Sonic the Hedgehog has had an exciting life as he traverses through many glorious zones and locations through Mobius and beyond. He's been teleported via film cameras in Studiopolis Zone and rolled through the winding pathways of Green Hill Zone. The blue blur has had many great 2D games over the past 30 years, so we're going to name the 7 best 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games throughout his historic journey. We'll just breeze past Sonic the Hedgehog 4, okay?
7 - Sonic Rush Adventure
This DS entry needs some recognition for its bright art style, unique mechanics, and overall decent 2D platforming design. The levels gave us exactly what Sonic the Hedgehog games offer -- speed -- as we jump, bounce, and work our way through Rush Adventure's fast-paced game design. It also has some notable bosses that are set up in 2.5D. While Sonic is on a 2D plane, the bosses move in a 3D manner, trying to hit the blue blur with many objects and obstacles. In one case, there's a dinosaur that tries to chomp you, and you can counter it by jumping on its head.
Sonic Rush Adventure, on the other hand, does force you to replay sections of the game, making it a bit repetitive in some fans' minds. We do love that catchy theme song, "A New Venture" though.
6 - Sonic Advance
Many fans of the Sonic the Hedgehog series swear by the Sonic Advance trilogy on the Game Boy Advance. The animations and graphics are superb for a portable game at the time, and it has a great momentum system while controlling the speed of the blue blur. According to Metacritic, G4 TV gave the game a perfect score, saying that "Sonic fans will be in heaven, as will anyone who enjoys a good healthy adrenaline rush."
The Sonic Advance trilogy is a thrilling series of 2D platformers that you can play on your breaks at school or at work. If you're looking for just one, Sonic Advance 2 seems to be the best received by the community for its larger levels and interesting zones.
5 - Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Many may disagree but Sonic The Hedgehog 3 is the worst traditional Sonic game from the classic Genesis (Megadrive) era. It has way too many gimmicks to keep in mind and throws in a vast amount of obstacles that are hard to keep track of. One of the worst stages in the series, Carnival Night Zone, is so infuriating as it bounces you around in so many different locations, and the game design is incoherent. For example, it has you go into a cannon, and then once you fire it, you'll likely get hit by a bouncing ball in the air rather than landing in the next section.
The stages are also forgettable in locations that seem redundant from past entries. One of the cool things about Sonic The Hedgehog 3 is how the stages transition naturally. Without a loading screen, Sonic and Tails are taken into the next act of the zone. Also, it's still the traditional Sonic we know and love, so while the levels are disappointing, you'll still have a decent time.
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4 - Sonic CD
Sonic CD takes the 2D formula of the series and adds in neat special effects. Originally, it launched on the Sega CD, so we were able to see the blue hedgehog run through wheels from a new perspective and see obstacles come in from the background into the foreground.
Sonic CD also had a unique mechanic, in which you can shift to the past or the future after passing specific signs; this allows you to see each level in two unique perspectives of time. With this being the last entry in the classic era, the controls accumulate into being the most solid of the classic series. However, just like Sonic The Hedgehog 3, the levels feel a little uninspired and showcase similar stages to past games in the series.
3 - Sonic the Hedgehog
With the improvements from the Sonic Origins collection, including the drop dash feature, the first game in the series feels way better to control and just as fluid as its counterparts. Rolling is pristine, and the jumping animation isn't as slow as it was in the original game. Almost every stage in the game is iconic from the bright and beautiful Green Hill Zone to the lava pits of Marble Zone.
What makes the original Sonic the Hedgehog so magical is that each level feels unique and brings in new elements every time. Marble Zone teaches you to be patient and wait for a precise jump, while Spring Yard Zone takes you through a construction-like area which has Sonic bouncing to the top with the use of the springs on the ground. The theming is spectacular, and it stands above most of the games in the series for this reason. It also has one of the best soundtracks with the iconic Green Hill Zone theme and the upbeat Star Light Zone tune.
2 - Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the perfect balance between sticking to the traditional gameplay but adding just enough unique elements to keep players engaged for the sequel. With the addition of Tails (who became a VTuber), you can glide while holding on to his feet; he can also pick up coins for you. The mini-game is one of most fun in the series as Sonic and his newfound friend speed through a half-pipe area collecting as many rings as possible to get a Chaos Emerald.
We loved tearing through the casino-like environments in Casino Night Zone as Sonic acts like a pinball in an arcade-inspired areas. Hill Top Zone adds some cool features like being able to ride ziplines and using seesaws to gain distance in the air. The ending Wing Fortress Zone feels epic as you're on a huge plane after flying through the air with Tails. Using the propellers and awkward platforms of Wing Fortress Zone is an optimal way to increase tension and puts your skills as a Sonic fan to the test.
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1 - Sonic Mania
Sonic Mania takes what was thrilling from the classic era of Sonic The Hedgehog and brings the formula to the 21st century. It was the culmination of what makes the 2D format so compelling. It took some of the old levels like Green Hill Zone and then remakes them masterfully with a twist in the second act.
The new stages like Studiopolis Zone are adorned with astonishing theming as Sonic is transported through Hollywood cameras and TVs throughout the level. Another level has him exploring the Wild West on a moving train and through a saloon. In addition, the way that the developers were able to utilize the foreground and background in terms of stage design is absolutely brilliant and adds depth to the gameplay.
It's also brilliant how it brings in references from the Genesis era into the game, one of which is quite literal as a boss fight. We can't go amiss without talking about Tee Lopes' soundtrack for Sonic Mania. He does an outstanding job of remastering the classics for a new era, while making the new tracks for stages like Studiopolis and Mirage Saloon sound authentic. We hope Lopes gets an opportunity to make another Sonic soundtrack.
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That's it for our list of the best 2D Sonic games. What is your favorite game in the series? Let us know in the comments below and watch out for our list for the best 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games in the near future. We do wish Sega would keep making the 2D games rather than titles like Sonic Frontiers. At least we'll have the movies, which have been received well.