Sonic the Hedgehog: Genesis Vs Master System
In June 1991 the world got a first look at Sonic the Hedgehog for the SEGA Genesis. Prior to that point, SEGA had been positioning Alex Kidd as their chief rival to Nintendo’s Mario but it had never really caught on with Alex Kidd now being best remembered as the free game that came with the Master System II for European gamers. Sonic was different though. He was cool, he was marketable and a lot of people really loved those fast-paced platform games.
Sonic was iconic. Running through the Green Hill Zone, collecting rings, smashing robots to free the cute, furry animals trapped inside. The speed. The loops. The horror when you’re attacked by an enemy and you lose your rings, and the mad scramble that follows to collect as many of them as you can. They were all memorable aspects of the Sonic franchise. Unless you played the game on Master System, that is.
Yes, what few might remember is that the SEGA Master System and Genesis both had Sonic the Hedgehog available for them but that the versions of the games were massively different. One of the most notable ways the title differed depending on console was that the Master System couldn’t handle the sheer number of rings bouncing around on the screen at that time, and so when Sonic got a whack a single, solitary, translucent ring simply flew into the air and then fell to the bottom of the screen. Sonic couldn’t get it back. It was gone forever.
That was just one of the many ways Sonic played differently on Master System. How about the Jungle or Bridge Zones? You likely won’t remember those since they weren’t a part of Sonic the Hedgehog on Genesis, but on Master System they were the second and third zones after Green Hill. Bridge featured one level that was constantly scrolling meaning Sonic had to keep moving or potentially be shoved to his death by the edge of the screen, and Jungle featured an entirely vertical level in which the blue hedgehog had to jump up the slippery rock face of a waterfall. Both of those levels were the second acts in their respective zones, but the third acts were very different too.
In the Genesis version of Sonic the third act of each zone is largely like the first two acts except it ends with a battle against the series antagonist, Dr. Ivo Robotnik. In the Master System version the third act of each zone is merely the boss battle and nothing more. There’s no platforming, no running or jumping, no exploring, and more importantly, there’s no rings. Yes, boss battles in the Master System version of Sonic the Hedgehog were an entirely different beast in comparison to their Genesis counterparts. The lack of rings meant that Sonic couldn’t take a single hit or the battle would be over, adding an entirely new level of strategy to each encounter. Where the Genesis version allowed players to take a tactical hit in a boss fight knowing they could collect the rings later, Master System gamers knew that any attack landed by the enemy would be fatal.
From the boss fights to the location of the chaos emeralds to the special stages to even the zones themselves, Sonic the Hedgehog on Master System was such a radically different game to the Genesis version that it’s best not to think of the 8-bit Sonic games as lesser versions of the same title but as their own separate series with their own gameplay quirks and original ideas. If you grew up with a Genesis and you’ve never given the Sonic series a second glance on Master System, now might be the time to go back and have another look.