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Super Speed! Super Graphics! Super Attitude!

Think Fast.

C’mon faster. Because here comes Sonic The Hedgehog™. He’s the fastest critter the world has ever seen, and he’s a hedgehog with major attitude.

Watch him smirk in the face of danger as he blazes his way through hilly pastures, underwater caverns, marble ruins, strange cities and a cybernetic world of enemies in a race to save his buddies.

Sonic’s got everything a hedgehog could ever want: tricks, gadgets and speed. So don’t blink or you just might miss him.
— Magazine Ad for the game.
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If you're looking for the 2006 game of the same name, go here.

The game that started it all. Released in 1991 as a launch title that came bundled with the Sega Genesis, it marked the beginning of Sega's beloved Sonic the Hedgehog franchise and is one of the most iconic games of the 16-bit era. Both it and an 8-bit Master System/Game Gear counterpart were released in 1991.

The story begins on the fictional South Island, located on Planet Mobius,note  where the insane scientist Dr. Ivo Robotnik is gathering up the intelligent animals that live there and systematically transforming them all into "Badniks" - an army of robot soldiers that he intends to use to conquer the planet. Unfortunately for Robotnik, there's one problem. The island happens to also be the home of Sonic: an unusual blue hedgehog who possesses razor sharp quills, the power to run at supersonic speeds, and an attitude. Not only is Sonic is far too fast to be caught, but thanks to his sense of justice, he's made it his mission to free his friends and take the fight to the Doctor's doorstep.

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The game received two obscure tie-in comics: a three-part Japanese manga whose first volume is believed to predate the release of the game, as well as a one-shot American comic released months later.

The game also received two very similarly named cartoon adaptations at the same time: Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic The Hedgehog. Despite being based on the same concept, the shows are very different from each other.


The 16-Bit Version

The first version, released for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.

It practically re-defined the platforming genre by adding branching paths and physics-based obstacles such as loops and slopes. In addition to the touted high-speed gameplay, gamers of the time were astonished by the impressive graphics, as well as the catchy soundtrack by Masato Nakamura of the Japanese pop group, Dreams Come True. Sonic the Hedgehog put the Genesis on the map and was a catalyst for the console dethroning The Big N with a 65% market share over the Super NES during the 16-bit Console Wars. This was by far the best-selling game for the Genesis/Mega Drive with over 15 million units sold worldwide.

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The game is comprised of six "Zones" (read: levels) with three "Acts" each. The Chaos Emeralds in this version are obtained via collecting 50 or more rings and leaping into a Giant Ring which appears at the end of Acts 1 or 2. (Act 3 always ends with a boss encounter and no bonuses.) No 2½D Special Stages like in most Sonic games, but the entire maze rotates as Sonic tries to avoid hitting the flashing-red "GOALS." These ironically-named bumpers evict Sonic from the Stage and cost him a shot at an Emerald. The traditional Golden Ending is kind of muted here (Sonic using the infinite cosmic energy of the Emeralds to...make some flowers appear?), although it's fun to see Robotnik stamping the "End" credit in frustration.

Sonic the Hedgehog was remastered, completely from scratch using a new engine, in 2013, for iOS and Android devices in HD with proper widescreen support. Like Sonic CD's HD release, it was developed by Christian "The Taxman" Whitehead (who later headed up Sonic Mania), though this time in collaboration with Simon "Stealth" Thomley. Not only does it allow Tails to be playable (and even follow Sonic, unlike in Sonic CD HD), but it finally accomplished what the Lock-On Technology of Sonic 3 & Knuckles tried to do and what had once only been possible in an unofficial ROM hack by Stealth himself: make Knuckles playable.


The 8-Bit Version

Released for the Master System and Game Gear, and anonymously developed by Yuzo Koshiro's game company Ancient in their first commercial release.

It wasn't so much a port or sequel as it was a unique alternative to the 16-bit version. Due to playing on weaker hardware, the high-speed element of gameplay was scaled back quite a bit, and it really didn't help the Game Gear gain an advantage over the Nintendo's Game Boy in the handheld market. Nevertheless, it's still pretty fun in its own right, and features a catchy soundtrack of its own composed by Yuzo Koshiro (with some adaptations of Nakamura's material), the most notable sample being the Bridge Zone theme.

Unlike its 16-bit counterpart, Chaos Emeralds are hidden somewhere in the levels themselves. Special Stages are only for extra lives and continues.


    open/close all folders 

    Tropes used by both versions 
  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: Sega of America edited Sonic's appearance on the game's box and in all promotional media to make him look more "punk"-like, shaping his quills to look like a mohawk and giving him a more smug expression. It should be noted that this more closely matches his appearance on the title screen, which is the same in both Japan and America, indicating that the design had already been changed in Japan.
  • Assimilation Plot: Robotnik's entire plan is to turn literally everyone into a robot that he can command.
  • Boss-Only Level: Final Zone is the only zone in the game that consists entirely of a Boss battle.
    • Sky Base Zone Act 3 (also the final zone) in the 8-bit version. The first four zones play with this by having small platforming/running segments prior to the boss, a tradition that would continue for the other Game Gear games. Scrap Brain does not count since there's no boss.
  • Bonus Stage: The Special Stages, accessed by hitting a giant ring with 50 rings at the end of Acts 1 and 2 in every zone except Scrap Brain; this give the player a maximum of 10 tries for 6 Chaos Emeralds.
  • Cap:
    • Sonic has a rather tight speed cap in the original game compared to the sequels, and it has some specific quirks to go with it. Holding in the direction you're moving automatically triggers the cap, even if you just got bounced forward by a spring (this can even happen in the middle of a jump), while not holding in any direction won't trigger it until you hit an obstacle. Otherwise, rolling is the only way to bypass the game's default speed cap.
    • Strangely, the 8-bit version makes the default speed cap even tighter, but compensates by making Sonic move blisteringly fast if he rolls down any slope.
  • Cyber Punk: Sonic is a Nature Hero fighting against an Evil Genius who is systematically turning the world's inhabitants into robots. The game's last Zone even references Blade Runner.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: No, there is no Spin Dashing in either version.
  • Down the Drain: Labyrinth Zone.
  • Dub Name Change: Sega's U.S. marketing department changed Dr. Eggman to Dr. Ivo Robotnik for the Western release. The names of just about all of the Badniks were changed, too. As of the Dreamcast era, Yuji Naka has stated that Dr. Eggman is his nickname or alias, while Robotnik is his actual name. This is reaffirmed by his relatives' surnames, as well as multiple references throughout the series. This is confirmed again in the theatrical film. Additionally, while Sonic's planet is named Mobius according to various official documents and even interviews with the creators, Japanese media left the planet unnamed.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Both games have no Spin Dash, no Super Sonic, and only six Chaos Emeralds. Additionally, while the 16-bit version utilized the now-classic "get Chaos Emeralds from Special Stages" mechanic, the 8-bit version has a freestanding Emerald hidden somewhere in one of the first two Acts of each Zone.
  • Eternal Engine: Scrap Brain Zone is both Robotnik's headquarters and the engine powering his entire operation. As such, it fits this. The last stage of the 8-bit version, Sky Base Zone's third act, does also.
  • Excuse Plot: The entire plot can be summed up as this: "Dr. Robotnik is kidnapping the animals and trying to take over the island, and Sonic has to stop him!"
  • Good Is Not Soft: After the final boss fight, Sonic can try to kill Robotnik by smashing his escape pod, at which point he will just watch with his hands on his hips as Robotnik crashes in the distance, somewhere in the middle of his own inhospitable factory city. Robotnik survives.
  • Green Aesop: invoked In case the sheer difference between the naturalistic beauty of Sonic's home Green Hill Zone and the technological dystopia of Robotnik's Scrap Brain Zone didn't tip you off, the early Sonic games were very into this.note  Sonic is a Nature Hero fighting against the encroaching destruction of his natural world. Robotnik, if left unchecked, will enslave and/or destroy all life on the planet. The nature vs. technology conflict is retained in the 8-bit version, with the contrast between the beauty of Green Hill Zone and the dystopic nightmare of Scrap Brain Zone being just as clear as before.
  • Green Hill Zone: This is is the name of the first level of both games. As far as this goes, Green Hill Zone is actually quite difficult compared to most first levels, being full of instant death obstacles like bottomless pits and spikes that ignore Mercy Invincibility.
  • Green Rocks: The Chaos Emeralds - magical gemstones that contain the power of nature. In this first game, there are six of them, all different colors. Obtaining all of them is necessary to earn the Golden Ending, in which their power is used to restore nature. Fail to obtain them all, and Robotnik will have any that you missed, implying that he'll use their power for his nefarious purposes.
  • Idle Animation: If you leave Sonic alone for a few seconds, he will impatiently tap his foot and glare at the player to get him moving again.
  • It's All Upstairs from Here Jungle Zone's second and third acts and Scrap Brain Zone's second and third acts.
  • Kaizo Trap: The 16-bit version has a bottomless pit after the final boss that you can very easily jump into, while the 8-bit version has the end of the Jungle Zone boss, where you must jump from the tightrope you're on to the capsule on the land (or fall into a bottomless pit). It's actually a fairly tough jump.
  • Lethal Lava Land: Marble Zone.
  • Level 1 Music Represents: Green Hill Zone, the only theme that appears in both games (Marble Zone was originally going to feature in the 8-bit version as well but was cut, leaving only its music embedded in the ROM). This is actually due to legal serendipity more than anything deliberate: the composer, Masato Nakamura, has copyright over his contributions to the series. As such, Sega pays royalties to him whenever his music is used. Both the main title tune (which was only ever heard in Sonic 2 and Sonic Generations after this game) and Green Hill’s music fall under this but Sega's frequent use of Green Hill's theme in later installments (Sonic Adventure 2, Advance 3, etc.) ensures that it's the music that most commonly gets associated with the original game.
  • Mascot with Attitude: Sonic was the inspiration for dozens of knock-offs, only very few of whom actually had good games.
  • The Maze: The Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone's third act are hard to navigate mazes.
  • One-Wheeled Wonder: Several Badniks have only one wheel as their entire propulsion, most notably Moto Bug.
  • Oxygenated Underwater Bubbles: Present throughout Labyrinth Zone and Act 3 of Scrap Brain in the 16-bit version. The bubbles appear to generate less often in the latter.
  • Oxygen Meter: Sonic has the ability to hold his breath for thirty seconds before drowning. Warning bells sound at five, ten, and fifteen seconds. At eighteen seconds a terrifying 12 second countdown starts, at the end of which Sonic drowns. The Labyrinth Zone is full of Oxygenated Underwater Bubbles to keep Sonic alive. Labyrinth Zone Act 3 in the 8-bit version is an exception: you are entirely underwater with no air bubbles and can never drown.
  • Pinball Zone: The Spring Yard Zone of the 16-bit game, as well as the Special Stages in both versions.
  • Player Nudge: To encourage players to take advantage of the extra momentum Sonic can get from spinning, as well as realize they have another means of attack besides jumping, both versions of the games Green Hill Zone put strong emphasis on steep sloping hills that make you go faster as you move down them (particularly in the 8-bit version due to just how slippery the slopes are and the huge boost of speed you get from spinning off the ramps at the end of the hills). In the 16-bit version's case, there's tunnel routes where Sonic is forced into spinning, giving the player the idea to try doing this themselves.
  • Protagonist Title: Sonic the Hedgehog is the game's Hero Protagonist.
  • Rewarding Vandalism: There are computer monitors scattered throughout the game that contain powerups. You get the powerups by breaking said monitors.
  • Rolling Attack: Sonic's signature attack move. He runs at his opponent, and then tucks into a rapidly spinning ball, ramming into them and shredding them with his sharp spines. With enough momentum, he can tunnel through solid rock.
  • Skyscraper City: Star Light Zone.
  • The Spiny:
    • Sonic himself is a playable spiny that moves very, very fast.
    • The hermit crab Spikes, aptly enough, has spikes on its back, making jumping on them from above useless. If Sonic rolls into one, he'll be fine.
    • The caterpillar Caterkiller is similar, but potentially more deadly. It's a caterpillar made of purple spheres, one of which serves as a head while the rest have spikes on top. If Sonic hits it anywhere other than the head, not only does he get hurt, but the spheres it's made of go flying around and there's a chance they will hit Sonic again, probably killing him.
  • This Is a Drill: A few badniks have drill-based weapons.
  • Underground Level: Parts of Green Hill Zone, half of Marble Zone, and the entirety of Labyrinth Zone take place underground.
  • Underwater Ruins: Labyrinth Zone.
  • Unwilling Roboticization: Robotnik's Badniks are actually organic beings that have been unwillingly stuffed into a servile robotic shell. The fleshy being inside serves as little more than a Living Battery for the robot to get energy from: they have no say in what the robot shell does under Robotnik's orders.
  • The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: The Final Zone.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Robotnik always flies away every time you defeat him. But, at the end of the 16-bit version, you get the chance to destroy his escape pod and leave him for dead. In the 8-bit version, Sonic will do it in a cutscene at the end.
  • Warm-Up Boss: The first boss in both games:
    • The Egg Mobile-H (Egg Mobile Hammer Ball) in the Genesis version. It's a contraption that swings a wrecking ball back and forth, but it's rather easy to avoid.
    • The 8-bit version is even easier, with Robotnik floating in his regular Egg Mobile to the edge of a screen, slowly descending to ground level, and then trying to ram into you. The Game Gear port's low screen resolution makes it possible for Sonic to jump high enough to hurt Robotnik and defeat him before he even gets the chance to attack you. It's easier than the drill vehicle.

    Tropes appearing in the 16-bit version 

  • Action Bomb: Bombs.
  • Advancing Wall of Doom: Marble Zone Act 2 features a section where a wall of lava chases Sonic down a tunnel.
  • Airborne Mook: Buzz Bombers. Thankfully, they fly low enough to be easily dispatched.
  • Arrange Mode:
    • The Mega Play arcade version gives you a much stricter time limit (as an arcade game, this is done to prevent one player from hogging the machine), and also strips out some Zones.
    • The Taxman & Stealth port on smartphones lets you play as Knuckles and Tails.
    • The SEGA AGES version by M2 introduces a Ring Keep mode that starts off every life with some rings, preventing the problem of dying mere seconds after you respawn because you touched an enemy before collecting any rings. The same port also introduces a time attack mode for Green Hill Zone Act 1 and a score attack version of the Mega Play version where you only get one life.
  • Attract Mode: If you leave the title screen idle, you'll be treated to demos of the first acts of Green Hill, Marble, and Spring Yard Zones, respectively, along with the first Special Stage.
  • Bonus Stage Collectables: There are six Special Stages each leading to a Chaos Emerald, with ten chances to enter one. If all of them are collected in a single playthrough, the ending is changed slightly. There was no real context for them originally, but they were made more important in the Japanese manual and subsequent games.
  • Book-Ends: The game's story begins and ends in Green Hill Zone. The same goes with the end credits.
  • Boss Arena Idiocy: The Star Light Zone's boss would be unstoppable if not for the seesaws Robotnik keeps dropping his bombs onto. The seesaws can either be used to throw the bombs back at him or the bombs can act as counterweights to propel Sonic up to hit him directly.
  • Boss Arena Urgency: Spring Yard Zone's boss has a spike on its base, and one by one removes the bricks that make up the floor of the arena; this continues until you defeat the boss, or lose all your footing and fall down the Bottomless Pit below. Or defeat the boss, and then carelessly tumble to your death as you go to exit the stage. Yep.
  • Boss-Only Level: The final fight against Robotnik is in a separate level from Scrap Brain Zone Act 3 called the Final Zone, though it takes place in Act 2's terrain and is effectively the Robotnik fight for the Zone.
  • Brutal Bonus Level: The 2013 remaster has a hidden seventh Special Stage, accessible only from the Level Select (either by selecting it manually or enabling Seven Emeralds mode). Said Special Stage is much harder than any of the other six.
  • Check-Point Starvation: The only checkpoint in the whole of Star Light Zone is set before the stage's boss.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation:
    • The aforementioned promo comic tie-in, which was also included in some older comic books, as well as magazines like Sega Visions and Disney Adventures.
    • invoked Issues 10 and 11 of the Sonic X comic book featured a two-part story to commemorate the game's 15th anniversary, in which Dr. Eggman traps Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Rouge, Cream, Cheese, and Vanilla in a virtual reality world resembling the levels from this game. More recently, the first half of the Genesis arc in the regular Sonic comic, featured in issues 226 and 227, depict Sonic, Sally, Antoine, and Rotor making their way through the game's stages.
    • Averted in Sonic the Comic, which began too late to do a proper adaptation; instead, when they need to refer to the game's events, they simply tell readers to play the game for themselves.
  • Convection Schmonvection: In Marble Zone, Sonic can get within mere inches of boiling hot lava without breaking a sweat. In fact, if an animal is freed from a badnik, such as a seal, they'll hop or swim right through the lava.
  • Credits Medley: The credits music is a medley of the various zones' theme songs.
  • Drought Level of Doom: The Final Zone has no rings.
  • Dummied Out: There are several things that were meant to appear in the original version of the game. These elements were later included in the Debug Mode for the 2013 remaster:
    • A boulder chase in Green Hill Zone. In the final version, the boulder sprites were only used for Robotnik's wrecking ball contraption.
    • Swimming goggles for the Labyrinth and Scrap Brain Zones.
    • A rabbit Badnik named Splats.
    • UFOs that would fly in the skies of Marble Zone.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: There are several things that sets this apart from the later titles in the series:
    • The Spin Dash doesn't exist in the original Genesis version. Various ports of the game added an option to use it: Sonic Jam for the Sega Saturn, Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis for the Game Boy Advance, 3D Sonic the Hedgehog for the Nintendo 3DS, and the 2013 remastered version.
    • With the exception of the Final Zone, there are three rather than two Acts per Zone. This can make them seem overly long to someone who played later games first.
    • Getting 50,000 points doesn't grant an extra life in the original version.note 
    • There are two Zones (Marble and Labyrinth) that you can't just rush through, forcing the player to go really slow.
    • Most of the same Badniks appear in multiple levels, instead of each level having its own unique set of them.
    • There are only six Chaos Emeralds to collect, and Sonic can't turn into Super Sonic.
    • In all classic Sonic games, there's an arbitrary limit on how fast Sonic can go by just running. In order to go faster, he must roll to build up momentum, which bypasses the limit entirely. That limit is noticeably slower here compared to the rest of the series.
    • The "spike bug":note  in this game, if you touch spikes during Mercy Invincibility, it wouldn't count and you would still get killed. If you got hit by spikes and fell back onto more spikes, you would die. Such behavior was removed in the sequel and all subsequent games.
    • Sonic and Robotnik are the only real characters in the game: Sonic's friends only serve as items to be rescued.
  • Easter Egg: Among the hidden content in the 2013 remaster are many of the objects that were originally cut from the game, such as the wrecking ball hazard from Green Hill, the bunny Badnik "Splats", the boulder, the goggles for safe swimming (they now let him stay underwater for longer before drowning) and even the mysterious flying saucers in Marble Zone. All of them are now finished and can be placed in the debug mode. Also available are Super Sonic and a new Special Stage, as well as use of elemental shields and the Insta-Shield.
  • Easy Level Trick:
    • For all the flak it gets for being a slow level, some of the areas in Marble Zone where you have to push a block over the lava pools and ride on it can be cleared by simply jumping over the platforms in the way. Act 3 also features a nice shortcut behind a certain wall.
    • Labyrinth Zone Act 1 has a very hidden shortcut that cuts through most of the level.
    • Scrap Brain Zone Act 3 has a Dungeon Bypass right at the beginning of the level that skips almost all of it. It has traps and holes on the way, though, so you'll still have to work for that shortcut.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Just look at the page image. The box art and game intro both establish Sonic as our Mascot with Attitude.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Some of the critters freed in the Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone Act 3 are decidedly sphenisciform.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Scrap Brain Zone is a horrible, horrible place for living creatures. Crushers and circular saws suspended over fast-moving conveyor belts in cramped corridors, temporary platforms placed right next to flamethrowers and lightning bolt generators, swinging spiked balls on chains, Caterkillers and Bombs lurking around... and the third act is actually a harder Labyrinth Zone!
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Final Zone, the final zone in the game.
  • Final Boss: The final fight with Robotnik in the Final Zone takes place inside a giant piston engine with a lightning ball generator on the right.
  • Game-Breaking Bug:
    • If Sonic is going too fast as he is rolling through the tunnels in Green Hill Zone Act 1, he will reach the bottom of the screen and die as if it were a Bottomless Pit. Fortunately, this was fixed in later releases of the game.
    • At the end of either Labyrinth Zone Act 1 or 2, if Sonic rolls and pans the camera down after passing the end of level signpost, the game crashes just as it attempts to load the end-of-level text.
    • At the end of the final boss fight, it is possible to hit him as his defeat animation is playing. This sets his health counter from 0 to 255, making the fight unwinnable given the time limit. It's also possible to jump into the bottomless pit after you defeat the boss. Later games would put an invisible block in places like that.
  • Game Mod: This game is considered fairly easy to ROM hack by fans. Besides common sprite swap hacks, one of the earliest and most famous ROM hacks was one that put Knuckles into this game and using palette code alterations to avoid any color changing problems with the game that had been an earlier reason why it couldn't be done with S&K's Lock-On.note  It's widely considered the "holy grail of ROM hacking", due to how it circumvented the color problem and implemented Knuckles' climbing and gliding ability. There are also hacks that incorporate characters with their own distinct playstyles, such as Ray the Flying Squirrel, Mighty the Armadillo, Amy Rose, Sally Acorn, Bunnie Rabbot, and even a Motobug and Robotnik! Then there are hacks that tweak core game mechanics for a twist, such as "OMG the Red Rings" (where touching any ring kills Sonic) or "Sonic 1: Gotta Go Fast Edition", (which speeds up Sonic's movement more with every ring he grabs), Sonic 1 Over 9000 (which bumps up Sonic's Super Speed Up to Eleven, to the point of him being near-uncontrollable) and the infamous "An Ordinary Sonic 1 ROM Hack" (which revamps the game into what can only be described as a survival horror platformer).
  • The Goomba: Moto Bugs. They're not the most common of enemies, but a Moto Bug is the first enemy you see and they pose as much of a threat as an actual Goomba.
  • Green Hill Zone: The grassy tropical fields that open the game. When compared to its simpler successors, however, Green Hill is actually rather demanding for a first level. It features a good number of enemies and mechanics, and has platforming over bottomless pits as soon as Act 2. To make up for that, it also cuts the player some slack with easily obtainable invincibility items.
  • Insistent Terminology: The game's manual refers to any action in which Sonic curls up as the fairly wordy "Super Sonic Spin Attack", in places where "jump" or "roll" would suffice.
  • Invincibility Power-Up: Smash a monitor with three stars in it for temporary invincibility. Sparkly stars trail behind Sonic while the effect is active.
  • Invincible Minor Minion: The "Bomb" robots in the Star Light and Scrap Brain Zones. Even if Sonic has invincibility himself, he just passes straight through them.
  • Kaizo Trap:
    • It's possible to free the animals at the end of Labyrinth Zone Act 3 and still get killed by Robotnik if Sonic runs ahead of him.
    • After Sonic beats Robotnik in Star Light Zone, he can still get killed by shrapnel from mines left over from the battle.
  • Lethal Lava Land: Marble Zone.
  • Mercy Invincibility: Present, but the so-called "spike bug" completely bypasses it. If you land on a set of spikes, you take more damage if the knock back sends you into another set of spikes. This was because the Mercy Invincibility only activated when Sonic landed on the ground after taking damage. This was fixed in ports and sequels.
  • Mythology Gag: The 2013 iOS/Android remaster has plenty for the hardcore Sonic Dummied Out fan. Poke around the debug mode and you'll find they actually finished and implemented long lost features like the Green Hill rolling wrecking ball on its own which now functions properly, the swimming goggles, which now prolong the time Sonic can spend in water, Splats the robot bunny, and the Marble Zone UFOs.
  • New Jack Swing: Spring Yard Zone's BGM was heavily influenced by Bobby Brown's "Every Little Step" and laid the groundwork for later Sonic Team games to feature more New Jack-inspired songs in their soundtracks.
  • Non-Indicative Name: You might think that the "goal" lines in the Special Stages are, you know, your goal. In actuality, they result in failure, kicking you out of the Special Stage without giving you the Chaos Emerald.note  This makes slightly more sense if you read the manual, which claims that the "Special Zone is really a trap." Ironically, this kinda raises more questions.
  • Nintendo Hard: Compared to most other games in the series, this game is quite difficult. It revolves around the player's ability to gain and control Sonic's momentum well enough to avoid or overcome various obstacles, many of which can kill Sonic instantly regardless of rings. The momentum can be surprisingly hard to get because his moves are very limited compared to the various speed-boosting skills he has in later games like the Spin Dash, Super Peel-Out, and Drop Dash. Additionally, the Special Stages play very differently than the rest of the game and are deliberately confusing to the eyes and difficult to navigate.
  • Obvious Beta: Not so obvious when looked at on its own, but compared to some later versions, the original version mostly sold worldwide can be seen as unfinished, as it is missing a few of the graphical effects (most notably the auto-scrolling clouds in Green Hill Zone and the water ripples in Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone), and the level select still uses an unfinalized level order. Certain later non-cartridge versions even rub out the spike "bug" and add Spin Dashing.
  • Oxygen Meter: Once you go underwater in Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone Act 3, you get three warning chimes, then the music changes and a countdown starts. Get out or breathe in a large bubble before 0 finishes, or you drown.
  • Palette Swap: Scrap Brain Zone Act 3 is a palette swap of Labyrinth Zone.
  • Pinball Zone: Spring Yard Zone is full of pinball bumpers.
  • Polluted Wasteland: The background of Scrap Brain Zone Act 1 is a polluted wasteland that wouldn't look out of place in Blade Runner.
  • Pop-Star Composer: The soundtrack was written by Masato Nakamura of the J-pop band Dreams Come True. Some of their songs reuse themes from the games or vice versa, including the Green Hill and Star Light Zone themes.
  • Pressure Plate: Present in Marble Zone.
  • Purple Is the New Black: The water from Labyrinth Zone is purple in the palette-swapped version in the game's final main act. This level is below Robotnik's labs.
  • Rise to the Challenge: The drastically rising water level that makes up part of the "boss fight" in Labyrinth Zone Act 3.
  • Scare Chord: If Sonic stays underwater for too long without catching a breath of air from a bubble, the music will suddenly shift to very tense music that will speed up rapidly towards a crescendo before Sonic dies. The drowning music has become ingrained in fans of the series to the point that most players will admit feeling a slight grip of panic upon hearing the music even if they haven't played the game in years.
  • Scenery Porn: One of the game's major selling points was that its scenery was not only awesome but the fact that it could scroll past so rapidly when Sonic was at high speed helped graphically (no pun intended) demonstrate the Genesis' power. The Green Hill and Star Light Zones in particular stand out.
  • Scoring Points:
    • In the REV00 version they don't do anything. The REV01 version gives extra lives every 50,000 points as in later games.
    • The game has a high score system, but there's no table for it, so it's pretty much an afterthought. The fact that several levels are explicitly impossible to beat in under 30 seconds (which gets you a 50,000 point bonus) and two levels that give no points at all (Scrap Brain Zone Act 3 and Final Zone) makes it even more superfluous. Later games would downplay the time bonus aspect (most notably Sonic 3 & Knuckles, where none of the levels can be beaten in 30 seconds), but they would reward you with Continues if you got a certain number of points.
  • Seesaw Catapult: In Star Light Zone, there are seesaws that have spiked balls on one end. Sonic can launch the spiked ball to the other end, then run to the end the spiked ball was originally on so it can launch him in the air, causing him to reach higher places. At the end of Act 3, the battle against Robotnik involves him dropping spiked bombs onto empty seesaws, which can either be used as counterweights to propel Sonic up directly, or used to throw the bombs back at Robotnik.
  • Sequence Breaking:
    • Green Hill Zone Act 3 has some walls that can secretly be destroyed if you roll into them fast enough, and they can be used to bypass big chunks of the level and save time.
    • Marble Zone Act 1 has a spiked chandelier near the end of the course that is impossible to pass until it falls, robbing you of precious time—unless you exploit the knockback damage Sonic takes from touching it, which allows you to get on the upper ledge and bypass it quicker. Not very useful for normal gameplay, but its crucial for speedruns. Marble Zone Act 2 has a peculiar bug where if you stand on the edge of the levels first floating ledge as much as possible and let Sonic sink into the ground with it and jump at just the right frame, his collision detection will go bonkers and it'll cause him to zip all the way past the level and reach the goal, allowing a skilled player to beat the level in 11 seconds. You can also use the glitch in Act 3, but it risks killing you if you don't pull it off right, and you still have to fight Robotnik at the end.
    • Spring Yard Zone Act 1 has a shortcut where if you use the Speed Up Shoes and a spring, you can bypass the lower parts of the level and thus get to the goal faster. Act 3 has a glitch where if you crouch and let a certain platform crush you in a certain way, it'll push you into the building and allow you to pass by part of the level instead of killing you.
    • Labyrinth Zone Act 1 has a shortcut that allows you bypass a large chunk of the level by pressing a switch and then backtracking a little to find a secret platform that carries you to a shorter and much easier alternate route to the goal. Act 2 has a glitch involving a switch and a stone platform that, if you land on it right as it goes into the wall on the left, it'll push Sonic right to the end of the level.
    • Star Light Zone Act 2 has a minor break where, if you stick to the top of the level, you can jump over a building and fall through it past the descending platform, saving you a bit of time. Act 3 has a glitch where you can sink into the ground near the top of the level, which glitches you ahead through a big chunk of the level.
    • Scrap Brain Zone Act 2 has a glitch where if you go the trap door pit near the top of the level and fall between the floor and the trap at the right, it'll push you to another part of level and let you finish it quicker. Act 3 has a glitch where, if you let the sliding platform cut off the shortcut, you can make yourself sink into the ground by pushing on the right side of it, which will propel you directly to the end of the level.
  • Shout-Out: The Scrap Brain Zone is visually based on the future Los Angeles of Blade Runner, and the level's theme music is a remix of the movie's theme music.
  • Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom: The most notable ones are in Marble Zone, though they make a return in Scrap Brain Zone Acts 1 and 2 (and they move at breakneck speeds here). The final boss fight is mostly this.
  • Springs, Springs Everywhere: The yellow springs give Sonic a good jump height or boost, while the red ones launch him skyward. The Spring Yard Zone has tons of springs all over the place as the level's gimmick.
  • Sprint Shoes: Smash a monitor with a shoe in it for temporarily increased acceleration and speed. Sonic's trademark is the ability to move at high speed, but this takes it to another level.
  • The Stinger: Beat the game without collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, and you will see Robotnik over a "Try Again" sign, juggling those you didn't get. If you get the good ending, Robotnik will furiously jump on a "The End" sign instead.
  • Sudden Gameplay Change: The Special Stages are weird levels that take place in a bizarre outer dimension. Accordingly, the level design is very weird. Additionally, the sudden transition from the fast paced Green Hill Zone to the much slower Marble Zone can feel like this for first time players or for people who played later Sonic games.
  • Temple of Doom: Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone Act 3 are mazes partly underwater and set in what appears to be an ancient ruin. It's yellowish-gold with green vines and blue water in the main Labyrinth, but Scrap Brain turns the water and vines purple and the scenery white.
  • Timed Mission: The console versions have a 10-minute time limit - if the time runs out, you lose one life. This is actually very generous, since most levels can be cleared in 2 to 3 minutes. However, the Mega Play version for arcades makes the time limit much more strict, to the point where if you're not approaching the game with the mindset of going as fast as you can, you're going to lose your lives to Time Overs.
  • Trap Door: There are plenty of them in Scrap Brain Zone 1 and 2. One of them actually leads to some rings, but the others are death traps.
  • Updated Re-release: Three major ones:
    • The mobile version developed by Christian Whitehead and Simon "Stealth" Thomley includes widescreen support, leaderboards for high scores, Tails and Knuckles as playable characters (including "Sonic & Tails" as with Sonic 2), a seventh Special Stage with Chaos Emerald that enables Super forms, and a vastly expanded Debug Mode with numerous Easter Eggs. There are also numerous bug fixes and stage tweaks.
    • 3D Sonic the Hedgehog for the Nintendo 3DS includes a 3D visual option, as well as the Spin Dash, a freely-accessible level select, customizable visuals and controls, Japanese and International versions of the game, and two sound options.
    • Sega Ages Sonic the Hedgehog for the Nintendo Switch has most of the features from 3D Sonic the Hedgehog minus the 3D option, and adds Ring Keep Mode from 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the relatively-obscure Mega Play (Arcade) version of the game, which features time limits and fewer Acts with streamlined level design. This version also includes the Drop Dash and two Challenge Mode options, one to clear Green Hill Zone Act 1 the fastest, and a variant of the Mega Play version that aims for a high score and only affords one life.
  • Whack-a-Monster: The final boss is a variation of this. Two capsules drop down each round, and Robotnik is in one of them. You have to hit the one he is in without having the capsules squish you.
  • Word Salad Title: Scrap Brain Zone manages to be both this and I Don't Like the Sound of That Place.
  • Wreaking Havok: Complimenting the great speed that Sonic could go at was a highly advanced physics engine (for the time) that allowed you to pick up speed from running or rolling down a hill. This is best seen in Green Hill Zone, where you pick up massive speed from rolling down two S-shaped pipes then get launched into a large pile of rings.
  • Yet Another Stupid Death: A common source of silly deaths is the Spring Yard Zone boss fight. You defeat Robotnik, then carelessly fall to your death through one of the gaps in the floor he made, and have to fight him again as a result.

    Tropes appearing in the 8-bit version 

  • Airborne Aircraft Carrier: Sky Base Zone, the first of many in the Sonic series.
  • Anti-Frustration Feature: The Robotnik fight in Labyrinth Zone takes place underwater. To compensate for this, Sonic can breathe underwater and not drown.
  • Attract Mode: Leave the title screen alone, and you'll get treated to short demos of the first acts of Green Hill and Jungle Zones.
  • Auto-Scrolling Level: Bridge Zone's second act.
  • Big Storm Episode: Sky Base Zone's first act.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: There is a 1-Up monitor in every level. If you break them all, an extra 1-Up monitor (which you most likely won't need at all, due to your massive amounts of lives) is added to the final boss arena.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover art of the Master System version depicts Sonic standing on a loop despite there being no loops in the 8-bit version.
  • Developers' Foresight: Normally if a player beats an Act under 30 seconds, they will get a 30,000 point bonus. But if some player by chance manages to beat a Zone in just 20 seconds flat (only possible in Green Hill Zone Act 1 and Sky Base Zone Act 2), you'll get a jaw-dropping 200,000 point bonus. Beat that same act and Sky Base Act 2 in under 20 seconds? 300,000 point bonus for you.
  • Dummied Out: There's an 8-bit rendition of the 16-bit game's Marble Zone theme in the game's data, along with a sprite for that zone's Bat Badnik.
  • End Game Results Screen: After the ending, the game tallies your points, adding bonuses for things like finding the Chaos Emeralds and entering Special Stages, and also turns your remaining lives into more points, all adding up to your final score.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Jungle and Bridge Zones are exactly what they sound like.
  • Final Boss: Two variations depending on whether it's the Master System or Game Gear version. Both have Robotnik in a glass capsule on the right and a lightning ball generator above him, and Sonic needs to break the glass. On the Master System, there's a pair of electric pylons along the floor and ceiling that create a current between them, but on the Game Gear, there's only three flamethrower machines on the ground, and only one of them shoots at a time.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: At the end of the Green Hill Zone Act 2, if you descend through the final ramp at full speed while spinning, you'll exit the world being unable to do anything until time runs out and you die.
  • In Case of Boss Fight, Break Glass: The final Robotnik boss shields him inside a glass/metal chute that you need to jump into when you get a chance.
  • Jungle Japes: Jungle Zone.
  • Levels Take Flight: Sky Base Zone Act 2.
  • Logo Joke: In the Game Gear version, when you start up the game, Sonic jumps back and forth, forming the Sega logo, a reference to Japanese Sega ads that would end with a clay model of Sonic doing the same thing.
  • The Maze: Scrap Brain Zone Act 2 and to a lesser extent Act 3 feature this as a gimmick.
  • Mercy Invincibility: The game also has this, but with one odd distinction from the 16-bit version; taking damage while using a Shield does not grant you Mercy Invincibility.
  • Missing Secret: Scrap Brain Zone Act 3 has only 99 Rings. Don't waste your time looking for the last Ring to get a 1-Up.
  • Ratchet Scrolling: In the Master System version only, Jungle Zone Act 2. If you jump up to the next platform, you can't jump back down without dying.
  • Reformulated Game: The level designs, physics and boss fights are completely different from the 16-bit version.
  • River of Insanity: Bridge Zone.
  • Sampling: Most notably, Janet Jackson sampled Bridge Zone's BGM for her hit 1997 single, "Together Again".
  • Scoring Points: They don't do anything, though.
  • Sequence Breaking:
    • In Scrap Brain Zone Act 2, there's a puzzle involving two doors, with a switch opening the one that cuts you off from the rest of the level, but cutting you off from that door in turn, forcing you to go all the way back. However, if you found the Checkpoint earlier and die on the spot nearby, you'll respawn with the door open for you, letting you finish the level much quicker.
    • In Sky Base Zone Act 2, you can finish the level in roughly 15 seconds by simply jumping straight up around the ships cannons and then walking over the top of the level straight to the exit.
  • Unique Enemy: There are two enemies that appear only once. There is a single Burrobot, found in Labyrinth Zone Act 2, and a single Bomb, found in Sky Base Zone Act 2.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Sonic The Hedgehog 1991

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Green Hill Zone

The grassy tropical fields that open the game are the trope namer. When compared to its simpler successors, however, Green Hill is actually rather demanding for a first level. It features a good number of enemies and mechanics, and has platforming over bottomless pits as soon as Act 2. To make up for that, it also cuts the player some slack with easily obtainable invincibility items.

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