Nintendo platforms — be it as part of a collection or as an individual release — so you won't find Knuckles Chaotix or Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure or anything that's not a platform game (no Mean Bean Machine or Tails' Skypatrol shmup action or Sonic Drift karting, then).
Also, the 8-bit Sonics that appeared on both Master System and Game Gear are only featured once below. And finally, Sonic Spinball — or Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball, to give the game its full and proper title — was an edge case, but we couldn't bring ourselves to exclude it. If its presence offends you, just imagine it isn't there.
Okay, ready now? Prepare for some excellent erinaceidae platforming. Just not at the top...
This isometric Game Gear title from Minato Giken had you exploring four maze-like levels for keys to open a goal gate and battling a boss at the end of three Acts. With uninspiring level design and slow, soupy movement, this is a '3D' Sonic that removes the key ingredients of a Sonic game. Sonic Labyrinth is available for 3DS, but is only really for masochistic Sonic completionists.
Part of a cross-media rebrand for Sonic and the gang — now with added tape and neckwear — Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was a po-faced, misguided attempt at a reboot that presented stretched out redesigns of the main characters and gave you a largely-vacant open world to explore. Its audio was passably entertaining, but a host of technical issues and questionable decisions made this a disappointment on every other level.
35. Sonic Blast (GG)
Sonic Blast is a perfectly competent 2D Sonic game that released on Game Gear (and Master System in Brazil), and it's worth a dabble for interested parties and hardcore fans. It was included on Sonic Mega Collection Plus, a compilation which expanded the number of games on GameCube's Sonic Mega Collection but never released on a Nintendo console, but Blast also came to Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console as an individual release. It's a fun curio for fans, but very far from the best of Sonic's 8-bit escapades.
There's plenty to enjoy in Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, but it's nothing revolutionary. It was one of the better Sonic outings at the time, but unfortunately that's not saying an awful lot. If you're a Sonic fan or you enjoy platformers, you could do a lot worse, but SBSC (as almost nobody called it) won't be troubling many a Sonic fan's top 10 list.
The first Sonic game for Wii, this Arabian Nights-themed take on the 3D formula put Sonic centre stage as the only playable character. Sonic and the Secret Rings used the console's unique controller in an on-rails adventure which looked lovely, but arguably failed to nail the hedgehog's 2D appeal in the third dimension. Like many of Sonic's 3D games, it has fun or interesting elements, but they don't cohere into a satisfying whole.
2D purists had begged for many years to see a return to a 'classic' Sonic game — one with no dialogue, no cutscenes and no sidekicks. In more recent times the wonderful Sonic Mania delivered exactly what fans had dreamed of for so long, but in 2010 Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was Sega's answer to the old-school crowd.
A WiiWare release with a dozen side-scrolling stages, it satiated a portion of fans at the time. However, basic locomotion was incredibly soupy compared to the 16-bit classics, and the game is tough to return to these days (and we don't just mean because it's no longer purchasable via the Wii Shop). Nintendo gamers never got the follow-up, and no Episode 3 was ever produced.
As a technical showpiece for the ageing Genesis / Mega Drive, Traveller's Tales Sonic 3D Blast (or Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island as it's known in Europe) is an admirable stab at the Sonic formula in isometric 3D. The visuals capture the look of the hedgehog's checkerboard Zones well enough, but its sluggish controls and overall reduced pace compared to the 2D classics reduce it to the status of intriguing also-ran.
Far from essential, then, but also not the bottom of the barrel.
"You know what Sonic needs? A sword — a talking one, if poss!" said nobody ever, except that one person in the meeting where they came up with Sonic and the Black Knight. This title continues the 'Storybook' series that began with Secret Rings and puts Sonic in an Arthurian adventure that introduced Wii-waggle sword fighting for good measure.
It's about as good as that sounds, and while it's not without moments of charm, the execution here just doesn't cut it. We're left with another mediocre-to-poor entry in Sonic's 3D catalogue.
If you ever wondered what a Sonic game crossed with a third-person shooter would be like, Shadow the Hedgehog is your answer. This spin-off followed on from Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes and took the series on a 'darker', more 'mature' route. It's arguably not as poor as its reputation suggests, although it suffers from much of the inelegance and poor level design of other lesser Sonic adventures. The attempt to produce a grittier version of Sonic comes off as hopelessly try-hard, but that approach has its fans — as does Shadow the Hedgehog.
Sonic Lost World has its share of mediocrity and questionable design, but is also has flashes of the old Sonic magic that have kept fans on a drip feed of hope for many years. While it has plenty of 2D stages, it's also a handheld entry that dares to attempt 'proper' 3D, too, and it's impressive considering the 3DS hardware.
Don't get us wrong: the 3DS version is an extremely average experience overall, and we far prefer its Wii U bigger brother, but this is also far from the worst Sonic game you'll ever play and it contains simple moments of platforming pleasure that are really rather good.