Yuzo Koshiro is best known for being an incredibly talented composer. Without his contributions, games like The Revenge of Shinobi or Streets of Rage might never have achieved the cult-status they enjoy today. What’s not so much known: Koshiro also manages his own game development studio called Ancient. Founded by Koshiro’s mother, Tomo Koshiro, in 1990, Ancient found itself faced with a huge challenge right from the beginning: Its first project was the development of a Sonic episode for Sega’s 8-bit platforms. After all, Sonic the Hedgehog was supposed to be a game that’s only possible on Sega’s advanced 16-bit hardware, a fact Sega itself was never tired of pointing out.
Amazingly enough, Ancient did an admirable job, transferring Sonic’s high-speed antics to the aging 8-bit hardware. Accomodating the old platform by scaling down the size of the levels, reducing Sonic’s speed to more manageable levels and keeping the running- and jumping-physics a bit more simple, enough of Sonic’s basic essence was preserved for the game to stand on its own. Instead of simply producing toned-down versions of the famous Genesis zones, Koshiro’s sister (Ayano Koshiro) created all new settings: After conquering the unavoidable Green Hill Zone, Sonic suddenly found himself in beautifully drawn new environments like the Bridge Zone or the colorful Jungle Zone.
Most of the stages are straightforward and, due to technical limits, also often more angular than the often very organic 16-bit levels. High-speed passages seem more scripted, but on the other hand, many platforming sequences feel more precise. And although the stages aren’t as expansive, they’re still worth exploring, since the important Chaos Emeralds are hidden within the stages themselves.
The new zones are not only beautifully drawn; as expected by a game in which Koshiro is involved, they are also accompanied by great new music. Although a few tracks from the original Sonic found their way into the 8-bit game, most tracks are completely new and just as good, if not better than, Masato Nakamura’s compositions. One track stands out in particular: The upbeat Bridge Zone music is not only extremely catchy by itself, it seems to have at least partially inspired Janet Jackson’s “Together Again,” as mentioned in Luke Osteritter’s thoughts on Sonic’s handheld adventures elsewhere this issue.
The game itself is slighty harder than its 16-bit counterpart. When touching an enemy, Sonic loses all his rings and can’t quickly pick them up again. The usual bottomless or spiky pits and some noticeable slowdown doesn’t help things, either. Boss battles are also quite a bit more difficult, since there are no rings to be found on the way to the battles against Dr. Robotnik: One mistake usually means certain death. Still, taken on it’s own terms, Sonics first 8-bit adventure is a pretty enjoyable platformer with responsive controls and better playability than the Game Gear port: In a game like Sonic, the ability to see more of your surroundings is a godsend. And besides, Sonic clearly demonstrates what Sega’s good ol’ Master System was capable of.
Article by Thomas Nickel
GameSpite Journal 12: Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Master System)