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Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit video game)

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Sonic the Hedgehog
North American Game Gear cover art
Director(s)Ayano Koshiro
Programmer(s)Shinobu Hayashi
  • Ayano Koshiro
  • Takefuni Yunoue
Composer(s)Yuzo Koshiro
SeriesSonic the Hedgehog
Platform(s)Game Gear, Master System
  • Game Gear
  • December 28, 1991
  • Master System
  • 1991

Sonic the Hedgehog[a] is a 1991 side-scrolling platform game and companion to the 16-bit Sega Genesis game of the same name for the 8-bit Game Gear and Master System consoles. Ancient—a studio founded by composer Yuzo Koshiro for the project—developed the game and Sega published it to promote the handheld Game Gear. The 8-bit Sonic is similar in style to its Genesis predecessor, but reduced in complexity to fit the 8-bit systems. It was released for the Game Gear on December 28, 1991, and for the Master System around the same time. It was later released through Sonic game compilations and Nintendo's Virtual Console.

The premise and story of the 8-bit Sonic are identical to that of the Genesis game: as the anthropomorphic hedgehog Sonic, the player must race through levels to rescue the imprisoned animals Doctor Robotnik plots to turn into robots. Gameplay is similar as well; Sonic collects rings while avoiding obstacles, but is paced slightly slower as the 8-bit version focuses more on exploration. While some level themes, such as Green Hill Zone, are borrowed from the Genesis game, others are original. It also features a different soundtrack from Koshiro, which consists of rearranged versions of Masato Nakamura's tracks for the Genesis game and new material.

Reviewers acclaimed the 8-bit Sonic for its level variety, visuals, gameplay, and audio. Many believed that it compared favorably to its 16-bit counterpart, although some criticism was directed at its low difficulty and short length. Game journalists retrospectively considered it one of the best Game Gear and Master System games. The game spawned several sequels, beginning with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in 1992. It was also Ancient's first game and the only Sonic game they would develop.


A pixelated image. On the left, Sonic, a cartoonish blue hedgehog, stands on a ledge above water. On the right, Doctor Robotnik, a mustachioed scientist, pilots a submarine firing projectiles at Sonic. The background shows mountains and clouds.
Sonic, the player-controlled character, fights Doctor Robotnik in one of the game's levels.

The 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog is a side-scrolling platform game similar in gameplay and style to the original 16-bit Sega Genesis game of the same name,[1] save for several new and altered game mechanics.[2] As in the original, the anthropomorphic hedgehog Sonic ventures to rescue the animal population of South Island from the diabolical Doctor Robotnik, who plots to turn them into robots.[3] The player jumps between platforms, avoids enemy and inanimate obstacles, and breaks televisions to collect shields, speed shoes, and invincibility, and mark checkpoints.[4][5] Like the original, Sonic collects rings, which protect him from being hit by an enemy or obstacle.[b][3] The player starts the game with three lives[6]:12 and will lose one if they are hit without carrying any rings,[3] drown, or fall into a bottomless pit.[2][6]:10 Losing all lives results in a "game over" message; if so, they must restart.[6]:12 Gameplay is slightly slower and more focused on exploration than the original.[1][3][7]

Sonic travels through six levels called zones, each consisting of two main acts and a boss battle with Robotnik.[2][3] The zones are based on various themes, such as grassy plains, ancient ruins, and jungles.[1][2] While select level themes, such as Green Hill Zone, are borrowed from the Genesis version, others are original, and all the level designs are different and have no vertical loops.[1] Some of the game's levels require quick precision[6]:9 and others require the player to go underwater.[6]:10 Certain acts have Chaos Emeralds hidden within them,[1] and the player must collect all six to obtain the best possible ending.[6]:7 At the end of each main act, the player hits a signpost, which will spin and land on an image; it can award bonuses depending on the image it settles on.[6]:8 If the player has over 50 rings, they can access a pinball-esque bonus stage where more rings and continues can be collected.[3]


A 39-year-old Japanese man wearing a black suit coat, a blue tie, and a white button-up shirt. He has black hair and brown eyes, and is against a dark red background.
Composer Yuzo Koshiro in 2006

In 1990, Sega released the Game Gear,[8] an 8-bit handheld game console designed to compete with Nintendo's Game Boy.[9] Around the same time, Sonic Team worked on Sonic the Hedgehog for the 16-bit Genesis and Sega wanted to increase consumer awareness of the Game Gear by producing a version of Sonic for the system.[10] 22-year old composer Yuzo Koshiro had recently started working with Sega, having been asked to compose the soundtrack for the Genesis version of The Revenge of Shinobi (1989). After, he told a section chief he could develop games himself.[11] As a result, a general manager,[c] whom Koshiro met while working on The Revenge of Shinobi, asked him to start developing a Game Gear version of Sonic.[10][11] Koshiro founded Ancient to develop the game because Sega could not make contracts with individuals.[11] His sister Ayano Koshiro served as director and his mother Tomo Koshiro had a "behind the scenes" role,[11] while the first programmer he hired was Shinobu Hayashi. The 8-bit Sonic was created specifically for the Game Gear, but Sega also had Ancient develop a version for the Master System, which was selling well and had similar hardware.[10]

Porting the original game to the 8-bit hardware was impossible, so Ancient built their Sonic from scratch.[12] The team decided to make their version completely different from its Genesis counterpart.[7] According to Koshiro, the game had three phases of development. In the first phase, Ancient developed the game with the Genesis version in mind.[10] The second and third phases were largely Ancient's own ideas, with Sega supervising their work.[10] Koshiro thought reinventing Sonic for 8-bit hardware was challenging, as he did not work at Sega and had never developed a game before. However, Sega had faith in him because of his relationship to the company.[11] Koshiro composed the soundtrack and sought to retain the feel of the Genesis version. He converted Masato Nakamura's 16-bit Sonic score to the 8-bit programmable sound generator to start, but ended up using only three of those tracks; the remainder of the music is Koshiro's work.[13]

Release history[edit]

A black Game Gear handheld system. From left to right: the directional controls, the screen, and two buttons labeled "1" and "2".
Sonic the Hedgehog was initially released for the Game Gear

Sega released the 8-bit Sonic for the Game Gear on December 28, 1991.[10] The Master System version launched around the same time,[3][4] although the precise date is unknown.[10] In Europe, the game was built into later versions of the Master System,[7][14] while in North America, it was the console's swan song. The Master System had failed to gain a foothold in North America, so its version of Sonic became a collector's item.[7] The American Master System release is simply an import of the European version; Sega covered the European Article Number on the game packaging with a Universal Product Code sticker.[15] Nintendo World Report described the game as a "weird" release for the franchise because it did not focus on speed.[16] Although it was profitable for Sega, the 8-bit Sonic's sales were "nowhere near as well" as those of the Genesis original.[7][11]

The game has been rereleased in emulated form on several occasions. In 2003, Sega released Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut, an enhanced version of the 1998 Sonic game Sonic Adventure for the GameCube and Windows. As the player progresses through the game, they will unlock all 12 Sonic games released for the Game Gear, including the 8-bit Sonic.[16][17] The Game Gear version is also available through Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004), a compilation of Sonic games for Windows, PlayStation 2, and Xbox.[18] Sega released the Master System version for the Wii's Virtual Console digital distribution service in Japan and North America in August 2008, and in Europe the following month.[19] The Game Gear version was released for the Nintendo 3DS's Virtual Console in the west on June 13, 2013 and in Japan on December 4, 2013.[20]


Contemporary reception
Review scores
CVG90% (SMS)[5]
GamePro22/25 (SMS)[d][3]
24/25 (GG)[e][22]
ACE4 stars (GG)[21]
Go!93% (GG)[23]
Mean Machines90% (SMS)[4]
Mega Zone90% (GG)[24]

Reviewers acclaimed the 8-bit Sonic.[4][23][22] Most agreed it was a polished recreation of the Genesis game,[22][21] with ACE and Mean Machines writing those who owned that version could still enjoy it.[21][4] The game's level variety and designs, the action-packed and addictive gameplay, and sound and visual quality—thought to be on par with the original version's—were commonly highlighted.[5][22][21][23] ACE was impressed to see the Genesis version's main features brought to the 8-bit systems intact.[21] GamePro also considered its visuals "top of the line" for an 8-bit game.[3] Reviewers criticized the relatively low difficulty and short length, although Computer and Video Games (CVG) wrote these were also problems in the original[5] and Go! considered the game more challenging than its Genesis predecessor.[23] However, most found the problems did not detract from the experience;[4][5][21] CVG wrote that the game still offered the player plenty and was just as good as the Genesis version.[5]

Retrospective reviews for the game's rerelease on the Virtual Console were likewise positive.[1][2][14] IGN wrote that although it was not as visually appealing, fast, or ambitious as its 16-bit predecessor, the 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog was still a competent game in its own right, with unique level designs that managed to retain the feel of the original.[1] Nintendo Life believed it was one of the best platformers for the Master System and felt it was an interesting piece in the Sonic franchise's history,[14] and found the Game Gear version easy to recommend to those who played the Genesis version and were looking for a new experience, and those who were just starting to play Sonic games. They said "It's short, but it's sweet," and that searching for Chaos Emeralds added replay value.[2] GameSpy, reviewing Sonic Mega Collection Plus, felt the 8-bit Sonic and Sonic Chaos (1993) were the series' only Game Gear installments worth playing.[18]


GamesRadar+ named the 8-bit Sonic the fourth best Game Gear game,[25] and they and Retro Gamer named it one of the best Master System games.[26][27] The 8-bit Sonic was Ancient's first game.[11] It is the only Sonic game they developed. Beginning with its 1992 sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, all subsequent 8-bit Sonic platformers were developed by Aspect Co.[16] The Bridge Zone level's track became one of the most famous pieces of Sonic music, and was used as a basis for Tails' theme in Sonic Adventure.[2]


  1. ^ Japanese: ソニック・ザ・ヘッジホッグ Hepburn: Sonikku za Hejjihoggu
  2. ^ Unlike the original game, Sonic cannot re-collect rings when hit.[2]
  3. ^ Koshiro only referred to the manager as Takami-san and said he oversaw the Genesis and Game Gear. According to video game journalist John Szczepaniak, he is likely referring to Tomio Takami, who created the Sega CD hardware.[10]
  4. ^ GamePro provided perfect scores for graphics and challenge, and scores of four out of five for sound, gameplay, and fun factor.[3]
  5. ^ GamePro provided perfect scores for graphics, sound, gameplay, and fun factor, and a score of four out of five for challenge.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Thomas, Lucas M (August 4, 2008). "Sonic the Hedgehog (Master System Version) Review". IGN. Archived from the original on July 28, 2017. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Sleeper, Morgan (June 15, 2013). "Sonic the Hedgehog Review (3DS eShop / GG)". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on December 24, 2017. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Angel, Earth (December 1991). "Sega Master ProReview: Sonic the Hedgehog" (PDF). GamePro (29): 110. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 12, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Sega Review: Sonic the Hedgehog" (PDF). Mean Machines (15): 136–138. December 1991. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 1, 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Rignall, Julian (December 1991). "Review: Sonic the Hedgehog" (PDF). Computer and Video Games (121). Archived (PDF) from the original on April 2, 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Sonic the Hedgehog (instruction booklet). Sega. 1991. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e Thorpe, Nick (March 22, 2014). "The History of Sonic on the Master System". Retro Gamer (179).
  8. ^ Forster, Winnie (2005). The Encyclopedia of Game.Machines: Consoles, Handhelds, and Home Computers 1972-2005. p. 139. ISBN 3-0001-5359-4.
  9. ^ Buchanan, Levi (October 9, 2008). "Remember Game Gear?". IGN. Archived from the original on June 23, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2009.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Szczepaniak, John (August 11, 2014). The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers: Volume 1. SMG Szczepaniak. pp. 346–347. ISBN 0992926009.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Parish, Jeremy (June 19, 2017). "Yuzo Koshiro: Legendary game composer, family business owner". Polygon. Archived from the original on February 26, 2018. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  12. ^ Towell, Justin (April 16, 2008). "Sonic's 2D classics re-reviewed". GamesRadar+. Archived from the original on June 30, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2018.
  13. ^ Boecker, Thomas (February 2011). "Interview with Yuzo Koshiro". Square Enix Music Online. Archived from the original on July 8, 2012. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  14. ^ a b c Calvert, Darren (August 4, 2018). "Sonic the Hedgehog Review (SMS)". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on September 28, 2017. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  15. ^ Kohler, Chris (May 16, 2017). "Collecting Sega Master System Games Is A Huge Pain In The Ass". Kotaku. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Ronaghan, Neal (June 21, 2013). "Grinding Game Gears: An Overview of Sonic's Portable Origins". Nintendo World Report. Archived from the original on March 13, 2018. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  17. ^ Pétronille, Marc; Audureau, William (2014). The History of Sonic the Hedgehog. Pix'n Love. p. 141. ISBN 1926778960.
  18. ^ a b Baker, Chris (November 1, 2004). "GameSpy: Sonic Mega Collection Plus". GameSpy. p. 2. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
  19. ^ "Sonic the Hedgehog (SMS / Master System) News, Reviews, Trailer & Screenshots". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on July 4, 2017. Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  20. ^ "Sonic the Hedgehog (GG / Game Gear) News, Reviews, Trailer & Screenshot". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on February 22, 2018. Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  21. ^ a b c d e f "Sonic the Hedgehog" (PDF). ACE (54): 87. March 1992. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 26, 2018. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  22. ^ a b c d e Mortis, Rigor (February 1992). "Game Gear ProReview: Sonic the Hedgehog" (PDF). GamePro (31): 106. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 20, 2015. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  23. ^ a b c d Rand, Paul; Boone, Tim (January 1992). "Review: Sonic the Hedgehog" (PDF). Go! (3). Archived (PDF) from the original on July 26, 2018. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  24. ^ Costelloe, Brian (April–May 1992). "Game Gear: Sonic the Hedgehog". Mega Zone. p. 31.
  25. ^ "Best Sega Game Gear games of all time". GamesRadar+. March 6, 2014. p. 5. Archived from the original on December 31, 2017. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  26. ^ "Top Ten Master System Games". Retro Gamer. February 11, 2014. Archived from the original on December 11, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  27. ^ "Best Sega Master System games of all time". GamesRadar+. June 19, 2017. p. 5. Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved July 26, 2018.

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