The best Sonic games of all time

6. Sonic Pocket Adventure

Perhaps you took note of the Neo Geo being reborn with the official SNK handheld named the Neo Geo Gold. If you, like us, are still trying to work out what to make of the iPhoney-looking contraption, consider that SNK's been doing crazy things to portable gaming for years--such as having the first ever Sonic game on a third-party console, 1999's Sonic Pocket Adventure for the Neo Geo Pocket.

Playing much like the Genesis' Sonic 2, with a few Sonic 1 elements and Sonic 3 music tracks mixed in, Sonic Pocket Adventure showed that SNK's handheld was good for more than just SNK games; regrettably, it's a lesson few took to heart, as evidenced by the Pocket's quick cancellation in the western markets.

5. Sonic the Hedgehog (Game Gear/Master System)

If you've played the guts out of the Genesis versions of Sonics 1, 2 and 3, you probably see yourself as quite the arbiter of all things old-school and Sega. Before deciding you've seen all the Sonic the 2D age has to offer, though, spend some time with the 8-bit versions of the series' initial entries.

Sonic 1 and 2 on the Game Gear and Master System share some cosmetic elements with their better-known counterparts, but for the most part are entirely new adventures - including early forays into vehicle sections and a dauntingly fast-paced take on the series' signature bonus stages. The titles survive on Nintendo's Virtual Consoles and various compilations; and on the shelves of the nation's thrift stores, just waiting to be dusted off by the right lucky retro-friendly hoarder.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)

"The game that started it all" is an easy way to say it, at least if you don't feel that it all started when someone at Sega brought a Mario game to work and said, "Guys, we need some of this action." Regardless of the character's origins, his debut was a resounding success, in one shot propelling the attitudinal anthropomorph to international recognition.

While establishing Sonic's signature zippiness to the satisfaction of a generation yet to discover the wonders of Ritalin, the series' first installment is also deceptively intricate, rewarding repeat play with enough extras and secrets to keep players interested until later sequels ramped up the speed even further. It's a snapshot into a time before buzzwords like Blast Processing changed the way we see the world; and to think the Nobel Committee continues to look down its nose at Sega for that innovation.

3. Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Nowadays, when a developer releases new bits of game with bonus additions to the original title, we call it DLC and grudgingly devour it whole on launch day. But back in the '90s, that extra content had no way of getting to you besides the medium of a whole other game cartridge; a special one, no less, that could be physically bolted onto older Sonic games to add a new character and teach kids all sorts of erroneous things about what an echidna is exactly.

But the cart's best use is probably as a Sonic 3 enhancement device. The Knuckles-augmented threequel is both the character's finest hour, and our favorite way to play Sonic 3 itself. The original game was designed with the intention of featuring Knuckes as a core character, and the three-way ability divide between Sonic, Tails and Knuckles is one of the add-on's biggest overhauls. The separate games deserves spots on this list, but they work best in tandem.

2. Sonic CD

If we can just turn your little cookie-cutter world upside down for a second here, the canonical version of Sonic CD isn't actually the Sega CD version at all. Though, admittedly, the 1993 original looked pretty special in 1993 - particularly next to most Genesis titles, and particularly if you were young and undiscerning enough to fall within Sonic's target audience at the time.

Dig that game out now and all the new bits (such as Metal Sonic, in-game time travel and, ahem, Amy Rose) look a little less shiny, but are surprisingly innovative for the series. Still, it was starting to show its age, at least until a recent downloadable port, rebuilt for modern consoles and mobiles, is the game that actually plays as well as you remember.

1. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

The game where much of the Sonic formula fell into place, Sonic 2 on the Genesis is probably the title most commonly associated with the character. The game launched in November of 1992, the same month Bill Clinton - the model for Sonic's can-do personality, according to creator Yuji Naka - was elected to the Oval Office. And it's fair to say that both events had a comparable effect on the next decade.

Launched amid a barrage of international hype, Sonic 2 would become a standard of Genesis players' collections as the pack-in game for the redesigned system. So fruitful was the title's development that many of the more ambitious elements intended for Sonic 2 (before getting cut) would end up forming the backbone of later entries in the series. Meanwhile the bits you did get - Tails, the Spin Dash, increasingly inventive uses of the Genesis hardware - are what made this one an easy choice to rank as the best Sonic game ever made.