Not too long ago I entered an elite club. No, not the Stone Cutters or the Illuminati, I joined the few people who love the Sega Master System. Like many people, I was brought up on the Nintendo consoles, ignoring all other consoles as unwashed heathens who know not the magic that is Mario. However, in recent years I have learned the error of my ways and I’m catching up on lost time. As such, I am really coming to love Sega.
It is impossible to talk about Sega without mentioning their biggest and best known mascot; not Alex Kidd but Sonic the Hedgehog. Everyone who has played games for a decent amount of time must be familiar with this blue hedgehog, most likely in his 16-bit iterations from the Mega Drive. But there are more sonic games than many people realise. One of these lesser known games is the version of Sonic that came out on the Master System; Sega’s often ignored 8-bit powerhouse.
Sonic the Hedgehog for the Master System is a very different game than its Mega Drive counterpart. The original Mega Drive version was basically a tech demo to show off what they referred to as ‘Blast Processing’ (which in reality was nothing more than marketing) to show off how much quicker the Mega Drive was than the NES. This resulted in the Sonic we all know; the one who runs at super fast speeds through levels in less than a minute. However, as the Master System was an 8-bit machine and was not a great deal quicker than the NES, the result is a much slower Sonic.
As with many other people, my initial reaction to this different, more sluggish Sonic can basically be summed up by the phrase ‘what the hell is this crap?’ before swiftly shutting off the console in disgust. Obviously the game doesn’t put its best foot forward. Being the loving and forgiving person I am, I decided to give it another go.
Sadly the game does not put it’s best foot forward trying to cater to the fans of the Mega Drive game with an 8-bit version of the Green Hill Zone seen in Sonic 1 for the Mega Drive. Now this is a really odd choice for the first level as the Green Hill Zone is basically designed to allow you to go as fast as possible but in a game that is not about speed it makes for really boring level design.
So this is why the game is bad right? Well this article wouldn’t be claiming 8-bit Sonic to be secretly one of the best if this was true. I get the impression that the first zone was put there basically to shut up anyone who wouldn’t stop talking about how Sonic is all about speed. I say this because the rest of the levels are excellently crafted, and do not focus on barreling through them as fast as possible; instead challenging the player with engaging platforming action.
The Master System version of Sonic has some of the best levels ever put onto a cartridge, and it’s the lack of speed that allows this. The levels require you to really look and think about what you’re doing, which would simply not be possible at high speeds. This, alongside some pretty impressive graphics for an 8-bit system as well as a fantastic rendition of the ever familiar Sonic music; downscaled to make some pretty awesome chiptune goodness, makes for a fantastic game.
Playing this version of Sonic has showed me that Sonic the Hedgehog does not need to be all about speed. In fact, Sonic can be at his best when he’s just walking, so long as the levels are crafted to test the player’s skill and reaction. Unfortunately some of the other, faster Sonic games do not. Most Sonic games are based around memorisation, as you are going way too fast to ever react to anything on screen. People have got too hung-up about how fast Sonic moves, to the extent where they think that’s all Sonic should be; running through levels as fast as possible. If you think back to those heady days in the early 90s; playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Mega Drive, you’ll look back and remember; yes, Sonic was fast, but that speed was coupled with some great level design that got lost through the years as fans kept shouting ‘More speed!’ This resulted in the kind of Sonic the Hedgehog games we have today.
So Sega, please with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 remember this. All the speed in the world will never make up for bad level design and the extremely weird furry fetish you have seem to have developed over the years. My best piece of advice is something that Sonic for the Master System has taught me; a slow Sonic game can be really good, as long as the rest of the game is built well. So, when making Sonic 4 remember to make it good before you make it fast.
One last thing, where is our new 3D rendered HD remake of Alex Kidd? Surely it’s about time for some 1080p Janken matches?
– Alan Parrish