Welcome back to Sonic Sunday! This week, we’re kicking off a new series that will continue on Nintendo Wire throughout the coming months. Titled Franchise Five, this series collects votes and opinions from all of the writers at Nintendo Wire to come up with top five lists for various video game franchises. Let’s get started with the top five Sonic the Hedgehog titles!

Honorable mentions

Here are the games that received multiple votes but didn’t quite make the cut:

  • Sonic CD
  • Sonic Rush
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)
  • Sonic Colors

My honorable mention: Sonic Unleashed

Sonic Unleashed is so close to being great, but its shortcomings are just too much to handle. I can honestly say the most fun I’ve ever had playing a video game was running through those day levels back in 2008. The werehog sections are just so unbearable they detract from the overall experience and make Sonic Unleashed a much worse final product.

If you can recall, two different versions of Sonic Unleashed were released, with completely different level designs: The PS3/Xbox 360 version and the PS2/Wii counterpart. I’ve often dreamed of Sega releasing a “combo pack” of sorts that featured the day levels from both versions of the game. Even though we all know that won’t ever happen, modders have ported the day levels from the 360 version to PC through a Sonic Generations mod called the Unleashed Project. Sonic Unleashed is a good game, but it could have been a great one.


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5. Sonic Adventure

Ignoring the isometric Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic’s first foray into the third dimension was fairly successful. Releasing in 1998, Sonic Adventure was one of the many great gems on the commercial failure known as the Sega Dreamcast. Despite a few glitches and rough edges, Adventure still managed to provide two of the key components of Sonic: a great sense of speed and a killer soundtrack. The game also featured multiple playable characters each bringing along their own style of gameplay- who could forget those divisive Big the Cat fishing trips? Besides that, the game introduced the wildly popular Chao Garden: a pet simulator players could spend time in when they wanted a break from the action.

Matthew Weidner says:

Despite the Dreamcast’s eventual failure to reach mass appeal, Sonic Adventure was the perfect showcase for the console’s potential. As the first title in the Sonic the Hedgehog series to feature free-roaming 3D gameplay, I remember being blown away by its graphical prowess back in 1998 during its reveal. My 12 year old self would endlessly scour the Internet for leaked screenshots: printing them out and collecting them in a binder to flip through each night before bed in grave anticipation of its impending release.

While often criticized for its wonky camera system, occasional framerate issues, and slower paced fishing stages featuring Big the Cat, its sense of speed otherwise was unmatched and deserves tremendous credit for retaining the fast and enjoyable gameplay that Sonic was known for in its 2D predecessors. Even by today’s standards, the stunningly vibrant graphics and heart pumping soundtrack hold up amazingly well, and raising Chao remains an utterly addictive minigame that’s still worth coming back to from time to time.


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4. Sonic 3 & Knuckles

To me, the most memorable feature of this finale to the original Genesis trilogy was the use of lock-on technology. Released as two separate titles in stores due to a lengthy development, players could eventually put their Sonic 3 cartridge into the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge! This combined the levels from both games and allowed players to run through Sonic 3 as Knuckles. Just like cheese and crackers, these two games are good on their own but even better together.

Besides basically pioneering extra content before DLC became mainstream, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a fine 2D platformer. Coupled with a catchy soundtrack that may or may not feature contributions from Michael Jackson, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a must for any Sonic fan.

Ricky Berg says:

To me Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the height of what a Sonic game can be. With large zones featuring memorable set pieces, alternate routes, and some of the finest music on the Genesis, the game rewards and encourages you to explore these massive areas while working out optimal, speed based paths. The zones themselves are some of the finest as well, with standouts in the form of Hydrocity, Ice Cap, Lava Reef, and Sky Sanctuary. It isn’t just the acts themselves that make this game, though. Not only could you venture out as Sonic, with or without Tails following you along, but you could also take on the whole game as just Tails and newcomer Knuckles. Each of these options felt distinct and essentially created an entirely new experience within the already massive game.

The storytelling on display was also steps above any of its predecessors. Featuring small cutscenes between zones that showed just how Angel Island as a whole was connected, along with the imposing rise of the Death Egg at various points, the game didn’t need to rely on dialogue or an overabundance of pathos. Searching for the Master and eventually Super Emeralds also allowed the game to empower all three characters in unique ways while also providing an exciting finale in space. While some may argue that 2 or CD are better experiences and Mania looks all too promising, I’m confident in my statement that Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the finest 2D offering within the series.


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3. Sonic Adventure 2: Battle

“Rollin’ around at the speed of sound…” Sonic Adventure 2: Battle has so many moments that remind me why I love the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. From City Escape to Sky Rail, the speed sections in Adventure 2 are some of the best in the series. Although he is disliked by some, the game introduced Shadow the Hedgehog as a playable character and a rival for Sonic. This Gamecube re-release also featured an expanded two-player battle mode that remains a must play for anyone who loves competitive couch gaming.

Ben Fruzzetti says:

There’s a reason why Sonic Adventure 2: Battle inspires such nostalgia among fans of the blue blur. Trimming away some of the rougher edges of its predecessor, Sonic Adventure 2 offered a greater focus on the game modes of the first game that worked while also working in more upgrades, levels, and missions. The Chao Garden was expanded to offer a wide range of creatures to care for, and the number of side modes – ranging from races to hunts – offered fun diversions for solo or multiplayer play. The music was awesome, the environmental design interesting, and the plot surprisingly good at points. Also, no Big the Cat… at least, not unless you watch the stages carefully.


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2. Sonic Generations

Generations is the perfect game for Sonic fans of old to celebrate the franchise while also a great starting point for new fans of the series to jump in. Released as the main title during Sonic’s 20th anniversary, the game features classic Sonic platforming mixed with the modern style of the recent 3D games (namely the day stages of Unleashed and Sonic Colors). Every ounce of Sonic Generations feels like a love letter to the most memorable moments from the blue blur’s storied career. We all remember sprinting through Chemical Plant Zone in Sonic 2, or grinding down the rails of Spagonia in Rooftop Run. These zones, as well as many other unforgettable areas, all return in Generations. The best part? We got to experience every zone from both the modern and classic styles. Whenever I feel the need for speed, I immediately boot up Generations. Not to mention, the modding community on PC has revitalized the game years after its release. Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors were both baby steps towards what Sonic in 3D could achieve, and Sonic Generations feels like a culmination of all these efforts.

Jaxson Tapp says:

I can still remember exactly how I felt when I first found out about Sonic Generations. It was a dream come true; we hadn’t been treated to a good Sonic the Hedgehog game in years, and Generations was doing something fantastic. It combined the best of some of the greatest Sonic games since the beginning of the franchise. Launching on November 1st, 2011 as a return to Sonic’s classic, side scrolling roots and as a celebration of the best of modern Sonic, Sonic Generations was the answer the prayers of many Sonic fans around the globe.

I have very fond memories of sitting down to play the game with my brother, since we grew up playing Sonic games together. With everything that was included in this game, I was not disappointed in it at all, it was everything I hoped it would be. It is these fond memories and excellent gameplay throwbacks that have cemented Sonic Generations as one of my favorite Sonic the Hedgehog games of all time.


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1. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Did you honestly expect anything different? Sonic the Hedgehog’s sequel is almost universally recognized as the character’s best outing to date. With an improved sense of speed, the reduction from three acts per zone to two, the new spin dash move Sonic is now known for, and so much more, Sonic 2 felt far superior to the original in nearly every way. Sonic Generations is the perfect starting point, but Sonic 2 is the perfect Sonic experience.

Tom Brown says:

Plenty of video game sequels build on their predecessors, but none quite improved the formula like Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Whereas Sonic 1 definitely had its occasional bursts of speed, a lot of the game was bogged down by slow water sections, awkwardly placed springs and obtuse enemy placement. By the time Sonic Team developed its sequel, however, they finally figured out how to work in a risk/reward system which improved the gameplay immensely.

Speed is awarded for skillful play, and only those who mess up of their own accord are forced to take the slower paths. Take Aquatic Ruin Zone as an example – those with quick reflexes can take the breezy upper path, but if you mess up and fall into the depths below you have to deal with drowning, falling pillars and hungry piranha badniks. Even still, there’s nothing nearly as frustrating as Labyrinth Zone from the previous game, even if you do fall.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 fixed almost all of the first game’s problems, resulting in what I think is the most purely enjoyable Sonic game out there. Just try not to get too angry at Tails if (or, let’s be honest, when) he runs into those bombs in the secret stages.


Wrap-up

Those five games should be at the top of the list for anyone looking to get into the Sonic series. They are, in fact, Nintendo Wire’s picks for the best five games in the franchise! Stay tuned for more Franchise Five articles coming in the near future, and be on the lookout for next Sonic Sunday, where you’ll find out why Silver the Hedgehog isn’t as terrible as you think he is.

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Written by Logan Plant

Logan loves voicing his opinions just as much as writing them. When he isn’t gaming or writing, Logan’s probably recording a podcast or chatting on the radio. Video game journalism is his passion, and he hopes to cover video games for years to come.

Logan Plant