Sonic the Hedgehog 1

A deeply in-depth view. Mario fans welcome!
March 15, 2010


Much has been said and written about the Sega Genesis classic Sonic the Hedgehog 1. I mean, come on. It is a classic. Actually, much has been said about several of the early titles in the Sonic the Hedgehog series even recently on this very site (in my opinion, most notably in the currently ongoing Epic Saga "Genesis Does... FN Rule!" by one of Retro Junk's best writers, JSwift. The man's a professional).

Still, I wanted to take a more in-depth look at one of the most influential video games of all time. Saying this, I in no way desire to discredit any other major video game console, series or character. Even Retro Junk shouldn't presume to be able to do adequate justice to the magnitude of influence The Super Mario Bros. series has had on world culture. I boldly say that without Mario there wouldn't even be a Sonic the Hedgehog, as Sonic was specifically bred to compete with the Goomba-stompin' plumber. And without a doubt, it is Mario who has had a far better, far less embarrassing career in the post-16-bit era. Honestly, I like them both and find their games different enough to spend countless hours in each of their worlds.

Later accomplished in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii.


I first learned this before I ever owned a Sega Genesis. I was at a Sam's Club in Dallas, playing Sonic on the store's demonstration Genesis console and, when I got a game over, some random kid told me to enter in the now famous level select code as Sonic was popping up into that banner thing. I memorized it instantly and used it the very first time I played Sega in my own house. The code is as follows: Press Up, Down, Left, Right at the title screen. A chime will confirm correct code entry. Hold A + Start to enter a menu that has listed every level in the game.


When the 16-bit console wars were in full swing, Santa made it easy on me. For Christmas morning, 1991, he brought my best friend and next door neighbor, Ben, a Super Nintendo and he brought me and my siblings a Sega Genesis. As far as I was concerned, it was a brilliant and most economical move by Mr. Claus. When I had my fill of Sega, or when one of my brothers was playing, I could head over to Ben's place for games like Super Mario World, Super Metroid and Star Fox. And I only had to save my meager allowance for Genesis cartridges. At the age of seven, I never would have been able to get many games for both.

Believe it or not, the release of Sonic 1 and the subsequent decision to bundle it with the Genesis console helped Sega to out-sell the Super Nintendo Entertainment System by a margin of 2 to 1 that holiday shopping season. TWO to freakin' ONE. That doesn't happen. Or it didn't in those days. It was Nintendo's first time to be knocked out of their comfortable #1 spot since 1985.

But even the most dyed-in-the-wool of you Nintendo Loyals have got to admit, Sonic had it all. Speed. Spring boards. Speed. Psychedelic bonus levels. Attitude. Loop-de-Loops. Realistic gravitational effects. SPEED. Smooth game play, easy controls and even great, colorful graphics. And, yes, an incredible amount of blazing speed.


Speaking of speed, here is a link to a video of a Sonic the Hedgehog Speed Run by a guy. This would have blown my mind when I was a kid. Entire game. Seventeen minutes.

Ads for Sonic, like most Sega ads, took aim at Nintendo. They wanted it to be clear that Sonic had gallons more "attitude" than Mario.


When it was released, Sonic 1 was the just about the fastest, most highly entertaining platform game out there. On IGN's list of the 100 top video games of all time, they say, "Sonic introduced the adrenaline rush to video games and his first three titles reached a level of platforming Zen that developers are still trying to recreate in three dimensions."

As far as the Zen they're talking about, before I was skilled at Sonic, my parents used to threaten to cut off my privileges for the rest of the day if I didn't cool down. You see, never having had video games before then, I wasn't instantly good at it, and would sometimes get frustrated and irritable when I couldn't pass a level, beat a boss or get to a secret area.

This level definitely had the tendency to disrupt my Zen, therefore throwing off my Chi. But when Sonic and I found success, I achieved Nirvana.

I immediately identified with the Hedgehog. Being a hyperactive child, his game was more my speed than, say, Super Mario World, which probably would have taken me-at least an entire summer, and far too much concentration to complete. The levels of Sonic 1 were, for the most part, fast and brief. Just head right and, unless you die, or come up against a tough obstacle, you'll find the end of the level in just a couple minutes. Stand still to think for a few seconds and Sonic breaks the fourth wall to glare at you and taps his foot impatiently, demanding to be driven full speed.

Sonic wants to know what you're waiting for.


Of Sonic 1, says, "All you needed to do was move Sonic left or right and jump at the right times, and this made it the perfect pick-up-and-play game for anyone who was even remotely interested in video gaming, yet its expansive, multi-routed levels that have as much variety and challenge as you could ask for kept us all well and truly hooked."

A tried and true formula for addictive gaming? Make a game easy to understand, simple to play, but difficult to master. Sonic Team did that-all three of the action buttons on the original Genesis controller did the exact same thing. It doesn't get any simpler than that. But Sonic wasn't the first game with simple controls and levels. "The difference, of course, is that Sonic moves fast and the game's engine utilizes acceleration and friction properties, allowing the levels to throw in all sorts of twists and loops along the paths, many of which require Sonic to be running at a certain speed so that he may pass them." (

Original concept art for Sonic's loop-de-loops and burrowing through walls.

So, from the first game, Sonic had me hooked. In my elementary school days, I spent far more hours playing Sonic than I did doing homework, and sertainly don't reggret it. Aint like i Never learnt ta spell.


Strong Bad is an avowed Nintendo nut, but Homestar Runner seems to be a Sega savant. He refers to the cartridges as "Sega Tapes." See rare glimpses of what I'm talking about at

"Hey Strong Bad, can I borrow your Fondue Pot? This waffle iron melts all my Sega Tapes."
~Homestar Runner


In more recent times, I have played Sonic on my computer, my 30 gig iPod video (may it rest in peace) and on my new 16 gig iPod touch. I never had a Game Gear or a Sega Nomad as a kid (darn it), and always wished that I could play Sega wherever I went. That's finally a possibility for me. The iPod versions, as far as I know, don't have a level select code but do save your progress, so I have played through the game start to finish more times recently than I ever did as a kid-I was one of many who had trouble in the waters of the Labyrinth and Scrap Brain Zones, so would sometimes (chi disrupted) resort to bypassing them with a restart and entering the level select.

Sonic kills Robotnik and my iPod's Battery

Beat the game on my iPod touch and here you can see the controls.

Still, these new ways of playing leave a lot to be desired. There's nothing quite so retro as the feeling of a 90's video game controller in your hands and the way the corners of the D-Pad formed callouses on your left thumb. But it is fun to be able to pull it out and play it when I'm bored.

While writing this article, I learned of the planned release of Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Due out this summer, it is a direct sequel to Sonic & Knuckles, will be a 2D side scroller and will finally pick up where the original games left off. Not having played any of the Sonic games released post-Genesis (other than a brief, insanely fast-paced demo of Sonic Unleashed on my brother's XBOX 360), I am curious to try this one out.

If this screenshot is real, this is nowhere near the fist time the old Green Hill Zone Boss has been recycled.

ESSENTIAL LINKS: - Sonic Retro is a massive Sonic Wiki. Check out the hacks. If you have a Sega Genesis Emulator, you can download modified ROMs here that will allow you to play as Knuckles or Tails in Sonic 1. - Zone 0 is a great work-in-progress. The real highlight here is the maps of all of the levels for the Genesis games with instructions on getting past harder obstacles. He has done all of the first 2 Sonic games and Sonic CD and is currently through Hydrocity Zone from Sonic 3. P.S Check out the histories he has written for each game. P.P.S Each level's page has the music from each act.
- Cool Sonic 1 fan art, some of which include background images from the actual game.


So, many thanks for reading! These days, the only video games I play are the classics. Other than specific exceptions (Twisted Metals, Jet Motos, Tomb Raiders, Super Mario 64, Mario Karts and Guitar Heroes), I didn't play video games made after the 16 bit era. For me, those were the real glory days of gaming and hold all of the most retro of feelings.

Now go take on Robotnik!
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