The Master System is sometimes overlooked in the Retro gaming world. Most American gamers had purchased the NES and that was their first foray into the 8-bit arena. I however had opted for the sleek, black beauty that was the Master System. It heralded a new era for me as a gamer, moving away (temporarily) from the microcomputers and to the allure of the consoles. The Master System’s library contained many exclusive titles, doubtless I shall cover them in due course but it also featured lesser known ports of Mega Drive games.
Around the twilight years of the console, the early ’90s, it was still popular with gamers in Europe and South America. It was therefore in SEGA’s best interest to continue to support a system that was selling reasonably well and ported several Mega Drive titles of the Master System, while other developers continued to support it with multi-platform ports.
Amongst these ports was Sonic the Hedgehog. It was in SEGA’s best interest to propagate this title across as many platforms as possible. It had set the gaming scene on fire with its slick graphics and refreshing gameplay. However, it was a seemingly titanic task to scale down a Mega Drive experience to the 8-bit system. The developers wanted to retain the playability and graphical appeal of the title and in order to do this, certain changes needed to be made.
In order to condense the Mega Drive experience so that the Master System could handle it easily. Developers Ancient gave the plays the same narrative as the original and the gameplay flow. Players were still tasked to stop Ivo Robotnik as he seeks to trap the islands animals and make them robot butlers. Sonic still travelled through the now iconic Green Hill, Labyrinth and Scrap Brian zones, however they had to omit complex levels such as Starlight, Spring Yard and Marble zone.
However before gamers began to wince with disappointment, the developers were sure to craft some unique zones to take their place. The inclusion of Jungle and Bridge actually helped to make this Sonic port stand out and feel like a unique entry in the series. A form of ‘alternative directors cut’ or the original game almost.
Sonic handles the same but feels slightly ‘weightier’ than his Megadrive cousin. This takes a little getting used to, he also doesn’t seem to accelerate in the same manner – possibly due to smaller level design. The jumping and spinning attacks on enemies remained as did the collection of Chaos Emeralds. However, instead of picking these up through bonus stages, these were hidden through the levels. Requiring some manner of observation and platforming prowess to obtain.
Graphically, this port is fairly impressive however there are a few out of place effects which marr the overall experience of each stage, especially for gamers familiar with the Megadrive alternative. Sonic for the Master System is a solid, yet hollow platformer. Gamers can’t help but be aware that a lot from the Mega Drive version is missing and that could become off-putting.
I believe that Ancient did a great job on this conversion. It’s fun and the different levels make it an essential curio for Sonic fans. As you play it however, you can’t help but miss the excessive speed and crisp graphics of the Mega Drive game.