Sonic on the Genesis

I can't overstate how much of my life I spent playing the classic Sonic games. I was never all that good at them, but I worked my way through them all. The graphics were state of the art for the time, pushing the Genesis to its limits. The music was universally fantastic. The level designs only got bigger and better, and they were damn near cinematic at times too. The bosses were either pitifully easy or crazy hard, but always fun. The original 4 (or 3, depending on how you look at it) Sonic games for the Genesis were some of the best platform games ever made. Let's take a look at them.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)  B

This is where it all began. To be honest, I never actually played this one as a kid, so my fondness for it isn't as pure because I know where the series went after this. By comparison though, it's slower (for a Sonic game), the levels are pretty hard and have a lot less variation (3 acts in each level!?) and Sonic is pretty much all you get to see. But the series had to start somewhere! There really isn't much of a story going on, so it's just a faster, above-average platformer at heart. To make Sonic go fast, you have to use physics (rolling into a ball on an incline...etc.), which is fun enough because it works amazingly well. It's still an impressive game on its own terms, and set the standards for so many things that became staples later on, like loops, rings, monitors, bouncers, baddies, and Dr. Robotnik's insane gadgets--all of which spell great creativity and a lot of good ideas on the part of the designers. It set a new standard for all platform games and gave Mario a run for his money for the first time (literally!).

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)  A+

Now THIS is where Sonic first hit his stride for me. Sonic 2 is where Sonic got FAST, because this was the introduction of the "speed dash." Now you could get him practically outrunning the screen! We also get to see Miles Prower, or "Tails," for the first time-- Sonic's ever-present sidekick and one of the funniest characters to kill off repeatedly. This game also has a "two-player" feature, which is great if you want to start a fight with your brother. It introduced the "Death Egg" device and Sonic's first time destroying it--a story arc that will connect the next couple games. Sonic 2 has a lot more levels with a lot more color, length, and variation (only 2 acts per level this time), and their replay-ability is extremely high. I love the Sky Chase Zone (the first time you get to fly the Tails airplane), and the music is some of the best in the series (Chemical Plant!). Heck, I play this game to this day, and it's still as fun as ever. It never gets old. It's a lot easier than the first game, but certainly more fun in my opinion. The final boss is just incredibly fun to die a dozen times on, and the ending is among the best in the whole series.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)  A-

This game is even more incredible in some ways, but it also has its minor drawbacks. It was the first game to have the "temporary shield" trick, which is cool, a whole new slew of shield types, and a Tails that can actually fly on command! This is also where my favorite character Knuckles the Echidna makes his first appearance (and in this one, he's a badass!). You can also save your game for the first time, so you don't have to play the whole thing in one sitting! This second sequel follows the reconstruction of Robotnik's "Death Egg" device that Sonic destroyed in the last game (pretty much picking right up after the other one left off). The levels are even more colorful, more complex, larger, have the best music of the series, and feature all kinds of new ways to play them besides just "running and jumping." Each act has its own boss too, rather than just one per level. All that said, there are only 6 levels in the whole game, making it the shortest classic Sonic game. The final level really isn't all that hard, and the final boss is very underwhelming (and pretty easy). Overall, there's a feeling of "that was it?" at the end, but only because it's so good you want more of it...

Sonic & Knuckles (1994) A

And this game was more of it! S&K was a direct continuation of Sonic 3 (more like a "Sonic 3: Part 2"), and follows what happens after Sonic rides the repaired Death Egg in Sonic 3. Actually, this game and Sonic 3 were supposed to be the same game, but the developers were forced to cut it in half, which is why Sonic 3 felt kind of incomplete at the end. The levels in this game are about as detailed and complex as it gets, although the game play itself doesn't differ much from Sonic 3 (but no complaints here!). Here you can play Knuckles for the first time and soon discover that he can climb walls and glide! There are more levels in this game, way more music, the bosses are harder, and the final boss is about as big and bad as you're ever going to find in a Sonic game. To add, the really unique thing about this game was that its cartridge allowed you to lock Sonic 3 into it so you could play Sonic 3 and it back to back, which is awesome because it's an entirely different game... suddenly all those inaccessible pathways in the previous game make sense! You could also lock Sonic 2 into it and play Knuckles in the Sonic 2 levels. The only downside is there's no game save feature or even two player when playing it on its own, but play "Sonic 3 & Knuckles" back to back, and it's the best Sonic game ever made. Period.

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After Sonic & Knuckles, the franchise got lost in the land of spin-offs for a while and didn't make another game until the "Adventure" series for the Sega Dreamcast... which I never played. The games they made after that have been a mixed bag, and there was a "Sonic 4" made recently, which I said earlier was okay, but didn't live up to the originals. The Genesis games are considered to be the golden age, the world of Sonic at it's best, and they certainly were. I can play them a hundred times over and they never get old.

The Weekly Reader

The only "old one" I could find!
Who doesn't remember having the Weekly Reader thrown in their lap a few times a month at school in the 90s? If it wasn't the Weekly Reader, it was Scholastic (which I also remember), but one way or another, reading some kind of "kid magazine" factored somewhere into our typical school week. To me, this was like, high class journalism. Time, Newsweek, People, GQ....they're all fine, but they're no Weekly Reader. If you don't know, it's a magazine for kids. Back then it was only about 10 pages long at most, and every page had about three different 300-word articles on it with plenty of pictures and games, and other stuff to keep us interested.

The typical issue usually had a "science and nature" section (always something about whales, weather, and volcanoes for some reason)... a "news" section that usually told good news (maybe this was higher class...) unless it was telling us about kids living in poverty or that if we didn't recycle, the rain-forest would "get it"... and a "Kid Power!" section that made you want to go start your own tax-exempt non-profit 501 charity feeding and clothing the baby orca whales... you know, just like that kid on page five! There was always some kid in there who had collected a thousand pennies or made her own hot air balloon, or built his own house out of toothpicks, and it always seemed like your chance was just a week away.

Whenever they wanted to entertain us about stuff we had no idea about and had no say in, they told us fairytales about politicians running for office: "You decide! Bill Clinton or Bob Dole? Mail in your vote!" I'll trust mine was received.

These magazines at first seemed like something only the teacher was into, but the more I dug into them, the more I found myself actually...learning things! And not on purpose either! Perhaps it was because it wasn't trying to be all "hip" and "down" and "dope," but just showed stuff kids are curious about. Up until then the news was only for adults, but these zines took all that "blah blah" out there and turned it into stuff I could understand, and that was pretty cool. It was like, a kid-friendly news channel for my head as I read along, and still a whole lot better than that stuff adults read... (I'm looking at you, New Yorker)!

Update! 7/30 -  It looks like Scholastic is ENDING the Weekly Reader! Sad...

Weekly Reader - 1928-2012  (RIP)

Obligatory Pogs Post

What can be said about Pogs that hasn't been said a hundred times? They were little Poker-chip-like disks with colorful pictures on them, there were like a million of them, and you played some kind of game with them. The 8yo me had no idea what those things were, just that they were down every cool kid's pocket, and that there were a million of them. Some were like the Holy Grail trying to find, but a whole lot weren't worth more than a regular soda coaster.

Kids used to trade them on the bus, at the lunch table, at recess, and that's basically how I got acquainted with them. I didn't know what you did with them other than collect them and pass them around, but I was not immune to having a couple kicking around at the bottom of my backpack just in case I ever had to learn. There was no choice, you had to keep a few on you just to say you were cool. I still never really got what they were, just that all the cool kids were into them. And the reason they were cool? Because they had cool pictures on them.

And I mean if you could think it, there was a Pog for it. They came in these endless series, with cartoons, tire rims, sports teams, sports balls, movies, bugs, Goosebumps, states, flags, aliens, planets, cars, Sonic the Hedgehog, Star Trek, crazy 8s, psychedelic stuff, trippy flowers, monsters, eyeballs, skulls, superheroes...anything and everything that could be rendered in glorious 90s neon. If you were into something, there was a Pog for it that would immediately make you cool for having it, and if you actually "won" the entire series of something, then you could consider yourself elite.

Besides the Pog, there was the "Slammer," and those conferred instant cool cred whenever they were whipped out, because they were like weapons. The Slammer was this heavy piece, like a medallion, which could get pretty badass if it was the "circular saw" kind, but it could also just be a plastic checker piece-like thing. The game is very simple. You wing your Slammer at a stack of your opponent's pogs, and when they fall down, you pick up the ones that fall face down. That's basically how you collected new pogs, but if you had nothing to start, none of the big time players wanted to waste their time with you (unless they wanted to offload a lot of their worthless ones).

I had to picture that there was some kid somewhere who was sitting on a throne of these things, in a castle built out of stacks of these things, just kicking back, basking in the glory... some kid who was like, the Pog Master, who had somehow managed to land everyone's face down. That kid would've been the king of awesomeness. I wonder where that kid is these days.

Gimme a Break

Kids of the 90s fiercely believe that these new "crunching" Kit Kat commercials just don't hold a...well, Kit Kat, to the "real" Kit Kat commercials. You remember of course... the ones with the song! Give us a break and bring back the Kit Kat song!

Now I was never a big chocolate eater, and I never begged my mom to buy one of these in the grocery store checkout lines, and I don't think I've even seen a full-sized one since the 90s (just the "minis" in the Halloween bags), but that song at least made me want to go crack one. Seriously though, do they even still sell the full-sized?

 Here's the whole song in a very retro commercial:



"Gimme a break, gimme a break...
Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat Bar!
Gimme a break, gimme a break...
I wanna take a break with the Kit Kat Bar!"