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Few video game characters are as iconic as Sonic the Hedgehog. The speedy little blue blur has been around for over three decades, touching every corner of pop culture along the way, from games, to comics, to TV, to blockbuster movies. But we’re here specifically to celebrate the mainline Sonic game series and pick the best of them.

Before we start, let’s quickly touch upon our criteria. We tried to rank these games based on a combination of historical significance, innovation, and how well these games stand the test of time. Some games, like Sonic Adventure 1 and the original Sonic the Hedgehog, for instance, are obviously super important to the Sonic series and set the foundation for both 2D and 3D Sonic games to follow, but we felt like they both didn’t quite hold up as well as their sequels when judged by a modern standard, which was why they just missed this list.

The 10 games on this list are the ones we feel are the best examples of both classic and modern Sonic style. So with that said, here are our picks for the 10 best Sonic Games, as chosen by a handful of IGN’s biggest Sonic fans.

10. Sonic Unleashed

Sonic Unleashed gets a bad rap, and conversation surrounding it often focuses on its weaker elements, specifically the werehog bits. A lot of the criticism is warranted, but it also shouldn’t entirely take away from the fact that when Sonic Unleashed is good, it’s some of the best 3D Sonic there’s ever been. It also remains one of the best-looking Sonic games despite being 14 years old, plus the soundtrack is fantastic, and above all else, Sonic Unleashed feels fast.

It totally nails that sensation of being the fastest thing alive as you tear through levels leaving a trail of absolute destruction full of crushed boxes, tables, enemies, and more. It’s the most uneven of the mainline Sonic games, but we still feel it deserves a spot on this list.

9. Sonic Rush

Sonic Rush somehow managed to feel like a full blown console Sonic game, paired down for the dual screens of the Nintendo DS. A worthy successor to the amazing Sonic Advance games for the Gameboy Advance, Sonic Rush achieved a spectacular sense of speed for a handheld Sonic game thanks to the “Tension Gauge,” a mechanic that would later be adapted to future Sonic games as a boosting mechanic, and when you add on top of that the awesome boss battles and the great use of the dual screens throughout levels, it more than secures its number 9 spot.

8. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still one of the best pure experiences of the Sonic franchise. It introduced Tails, added two-player coop, and improved upon the formula established by the first game in just about every way. There were more zones, most featuring multiple paths, new enemies, new mechanics, and abilities while keeping true to the essential factor of a Sonic game: you gotta go fast.

New zones like Sky Chase gave us our first look at the Tornado (Tails’ Biplane), and the Death Egg zone pitted us against an early version of an enemy that eventually became Metal Sonic. Sonic 2 also introduced the Super Sonic transformation into the franchise by having players collect all seven chaos emeralds in a new and welcomed improvement to bonus stages. Sonic 2 is still one of the best sequels with its lengthy list of improvements and additions that still holds up to this day for both newcomers and veterans.

7. Sonic CD

As good as we just said Sonic 2 was, Sonic CD feels like a more polished and confident version of that. It introduced us to Amy Rose and the version of Metal Sonic that we all know and loathe today. But the real star of the show in Sonic CD is its use of time travel, where you can go to the past, present, or future of the zone you’re in.

The thrill of starting the time travel star boost and trying to maintain your speed to make sure you properly get transported to the past or future was always exciting. You never knew if you were going to successfully get to where you were going, and that was part of the adventure. Sonic CD didn’t need this extra gameplay mechanic but they did it anyway, and since Sonic is trying to collect the time stones to ensure a good future where Eggman’s plans are foiled, Sonic CD basically did Avengers: Endgame in 1993. … Also that theme song? Iconic.

6. Sonic 3 And Knuckles

The Genesis-era Sonic games are well represented on this list for a reason, and each release got better while introducing new playable characters and mechanics. Sonic 3 & Knuckles feels like a superior experience of the early days of Sonic. While both are solid games as individuals, they feel incomplete, and so the combination offers a complete and rich experience. The level design is some of the best in the 2D Sonic entries. While it certainly felt built and made for newcomer Knuckles, the levels still accommodate the playstyles and strengths for that of Sonic and Tails.

5. Sonic Colors

When it comes to imaginative and thrilling level designs, Sonic Colors is top tier as far as Sonic games go. Aquarium Park is arguably the best water level throughout the whole series, Asteroid Coaster is just phenomenal in every aspect, and while it’s heavily on-rails, the sheer spectacle of Starlight Carnival is a sight to behold. Sonic Colors does an excellent job of blending that high-speed boost-centric style with more methodical platforming and puzzle segments, while also filling every level with multiple paths. It checks all of the boxes, on top of having an impressive soundtrack, great visuals, and smooth gameplay that still holds up to this day.

4. Sonic Advance

Sonic’s 10th anniversary saw the release of Sonic Adventure, but 2001 also saw the release of a 2D Sonic game, Sonic Advance, for the GBA — marking the first time the blue blur made his way onto a Nintendo console. Sonic Advance kept the heart and soul of Classic Sonic, while also updating his sprite and his abilities to be more in line with the emerging modern Sonic design. Sonic could grind rails, there was a Tiny Chao Garden, and just overall, Sonic was far more expressive than he had ever been in the older 2D Sonic games.

While the entire Sonic Advance trilogy includes some of Sonic’s best 2D outings from the post-Genesis era, Sonic Advance remains the best in terms of consistency. It is not only a great starting point for the GBA series but also had some of the best level variety out of the entire Sonic Advance trilogy, and it is a shame that Sega has yet to re-release these games beyond the Game Boy Advance.

3. Sonic Adventure 2: Battle

Sonic Adventure 2: Battle for the Gamecube improved the base game with better textures, multiplayer, new upgrades, and exclusive characters. That base version of Sonic Adventure 2 was already damn good, and still stands tall to this day as one of the most beloved 3D Sonic games of all time.

While the Sonic and Shadow stages are obviously the highlights, with their fast-paced action heavy gameplay, there’s a great blend of gameplay stylings between the various different playable characters as well. On top of all of that, Battle added characters like Metal Sonic and Amy Rose in foot races, the ability to challenge friends in Kart Races, or have their Chaos compete. And then of course there’s both the much-beloved Chao Garden, and that unforgettable soundtrack that echoes in every Sonic fan’s mind.

2. Sonic Mania

What is there to say about Sonic Mania that has not already been said? It is easily one of the best 2D Sonic games we have received after Sega pivoted to strictly third-party. A game made by fans for fans, Sonic Mania, is a love letter to the blue hedgehog. Mania offered a fresh perspective of what put Sonic on the map —remixing the classic formula while offering fast-paced gameplay, superb level design, and excellent pixel art.

Sonic Mania would’ve been great even if it just stuck to the remastered and new versions of previous Sonic zones, but what truly makes it sing are the entirely original stages. Levels like Studiopolis and Mirage Saloon Zone offered the perfect counterpart to the comforting familiarity of the remastered stages. Replayability is also among the highest compared to other 2D Sonic games, thanks to the multitude of collectibles and rewards found off the beaten paths.

For those reasons, Sonic Mania is our pick for the best 2D Sonic game you can play, and it is, wholeheartedly, a Sonic game that every fan should play at least once.

1. Sonic Generations

Even in 2022, Sonic Generations remains the greatest celebration of Sonic’s history, and in our opinion, the best combination of both classic and modern Sonic gameplay stylings. Sonic Generations was a game designed to evoke nostalgia, but it never fell into the trap of relying entirely on fuzzy feelings from the past. The 14 levels based on prior Sonic zones incorporated elements of those past stages, but always found a way to make them feel distinct and fresh, which resulted in an unforgettable Sonic game that, at the time, was simultaneously a throwback to the past, a glimpse at his future, and our pick for the best Sonic game to date.

And that’s our list! What do you think? Let us know in the comments, and for more Sonic, make sure to check out all of our Sonic Frontiers coverage for IGN First.

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Author: Adam Bankhurst

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