So many franchises in this industry have decades-spanning legacies that it’s often easy to forget the more obscure entries. When you think about the three decade legacy of the Mario series, names like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Bros. 3 immediately come to mind as the ‘pinnacle titles’, and when people talk about The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time is almost always the first game mentioned. But when you start to obsess over such a long running series you inevitably run through the most popular games. You may find yourself wanting to delve deeper into the catalog of obscurity. With the lesser known (and less popular) entries in a series, they may not be as great or groundbreaking, but they can certainly offer the same kind of enjoyment and sometimes even experiment with interesting ideas.
In Case You Missed It looks at some lesser known games from renowned franchises… hidden gems if you will, for those wanting something a little more than just the greatest hits. We start things off with the Sonic the Hedgehog series, a game infamous for having more duds than hits these days, but certainly there are a few pleasant surprises for those wanting to experience more than just the Genesis and Dreamcast classics.
Here are a few lesser known and relatively unpopular Sonic games that you may want to check out:
Game Gear Sonic games are often frowned upon, but when you really give them a chance some are quite excellent. Ignoring titles that were derived from superior Genesis and Master System counterparts, there are a couple of really solid Sonic games that were exclusive to the handheld, one of them being Sonic Triple Trouble. The visuals and sound quality may be dated now, but the level design will still reel you in. Sonic Triple Trouble features level designs similar to the huge multi-route zones in the Genesis games. The size and scope of the levels is pretty impressive for a Game Gear title, allowing a solid pace and gameplay depth to match some of the best Sonic titles. What really stands out are the creative boss battles. Instead of fighting some variation of Eggman you battle his robot minions with each complementing the theme of their respective level (almost like the Robot Masters in Mega Man). The game may be on the short side (roughly an hour long) but the presence of Chaos Emeralds, special stages, and alternate paths adds nicely to the replay value.
Another game from the Game Gear catalog, Tails’ Adventure is a spin-off where Sonic’s two tailed sidekick takes the starring role. The game’s visuals hold up quite nicely today, with detailed, colorful environments and nicely animated character sprites. The gameplay and design is like nothing in the series, borrowing Metroid’s open world exploration template and putting it to effective use with some fun platforming and situational puzzles. The game world is well-realized with plenty of gameplay variety and, like Triple Trouble, some very inventive boss battles.
Perhaps one of the few redeeming qualities of the ill-conceived Genesis 32X was its killer app platformer, Knuckles’ Chaotix. This spin-off has eight playable characters, each offering a different play-style and mechanic. The game requires players to control any character pair of their choosing, throwing you into levels that depart from Sonic design norms in many ways. Chaoitix places less emphasis on enemies and more focus on a layered multi-path structure. Sonic’s core concept of speed remains intact, but the team-play mechanic is what sets Chaotix apart. Controlling two characters simultaneously can be a little challenging but in no time it becomes second nature and the elastic chain connecting them really fits well within the puzzle-oriented levels. The more you play the game, the more you come to appreciate the intricacies of its mechanics, especially the chain. Knuckles Chaotix is dead easy and short, but immensely replayable and a lot fun. The crisp, detailed visuals look good even today, and the soundtrack is among the best in the series.
While the original Genesis version of the game is more widely known and available, the Saturn version of Sonic 3D Blast (which was meant to compensate for the cancellation of Sonic X-treme) is a huge improvement. The core graphics and sprites of the game are given a stark overhaul with better textures, stronger detail, and plenty of neat visual touches and effects. It makes the Genesis version look bland and empty by comparison. The coolest additions are the fully polygonal 3D special stages that expand upon the excellent template of Sonic 2’s famous half-pipes. As icing on the cake, the game features a completely new soundtrack composed by Richard Jacques (a truly talented and underrated video game composer) that is far superior to the Genesis version. While 3D Blast isn’t exactly traditionally Sonic, it still offers an interesting alternative with some cool moments, and the Saturn is easily the best place to play it.
The Saturn never had its own exclusive Sonic platformer, but it did offer a lovingly-crafted compilation of classic games. Sonic Jam provides fully ported and optimized Saturn renditions of the four main Genesis Sonic titles. They look and play almost exactly like the originals, but they’re full ports that really take advantage of the Saturn’s hardware -most noticeably in the sound department. New difficulty options drastically alters the level design and layout, and these variants are Saturn-exclusive. The collection also incorporates the turbo spindash ability seamlessly into the first Sonic the Hedgehog game, which significantly changes its play dynamics. On top of all this the game offered a beautiful and heartbreaking glimpse at what the Saturn could have done with a fully 3D sonic in its “Sonic World” demo museum. Most modern Sonic games don’t handle nearly as well as that small extra.
This game came out at a time when Dreamcast was the hottest thing going and Sonic Adventure was selling like hotcakes. Sonic Pocket Adventure couldn’t help the Neo Geo compete with the monstrous popularity of the Game Boy Color and Pokemon, but it was still a fantastic platformer. Despite the “Adventure” in its title, the game is more of a re-imagining of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Pocket Adventure adopts the best elements of the Genesis classics and presents them as a fresh experience, with crisp visuals, engaging level design, and a fun soundtrack.
AM2’s Sonic the Fighters was a poor attempt at creating a compelling Sonic themed fighting game, and is not even worth the pennies it demands on XBLA/PSN. Sonic Battle for the Game Boy Advance on the other hand is a pretty solid effort that feels just right on a handheld. It’s an arena based fighter similar to Capcom’s Power Stone, and despite the limited controls it plays quite well. Sonic Battle has all the characters you’d want from a Sonic game, and while it may appear to be simple on the surface, the game offers enough depth and content to keep it fun and re-playable.
This game is notoriously unpopular, but a lot of it feels like exaggeration in hindsight. Shadow’s not a great game by any means but it’s not nearly as appalling as critics made it out to be. The aesthetics and story of Shadow the Hedgehog had darker and grimmer undertones, and the gameplay added the use of… guns! A departure to be sure, but hardly shocking considering games like Jak and Ratchet & Clank placed so much focus on shooting. . Shadow the Hedgehog features several alternate paths and routes in both the level design and the overall game progression– as well as multiple contrasting endings– all molded nicely around a consequential good/evil dynamic. With its unique game structure and mechanics, Shadow the Hedgehog is a commendable alternative to the 3D Sonic template. Avoid the PS2 version as it suffers from framerate and control issues (Sonic Heroes on PS2 had the same problem).
BioWare gave the Sonic series its long overdue answer to Super Mario RPG in the form of Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. It may have been BioWare’s involvement that caused the game to be overlooked — not that they did a bad job, far from it– but their glowing resume may have inflated everyone’s expectations. With its interactive turn-based battle system (which plays almost like Elite Beat Angels) and surprisingly well written story, Sonic Chronicles ticks the right boxes. You obviously can’t expect it to be of the same caliber as BioWare’s own biggest hits, but for what it is and what it intended to do, Sonic Chronicles works perfectly. The only thing about this game that disappoints is the grating, looped soundtrack.
Those are my picks for the most underrated and overlooked games in Sonic’s history. If you agree, disagree, or think I missed something, make your opinion known in the comments.