Ah, Sonic the Hedgehog – the blue speedster who simply can’t sit still. Oh, no. Not when he’s got box office records to smash, Netflix binge watches to facilitate, and multi-million dollar games to sell. Over the years, he’s dashed through countless loops, collected more rings than you’ve had hot meals (I would hope), and faced an eccentric assortment of dastardly rogues.
Arguably, Sonic’s star shines brighter these days than ever before, buoyed by multimedia success upon success. To celebrate – and to shamelessly drum up some hype for our Sonic Superstars coverage – we’ve gathered some of the more notable games from his zippy career, ranked them, and added a dash of Mega Visions Snark (patent pending) for flavor. Hot takes and cold takes abound, so get comfy and prepare to disagree with us!
Honourable Mention: Sonic and the Black Knight
Kicking off our list, but just barely missing the actual ranking, is The One Where Sonic Has A Sword. Don’t lie, that’s how you remember it; because nothing says “gotta go fast” quite like a medieval fantasy makeover. Ah, those Lord of the Rings movies. Well known for their frenetic, high-speed, wisecracking action! While it’s indeed amusing to see Sonic dueling with a blade, this storybook game (a series consisting of a grand total of two games) strayed quite far from his roots, leaving most players feeling like they’d taken a wrong turn at Green Hill Zone.
Seeing Sonic’s band of mates cosplaying in armor mostly just feels that one medieval-themed party everyone’s been to at some stage – it seemed like a fun idea at the time, but in the end you just spend two hours standing around awkwardly. But hey, at least it’s got a killer soundtrack; and its story, which sees Sonic weighing the ramifications of mortality, was Jason Griffith’s finest hour.
10: Sonic Heroes
Even a legend needs backup sometimes. Next, we’ve got Sonic Heroes, which sees the ‘hog shack up with 12 other characters to take down a traitorous Metal Sonic. This “team” aspect injected some freshness into the series, but controlling three characters at once (each with a different ability, be it flying or punching) felt about as coordinated as a cat in a laser pointer factory. Or, to use a more series-appropriate analogy, it’s like trying to herd echidnas; and trust me, that’s no easy feat. I speak from experience.
What ultimately salvages the endeavor are some inspired level designs, which finally translate the whimsy of 2D Sonic into a three-dimensional space, and another requisite banging soundtrack. Crush 40 bring their A-game to the vocals too, and there’s no denying that in those moments where it all comes together, Heroes is a blast.
9: Sonic CD
Now we’re grooving with Sonic CD, a game that introduced time travel to Sonic’s already wild repertoire of skills. Because when you’ve explored every other creative avenue, that’s of course the well you go to. After Eggman chains up Little Planet, it’s up to the Blue Blur to recover the Time Stones, rescue newcomer Amy Rose, and try to avert a few paradoxes while he’s at it.
Again, the music is stellar, and the pixel art is some of the finest you’ll ever see. Sadly, CD is quite badly let down by its level design, which has an odd fixation with verticality and a general inability to get out of your way long enough to build speed (necessary to timewarp). Between hopping through the ages and hunting down those bloody robot generators, just to ensure a good ending, it all got to be a bit much. Simplicity is key, SEGA.
8: Sonic Lost World
Sonic Lost World decided it wanted a piece of the Mario platforming pie, and who could blame it? Nintendo and SEGA had become snugger than bugs in an especially warm rug in the 2010s, to the point where they signed an exclusivity deal together. This, of course, would lead to the fateful Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric – but its first-born, Lost World, was rather fun. Granted, controlling Sonic in a 2.5D platformer (when usually he’d either gone 3 or 2) was slightly off-kilter, but once you settle into the controls, things begin to click. It doesn’t help that the game refuses to clue you in on some of the core moves you can pull off, like the roll or vault, instead hiding the tutorials away on the Wii U GamePad.
And that’s without even mentioning the “parkour” mechanics – Sonic channels his inner Cirque du Soleil as you swing, climb and wall-run across suspiciously Italian plumber-esque worlds. The story isn’t great shakes, and neither are the Deadly Six, the conga line of stereotypes passing as villains. But if you can get into the right headspace, you’ll enjoy yourself. Plus, the Zelda DLC was rad.
7: Sonic Colors
Ah, Sonic Colors. What a conundrum you are. Everyone continually declares this one “the ultimate return to form” for 3D Sonic, but I’ve always just gone: huh? The game’s 90% 2D! Every 3D segment is just a corridor that lasts 30 seconds, and then it’s back to stiff, single-block platforming levels made from crates and other copy-pasted assets. Sure, the game did introduce inventive power-ups in the form of Wisps; but honestly, if I wanted to collect aliens, I’d just raid Area 51. Easy enough to do. I have connections.
That’s not to say I can’t dig the positives. The visuals are lovely, especially in the remastered version. The music, as ever, slaps. The Saturday morning feel to the script was novel at the time (though Pontac and Graff would eventually pummel this into the dirt), and the final boss was so good that SEGA just copied it repeatedly for the next decade. Overall, the Colors feel… alright.
6: Sonic Generations
Now, this is what I’m talking about. Sonic Generations is what I thought I was getting with Colors, based on the hype: a true step forward for the Boost formula that spent the majority of its time in the third dimension, and which, most importantly, was just sheer fun. Generations brought past and present versions of Sonic together, proving that even hedgehogs can suffer from identity crises given the right circumstances. The blend of classic and modern levels, and the ability to alternate between them at will, was like enjoying your grandma’s homemade cookies while flipping NFTs – a mix of old-school charm and high-speed modernity.
Classic Sonic had yet to outstay his welcome, and the jukebox of Sonic tunes you could unlock just added to the value. All told, it was a trip down memory lane, albeit one so fast-paced that we barely had time to pause and marvel at the history we were zooming through. An all-timer (heh), to be sure.
5: Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Sonic 3 & Knuckles, the game that launched a million memes. In this classic Genesis adventure (with state of the art lock-on tech!), Sonic teams up with a redeemed Knuckles, fresh off another naïve double-crossing, to thwart Robotnik’s schemes. Initially developed as one single game, deadlines and budget got in the way – and presumably execs realised two games means a 100% profit increase. Hence, the two halves were split asunder, and it’s only in digital re-releases that it’s available as the gargantuan package it was always meant to be.
Come on, you know these zones. Sky Sanctuary, Angel Island, Hydrocity. Almost every single one is iconic, and the soundtrack, provided at least in part by Michael Jackson, remains a highlight. Too bad most subsequent releases replace these tunes with subpar imitations due to legal woes. S3&K, all the same, represents the pinnacle of the Genesis Sonic formula.
4: Sonic Mania
Just below bronze is Sonic Mania, a love letter to a particular subset of fans who cherished the hedgehog’s early days, and who patiently (oh so patiently) awaited another day in the sun. And boy, did the sun come out. Spearheaded by indie dev Christian Whitehead, and developed mostly outside Sonic Team’s jurisdiction, it’s perhaps quite telling that it promptly became the highest-rated new series entry in yonks.
With pixel-perfect precision platforming and a sumptuous symphony of nostalgic sounds, Mania resurrected the classics in the respectful way that Generations did almost a decade prior to it (Christ, we’re getting old). It’s so good, such a warm, pixelated hug from your childhood, that you tell yourself it must be a fluke. Surely they couldn’t have pulled this off? But oh yes, they did. It ain’t perfect – sod the special stages and the final fights, specifically – but it’s very, very close. Dust off your copy and remember why you fell in love with this little blue bugger in the first place.
3: Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2
Now for a quick detour to the Adventure series, which I’m treating as a collective as they’re very rarely discussed individually – Sonic Adventure 1 and 2. These games were analogous to the teenage years of the franchise; experimental, rebellious, and with the occasional embarrassing stumble of one’s voice (“YOU’RE GONNA CRASH – AAAAAGH.”). Yet, they hold a special place in our hearts, reminding us of a simpler time when we were all obsessed with numbers and 3D platforming was the shiniest new thing on the block.
From the iconic City Escape skateboard run, to the multiple Chaos evolutions that were doing crappy Pokémon forms way ahead of the curve, these games blended the typical speedy action with character-driven stories for the first time. They showcased Sonic’s unique knack for keeping us on the edge of our seats, always in flux and delivering something new with the times. Let’s also not forget that 2 brought us Shadow, one of the most iconic antiheroes in gaming history. I raise a chili dog in tribute; now where’s that HD remaster?
2: Sonic Frontiers
Wait, what’s this? An open-world Sonic game? Jesus wept, finally! After decades of begging, someone at SEGA at last sat down, listened to the clamoring of fans and said “hey, maybe we ought to give this unholy speed demon some room to stretch those legs?” And so it was. And we saw that it was… pretty good. Sonic Frontiers is like an extended visit to a skate park for hedgehogs, with sprawling environments to explore and countless stage gimmicks strewn across the map to boing, bounce and ricochet the poor battered rodent through the air.
Watching our blue boy burst out of his confining side-scrolling shell and zip across breathtaking vistas is a sight to behold, as are the showstopping Titan fights and the surprisingly emotional narrative. No, you will NOT elicit tears from me, Mike Pollock. Stop right there.
1: Sonic Unleashed
Drum roll please… aw, who am I kidding? In the number one spot, we’ve got Sonic Unleashed – to the surprise of precisely nobody that follows my articles. I’m not going to wax lyrical about this, mainly because I spent some 4000 words doing so a year and a bit ago, but suffice to say I think Unleashed is very nearly a masterpiece. Certainly it’s the best 3D offering in the franchise to date. Sue me.
Yeah, yeah, the Werehog looks daft and probably doesn’t really belong in Sonic. Got that out of your system? Good, because you’re in for a treat. Unleashed is a game of two halves that complement one another marvellously. The day stages offer breakneck speeds that make Usain Bolt look arthritic, while the night stages will have you quite literally howling with delight as you mow down minion after minion with a cavalcade of absurd attacks. Toss in the best visuals in the franchise, a gripping narrative and the finest hubs Sonic Team ever mustered, and you’ve got a truly special concoction.
Sonic Superstars zooms in this October!
So, there you have it, brave readers – the ultimate countdown of the finest Sonic the Hedgehog games ever to grace our (small) screens. It’s one of those franchises where, if asked, I’d struggle to name its genre. This beast has dabbled in sword fights, team dynamics, time travel, open-world romps, RPGs, brawlers, and everything else besides. Indeed, Sonic’s journey has been as wild as his antics; and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Not to say that said journey is over. Far from it, as Sonic Superstars, an all-new nostalgia-tugging co-op adventure, lands this October 17 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Whether you’re a lifelong fan or just hopping onto the Sonic bandwagon (and whether we’ve royally cheesed you off or not with our order), there’s no stopping the Blue Blur when he’s revved up and ready to roll. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m popping off to Five Guys – all this ranking has me craving a taste of Sonic’s fuel of choice.