The Best Sonic Games, Ranked
It feels like a long forgotten era, but there was once a time when a little blue hedgehog with attitude gave the great Mario a run for his money. Sega, looking to compete in the console space, knew it needed a mascot to compete with Nintendoâs beloved plumber, and thus Sonic the Hedgehog was born. Ever since 1991, the blue blur has been running, spinning, dashing, grinding, and jumping across just about every console to come out. However, Sonicâs legacy is far from spotless. Unlike his Italian rival, this azure marsupial has many, manyÂ games that are downright terrible.
Sonic may not have quite as extensive a library as Mario, but his list of games across three decades now is far from short. That alone would make it necessary to narrow down his best entries, but when you consider the fact that there are some absolute train wrecks hidden in his catalogue, knowing what to avoid becomes half the battle. Looking back from his debut title all the way up to his latest offering, weâve compiled a list of the best Sonic games across all genres and platforms.
1. Sonic Mania (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
Thereâs something to be said about the fact that possibly the best Sonic game ever made, certainly the best in several years,Â wasnâtÂ developed by Sonic Team. Instead, the hit throwback to the classic 2D Sonic titles, Sonic Mania, was developed by a team of fans lead by Christian Whitehead. Released alongsideÂ Sonic Forces,Â ManiaÂ managed to completely steal the spotlight from the âbiggerâ Sonic title of the year because it gave fans exactly what theyâve been asking for: A classic, fast, and polished 2D Sonic experience. Forces, while by no means Sonicâs worst game, again fell victim to Sonicâs troubled history of converting his trademark speed into 3D.
On the surface,Â Sonic ManiaÂ might look like a simple attempt to capitalize on fanâs nostalgia for those original Genesis games, but in truth it is what a true sequel to those gamesÂ shouldâveÂ been. Sure, the game features iconic stages like Lava Reef Zone and Hydrocity Zone, only tweaked and updated for Sonicâs improved mobility and controls. Whitehead and team proved they understand what makes a Sonic game fun, and we can only hope Sega allows them to continue to work on the series in the future.
2. Sonic 3 & Knuckles (Genesis)
The last of the original Genesis trilogy,Â Sonic 3 & KnucklesÂ was the peak before Sonicâs decline. The games hadnât yet started to fumble into 3D, and the cast of characters was tight, varied, and had no dead weight. For the first time, but not the last, you were given the choice between multiple playable characters with their own campaigns to run and glide through. You of course had Sonic and Tailsâ quest, with Tails now able to fly and swim underwater, but Knuckles offered a completely new take on the Sonic formula by being somewhat slower but with the ability to glide. Packed with secrets, bosses, and addictive special stages, Sonic never looked better.
He never sounded better, either. The series has always had some fantastic music, but the soundtrack in Sonic 3 & KnucklesÂ really showed off how good the Genesisâ sound capabilities were. The story managed to be compelling despite no words being spoken, and it was almost endlessly replayable thanks to impeccable level design. All the stages, new and old, hold up to this day as examples of how a Sonic game should feel: Fast. Even when you fail to perform an action, you simply are routed through a different part of the stage rather than brought to a screeching halt.
3. Sonic 2 (Genesis)
There are plenty of people willing to debate which is better between Sonic 2Â and the sequel we covered above. We find the extra characters inÂ 3 make it just a bit better than Sonic 2, but thereâs really not a major gap in quality between these two classic titles. As a sequel, this game is one of the best around. It took the formula that the originalÂ Sonic the HedgehogÂ essentially invented and almost immediately mastered it just a year later. This is the game where many of the series most iconic levels come from, like Chemical Plant Zone, and theyâre memorable for a reason. Like in Sonic 3, they reward good play but are not overly punishing to mistakes. Plus, we have Sonic 2Â to thank for introducing the character of Tails and the totally not a Dragon Ball Z ripoff Super Sonic.
Now,Â Sonic 2Â isnât without some faults. The special stages in particular are often cited as being just not fun, but that is a matter of taste more than anything else. In almost all other aspects, though,Â Sonic 2Â really is as good as most people claim it to be. The original put the blue hedgehog on the map as a potential rival for Mario, but the sequel made a serious case that he just might have what it takes to actually dethrone the mustachioed hero. History would ultimately go a different direction, but Sonic 2Â remains a masterclass of a game â¦ just as long as you donât get too stressed out from that drowning music.
4. Sonic Generations (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, 3DS)
We havenât been exactly vague about which Sonic games tend to be the worst. Once games went 3D, Sonic just couldnât keep up, and they even lost what made his old 2D games great in the process. That was, with a few exceptions, true until Sonic Generations came out. This was one of the first times a Sonic game split itself between classic levels, only now presented in 2.5D, and the new 3D style. Old Sonic would take the lead in classic levels, utilizing his old moveset, while modern Sonic kept pushing spectacle via high speed and dynamic set pieces with a third-person camera perspective.
Thankfully the game does focus more on 2D-style gameplay, which is where Sonic has always felt the most responsive and satisfying. The physics are just right, even for 3D Sonic, and the level designs harken back to the Genesis games, where there are plenty of routes to take and new things to discover. On one hand, it is a great example of how Sonic can still be relevant in the modern era, but it also highlights how the 3D efforts still arenât able to match the feel or balance of his 2D offerings.
5. Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)
You could argue that it doesnât reflect well on Sonic that his first game remains one of his best, but in reality it just proves how good his gameplay was before getting bogged down or meddled with in future iterations. Sometimes simplicity is king, andÂ Sonic the Hedgehog is the formula at the most pure form. Itâs just one blue hedgehog trying to save the world from an evil scientist by running and jumping on his robotic minions, collecting rings, fighting bosses, all while rocking out to a great soundtrack. Aside from the spin dash, thereâs nothing to miss in terms of gameplay.
Blast processing may have ended up being a marketing gimmick, but at the time it didnât feel like it. Compared to games on the NES, SonicÂ felt like a rocket ship blasting across stages almost too fast to react to what was coming. But that wasnât all the game had going for it. Stages like Green Hill Zone are some of the most iconic in all of gaming, second only to Marioâs world 1-1. Sonic was also heavily marketed as having âattitudeâ and using only animations managed to convey that early â90s cool aura. While the schtick is a little dated now, it was a major point in the little guyâs favor.
6. Sonic Spinball (Genesis, Game Gear, Master System, GBA)
The point of a mascot character is to slot them into as many genres as possible to increase a gameâs appeal. How many of us only played tennis or golf games because they had Mario characters in them, after all? One of Sonicâs first diversions from his original genre was surprising not just because it was a pinball game, but also because it was actually a really good one. Sonic SpinballÂ capitalizes on Sonicâs iconic spin move, where he essentially becomes a ball, and drops him into various pinball stages where he is bounced around and slammed against Eggmanâs robots. It was, and still is, an odd choice, and it doesnât quite land in every way, but was a fun diversion from the main series.
The game runs a little slow, which is a major problem for both a Sonic game andÂ a pinball game. The controls are also not quite responsive enough, leading to some frustrating deaths for a lot of players, but the real downside to the game is how little content there is. There are only four levels in the game, with one boss at the end of each, plus a repeated bonus stage. The game isnât all pinball, though, and you can control Sonic like you would in a normal 2D platformer for some variety. The only difference is that Sonic doesnât use rings as life and is only able to die if he falls off the stage, which makes sense for a pinball game.
7. Sonic Adventure 2 (Dreamcast, GameCube, PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
The first fully 3D entry on this list does come with plenty of asterisks attached to it. Is it the best 3D Sonic game? Well, that depends on what you look for in a Sonic game. If gameplay is king for you â and we assume thatâs true for most people â then Sonic Adventure 2Â might be the best option. Of all the prior attempts to figure out how to translate Sonicâs speed into 3D, especially how the camera should work, this game manages to hold together very well under the strain. Unlike Sonic Adventure,Â the sequel is also far less cryptic in terms of how to progress thanks to it ditching the confusing hub world â though the story, cutscene direction, and voice acting are still at that âso bad itâs goodâ level of quality.
The gameplay is divided once again into three styles of game between the campaigns. Sonic and Shadow handle the high-speed spectacle stages you come to Sonic games for, while Tails and Eggman give a surprisingly fun mech mode, and Knuckles and Rouge return with the mostly tedious treasure hunting stages. Gone is the abomination that was Big the Catâs fishing levels! That alone is enough to praise this sequel. Toss in an updated, improved, and quite addicting Chao garden, and you have a solid package all around.
8. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (PS3, Vita, Xbox 360, Wii, 3DS, PC, IOS)
When it became clear that Sonic fell short of his goal to dethrone Mario as the king of platformers, 2D or 3D, the teamâs next effort was to go after the kart racing genre. This was a tall order since Mario has dominated that space even more convincingly than platformers, plus there was the natural skepticism of putting Sonic, known for running, into a car to race. However, the creativity, polish, and outright fun they managed to cram into the unfortunately titledÂ Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed convinced those who played it that it wasnât just a knockoff Mario Kart game, but maybe even a superior one.
Long beforeÂ Mario Kart 8, this Sonic racer created tracks that had the playerâs kart, like the title suggests, transform between a standard car, plane, and boat seamlessly. Even Mario only dabbled in these ideas with gliders and underwater sections, but Sonic gave you three unique and fully developed styles of racing in one satisfying package. Stages were bright, colorful, imaginatively designed, and all-around fun to blast through. The character roster was also â¦ unique, to say the least. You had the staple Sonic characters, like Shadow, Amy, and Eggman, but also some deep picks, like Vyse from Skies of Arcadia, Pudding fromÂ Space Channel 5, Joe Musashi fromÂ Shinobi, and real-life racer Danica Patrick.
9. Sonic Colors (Wii, DS)
Somewhat of a mechanical prequel to whatÂ Generations would be,Â Sonic Colors was the first breath of fresh air for many Sonic fans in years. It was the first true attempt at splitting a game up with both 2D and 3D stages, but with the added gimmick of wisps. Unlike most of Sonicâs gimmicks, these colorful creatures actually worked to enhance the gameplay instead of complicating or watering down what everyone wants from a Sonic game. The focus is still firmly on your ability to run fast, collect rings, and bounce off obstacles. The wisps just grant you little extra abilities â more like power-ups than anything else â such as allowing you to float, swim like a shark, or roll up walls with your spikes.
The game is a bit short, however. There are six worlds, and all of them are diverse and well designed but can be completed a little too fast to feel like you even hit top gear. Thankfully, the game retains the ranking system to encourage you to replay stages for the best possible score and time as well as seek out the various pathways each stage has. Just donât bother with the extra co-op mode. It is like a worse version of any Mario game with co-op, where youâre constantly bumping into or bouncing off of each other, but worse because of the emphasis on speed. If one of you gets too far ahead and pushes the other off the screen, thatâs it for them.
10. Sonic Unleashed (PS3, PS2, Xbox 360, Wii)
Sonic UnleashedÂ is almost a perfect metaphor for itself. Sonic has become part werehog (because why not) and will transform every night into the burly beast while remaining his sleek, seedy self during the day. That 50/50 split almost perfectly reflects how much of this game is good. Nearly all the daytime stages, which feature classic Sonic gameplay of rushing across beautiful vistas at some of the fastest speeds weâve ever seen, are considered good if not great great by most fans. Just the scale of some stages make you feel like youâre actually racing across huge regions of the world. They may even be some of the best 3D Sonic levels of all time. But you canât just play the day stages alone, and eventually the ugly werehog will rear its head.
As if developed by another team that didnât want to make a Sonic game at all, the night stages are slow, action focused, combo based,Â God of WarÂ style gauntlets with RPG leveling elements. If that doesnât sound like the type of thing youâd be doing in a series with the tagline âgotta go fast,â then youâre right. These stages just donât work. Even if you liked that style of gameplay, it just isnât satisfying in Unleashed, nor does it run well. The framerate just canât handle these sections, snatching away what little hope this style of gameplay had of at least being passable. In the end, we got half a good-to-great Sonic game and half a monstrosity.