The Sega Mega Drive (or, as it was known in America due to Sega being unable to secure the appropriate legal rights, the Genesis) was first released in Japan in 1988, it reaching the US in 1989 and Europe, Australia and other PAL regions by 1990. The Mega Drive initially competed against the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), its 16-bit hardware giving it a noticeable advantage over the older 8-bit console. In short, this hardware superiority meant that the Mega Drive was able to produce graphics and sound of a far higher quality than the NES.
While I did still enjoy playing on my friend’s NES, in my house we had a Mega Drive, and perhaps one of the most memorable parts about growing up with it was the games’ music. I think it’s fair to say that I played the Sonic the Hedgehog games far more than any others, and while you can say what you want about the blue hedgehog’s modern output, few can dispute the excellence of the music found in the Mega Drive games. As such, here are a few of my favourite tracks from the early parts Sonic series; try and break my nostalgia goggles at your own peril.
Green Hill Zone (Sonic 1)
Arguably the iconic Sonic track, the Green Hill Zone themes effectively sets you up for an entire game of running, jumping and stomping on badniks.
Special Stage (Sonic 1)
The music heard in Sonic 1’s special stage is just as dreamy and mesmerising as the level itself. Set in a surreal, constantly rotating 360 degree maze, you have to try and navigate a series of potentially stage-ending obstacles while attempting to collect the six Chaos Emeralds. The American version of this track was faster, which I think detracts it a little. That said, some of the European tracks would definitely sound better speeded up somewhat.
Chemical Plant Zone (Sonic 2)
The Chemical Plant Zone is the first in Sonic 2 that introduces the threat of water, the Sonic drowning music still being one of the most terrifying sounds in gaming. However, the Chemical Zone’s music is perhaps one of the best tracks in the entire series, perfectly demonstrating the games’ funky electronic rock style.
Casino Night Zone (Sonic 2)
This track perfectly conjures up the casino atmosphere this level is meant to emulate, making you feel right at home as you jump into the fruit machines only to get three Robotniks and cry as all your rings go away.
Mystic Cave Zone (Sonic 3)
Far superior to the track used for the two player version of this level, the Mystic Cave Zone had a suitably mysterious – and kind of creepy – song to suit.
Ice Cap Zone (Sonic 3)
Said to be strong evidence for Michael Jackson’s involvement in the production of the music for Sonic 3 (also the track used on the credits, deemed to be highly reminiscent of Jackson’s single Stranger in Moscow), this is the perfect music to be running – and snowboarding – through a level filled with ice and snow to.
Final Boss (Sonic 3)
The Sonic 2 boss theme comes close, but this is perhaps one of my favourite of Robotnik’s battle anthems.
Ella, who spent rather too long playing the Sonic games as a child, is glad they didn’t use stock music in them. However, contemporary indie games companies often find the tracks produced by companies such as Audio Network quite useful; stock music has definitely improved a lot since the 1990s!