Sonic the Hedgehog sped his way into our homes so many years ago. Whether you’re here as far back as Sonic the Hedgehog or a newcomer with Sonic Superstars, Sega’s world-renowned mascot has had many highs and many lows over the years. We’re going back to Sonic’s side-scrolling roots and keep a good vibe going. In this list, we’ll be looking at the best 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games ranked from least to best.
11. Sonic Advance 3
Sonic Advance 3 released for the Game Boy Advance as the third and final game in the Sonic Advance series. The second game in the Sonic Advance series leans heavily into the speed aspect of the series but is marred by developer Dimps’ abundant placement of bottomless pits and terrible enemy placement.
In Sonic Advance 3, the gimmick is tied to Sonic and friends teaming up with one another and it’s a natural next step for the Advance games. This neat team-up mechanic gives the player-controlled character augmented abilities from the sidekick character. Level design is better than its predecessor. However, obtaining the Chaos Emeralds is tedious with having to locate 10 hidden Chao in each level in order to trigger the special stages.
10. Sonic the Hedgehog CD
Sonic the Hedgehog was a huge success when it was released on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. A sequel was apparent. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog CD, more commonly known as Sonic CD, were developed in unison. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 capitalized on the speed aspect of the first game, while Sonic CD focused more on platforming. For this reason, Sonic CD is a black sheep.
Its time travel mechanic is neat in concept, but locating the “Past” and “Future” posts, destroying hidden transporters in the past, and gathering the Time Stones will not rely on speeding through the stages as fast as possible. Still, recent ports of Sonic CD give the option of the amazing Japanese and North American soundtracks. It’s not your run-of-the-mill Sonic game, but Sonic CD is still a good time.
It feels strange to put the original Sonic the Hedgehog game that started it all so far down the list. Naturally, from a starting point, there’s nowhere to go but up. Anyway, Green Hill Zone makes for a promising start. Is this Blast Processing? How is a game going this fast?
Sonic’s momentum is impressive today. Sonic Team’s work really pushes the envelope in retrospect. Then you get to Marble Zone and it stomps on the brakes. It happens again and again throughout the game and it doesn’t seem to capture the appeal of the first zone. For some, it’s one of the top Sonic the Hedgehog games. For others, it sets the possibility for bigger and better things.
8. Sonic Generations 3DS
A lot of Sonic’s outings on Nintendo’s handhelds often go overlooked. Remember that there was a 3DS port of Sonic Generations? The console release of the game was a solid trip down memory lane and brought back a lot of iconic Sonic stages with a modern flair. The 3DS port of Sonic Generations did something similar but stayed to being a 2.5D game.
There’s little gameplay differences between Classic and Modern Sonic, and it’s not the most robust of Dimps’ efforts but it was a decent game all around. It could have been a shameless reskin of the console game but Sonic Generations 3DS has its own exclusive stages including: Casino Night Zone, Mushroom Hill Zone, Emerald Coast, Radical Highway, Water Palace, and Tropical Resort.
7. Sonic Rush Adventure
Sonic Rush Adventure is another one of those Sonic games that seemed to fall by the wayside. Dimps had already, mostly, established a pedigree with the Sonic Advance games under their belt before they tackled development on the DS. Sonic Rush Adventure is the better of the Sonic Rush series.
Sonic Rush refines what the original game did and makes the boost style of gameplay more absorbing. This game in particular really urges you to “gotta go fast.” The trick mechanic in Sonic Rush Adventure allows Sonic to perform mid-air stunts as he speeds off a ramp or slope. Finishing a sequence of tricks adds to Sonic’s boost meter to keep the speed going nonstop.
Sonic Colors also received a DS port and it’s easily the best of Dimps’ Rush style of 2D Sonic Games. By this point, Dimps had a good grasp on what it could achieve on the DS hardware, this being their third and final Sonic game on the peripheral. Gone this time is the trick mechanic. Sonic now fills the boost meter by this port repurposing the Wisps that made their debut in Sonic Colors.
Aside from boosting, Sonic can beam along a string of rings with the Laser Wisp and make use of explosive jumps with the Rocket Wisp. It’s these abilities that keep Sonic moving, and they’re enmeshed into the gameplay fundamentals of the game so well that you’re bound to discover something new from one stage to the next. It keeps things fresh as opposed to dropping your moveset in your lap from the start. It’s encouraging to replay the stages with your new powers to find the optimum path. Sonic Colors DS is a gem and one of the top 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games.
5. Sonic Advance
Sonic Advance was Dimps’ first go at Sonic on the Game Boy Advance hardware. The game was a breath of fresh air for its time. The Sega Dreamcast sadly underperformed and forced Sega to shift to third-party software development. Sonic Advance would be a saving grace for the flagship Sega series. It was a throwback to the Genesis/Master System games that had come before it, but also would merge elements from the Sonic Adventure series such as Sonic’s rail grinding skills.
Sonic Advance further had four playable characters in Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy. Each character exhibiting their own move sets. For its inception on Game Boy Advance, Sonic Advance looks great and still holds up. Dimps came up with fair level design, arguably some of the best in the Sonic Advance series and made something new rather than rely on the nostalgia factor of the Genesis/Master System games. Sonic Advance earns its place as one of the best 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games there is.
4. Sonic Superstars
Well now, Sonic Superstars did something different and gave us a fully realized 2D Sonic game with some 3D flair to it. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the game is that it reutilizes the same physics engine as Sonic Mania. This time around, Sonic and friends adventure to the Northstar Islands. Dr. Eggman has enlisted the help of long-lost villain, Fang, and newcomer, Trip, to thwart Sonic’s pursuit.
Sonic Superstars features much needed fresh zones. In fact, it’s the first 2D Sonic game to have all new zones since the 90s games. Now, that isn’t to say each zone is perfect but the variety we get can’t be overlooked. Additionally, Sonic and friends harness the power of the Chaos Emeralds like never before. New Emerald Powers are very useful whether you need an extra edge with some tough boss battles, finishing the perfect speed run, or exploring for hidden collectibles. Sonic Superstars may have some so-so bonus stages that get repetitive, and the soundtrack doesn’t have all that many hits, but it’s a promising step for a new era of 2D Sonic.
3. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 improved on the original Sonic game in practically every way. Now that Sega knew what Sonic was capable of, it came time to push the Sega Genesis/Master System a little closer to its limits. For starters, there’s no longer a third act to most of the game’s various zones. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 debuted the Spin Dash which is a 2D Sonic mainstay. The Spin Dash is essential to maintain or resume Sonic’s rapid momentum with this technique. Level design improved over the original, especially on stages that could slow your fast progress. Its replay value stems from what alternate paths you can take to avoid such disruptions as you push for the fastest run.
Sonic 2 features one of the best soundtracks in the series as well and the sound chip of the Genesis/Mega Drive absolutely shines. However, the game can be a little short and the half-pipe-style bonus stages can be difficult to gauge for oncoming hazards as you attempt to collect the seven Chaos Emeralds. Nonetheless, Sonic 2 paved the way for the Sonic mania that was experienced the world over.
It was very difficult to find where to place Sonic 3 & Knuckles on this list, but even its penultimate placement could not detract from the game’s excellence. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is peak Sonic the Hedgehog as it was on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Its odd name is derived from the fact that Sonic Team planned for a larger game than had come before. Being short on time, Sega released two separate games but for one combined experience. You see, where Sonic 2 refined Sonic, Sonic 3 & Knuckles makes Sonic an enduring legacy.
Sonic Team went several steps forward with its final Genesis/Mega Drive Sonic games. It weaved together a story better than the games before it. Each zone communicates this by way of scene transitions from the start and end of a zone, tying it to the next. The collection of the Chaos Emeralds is improved and simplified by finding Bonus Rings hidden in each zone. The Chaos Emeralds are further strengthened into the Super Emeralds. This can be done through the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge’s “Lock-On” technology. The cartridge can stack with both Sonic 3 and Sonic 2, respectively. This is basically proto-DLC. It’s so neat bringing Knuckles in as a playable character to the Sonic games that came before.
Finally, Sonic 3 & Knuckles easily features some of the best music the Sonic franchise has ever produced. To put the mystery to bed, Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka confirmed in a tweet last year that the King of Pop, Michael Jackson did indeed lend his talent to the development of Sonic 3. Jackson goes uncredited due to his dissatisfaction with the output of the Genesis/Mega Drive. Still, our heads are bopping to IceCap Zone, and many other pieces, all these years later.
1. Sonic Mania
It was a tough pick, but we have to give the best 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game win to Sonic Mania. This game serves as perhaps the fondest full circle there has been in the gaming industry. That’s because Sonic Mania is a game, at its core, that’s by Sonic fans for Sonic fans. Sega, a few years prior, attempted to return to Sonic’s 2D roots on home console when they released the critically panned (by Sonic fans) Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I and Episode II. More on these games in another list, but it’s fair to say that this so-called “Sonic 4” was an unsavoury adventure.
Enter the combined efforts of Christian Whitehead, PagodaWest Games and Headcannon. Christian Whitehead, in particular, was brought on by Sega to port enhanced versions of the Sonic Genesis games to mobile devices. Sonic Mania is a celebration of what 2D Sonic accomplished in the past, and made a singular vision for the present. The game’s name derives from the mania that surrounded the captivation of Sonic’s 16-bit era. Sonic Mania controls like a hot knife through butter. Each level is meticulously crafted and momentum-based gameplay is precisely articulated in a way that, even if you run along a path you didn’t intend to, the game will still make that unintended course a path rife with discovery.
Some may criticize the overdependence on the eight classic zones over Mania’s five original zones. However, the returning classics are hardly one-to-one reskins of the original games they come from. Each level feels new again by integrating gameplay mechanics from Sonic’s past. Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant Zone has the ground-to-air launching mechanic from Sonic CD’s Wacky Workbench, and the rope pulley system from Sonic 3’s Marble Garden Zone is in Sonic CD’s Stardust Speedway. Furthermore, the Special Zones are top tier and don’t make obtaining the Chaos Emeralds a chore, but something to look forward to.
Sega would release an add-on, called Sonic Mania Plus, that brings aboard Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel as new playable characters. The longevity of Sonic Mania is its “Encore Mode.” This mode reskins the zones into different color palettes and item containers in the zones could be broken to cycle between the four playable characters. It’s an amazing package of a game. The music, the gameplay, the special stages, the bonuses… it’s all fantastic. Sonic Mania is the best 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game thus far.
What’s your favourite 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game? Let us know in the comments below!