The Timeless Appeal of Sonic the Hedgehog
How emulation of a Sega classic brought me back to my childhood
One of the best experiences I’ve had with gaming is when I discovered the original Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Master System. It was the first time in my life I had completed a game all the way through to the end. I’ve just recently started to play this game on a Mac emulator with Apple EarPods and it really brought me back to that age of gaming when everything was original and many ideas were yet to be tried.
The time frame was the early ‘90s, probably 1992, when I first laid my eyes and hands on the Master System. My uncle bought for my cousin, and thus for the whole family, a Master System almost on a whim during a shopping spree in one of the larger retail stores in Poland at the time. The games that came with the console were Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Sonic the Hedgehog.
The Master System never really took off, although I believe it was more popular in Europe than in the United States, where the NES dominated the gaming market during the ‘80s and very early ‘90s. It was not until the Sega Genesis started to take off in the U.S. in the mid-90s that Nintendo’s dominance started to wane. It is a funny thing as I later emigrated to the U.S. as a kid and never saw anyone own a Master System there, but did see many other kids and households with Nintendo machines.
When I put that cartridge into the Master System’s slot and started playing Sonic as a 7-year-old kid, I was truly mesmerised. I saw the lush green rolling hills and mountains in some of the level’s backgrounds and felt part of the game. I also just loved the music and the little end-level tune that stayed in my head over all those years.
Thus, when I started to play the game yesterday on my MacBook Air’s emulator connected to my HDTV and either the HomePod speakers or EarPods, I was almost brought back to this era. It transported me to the time in my life where my grandparents were both around and I was the happiest as my family was still all together. I played it as a kid in front of our TV set while my grandparents or other family members would periodically watch me play. The couch, the TV, the whole experience has stayed with me over the year.
It was such a great memory for me and a way that truly introduced me to gaming besides the small booth arcades in Poland that existed at the time. I remember experiencing the first Shinobi this way, another game that has stayed with me over the years, although I never completed the arcade version of that game. I was mesmerized by these booth arcades as a kid and both of these memories were what drove me to my love of gaming..
It is interesting how a couple of experiences in gaming can truly stay with you for a lifetime and sometimes replaying such a game can take you back to such a time in your life. In a sense gaming back then was so full of potential and new ideas not yet tried or discovered by developers.
The original Sonic the Hedgehog for the Master System still has a place in my heart that was never filled by any other subsequent Sonic games. I found the other entries in the series, even the Genesis variants, inferior to that Master System original. I found them too focused on speed rather than platforming meanwhile the Master System game was more about precision, platforming, being propelled into the air, and finding all the secrets within the varied levels it offers.
Do not get me wrong, you can still propel Sonic from left to right when touching one of the game’s boost pads. However, I have not seen nor do I remember any loops on the ground existing. The Genesis version and subsequent Sonic games were known for those types of loops. In fact, I found that during my last night’s time playing the game, if you let yourself be propelled from a boost pad, you may just run into spikes on the ground just beyond the boost.
Thus, the game does not encourage just running quickly and going through scripted speedrun sections as the Genesis and subsequent versions of Sonic focused on. It is more about platforming and precision and this is why it still remains my favourite 2D Sonic game to date.
I also loved the original NES 2D Mario games and later Super Mario World, but the original Sonic had many things Mario would never do or mimic in any way. The way you see enemies throwing projectiles and have to go under them to hit them from behind. The way the platforms move and how you have to time your jumps and land on tree stumps moving up or down to get to the other side. These are just a few of the things you would see in Sonic that Mario just didn’t do.
It was a different yet also fun and challenging form of platforming. Playing the game also made me realize that sometimes the classics are worth revisiting as they not only bring you back to the time of gaming you found memorable, but you may discover a game that still holds up today and has aspects of it still not seen in the genre very often.
One of the reasons I started to play this game last night and again after all those years was because I found that a wireless controller I had for the PlayStation 3 worked perfectly with my Mac. I also wanted to see if I could game using my wireless EarPods and HomePod speaker and see what the experience was with emulation using such sound systems.
I found it great and as long as your online connection allows for 30MBs or more bandwidth, then it can be a great way to relive the old classics. Some of those older MIDI tunes sound great to the ear even today. The game studios of the time often had to find innovative ways to create music and sound within games as very few channels existed and capabilities were so different than they are today.
The Mac emulator I used to play the game, called OpenEmu, also offers interesting ways to relive such classics because it comes with a wide range of filters available for each system it supports. You can play games all the way from the Master System to the Dreamcast with even the Saturn supported in terms of Sega’s lineup of systems. Other systems like the Super Nintendo, the N64 and the original PlayStation are also supported.
The Mac is not a great gaming system by itself, but through the use of emulation, it can truly become one. Emulation in general can provide an interesting way to relive a past experience and one with added modern benefits such as introducing a new sound to a game or even in-game filters.
Emulation can truly transform us to another time or era but with modern goggles on. It also allows us to have a chance to play games we never experienced during this era or ones our friends had but not us. For me that is the Metroid series from Nintendo, but Sonic will always be the sidescroller dearest to my heart.
Whether you have an original Master System at your disposal or an emulator, the original Sonic for the Master System is a game worth reliving or experiencing for the first time. It still plays just as well today as it did all those years ago.