The best Sonic games of all time

Celebrating 26 years of Sonic the Hedgehog by ranking his best games

16. Sonic Chaos

Having played to the Game Gear and Master System's strengths with the distinctly standalone 8-bit versions of Sonic 2, repeat series contributors Aspect Co. were given free reign to continue the breakaway adventures of Sonic and Tails on the then-dwindling Master System and Game Gear. Which hey, if you were still actively rocking a Master System in 1993, was probably the best news you'd heard all year.

And while attention was focused on the series increasingly hi-tech fortunes, Chaos quietly continued to remind players that they were still playing a Sonic game, damn it. Tails was finally playable (having kept to an NPC role in the 8-bit Sonic 2) and Sonic continued to run as fast as he could through as many gravity-testing scenarios as the older hardware would permit. A late contributor to the series' Golden Age, but it just scrapes in.

15. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Having well and truly found its feet on the racetrack, this second racing entry in the Sonic/Sega All-Stars crossover is a standout for either franchise. Presenting players with a variety of characters and courses drawn from the breadth of Sega history, it's at once a Smash Brothers-esque fan-service extravaganza and an instantly accessible, easy-to-like addition to the mascot-racer genre.

The game's transforming vehicles keep races interesting, and loving callouts to earlier properties like Golden Axe and NiGHTS serve as reminders that Sega has known how to make a good game since before many of its current fans were born. Early issues with the game's Wii U version were soon patched and served as a strong early showing for Sonic on the Nintendo platform.

14. Sonic Adventure 2

One of the endearing qualities of the Sonic series has long been its trans-Pacific development history, with Japanese and US teams both having contributed to the franchise over the years. Sonic Adventure 2 may have marked the series last outing on a Sega console - the Dreamcast had been discontinued months earlier - but it was also the first to be developed primarily by Sonic Team USA, whose San Francisco streets influenced the games urban environments.

Just as US input had seen the Genesis' Sonic 2 expand substantially on the original's high-speed bravado, Sonic Adventure 2 was a much zippier, more stunt-filled experience than its comparatively plot-heavy predecessor. It's an influence that served the series well, and would ensure positive receptions for later ports of the game.

13. Sonic Advance

The new millennium brought with it new rules: there was a different President in the White House, airplanes wouldnt fly unless you took your shoes off, and original Sonic games were now making their debut on Nintendo's Game Boy Advance. And at the time, these releases were often superior Sonic's console adventures.

Nowadays, Sonic and Nintendo are more like old friends with a colorful backstory - but when the hedgehog first stepped out with Big N in 2002, console war veterans probably wondered what all those playground arguments had ever been in aid of. Showcasing classic 2D Sonic action, Advance gave birth to a consistently-successful new franchise, reducing Sonic's die-hard brand loyalty to a distant memory from the halcyon-toned 1990s.

12. Sonic & Knuckles

Nowadays, we think nothing of it when a developer builds so much game that the excess has to be mopped up and rolled into a DLC extension; but back before downloading was a thing, a physical add-on for adding new content to your game cartridge was quite the talking-point. Never gimmick-shy, Sega made the most of the oddity (made mostly out of resources that couldn't fit into Sonic 3 in time for release) with a variety of new unlockables, depending on which Sonic cartridge the game was paired with.

Offering new ways of playing through Sonics 2 and 3, as well as added levels exclusive to the Knuckles-themed chunk of the game, the title extended already beloved releases and tided fans over until everyone went out and bought a Sega Saturn (well, that was the hope). It's that first 16-bit heyday, extended just a little longer.

11. Sonic the Hedgehog 3

The Sonic franchise has gone from bust to boom more than once - but if there's any period that can be said to represent the character's Golden Age, it would have to be the late-era 16-bit generation. And while not necessarily the best of that era, Sonic 3 is probably the one that the most people played.

Having achieved widespread ubiquity via Genesis bundle-filler Sonic 2, the next title rewarded series fans with a greater degree of variety between characters, stages, and enhancements. In many ways, it's the best parts of Sonics 1 and 2, rolled into a frantically-spinning ball and padded out with enough new surprises to fill two games' worth of content. Which was appropriate, with Sonic & Knuckles coming hot on its heels.

10. Sonic Rush

While Sega was tweaking the Sonic formula with high-profile home console outings in the mid-'00s, the company placed a bet on this side-scrolling throwback - a throwback that would go on to become one of the series' most celebrated entries. After all, we don't want to spoil anything for you, but a recurring theme of Sonic's life story is going to be Sonic and 3D don't always mix.

So when bringing the character to the DS, Sega wisely chose to employ the handheld's polygonal capabilities diligently, mainly by adding 3D characters and boss encounters to a side-scrolling jump-and-dash extravaganza much more in line with the series' roots. The result is a game that bridged the gap between hardline retrogamers and fans of the character's later, chummier outings.

9. Sonic Lost World

After examining Sonic's long history in Sonic Generations, Sonic Lost World starts a whole new chapter for the Blue Blur - partially by borrowing from Super Mario Galaxy. Instead of running on city streets, Lost World restricts Sonic to floating planetoids that restrict his movement so he can focus on pure speed. It seems so obvious that it's strange Sonic hadn't done this before (not counting the cancelling Saturn game, Sonic X-treme).

The 3D controls are better than ever for Sonic, and the Wii U-powered visuals are candy colored perfection. Lost Worlds builds on what Sonic Colors did and, save for some annoying difficulty spikes, makes for a great Sonic game for every type of Sonic fan.

8. Sonic Adventure

You have to understand, seeing Sonic transition so seamlessly into 3D in 1998 was like bumping into an old friend you'd lost touch with, only to find that since you last spoke they'd become World President George Clooney. Seriously, the Dreamcast original still looks good alongside some games made 10 years later.

Mapping Sonic's twitch-centric gameplay onto the Z-axis would prove a continual challenge for Sega, but for a while there, Sonic Adventure made it look as if the company had nailed it. At the very least, it was a step up from the previous attempt, Sonic 3D Blast, which really was neither 3D nor a blast of any kind.

7. Sonic Generations

No one can accuse Sega of being unwilling to take Sonic in new and interesting directions - even if those directions don't always sit well with longtime fans. When the company celebrated the character's 20th birthday with Sonic Generations, Sega set the OG Sonic alongside his contemporary counterpart in an all-time fan-gripe showdown for the ages.

As perennial fan-gripers with a strong bias toward fun and/or forgetting how many years we've been alive, we welcomed the new Sonic as one of the character's best outings since the Genesis era and were disappointed to hear that Sega has no plans for Classic Sonic beyond Generations. Still, if '90s Sonic was ever going to cash out, you'd think he'd have done it by now, what with the eleventy billion or so times players sent him to his death already...