With every successful franchise comes a slew of spin-offs attempting to cash-in on the fame. A few months ago we took a look at the history of sonic titles that are considered "main-series" games, and if you haven't seen that, I recommend you go read it before continuing this. In this article we will be looking at the extensive history of Sonic spin-offs, both good and bad. Now I know that the "main-series" article didn't catch on the way I'd hoped, but I wrote this anyway because I had promised I would and it's been sitting three-quarters done in my drafts box for too long, and I thought deleting it would be a shame.
The very first Sonic spin-off was Sonic Eraser, which released on the Sega Game Toshokan in 1991. This game is just a Tetris clone, there's not much more to say about it. The game was considered "lost" until a fan got a copy in 2004. The second Sonic spin-off was Sonic Spinball, which released in 1993 for the Sega Genesis, and is based on the first two games. It put an awesome spin on the classic pinball format, with multiple stages to play, coins and emeralds to collect, bosses to fight, and a story all its own. I'm not going to lie, this game is crazy fun, and definitely better than Full Tilt! Pinball. I've never been a pinball fan, but my pinball game of choice is definitely Sonic Spinball. It has very addicting gameplay, even today. The next spin-off was 1993's Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, which is based on the Japanese game Puyo Puyo. It replaces the Puyo Puyo characters with characters from the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon, instead of being based on earlier games. Gameplay is very similar to Tetris, albeit with two grids and different gamemodes. Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is also known for being one of the only Sonic licensed games to not feature Sonic himself. I never had fun with the game, because it's not really my thing, but the game received overall positive reviews. The only thing people generally disliked about the game was its extremely quick increase in difficulty, which would make the game too hard for most players. Also in 1993 came Sonic Chaos, and a sequel in 1994 titled Sonic Triple Trouble. Both games were released on the Sega Game Gear and were criticized for being too easy. Additionally, in 1993 a kids' toy known as the Sega Pico released, and had two built-in Sonic games; Sonic Gameworld and Tails and the Music Maker. The final '93 release was SegaSonic the Hedgehog for the arcade. The game introduced Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo into the series, and featured a built-in track ball for character movement. Because of this, it's a very difficult game to emulate, so not many people have played it.
In 1994 came Sonic Drift, a Mario Kart clone for the Sega Game Gear. There's not much to say about the game, other than the fact that it was bad. Shortly after the release of Sonic & Knuckles came Knuckles Chaotix, which was released for the Sega 32X in 1995, and stars Knuckles the Echidna and introduces the Chaotix gang to the series. The gameplay is similar to that of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, but with a twist. The player controls two characters which are constantly connected by a field between two rings that acts like a rubber band. The player must use this rubber band mechanic to complete levels and get to new places. I've never played this game myself, but it's considered one of the only good titles on the 32X, which has a very limited and very poor library. Another game released in '95 is Sonic Labyrinth, for the Sega Game Gear. The game was a puzzle-platformer, and featured Sonic as he collected keys to complete levels. The game was received poorly, with many complaining about the slow-paced gameplay and general redundancy.
Two games released in 1995 staring Sonic's sidekick Tails, these games being Tails' Skypatrol and Tails' Adventure, both for the Game Gear. Tails' Adventure is a action-platformer with a little bit of RPG mixed in. Tails can collect various items to use in combat, and the game is generally very slow-paced and features lots of back-tracking. It's hailed as one of the few good Sonic games released for the Game Gear, and I have to agree. The game is plenty of fun, even to this day. When I played it I found it to be a very difficult game, but maybe that's just me. Tails' Skypatrol has Tails constantly flying during gameplay, albeit in an odd fashion. Tails has a flight meter, and if that meter runs empty, he will lose a life. The meter can be replenished by collecting mint candies that are scattered all over the maps. The only way to defeat enemies in the game is to use Tails' golden ring, which he can use as a projectile. I have vague memories of playing this game, but I do remember it was plenty of fun. It was challenging, but with simple gameplay and mechanics.
In 1996 came Sonic 3D Blast for the Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, and Microsoft Windows. The game features bird characters known as Flickies, from the 1984 platformer, Flicky. The game features a 2D environment, but uses pre-rendered 3D sprites, which makes the game appear in a 2.5D style. The game centered around Sonic collecting Flickies to complete levels, and every so often fighting Robotnik. Sonic 3D Blast received mixed reviews, with many calling the game a "fetchquest," and criticizing the last of fast-paced action Sonic is known for. I had tons of fun with my brothers playing this game, and even though it is a hide-n-seek style, the music, graphics, and game mechanics more than make up for it.
Also in '96 came Sonic Blast for the Sega Game Gear. This game is a side-scrolling platformer that used graphics based on those seen in Nintendo's Donkey Kong Country. The game features Sonic and Knuckles as playable characters, and introduced Sonic's double jump, which would be seen again in later games. The game was panned for its slow pace and oversized character models, but was praised for its excellent level design and music. 1996 also saw the release of Sonic Drift 2, also on the Game Gear, which would mark the first time in the franchise that Metal Sonic would be a playable character. Much like its predecessor, it was just a lackluster Mario Kart clone, with some even saying the game is outright unplayable due to the lack of horizon and terrible controls.
In 1997 Sega gave us the gem of a game known only as Sonic R, for the Sega Saturn. Sonic R is a racing game featuring Sonic, Tails, Amy, Knuckles, Metal Sonic, Metal Knuckles, Tails Doll, Eggrobo, Super Sonic, and Robotnik. Players are encouraged to explore and look for secrets, and there are several hidden items and paths on each map. The game was received well, but was criticized for its lack of content. People slowly realized how bad the game truly was though, and it went on to take its place on the list for worst Sonic games ever made. No matter how many people call this game an awful meme, I honestly love it. It's one of my favorite Sonic titles. Now, the game is no fun on your own, none at all. You need to play with friends in order to get the real experience out of the game. And if you don't have friends, well... that sucks.
In the glorious year of 1999 we saw Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure, for the Neo Geo Pocket. This game used level design based on Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and features music from Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic & Knuckles. The first Sonic game in the party genre was 2000's Sonic Shuffle, for the Dreamcast. This title was released as a clone of Mario Party, and features many of the same elements. If you've played Mario Party 2, then you've pretty much played Sonic Shuffle. Differences worth noting are the use of cards instead of dice, and each character having their own unique abilities. After the Dreamcast ultimately flopped, Sega turned to their competition, Nintendo, for help. This resulted in Sonic Advance for the Game Boy Advance, the first Sonic game on a Nintendo device. Two sequels were made, titled Sonic Advanced 2 and Sonic Advanced 3. All of the Sonic Advanced games are very similar, and play like older genesis era Sonic games. The Game Boy Advance also saw Sonic Battle, a fighting game, and Sonic Pinball Party.
2003 saw Sonic Heroes, for the Playstation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. Set after the events of Sonic Adventure 2, the game features 4 playable teams. Team Sonic, Team Rose, Team Dark, and Team Chaotix. Each team has their own story, and each of the 3 characters on each team is used for a specific purpose. One character represents speed, one represents flight, and another represents power. The game was received fine, but was panned for having a Mario 64-esque camera-system. Next we have Shadow the Hedgehog in 2005. The game featured Shadow as the protagonist and followed him on his quest to uncover his past. The game features multiple paths and endings, based on the player's choices. At many points throughout the game, Shadow will be faced with choices; good, neutral, and evil. The choices the player makes will affect the enemies, allies, levels, and plot. This was the first Sonic game to get a E10+ ESRB rating, due to its overall dark themes. Shadow can use guns to shoot enemies, use stop-signs as melee weapons, and drive vehicles such as motorcycles. The game did really well, with many praising its good and evil mechanics, plot, and level design. If you haven't played this game, you haven't lived. This is definitely one of the best Sonic games ever created, and one of my absolute favorites... As long as you aren't opposed to backtracking.
2005 saw the release of Sonic Rush for the DS, which was based on Sonic Advanced. The game features Sonic and Blaze the Cat, and is a traditional platformer. A sequel was released in 2007 called Sonic Rush Adventure. 2006 Sonic Riders released, and was the last Sonic game released for the GameCube and Xbox. Sonic Riders, similar to all early 2000's Sonic games, featured 2 playable teams; Team Sonic and Babylon Rogues. In this game, characters use hoverboards, skates, and bikes to race. The game was much better than previous Sonic racing games, but still wasn't perfect. Also in 2006 Sonic Rivals released for the PSP, and a sequel dropped in 2007. There's not much to say about these games, but they're both really bad games. Don't play them. Ever.
2007 also had Mario and Sonic at the Olympic games, a game to unite the two biggest gaming mascots of the '90s. In 2008 we got Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood for the Nintendo DS. This title was a turn-based strategy-RPG, very similar to Fire Emblem. The visuals and feel of the game were praised, while the difficulty and bad story were turn-offs.
2009 - 2011 saw nothing but more Mario and Sonic crossover games, all riding off the success of the first. Mario and Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter games came out in, well, 2014, and was the first Sonic game on the Wii U. It really goes downhill from here, trust me. After this we saw the Sonic Boom series on the 3DS and Wii U, possibly the worst games in the series. Technical limitations and an inexperienced development team rendered Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric one of the most unfinished games to ever release, and it got destroyed by critics and fans alike. Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal wasn't much better, but Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice isn't that bad. Hey, at least I hear the show is good. Kinda.
I know I missed a ton of mobile games, but I decided not to include them as this article is long enough already, plus around half of the games were bad and that's pretty much all I can say about them.
Sonic has been through a lot over the years, some good, a lot bad. Sonic Mania and Project Sonic look promising, but we won't really know how good they are until they're released. I guess we just have to hope that Sega doesn't continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.