Sonic the Hedgehog
for C64

Mr Creosote:
Company: Sega
Year: 1991
Genre: Action
Theme: Misc. Fantasy
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 407
Review by Mr Creosote (2024-03-16)
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At its time, no game better exemplified the still prevalent difference between the game console and home computer worlds than Sonic. A through and through corporately planned, calculated product, whose marketing strategy likely came before any game design decision. While on those by then ageing home computers, bedroom coders doing weird things were still the norm. What remains less known, and what Sega likely would like swept under the carpet, is that before its phenomenal success became clear, there had actually been an agreement to have it ported to those home computers under licence by U.S. Gold. The ports never materialized. Likely because Sega realized they had a killer application for their new console on their hands. Though three decades later, a talented team of hobbyists made it happen anyway: Sonic on the C64! In all its brown-ish colour glory.

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Though, wait, where are the loops? Aren't those the signature feature of these games? You're not wrong, though to address the elephant in the room: this is a port of the lesser-known Master System Sonic. Which, based on the obviously weaker hardware compared to the Mega Drive original, is a much more static, or “classic” jump'n'run. You have to hand it to Sega, they were smart in their business and product strategies.

One way or the other, the C64 Sonic is an impressive piece of work technically. Let's bear in mind that a clone did exist on this system – it was called Mayhem in Monsterland, which only scrolled in one direction. This Sonic port is equally fast, animations are smooth. The scrolling in all directions even feels faster than on the Master System.

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This has been achieved using the capabilities of Commodore's RAM Expansion Unit (REU). Which obviously nobody owned at the time, though no problem these days. Controls are on-the-spot responsive. If only they didn't follow this strange console convention of using the fire button to jump. Why, when my joystick has a perfectly working “up” direction? Guys, a conversion should adapt to what's common and available on the target hardware! Not blindly copy the constraints of the original system.

Which, of course, leads to the question of how this game has held up. In 1991, this was considered a fairly easy entry in its genre. Today… oufff… even though it's not the full speed Mega Drive version, there are still plenty of obstacles if one assumes carefree progress. Chasms at the bottom of which either deadly spikes or extra lives may wait. The only way to find out: try it out, die and remember. Springs bouncing the player backwards, right into the (likewise deadly) water. Sonic's inertia, i.e. his inability to just stop himself on the spot, will cost you a number of lives as well.

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Is it really something I, personally, want to play today? Honestly, no. The levels may be solidly designed, but stripped of the Mega Drive's technical prowess, it is all rather mediocre. The game hardly stands out from the myriad of generic jump'n'runs released at the time. What I had most fun with this time around was actually the bonus stages in which Sonic bounces around like a pinball. Literally between bumpers in some cases. Those are just so anarchically uncontrollable that it's already funny again.

One way or another, the existence of this port alone speaks volumes of the love for this little breadbox machine. This game does show much can still be squeezed out of a computer even ten years older than Sonic. Personally, I doubt U.S. Gold, with all its money and resources at the time, would have come anywhere near this.

Comments (1) [Post comment]

Mr Creosote:
Yup, it's Sonic! But, of course, it would be too easy to take the one everyone knows. Let's be honest, nothing to add to the public opinion about that one. Though the semi-recent release of a C64 port motivated me to take a look. Hoping to raise some awareness of this amazing work.
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