Let’s face it: old Sonic games have been re-released more times than I’ve had hot dinners. And every Sonic fan bought every one of them, such is our sheer madness. We’re a bit spoiled on PC for Sonic content these days, with every recent game getting its own PC port that was immediately tweaked from the ground up. But it wasn’t always that simple, oh no. It used to be pretty thin for us Sonicsters, and I’m here to tell you what we fought to get to the promised land of ports we bask in today.
Sonic The Hedgehog CD was the first game to be released on our Windows 95 486 in September 1996, a perfect fit for CD-ROM technology with its multiple soundtracks for every possible timeline. Amazingly, however, it basically remained the exact same game it was when it was first released on Mega CD in late 1993. This, however, was a cheaper and more sensible way to play a game Somewhat “lost” Sonic, orphaned by the consumer. apathy towards the Mega CD add-on. Finally, though, he had a new home – one where he operated in a rather small desktop window, so Sonic could finally meet your Bonzi Buddy.
It was always brilliant, of course; Sonic CD is one of the best Sonic games and certainly the most misunderstood. It’s an exploration game for the simple pleasure of finding cool stuff, a game where you have to travel through time to find a generator placed by the evil Doctor Robotnik. This means finding a “Past” sign, then locating a spot where you can speed up uninterrupted until you go back in time, emerging into a more peaceful area where Robotnik’s plan has yet to be realized. Destroy the generator and you are guaranteed a “good future” and can leave the area. There’s also the option to head into the future so you can see the fruits of your labor, or explore a much more hostile “bad future” if you haven’t destroyed the generator. All totally optional of course, because it’s Sonic CD. It’s a game for people who aren’t in a hurry, which is a bit antithetical to the Sonic ethos…
The educational potential of Sonic The Hedgehog has finally been realized with Sonic’s Schoolhouse, presenting an edutainment sequel so miserable your kids will be begging you to let them do long divisions in minutes.
The following month, the educational potential of the Sonic The Hedgehog series was finally realized with Sonic’s Schoolhouse, a game now primarily reminiscent of the horror title Baldi’s Basics, presenting a suite of edutainment entertainment so miserable your kids will be begging you to let them do a long split in minutes. You don’t even play as Sonic, but rather choose one of the many nondescript animal characters to explore the various uninteresting mini-games on offer. These include a tedious 3D version of the classic memory game where you match poorly rendered statues of Knuckles and the like, and another where you run around a Doom-esque map collecting rings while the Badniks of Doctor Robotnik are trying to stop you. It has an educational value of zero, which makes it somewhat less educational than actual Doom.
More importantly, the next actual Sonic game hit the PC in early ’97 – and that’s a bit trickier. Sonic & Knuckles Collection has brought one of the most acclaimed Sonic games of all time to PC. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles combo cartridges were a killer app for the Mega Drive, and now their glorious majesty can be experienced on your computer. Kind of.
There is quite an interesting story behind the music of this port. Although presented as rather endearing MIDI recreations, the tracks are still the same arrangements you hear in the Mega Drive original. Until you get to stage four, Carnival Night, at which point veterans will immediately notice that the song is very different. This continues in both the Ice Cap and Launch Base areas of Sonic 3, and legendary sleuths from the Sonic fanbase have come to the conclusion that these songs were replaced due to a connection with Michael Jackson, who worked on the game’s soundtrack until the first charges were brought against him, forcing him to leave the project.
Then, relatively recently, the legendary team of game curators at Hidden Palace unearthed a prototype Sonic 3 from November 1993 which – and I cannot stress enough how seismic this event was – contained Mega Drive arrangements of these replacement songs, meaning they were still the originals, and we had been living a lie for almost thirty years. PC remains a winner. (The recent Sonic Origins, which remasters Sonic 3 and uses the replacement tracks, prompted Sonic creator Yuki Naka to either joke about Jackson’s involvement or confirm it.)
Then came, a little later in 1997, the release of Sonic 3D Blast, the isometric adventure from Travelbuyer’s Tales which was not 3D at all – apart from its Special Stages which here resembled those of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 , but with a 2D Sonic Sprite borrowed from the Mega Drive version. These steps also ran a bit faster than the otherwise superior Saturn port.
3D Blast is a decent time, and the addition of a save feature makes its long and difficult stages more enjoyable. Moving Sonic through isometric worlds, however, is none of the freewheeling, momentum-based fun of its predecessors, or even the latest Sonic Adventure. It’s not a bad game, but not one I can recommend rushing to buy. Interestingly enough, the original developer of the Mega Drive version released a Director’s Cut rom to “finish” the game, adding a load of superfluous features as well as a welcome ability to save. Well worth a look.
The following year, the Saturn Sonic R racing title hit the starting grid and brought its animalistic athleticism to PC. It’s a pretty enjoyable little game, with the sound of Sonic’s footsteps being basically iconic to me. You race on foot with Sonic, Tails Knuckles, Aloysius, all Sonic characters. With collectible rings, five chunky coins per track, and chaos emeralds hidden in secret shortcuts and more, there’s plenty to enjoy on every course. The problem is that there are only four, with a fifth secret that sucks. It’s also remarkably easy to get all five secret coins and win every race, and the Chaos Emeralds aren’t particularly taxing either. This unlocks a pair of secret characters, all of which have better stats than the default picks, meaning there’s no reason not to use them.
Multiplayer is a bust, singleplayer is 100% complete in 90 minutes, tops. Is it a fun game? Certainly, but it is obviously quite too short and easy. Sonic R’s saving grace is Richard Jacques’ superb, hilarious eurobeat-style soundtrack. In disbelief, the budget version of Sonic R on the Xplosiv label originally omitted it for some reason, though it was reinstated in a reprint – look for the orange text on the back, rather than the white.
After those golden days of bizarre Sonic releases, the PC world started to see slightly more sensible and contemporary ports like Sonic Adventure DX, Sonic Heroes, and Sonic Mega Collection Plus. The Wild West was over; Sega behaved and offered the full tastes of Sonic Adventure DX, an overhauled and glitch-filled version of the ever-wonderful Dreamcast epic Sonic Adventure. It incorporated an all-new Mission mode that allowed you to collect even more emblems and eventually unlock a bunch of Game Gear titles, none of which are particularly good (except for the little explore-’em-up rather graceful and simply nice, Tails’ adventure.)
Sonic Heroes on PC is probably the best way to play the game, but it hasn’t made its way to Steam at the time of writing. Sonic Mega Collection Plus would be a good compilation if it weren’t for the absurd requirement to unlock many games included; maybe a quick .ini edit would fix this, but it still doesn’t get a recommendation from me.
In the modern era, however, it seems like most Sonic games hit Steam, including some that land completely unexpectedly – the former Wii U exclusive, Sonic Lost World, was arguably a pleasant surprise. With the next Sonic Frontiers slated for the platform as well, it looks like we’re in for a golden age for Sonic fans on PC. It’s a little disappointing, however, that Sega has decided that the new Sonic Origins release is now the de facto means by which classic Sonic games should be played; individual versions have been removed from Steam entirely. And thanks to Origins’ changes to the classic Sonic 3 soundtrack, it’s hard to call this new version the definitive one. The 16:9 widescreen for Sonic 3 & Knuckles is nice, but it’s been around for quite a while in the popular Sonic 3 Angel Island Revisited fangames, which adds a slew of options for the truly obsessive fan.
And let’s face it, when it comes to Sonic fans, it’s literally everyone. There is no longer a creative and engaged fanbase on the planet. PC has been a welcome home for Sonic the Hedgehog for quite some time, and it may continue for a long time. If a game sucks, you can just wait for the mod.