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Solister

Definitive Way to Play Each Sonic Game

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Sonic 3 AIR

I've been with this topic in my mind for a good while, but given some recent events, I've decided to develop it better. The Sonic franchise is home to a list of games, some of them become instant classics, others become very forgettable, and most important, some received more attention and got adapted to our current days, others simply didn't.
 
So the main point of this topic is to bring the "definitive editions" to play each, or at least most, Sonic games. By this, I mean the better way available to have the best experience on current hardware. My main focus will be PC, but I'll try to add commentaries on other consoles as much as I can, but it's not that helpful when my last console was the PS2. I don't think I need much more explanation. Feel free to point why you think a method is or isn't valid, as well bring any game you think deserved to be on the list and the respective methods to improve it.

The 16-Bits Era:

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Sonic 2 (2013)

Sonic 1, 2, and CD received probably the best ports of the franchise: the Taxman ports. Sonic CD (2011) is available on multiplatform. I'm not really aware of the newer generation of consoles, but I guess most of these have retro compatibility. For PC, you can grab your copy here (Steam), if you still haven't.
Sonic 1 and 2 received the same treatments, except these only got focused on mobile devices (Android and iOS). For most of the other consoles, you'll have to deal with the original versions of the games via official emulators. On PC (and this is why I said is my focus), you can still opt for an Android emulator and use the free SEGA Forever version (Or buy the ad-free version if it pleases you).
 
Now we reach that point of the discussion. As far as the writing of this topic, no Sonic 3 & Knuckles port has been announced and much has been speculated, but I'm not going to get off-topic to talk about it. Officially speaking, the only way to play S3&K these days would be via official emulators, either console or Steam.
Again, I'm mostly focusing on PC, and S3&K is still available via SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive Collection. Said that probably the best experience with Sonic 3 & Knuckles today is Sonic 3 AIR (Angel Island Revisited). After downloading the “port” here, it will automatically recognize S3&K on your Steam folder, as well it will give many cool features an original port possibly won't give you (Change the IceCap sky, for example).
 
Update1: As pointed by @Tornado, I completely forgot about Sonic 3 Complete. It does basically everything Sonic 3 AIR does, except on the proper S3&K ROM. It's pretty useful to play on any other platform which aren't PC, even on the proper Genesis! Here's the link to the hack's official website, or here to add to SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive collection.
 
So far, not much has been done about the other games, and then you'll need to try the luck on getting them on some kind of official emulator. The only exception probably is Sonic 3D Blast (Flickies' Island). As you probably are aware, Jon Burton, the game programmer, made a DX: Director's Cut of the game in 2017. To play it, you'll need the ROM via SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive Collection, as well as subscribe here, to get the upgrade.
 
Update 2: Once again pointed by @Tornado, If you want a better looking Sonic 3D Blast and doesn't really mind all DX changes, the PC port can be an awesome alternative. Guide here.
 
Update 3: Still talking about @Tornado, while most 8-bits era games doesn't receive some good treatment as the 16-bits games, some emulators such KEGA Fusion, offers some tricks to improve the experience, for example displaying more graphics on screen and the resolution.
 
Update 4:@JezMM sez: Master System versions usually are superior to Game Gear versions. You might want to try Game Gear first for an easier experience, and try the full challenge with Master System.

Saturn and Dreamcast Era

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Sonic R (2004) with patches

Fast-forward in time a few years, Sonic starts a rough transition to 3D. Sonic X-Treme gets canceled, Sonic 3D Blast receives a port and Sonic gets a racing spin-off, Sonic R. You can find prototypes of Sonic X-Treme and (I think) even a reconstruction attempt of the game, but since the prototypes aren't completely legal, I'm not going to point them here.
 
This brings us to Sonic R. It's been a while since I last played on a console, but seems Sonic Gems Collection still being the best option. But I really believe none of you really want to dust off your PS2 to play it, so let's talk about a much easier way (well, if you have the CD), which is update the 2004 version of the game.
 
Aside from those, there's still Sonic Jam, which despite the “Sonic World”, there's nothing exciting to see there. The other few games which might bring interest to someone is Sonic the Fighters/Championship as well a bunch of minor arcade games (If most of these can even be called as games). For Sonic the Fighters, I think this one Xbox wins a point over PC, as it got a port in 2012. Meanwhile, emulating on PC might give you some cool hacks. The other games are SEGASonic the Hedgehog and loads of minor Arcade pieces of software (Not sure if these even classify as 32-bits). Not much can be done about them, good luck trying to find a machine to dump and play on MAME.
 
Leading up to the Dreamcast days, you have both Sonic Adventures and well, Sonic Shuffle.
 
It's no surprise to anyone how bad were the most Sonic Adventure ports, but it's also a common sense of how better is to play the game with Better SADX. I know by the time Sonic Adventure was ported originally to PC, it also comes with other consoles, but I don't know how good it was and much less if there are patches for it. Sonic Adventure 2, on the other hand, deals pretty well on its own with the 2012 version and I guess this makes it the first game on the list without any tricks.

The 2000s

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Sonic Heroes (2004) with patches

Things on the 2000s mark Sonic debut on multiplatform, so helping me a little. I believe by the time, most consoles games received widescreen supports, but PC most games still would need a patch. Still, nothing like writing “Sonic [cool game title goes here] Widescreen patch” on a search service doesn't solve your problem. To make this topic a little more consistent, you can always check PCGamingWiki to find any cool resources to improve your PC gaming.
 
Update 5:@Tornado gives a great guide on how to proper setup Sonic Heroes on modern PC: [Taken from his first comment on the topic]
 
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The instructions for Heroes that are on PCGW are a bit daunting and unnecessary if you want to just play the game. If you want it to run on modern computers and modern resolutions, all you really need is the ThirteenAG patch and the Xbox FMV files (if you care about having the highest quality of the FMVs). Both of them can just be dragged and dropped into specific folders in the Sonic Heroes directory and you're golden. The HUD is still set for 4:3 and the menus look a bit weird because they load like they are a raw Flash file being viewed on a webpage, but other than that the game runs pretty flawlessly to at least 4k:

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I play it with a Dual Shock 3 masquerading as a 360 controller and it doesn't give me any issues. Most of the long list of instructions on the PCGW are prerequisites for fixing little bugs and visual glitches, but if you don't want to bother with that and just want the game running on PC at high resolution the PC version is still the best way to play it.

 

Moving a  little forward, Sonic '06 (if anyone really wants to play this game) is currently being remade for PC as a more 'decent' game, but as the last time I played, it was still too far from being a complete version.
 
Update 6: Many pointed out. While Unleashed Project is a great mod to play Sonic Unleashed Day levels on PC, it can't be classified as a "Definitive Edition" (My bad!). According to @JezMM and  @Eurisko, Xbox One support backwards compatibility with Unleashed and Generations from 360. @Shaddy Zaphod also mentions it is possible to mod the game (either emulation and console modding) to improve some features, and remove the annoying Werehog battle music.
 
For PC specifically, while still being the worse version, PS2 and Wii versions are easiest emulated (I've tried the PS2 version).
 
As said earlier, almost every game of this generation can be emulated, this includes DS, GBA, PSP as well as Sonic Cafe games. (Shameless self-promo, check out my Sonic Cafe review here!)

2010s and Present

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Sonic Mania (2017)

You really thought I'd put a Sonic Forces screenshot?

For the 2010s, things get a little more “globalized”, just think that the PS4 is from 2013 and the PS5 still hasn't been released. Except for some very rare exceptions and well, Sonic Boom, I guess every game here is multiplatform and already comes with our current standards, so I doubt you need much more work than buying a game and play it. Sonic Mania might be even better with Sonic Mania Plus.
 
So, what are you waiting for? Blast a Sonic Game right now!
 
I hope this topic was useful and thank you for reading until here. Also hope I wasn't either much a "captain obvious". As said in the very beginning, feel free to make your observations: Why an option is/isn't viable, if you have any suggestions, etc.
Edited by Solister
Community updates. Thank you everyone!

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7 hours ago, Solister said:
Sonic Unleashed is available for 2 consoles generations. I tested the PS2 emulator on PC and it works pretty fine, while I doubt there's any good emulator for PS3/Xbox 360. Yet, the best experience near to a better version of Sonic Unleashed would be Unleashed Project for Generations, as almost no one still cares for Werehog night levels.

This is the only one here I'd take issue with really.  Every other game on this list, you could take your advice on the version to play - even unofficial ones, and be able to say "Yeah, I've played [Sonic Game]".  The Unleashed Project is a marvel, but it's also just a novelty and not in any way a reasonable alternative to playing the official game if the official game is what you want to play.  Most Unleashed fans, even those who simply put up with the Werehog, would agree that it's a game that provides a certain experience that is greater than the sum of it's parts.  That experience isn't for everyone, and I'd heartily recommend someone play the Unleashed Project AFTER they've tried the official game if they come to the conclusion for themselves that they like the daytime gameplay to some degree but nothing else and cannot bear any more of the game's other content but would like to try out the remainder of the stages.  That's the point where I would recommend the Unleashed Project to someone who initially wanted to play Sonic Unleashed.

Just to re-iterate, this is purely in the context of "I've never played Sonic Unleashed and I want to see what it's like".  If someone hasn't played Unleashed, but isn't particularly interested in trying the full experience, but they hear the main levels are fun, by all means I'd point them towards the Unleashed Project.  But the Unleashed Project doesn't replace the original game in the same way the other fan-made recommendations on this list do.

 

For any people who are curious, my understanding is that Xbox One and the Xbox Series X/S both support backwards compatibility with many 360 games using either the original disc or buying them digitally off of the Microsoft store, and Unleashed is among them.

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Unless you're a purist, I'd argue "isn't particularly interested in trying the full experience, but they hear the main levels are fun" is all that matters if you're going for maximum enjoyment. I played the HD version the whole way through for the first time recently and was shocked at just how little the game really provided outside the day stages, with said stages themselves feeling worse than The Unleashed project anyway. 

All that said, if you for whatever reason have to play the original release, you should at least do it (via either emulators or console modding) with the mods to put the homing attack on the jump button, and remove the battle music from the werehog levels. The latter especially will change the night stages from "boring and also that FUCKING ANNOYING MUSIC" to just "boring".

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Whether you enjoy Unleashed or not, you shouldn't be advocating for the Unleashed project as a definitive version IMO. This isn't meant to disrespect the mod since it was made with the best of intentions, but cutting such large chunks out of any game wouldn't sit right for me if we're talking about a definitive experience. 

I wouldn't like it for any game, but specifically talking about Unleashed you're missing out on a lot of the slower paced "breather" sections that made people appreciate it and serve as a nice way to break up the high octane day levels. There's a lot of top notch world-building, art design, and music in those Night stages and hub worlds that made the game rocket to the top of my favorite Sonic games list. The gameplay is rough around the edges in both cases, but I can't see how someone could be a 3D Sonic fan at all and suggest that invalidates the whole idea. It's worth preserving and it's worth experiencing if only so some of the most talented people that have ever been through Sonic Team's revolving door get a little more appreciation. 

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I'll note four things:

 

The instructions for Heroes that are on PCGW are a bit daunting and unnecessary if you want to just play the game. If you want it to run on modern computers and modern resolutions, all you really need is the ThirteenAG patch and the Xbox FMV files (if you care about having the highest quality of the FMVs). Both of them can just be dragged and dropped into specific folders in the Sonic Heroes directory and you're golden. The HUD is still set for 4:3 and the menus look a bit weird because they load like they are a raw Flash file being viewed on a webpage, but other than that the game runs pretty flawlessly to at least 4k:

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I play it with a Dual Shock 3 masquerading as a 360 controller and it doesn't give me any issues. Most of the long list of instructions on the PCGW are prerequisites for fixing little bugs and visual glitches, but if you don't want to bother with that and just want the game running on PC at high resolution the PC version is still the best way to play it.

 

Sonic 3 AIR is a great release by all standards, but it isn't platform agnostic. If you want to play on something other than a Windows PC (or you want to play on real hardware), Sonic 3 Complete is damn near just as good and does a lot of the same things as AIR set out to do; but it's playable on anything that can run Genesis ROMs.

 

The PC version of 3D Blast is pretty easy to get running as well. Whether that's the definitive version depends on how much you personally think the changes in Jon Burton's director's cut of the Genesis version are necessary versus the updated graphics/sound of the 32-bit release.

 

Kega (and probably other emulators) can run the Game Gear versions of the 8-Bit Sonic games at the Master System resolution. On some games this has very mixed results as the developers may have used that essentially overscan area to dump garbage data (and indeed there are occasional visual glitches in the Sonic games in places like the title cards), but the Sonic games in particular benefit greatly from it.

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Since the Game Gear versions were otherwise the better versions when they were on both consoles, this basically fixes the main issue with them and makes them the best ones. Main thing is that the HUD is a bit off when doing so.

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I tend to recommend the Master System version of Sonic 2 over the Game Gear one because it doesn't have the changes to the boss fights that make the first one in particular so terribly punishing.  While the Master System version is missing the Good Ending music, the "Bad" ending music is a way nicer song anyway lol.

I'd also recommend the Master System version of Sonic 1 because I feel the level design changes were less interesting than the Master System original, (the final boss becomes too easy in direct comparison to Sonic 2 lol) but that one is kinda subjective and I don't think there's any major loss in playing GG first and then trying out MS for an increased challenge later.

Other than personal preference though, my only concern for a newcomer would be that having the wider view might mess them up during boss fights, where it's easy for a veteran to remember the sides of the boss arena are blocked off due to the way they lock the screen.  So if a newcomer is reading this thread and considering trying them out on Game Gear but with the wider view uh... yeah, remember that.  The boss screens are locked in to a 4:3 view originally lol.

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Nice write up.

Sonic Unleashed and Generations both run pretty well backwards compatible on Xbox one as do the HD ports of SA1 and SA2. Though having said that does anyone find there's a bit of input lag when playing Generations on Xbox One?

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@JezMM ,@Shaddy Zaphod and @Wraith: You guys have a point. It seems I ended mixing "best available version to play on PC" with "Definitive Edition". Best version would be PS3/XBOX360, apparently with mods. For PC users (unless I'm unaware there's any emulator for those 2 consoles), would be the PS2/Wii version, and in the last of possibilities Unleashed Project after you played one of the versions. Mostly to simply enjoy the day levels, not that it could substitute Sonic Unleashed.

@Tornado thanks for the heads up on Sonic Heroes. It's been a good while I don't play the game and I definitely wasn't aware of these fixes. Same about Sonic 3D Blast.

And yeah, seems I actually cut off Sonic 3 Complete from the final revision of the text, oops. I completely agree with you: does almost everything as AIR does, except from Widescreen, but on the other hand, is playable on every piece of hardware with Genesis emulators or the console itself.

And thank you about the Game Gear tip. I fear I knew about the option, but never gave the proper value.

If you all don't mind, I'll update the topic with your suggestions and give proper credit.

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If you're playing the Steam version of Sonic CD then it's worth installing the mod loader and enabling these bugfix codes (you'll have to edit the Code.lst file in the mods folder). One of my biggest issues with the newer port is that time travel takes slightly longer than it did in the original, so the time warp fix takes care of that issue nicely. It also resets the clock back to 5'00"00 if the level timer is higher than that while warping, just like in the Sega CD version.

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