Sonic the Hedgehog has lived a long and (mostly) fruitful life. Conceived by Sega as a means to combat Nintendo's stopping power thanks to the likes of Mario, Yuji Naka's 'Mr Needlemouse' became what Pacman was for Namco. The 90's were a big time for the bipedal blue rodent and his friends with well over a dozen titles, two cartoon shows and a long-running comicbook series cementing his place as yet another video game icon.
It was Sega's darker console days that started to spell trouble for more than just their hardware business. While myself and many others adored Sonic's first real 3D outings in the Dreamcast 'Adventure' series, others would argue it's where he started to show his true colours as Sega went on to produce video games of questionable quality while doing the bare minimum to please long-term fans in-between. It took until this month's release of Sonic Mania to finally make peace.
But much like how the games have fluctuated in quality, so to has the music. From Michael Jackson producing tracks for Sonic 3 to Crush 40 creating the unforgettable Escape from the City, the topic of Sonic music is just as tumultuous as the games. To celebrate the belated release of Sonic Mania on PC, we're digging up some of the most memorable tracks of its questionable 25 year history. And no, there's no Green Hill Zone. That's too easy. Come to think of it, the entire Sonic 1 OST is pretty forgettable outside that and our first choice;
Special Stage - Sonic the Hedgehog
Even as a 3 or 4 year old watching my brother play the original Sonic the Hedgehog on our uncle's Megadrive on non-school days, I'm pretty sure I knew Sonic was on some of the good stuff while twirling through these seemingly endless labyrinths. It's still one of the most memorable special stage sequences in the entire franchise, but the half-pipes of Sonic 2 might just have it beat. At least that one made a little more sense.
As tiled birds, fish, and solid objects started to scroll by while Sonic bounced between the sharp corners of nowhere, we were usually on a mission to avoid the 'goal' signs that were ready and waiting to throw us out of this psychedelic dream. He was there for the Chaos Emerald - I was there for the mesmerizing visuals and, of course, that carnival-style music.
Can You Feel The Sunshine - Sonic R
We're landing on controversial footing already! Scroll back through time and you'll find people either defending the Sega Saturn's only original Sonic game while having a strong disdain for the BGM, while recent YouTube comments would have you believe the opposite. In fact, the worst thing about Sonic R was likely just the mixing job.
Why the sound effects were so damn loud is anyone's guess - but the sound of Tails spinning up like an apache helicopter or Sonic's feet slapping the ground faster than his heartbeat were far less catchy than TJ Davis' soulful singing. Super Sonic Racing? Living in the City? Work It Out? All catchy. All truly memorable.
Pumpkin Hill - Sonic Adventure 2
Hard-pressed to single out any one of Knuckles' 'find the emerald' missions from Sonic Adventure 2, the stages weren't the best - but the songs certainly embedded themselves into your mind. Aquatic Mines and Wild Canyon are prefferable, but Pumpkin Hill seems to be the one most people would recite back to you.
Sure, maybe the feat was aided by just how long some of us floated around these levels looking for emeralds that eluded us for well over half an hour, but the unexpected raps were somewhat diluted by the soft funk to create a series of songs that solidified Knuckles' brash attitude for the forseeable future.
Chemical Plant - Sonic the Hedgehog 2
It might be worth noting there's no repeating games throughout this 'Best of' list, so with Chemical Plant taking the original Sonic the Hedgehog spot, you're through expecting to see Green Hill Zone on this list. It's too common. Almost too memorable. And while that may somewhat diffuse the point of said list, we really don't need another reminded, remix or reworking of that track showing up anywhere else at this point.
Chemical Plant, however, worked in so many ways. After the cheeriness of Green Hill Zone and its dancing flowers, Chemical Plant set the mood for the rest of the game. If you thought Sonic was all about rescuing little animals from a fat man, Chemical Plant Zone would set your imagination running wild. This mission just got a whole lot scarier; water is now the enemy, heavy machinery wants you dead, and the pacing of the music makes everything feel much more urgent!
Sky Sanctuary - Sonic the Hedgehog 3
It still feels like fan reaction to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - or Sonic and Knuckles - seems a little mixed. Perhaps down to how to swapped out Sonic's now iconic fox friend for a gliding red echida of constantly shifting alignment, there's no denying Sky Sanctuary was a good time for all involved; the music, at least.
There's little in the way of direct answer when it comes to which songs may have stuck to Michael Jackson's vision of its sound direction before the time of his many scandals, but whether Sky Sactuary was one to stem from his involvement or not, it remains a classic to this day. You'll hear stories about how the entire soundtrack was reworked fairly late into development, but it worked out in the end regardless. And yes, some songs really do still sound like the King of Pop's influence remained - intended or not.
Seven Rings in Hand - Sonic and the Secret Rings
Likely another to come under fire, the original 'Wildfire' title of this particular game seems somewhat ironically fitting in retrospect.
Released for Nintendo's money-printing Wii system back in 2007, this storybook inspired 3D adventure was the first of a sub-series that wouldn't exactly go on to set the Sonic fandom on the route to solidarity. While certainly retaining the blue blur's signature speed, the on-rails gameplay likely turned many off before they managed to escape its rock-heavy opening song.
Used as both the title music and thrown in to the end of every mission / completed tutorial segment or challenge, 'Seven Rings in Hand' would never truly let go. Either taunting the player as the root of a bad memory, or just far out-staying its welcome, this is a song you'd expect to hear in a low-budget over-ambitious summer animated movie.
Seaside Hill Zone - Sonic Heroes
The 3D Sonic titles seemed to have a thing for early water/marine stages. Adventure started with one, Adventure 2 certainly threw one in there, and it didn't take long at all for Sonic '06 to reuse that orca idea. In the middle, however, was Sonic Heroes at it again.
Thankfully, Seaside Hill Zone wasn't just trying to be the new Green Hill or Emerald Hill - or if it was, it totally managed it. Another peppy reintroduction to the speed demon or his ever-growing name of allies and enemies carried on a legacy of catchy soundtrack startups. It's just a shame the rest of the game was a severe step back in terms of gameplay. I remember being excited by the ads on TV. I never trusted them again.
Blue Star - Sonic Adventure
Depending on where your focus sat with this game, you'd either hear a lot of this, or a lot of the Windy Hill background music. Personally, both are just as memorable as each other - but the context of Blue Star is likely a fonder memory for most.
Sonic Adventure, for those with a terrible childhood, had another nod to the casino - because we all know how much of a high roller Sonic is! At one point of the game, it's necessary to dump enough coins into the palace's internal bank to progress, and outside of repeating boring stages, a pinball (spinball?) mini-game was a good way to grind it out. Paired with the fantastic intro to Sega's then upcoming Nights: Journey into Dreams game thrown in as a neat little easter egg, and you have enough reason to hear the Blue Star track for hours on end.
Not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. Though I'll admit to being a little scared by the Nights homage as a kid. That was a trippy surprise.
Wave Ocean - Sonic the Hedgehog (AKA: Sonic '06)
Titled and marketed as a reboot of the 3D Sonic franchise, Sonic '06 did nothing but disappoint existing fans and alienate the newcomers it likely attracted. The move to the HD generation wasn't a quick fix for Sonic Team to right the wrongs of the past. Releasing a title renowned for its broken core systems and buggy gameplay, the music wasn't forced to share the fate of its shaky development - not entirely, anyway.
Starting with yet another bright, high-speed race across the pond, Sonic '06 opened with Wave Ocean; another fairly solid opening track that, for many, would likely be the only slice of the game's score to make it into the ears of the players. While it's certainly not the best Sonic track in existance, its then classic context, built-up hype and ultimate disappointment meant the Wave Ocean track likely left a impression.
Toxic Cave - Sonic Spinball
Where we can go years without a seeing major franchise characters in a fresh new video game these days, the 90s were a very different time for the medium as a whole. With Sonic still building up corporate speed, Sega pushed out a plethora of titles staring their new money churner throughout the century. One of which was Sonic Spinball - a name that would later be used by an officially licensed ride as a now defunct UK theme park. Trivia!
Toxic Cave was the first, and possibly only, track be taken and decoded by most people's Sega system of choice. Known for its ruthless difficulty and almost RNG nature, it's entirely plausible to imagine a good percentage of the Sonic Spinball playerbase spent hours on the first stage alone. Hours of Toxic Cave playing back through the Sega Genesis' Yamaya chip could only be rivaled by Green Hill zones itself as decades go by while people continue to run through Sonic's first adventure.
There are too many memorable tracks littered across Sonic's 25 year history to fit into a simple 10-choice list. If any particular scores still pop up in your mind from time to time, link them down below. We could all do with a trip down memory lane.
Just don't get at me for not including your favorite right here, right now. And don't talk about Green Hill Zone. Do we really need to hear (and see) that place again? As an apology for any hurt feelings, here's TJ Davis performing Can You Feel The Sunshine at the 2008 Summer of Sonic event.