Sonic 30th anniversary retrospective: From his highest highs to his lowest lows

The last 10 years or so

Sonic Mania Knuckles Sonic Tails (Image credit: Sega)

As 2010 hit, the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 were in full force and the hedgehog's reputation had been boosted by his last entry. With the new PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and the doomed Wii U consoles on the horizon, people were curious to see where the blue blur would go from here. Fortunately, he managed to survive Nintendo's failed console and still found success on the Nintendo Switch years later.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (2010)

Sonic The Hedgehog Episode (Image credit: iMore)

Sonic Team and Dimps wanted to create something that married the classic and modern eras.

Fans were ready to be disappointed by another Sonic game, but the developers at Sonic Team and Dimps were working on something that would marry the classic and modern eras. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was initially meant to be a mobile-only title, but this blended game eventually made its way onto consoles.

With a typical Sonic vs. Doctor Eggman storyline, this game took the 2D Sega Genesis style and made it 3D. Everything from the intro to the levels was a nod to the games that came before it. This is a revival, created in the same vein as New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Though it was a nice return to what made the series great, it wasn't entirely on par with the classics.

Sonic Generations (2011)

Sonic Generations (Image credit: iMore)

The developers at Sonic Team and Dimps were hot on the nostalgia train. Their next cross-platform title had the brilliant idea to bring the 2D and 3D fans together for Sonic's 20th Anniversary. What better way to celebrate every version of Sonic than creating a game about it? This game contains both classic and modern hedgehogs, and a modern slim Sonic more akin to what we saw in Sonic Rush.

Levels are split by generation, and the entire game is a remix of soundtracks, level designs, and tributes to everything fans love about the series. The levels here were downright addicting, but the game still wasn't as good as it could have been. Frame rate issues and laggy controls held this entry back. Plus, it was incredibly short.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 (2012)

Sonic The Hedgehog Episode (Image credit: iMore)

As the Sonic Team and Dimps teams promised, the next episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 came out, and this time, it would be more than just a nostalgia trip... at least, that's what the developers had hoped. The game was released across all platforms, except the Windows phone and Wii. Unfortunately, it just couldn't run on the hardware.

Set as a prequel and relying heavily on Sonic CD, this game was mostly seen as a rehash of the first episode. While it did feature Metal Sonic and Tails, the latter and the co-op play felt forced into the game. While the first one did well enough, this entry relied too heavily on nostalgia without capturing the magic that made the original great. It didn't help that the developers meant Sonic 4 to be a trilogy. Unfortunately, it was cut short, and this shoe-horned sequel is all we got.

Sonic Lost World (2013)

Sonic Lost World (Image credit: iMore)

Don't worry. We're about to go from mediocre to travesty. Sonic Lost World features the speedy hedgehog in his quest to stop the Deadly 6. This title even sees Sonic pairing up with his old nemesis, Doctor Eggman. The title was released on the Wii U and 3DS, and depending on which console you had, your experience was very different. The developers at Sonic Team had a goal of streamlining the controls, making the game longer and more diverse to fix all the common problems with newer Sonic games. However, a lack of exciting boss fights, copy and pasted levels, and wonky game mechanics were consistent problems.

While the art direction may have been on point, the game part was a huge miss. Running and jumping were a chore; Sonic found a way to run up on everything, even if you didn't want him to, and the multi-lock homing attack was inconsistent. For a platforming game, the blips in this title made playing more frustrating than fun.

The level design was also pretty uneven. Some levels were incredibly creative in fun ways, while others were practically unplayable. Plus, there were random difficulty spikes depending on the system you chose to play it on. Overall, the better experience was on the 3DS. The Wii U had the most problems with terrible co-op, horrible frame rate issues, and overall poor design. Needless to say, it left fans disappointed.

Sonic Mania (2017)

Sonic Mania (Image credit: iMore)

Finally, on the Nintendo Switch, PS4. Xbox One, and PC in 2017, Sonic fans would get what they were waiting for. Sega threw the ball to Christian Whitehead, PagodaWest Games, and Headcannon, for the 25th anniversary, and they got Sonic right! Sonic Mania paid homage to the original Sega Genesis games, but not just by slapping carbon copies of the levels into a game.

Sonic Mania was made by Sonic fans for Sonic fans.

Sonic Mania saw a complete redesign of past games in 12 impressive nostalgia-filled levels. Made by Sonic fans for Sonic fans, this title took the best of Sonic's Golden age and remixed it into something new. The gameplay was modeled after Sonic 3, took the best parts of all the 2D games, and wrapped it up for a new generation.

With the ease of controls, perfectly pixelated graphics, and tunes that slapped, this was the perfect example of Sonic fan service. The Plus version even added old characters from the SegaSonic Arcade games! This is what Sonic lovers really wanted. It might be true that it relied too heavily on the past, but the gameplay was so fun and different that most people didn't mind.

Sonic Forces (2017)

Sonic Forces (Image credit: iMore)

Unfortunately, a trend with Sonic games is that what goes up must come down, and Sonic Forces came down hard. Released at the same time as Sonic Mania, Forces was created by the same staff that brought us Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors. There's a lot to say about this game, but like all other Sonic games created by Sonic Team, this one suffers from huge discrepancies.

Let's talk about the good first. The game's presentation isn't terrible. It has good music, voice acting, and a cool character customization system. It's great that the game took a few risks, but that's where everything stops. The gameplay is wonky, there are plenty of technical problems, and the levels are very cookie-cutter. Also, Classic Sonic is sort of just shoved into the story.

There's a real lack of flow with the levels and narrative (although it's a Sonic game, the narrative does matter a little). Still, the part that should have consistency, the gameplay, ended up being disjointed and messy. It was cool to create your own character, selecting abilities based on the design. But the boss battles, again, were weak, the game was too short, and it fell very short compared to Sonic Mania.

- Sara Gitkos

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.