The best Sonic games of all time

Sonic the Hedgehog has been awfully busy over the last 26 years. He fought on the front lines of the Console Wars in the '90s, eventually signing an armistice with a certain mustachioed plumber after the death of the Dreamcast, even going on to pal up with him in various extracurricular activities. Even though he's often lived in Nintendo's shadow, his games have had a sense of speed and attitude that have remained unmatched today, even when he's starring in pinball games, RPGs, or even competing in the olympics.

Now, Sonic may have had his ups and downs over the years, but that doesn't change the fact that he's created a legacy that goes beyond a bunch of jokey 'gotta go fast' memes and bad artwork. 2017 marks the release of both Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces, two games which celebrate different aspects of Sonic's past and present. In anticipation of the arrival of these  maybe-actually-decent-looking entries of the blue blur's canon, we've compiled a list of the 25 best Sonic the Hedgehog games ever made. 

25. Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice

Yes, Sonic Boom. Yes, that Sonic Boom. But hear us out on why it deserves a spot on this list: after the woeful launch of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, it seemed like nothing could save Sega's new spin-off series from going off the excessively-taped rails. And while Fire and Ice is far, far from perfect, it was also a significant improvement over its predecessors and worth checking out.

As you might've guessed by the title, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice lets you wield the power of… well, fire and ice. By switching between these power-ups (as well as the extended cast of Tails, Knuckles, Sticks, and Amy) you can explore new areas and traverse special paths through the environment. The levels are generic and the bad guy is super forgettable, but in terms of actual gameplay, Fire and Ice adds new wrinkles that hearken back to the days of Sonic 3.

24. Sonic Spinball

The early Sonic games had developed a uniquely satisfying rhythm: jump on a few baddies, collect a ring or twenty, then hit a hill and bounce around until you found out whether you were epileptic. And for many players, that third high-speed component of the experience was where the money was at. So hey, figured Sega, why not fashion a whole game out of those bits?

The Genesis was already the console of choice for many pinball fans with a puzzling aversion to actual physical pinball tables, and Sonic Spinball held its own alongside the likes of Dragon Fury, Psycho Pinball and Crue Ball. And if you weren't a huge Sonic fan, here was a game consisting of nothing but opportunities to bash the mouthy mascot around the head with huge flippers. Everyone wins!

23. Sonic Rush Adventure

Built for fast-paced dual-screen challenges, for a long time the Rush titles were the best way of getting old-school side-on action with a pinch of next-generation flair. Rush Adventure thrives in plus-sized side-on platform bursts, but also offers bouts of well-executed 3D to remind you that youre playing on a machine with some chops.

Technical aptitude aside, here's a game that keeps Sonic and Tails off the streets, and introduces a non-mortifying new character in Marine the Raccoon, a character that serves as the springboard for a story of piracy, multidimensional invaders and interplanetary conflict. In its day, this was the title you fired up to disprove anyone who said the series had lost its way.

22. Sonic & the Secret Rings

Intended as yet-another rebirth for Sonic to coincide with Nintendo's then-upcoming Wii console, Secret Rings takes its cue from the Arabian Nights - meaning developers were free to wear their Prince of Persia influences on their sleeves. The title played to Wii strengths with an emphasis on racer-style platform action and level design which favored speed-runs over precision-jumping challenges.

For an early Wii title the game holds up well today, with graphics that impressed on release and still turn heads. Critics at the time suggested that Secret Rings might mark a turning-point for the series then ailing fortunes; history and replay value prove them right.

21. Sonic R

Sonic and racing had always seemed an obvious fit, and Sega had made early forays into the concept with the Game Gear's Sonic Drift titles. This Saturn title offered a substantial tech injection for Sonics pole-position aspirations, with co-developers Travellers Tales tweaking the game's design to squeeze as much speed and detail out of the 32-bit hardware as possible.

It's a short, colourful burst by today's standards, which is no bad thing; and offers a look at the early days of what would become quite the profitable little sideline for Sega's mascot. Later Sonic racers would only improve on the concept, making Sonic R an embryonic taste of what would become titles like Sonic All-Stars Racing.

20. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

Expanding the hyperkinetic Sonic series into role-play territory was a stunt guaranteed to raise eyebrows, and you can bet Sega wasn't about to just fob the job off on anyone. After all, Mario hadn't gone the HP-n-battle-scenes route until Squaresoft was ready to do the concept justice - so similar interest in Sega's experiment was piqued when genre titans BioWare were given the task.

While geared more toward the DS youth audience than fans of Mass Effect or Dragon Age, the game remains among Sonic's stronger cross-genre ventures - to say nothing of more ambitious. Sequel rumors have been teased since the game's release, but following BioWare's incorporation into EA, these seem rather unlikely to come to fruition.

19. Sonic Colors

Assuring players that their aim was to rectify the missteps of earlier Sonic titles, Sonic Team gave players reason to look out for this Nintendo-exclusive soft reboot geared toward players too young to have grown up with the series side-on originators. The result, released for the DS and Wii in 2010, showed the wisdom of this strategy.

Instead of trying to roll together everything anyone had ever liked about a Sonic title, Colors was fast, tight, and offered variety via well-placed power-ups and environments built around high-speed thrills. Which, come to think of it, was pretty much everything older fans had always liked about Sonic games as well.

18. Sonic Unleashed

Okay, you know what? It's been years since Sonic Unleashed, and Werehog jokes have put several GamesRadar children through college by now. We're finally ready to lay the matter to rest and admit that Sonic Unleashed is actually a good game. It looks beautiful, plays fast 'n' flashy, and certainly can't be accused of coasting on earlier successes.

Besides which, it's worth bearing in mind that the Sonic games take place in a world where animals are always being turned into creepy creatures. The whole reason the Sonic/Robotnik beef got started in the first place was due to the latter turning animals into monsters. Meanwhile, Mario is getting turned into frogs and bees and mythical Japanese raccoon without so much as an objection. And besides that, the non-Werehog bits of Unleashed were a welcome return to form for the Hedgehog, bringing 2D perspective and high speed thrills back to the forefront.

17. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Game Gear/Master System)

The Master System and Game Gear versions of Sonic 1 had hewn fairly close to the Genesis standard, but Sonic 2 on Sega's 8-bit systems bore little comparison to the 16-bit title of the same name. The game looked different, sounded different and played like a Sonic title, but one built for the smaller systems strengths. If the high-speed multiplayer pyrotechnics of Sonic 2 Genesis were reined in slightly for this version, in their place were new vehicle modes and gameplay gimmicks to push the 8-bit hardware.

Did the different approach pay off? While the 16-bit Sonic 2 is the one that's remembered, this title remains a thrilling challenge with plenty of surprises for first-time players.