Welcome to part 2 of this CelJaded top 20 list featuring my all-time favourite Sonic the Hedgehog music.
To be clear: this second part of the list contains entries #10-#1 so go back and read Part 1 first if you haven’t yet done so.
We’re about to cover some of my most adored tunes in all of video gaming here so you can expect to see a more detailed list full of placements that were very tough for me to lock into place.
As before, please remember that all the Sonic characters and music samples you see below are property of Sega America, Europe & Japan ®
#10 – Lava Reef Zone …for Sonic & Knuckles
Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Composers: Sachio Ogawa, Tatsuyuki Maeda, Jun Senoue, Howard Drossin | Year: 1994
I’ve already explained why Sonic & Knuckles is the pinnacle of the whole franchise so I guess I’ll just skip ahead to why I like this particular music track.
Lava Reef Zone was actually my favourite piece of Sonic the Hedgehog music for many years.
It’s a highly melodic tune that has always given me the appropriate feeling of underground adventuring and it fits wonderfully with the fire/lava theme that the zone in question attacks you with too.
The tune has slipped in my appreciation slightly since then as it’s quite short and repetitive when compared to stronger compositions, but it’s a robust piece nonetheless and one that I still like to hear remixed and approached from different angles.
Fun bit of trivia: If you were to combine this game’s soundtrack with the one from its close-knit prequel, it would form a near 90 minute playlist that’s an adventure in its own right!
Honourable Mentions: Death Egg Zone, Flying Battery Zone, Mushroom Hill Zone
#9 – Jungle Joyride (Day) …for Sonic Unleashed
Principal Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii | Composers: Tomoya Ohtani, Fumie Kumatani, Kenichi Tokoi et al. | Year: 2008
If ever there was a game of two halves, then Sonic Unleashed was it.
One half of the game is spent in a near-continuous 3D headlong dash as Sonic; blasting through beautiful sunlit scenery and navigating platforms whilst dynamically switching to old school 2D viewpoints on the fly.
Such sections are fast, furious, challenging and are generally good fun, at least when the speed physics are behaving themselves.
By contrast, the nighttime stages see Sonic transformed into an odious “werehog” with entirely different gameplay segments that force you to slog through glorified beat ’em up environments showcasing nary an inch of speed, subtlety or enjoyment.
What’s hilarious is that the music follows suit in that the daytime tracks sound vibrant and full of turbulent zest whereas the nighttime levels consist of startling horn noises and unwieldy pianos that make for some of the crummiest Sonic tunes ever produced.
Sonic Unleashed wears its transformation gimmick like an albatross around the neck and quite deservedly the game won’t be remembered as one of the franchise’s high points.
More memorable though is this stage music to one of the most visually appealing daytime levels; Jungle Joyride.
The setting here is that of a tropical paradise atop a jungle-covered archipelago; a marvelous backdrop based on real-life locations in Southern Asia.
Aside from the pulse-pounding beat, the music here is very evocative of the lush landscapes it accompanies and the sense of speed that it delivers as you glide over the surface of a pristine aqua blue ocean is one of the most satisfying highs you’ll experience in the game.
More bonus trivia: Owing to its slightly more realistic setting, the Japanese release of this game is actually titled Sonic World Adventure.
Honourable Mentions: Cool Edge (Day), Eggmanland (Day), Arid Sands (Day)
#8 – Metal Scratchin’ …for Sonic Rush
Principal Platforms: Nintendo DS | Composers: Hideki Naganuma, Teruhiko Nakagawa | Year: 2005
At last, some boss music!
I consider myself a connoisseur of only the finest boss music in video games and despite a dependably quirky soundtrack showing from Hideki Naganuma here, it’s the boss theme Metal Scratchin’ which steals the show for me.
The Sonic Rush “Original Groove Rush” soundtrack is about as wild and unpredictable as you’d expect coming from a composer with Jet Set Radio among his credited works, but don’t think for a minute that this album disappoints.
Metal Scratchin’ in particular ticks off all the fundamentals of good boss music by being unremittingly bombastic and infused with the sort of powerful urgency that every good showdown needs.
In-game this composition dramatically speeds up as the boss nears destruction (something you may notice in the combined sample I’ve prepared above) and it makes for another great little touch whilst still maintaining the tune’s overall clarity.
Honourable Mentions: Back 2 Back, Jeh Jeh Rocket, Bomber Barbera
#7 – Supporting Me …for Sonic Adventure 2
Principal Platforms: Dreamcast, GameCube | Composers: Jun Senoue, Fumie Kumatani, Tomoya Ohtani, Kenichi Tokoi | Year: 2001
This is one of the more understated pieces of music on the Sonic Adventure 2 “Multi-Dimensional” album, but it’s no less of a fan favourite because of it.
Accompanying a rather terrible penultimate boss fight, Supporting Me is a strangely alluring track nonetheless and is definitely one of the hidden gems in Sonic’s expansive discography.
Lyrically this song is pretty hard to make out, but the general tone of what’s conveyed is suitably malicious and also reflective of the inner struggles facing its battle’s central protagonist Shadow the Hedgehog.
It’s perhaps a bit more high concept than your usual upbeat Sonic tune then, but I find such dark and experimental ambiance to be a fantastic fit for this fondly regarded Dreamcast sequel.
Honourable Mentions: Escape From the City, That’s the Way I Like It, Way to the Base
#6 – Mechanical Resonance …for Sonic Adventure
Principal Platforms: Dreamcast, GameCube | Composers: Jun Senoue, Fumie Kumatani, Kenichi Tokoi, Masaru Setsumaru | Year: 1998
Sonic Adventure was the first fully three-dimensional platforming game in the series. This fact, as well as the featured redesign of its titular character’s image, has since given rise to an era of “modern Sonic” games that now greatly outnumber the original classics that they’re based on.
With a more modern sensibility, came more modern-sounding music; something that Sonic Adventure was all too ready to provide with its original soundtrack nonsensically titled: “Digi-Log Conversation”.
A great effort was made with the track titles on this album though. Rather than just labeling the music based solely on the stage it accompanies, each tune comes with a more oddball title including such gems as “Bad Taste Aquarium”, “Tricky Maze” and “Sky Deck A Go Go!”
Mechanical Resonance is the accompanying stage music to Final Egg; the last level in Sonic’s campaign and a feature level in a further two interlocking campaigns thereafter.
Considering the stage in question is set inside Dr. Robotnik’s hidden base, this track’s mechanical undertone and almost machine-like rhythm sounds especially cool.
It’s really hard to quit that heavy underlying bass and rocking guitar which lends the tune a more relaxed albeit systematic pace. I also find that it works much better when compared to the rather hectic and inferior remix (“Crank the Heat Up”) that plays later into the level itself.
Honourable Mentions: Azure Blue World, Run Through the Speed Highway, Open Your Heart
#5 – Rusty Ruin Zone …for Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island (Mega Drive Version)
Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Composers: Jun Senoue, Tatsuyuki Maeda | Year: 1996
Sonic 3D: Flickies Island (known as Sonic 3D: Blast in the US) was the final Sonic title released for the Mega Drive and a swansong of sorts for the console that introduced us to the character five years prior.
Traveller’s Tales use of pre-rendered 3D sprites in this game is enormously impressive considering the age of the hardware in question, but overall Sonic 3D failed to deliver the sort of high speed thrills that fans had become accustomed to.
An enhanced version was later released for the struggling Sega Saturn console featuring crisper graphics, tweaked stages and a brand new CD-ROM quality soundtrack by composer Richard Jacques.
Now I’m a big fan of Jacques’ work, but I’ve always thought his remastered soundtrack for Sonic 3D to be somewhat overrated. It’s not that his compositions don’t sound lovely – you can listen here to grasp that much – it’s just that I find them to be rather ill-suited to this particular game.
There are plenty of the typically nice pianos, horns and synths that Jacques is known for, but I find the resulting sound to be too overbearing and too “epic” for what is meant to be a very straightforward action game.
In my opinion the soundtrack to the original Mega Drive version of Sonic 3D is superior as it’s more melodic and more in line with the established sound of Sonic’s previous games.
Part of the problem also is that Sega chose to enhance the graphics of the Saturn version only by so much; it ultimately still looks like a 16-bit game, it very much still plays like a 16-bit game, so if you ask me it should have still sounded like a 16-bit game too.
To put it another way: Richard Jacques on Sonic 3D is just overkill!
The Rusty Ruin Zone then is the game’s second level and the music for both of its acts here (which I’ve spliced together in the sample above) is just stellar.
I find this tune really fits the more dangerous pace of the level as Sonic veers to avoid spike hammers and flame jets, all the while digging deeper into a trap-infested catacomb.
As with many of the 16-bit entries on this list, I think the composers did a good job here in harmonizing a console’s instruments to create music that sounds just a step beyond its regular capabilities.
Honourable Mentions: Diamond Dust Zone, Puppet Panic Zone
#4 – Chemical Plant Zone …for Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Composers: Masato Nakamura | Year: 1992
A truly superb sequel for its time, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the Mega Drive’s best selling game for a reason.
The gameplay is faster, the challenge has been upped and the visuals are a 2D showpiece accompanied by some of the most upbeat tunes of the whole 16-bit generation.
And this here BGM for the Chemical Plant Zone is arguably the most popular and widely-known piece of music in the entire Sonic the Hedgehog franchise at that.
This tune is perhaps somewhat coincident with the game’s ‘drowning’ jingle as the partially aquatic level in question is certainly a sharp increase in difficulty for such an early stage. But when you get to hear more of these addictive synths, who’s complaining?
Another remix darling, the Chemical Plant Zone theme has more than its fair share of fans with even Sonic Team themselves getting in on the action by recording their own rocking remix for Sonic Generations.
Honourable Mentions: Mystic Cave Zone, Metropolis Zone, Boss
#3 – Ice Cap Zone …for Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Composers: Brad Buxer, Tatsuyuki Maeda, Jun Senoue et al. | Year: 1997
Here it is: the tune that inspired hundreds of remixes and brought relief to hundreds of children that got stuck on the evil carnival barrel in the level before it.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 features some of the most memorable music in the entire series for sure, but perhaps none are quite as memorable as this stage music to the fifth level; the Ice Cap Zone.
More than just a mere ice-themed stage, the Ice Cap Zone shows off some of the game’s most awesome-looking environments with crystal clear ice platforms, snowdrifts and frozen rivers glistening in all their 16-bit glory.
Out of all the tunes in the Sonic franchise, I think this one in particular does the best job of immersing you in its setting; the bass just sounds so cool for one and the sensation of speeding through an arctic wilderness could not have been more appropriately infused into the melody.
It also helps that the uptempo sound accompanies Sonic’s amazingly sweet snowboarding sequence that features in the opening moments of the first act.
For a soundtrack that at one stage included Michael Jackson among its credited composers, the Ice Cap Zone is a suitably high watermark and despite the number of genuinely slick community remixes that the tune has received over the years, it’s still the official act 2 variant that’s my favourite twist on the existing baseline (which is once again spliced into the sample above).
It’s an amazing effort, though part of me is still stuck on that bloody barrel…
Honourable Mentions: Angel Island Zone, Hydrocity Zone, Launch Base Zone
#2 – Collision Chaos …for Sonic CD (NTSC-J/PAL Version)
Principal Platforms: Mega-CD, PC | Composers (NTSC-J/PAL): Naofumi Hataya, Masafumi Ogata | Year: 1993
As the very first Sonic title to utilize CD-ROM quality audio, Sonic CD naturally sounds several leagues ahead of those that came before it thus turning an otherwise decent game into a damn good one.
Sharing a lot in common with the original Sonic the Hedgehog, this lesser-known installment sees Sonic tangled up in a time travel adventure to alter the twisted future of a once verdant paradise called Little Planet.
Each stage features a visual design for its current time period – whether it’s the past, present or a good/bad future – complete with varying colour palettes, enemy patterns and an alternate arrangement of both the level layout and accompanying music.
Because of this unique facet, every level supports 4 different tunes for background audio; a staggering degree of variety for any game, let alone one released in 1993!
From the soundtrack perspective alone however, Sonic CD manages to be one of the most controversial titles in all of video game history and it’s a perfect illustration of just how much stock people place in good music with regards to the complete gaming experience.
This controversy stems from the fact that the North American release features an almost total soundtrack conversion from the Japanese original with alternate material written and recorded by Sega of America.
Whilst the “past” mixes of each level theme were unaffected – as they were recorded in sequenced PCM audio rather than Mixed Mode CD-DA – all the other themes were switched for background tunes of a dramatically different musical style.
Spurred on by Famitsu magazine’s famous marking down of the NTSC-U release (due to what they considered to be inferior backing music no less), the debate on which version of the soundtrack is superior has raged on for years.
It’s a fruitless argument really considering how musical quality is largely dependent on a listener’s individual tastes and another side to the issue is that of simple nostalgia, as most players will surely gravitate towards the soundtrack that is most familiar to them; the one that sounds most like the game they remember or identify with.
If you were to take those arguments out of the equation entirely though, I would say that the original NTSC-J soundtrack (which also features on the PAL release) is so superior, it’s not even a close contest.
The techno-inspired tunes on offer throughout Sonic CD’s original soundtrack are fresh, quirky and altogether spectacular. The American tunes sound so bland and unadventurous by comparison and if you ask me, that pesky nostalgia factor is the only reason it ever became the subject of debate in the first place.
The decision of picking just one track, to represent what I consider to be the best Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack of them all, was an agonizing one to be sure.
There are so many catchy pieces of music in this game that it would wear me out trying to do them all justice, but if I really had to pick just one then it’s Collision Chaos that would earn the highest honour.
Put simply: this joint is funky!
The default “present” mix of this tune is the most noticeably techno track on the whole album and it manages to provide something that sounds drastically new and exciting whilst not forgetting to be fun at the same time. The catchy beat and sheer momentum in this track just works and it more than suits its incredibly apt level title too.
Of course the “P”, “B” and “G” remixes are all great spins on the formula too and you can hear them in the combined audio sample I’ve uploaded above.
Every fan of video game music has a special soundtrack that first set them on their path towards a deeper appreciation of the medium and in my case, Sonic CD is it.
This is a remarkable achievement that every other Sonic soundtrack stands in awe of.
All maybe, except one…
Honourable Mentions: Practically everything is… Palmtree Panic “B” Mix, Quartz Quadrant, Metallic Madness “G” Mix, Wacky Workbench “B” Mix, Stardust Speedway
#1 – End of the World …for Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
Principal Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 | Composers: Hideaki Kobayashi, Tomoya Ohtani, Mariko Nanba et. al | Year: 2006
Or as I call it: “End of the Franchise”.
I’ve previously discussed how monumentally disappointing this game was, so it will come as no great surprise to learn that its placement here is not a decision that I took lightly.
End of the World is the last action stage of Sonic ’06, but rather than the tense finale you have every right to expect, this multi-part coda is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the game it seeks to conclude.
Horrible loading times, schizophrenic camera angles and infuriating insta-death vortex traps are all over this wretched final stretch with the best strategy being to simply run past everything in an attempt to end the torture as quickly as possible. It’s also the final level in a game called “Sonic the Hedgehog” where you don’t get to play as Sonic the Hedgehog. I don’t even know what to say to that.
From a gameplay perspective then, End of the World is the lowest point I’ve personally seen a Sonic game reach, but in terms of music, it is – almost paradoxically – the highest.
The background music here is essentially split into seven segments with each playable character’s moment in the level being accompanied by a different segment. The starting character Tails claims an opening segment which sounds ominous and empty, but also more deliberate and developmental. By comparison, Rouge the Bat gets the midway part of the music that sounds jazzier and bass-heavy, whereas Shadow the Hedgehog (who goes on last) receives the music as it enters a flurry of harmonious death throes.
It can be difficult to appreciate this piece in-game because of the seemingly ceaseless number of rage-inducing loading screens that interrupt and upset the natural progression of the music. When listened to as a standalone experience though, this particular composition flows seamlessly and produces a hauntingly beautiful resonance with a noticeable air of melancholy that sounds unlike anything heard since in a video game bearing the hedgehog’s likeness.
This is a superb track as you can really hear the wider themes bubbling to the surface. The death of Sonic the Hedgehog (don’t ask) is a prospect which forms the basis for an uncertain and often threatening rhythm, but then there are moments of angelic clarity that signify the possibility that if these characters really strive, they’ll see their friend alive again. Deep!
Whilst the Sonic ’06 soundtrack itself is not as consistent as the one from Sonic CD, the individual stage themes are still very strong, with End of the World possessing the sort of audacious quality that really did deserve to be in a more competent video game than the one it was sadly wasted on.
Honourable Mentions: Aquatic Base, Crisis City, Wave Ocean: The Water’s Edge, Flame Core: Volcano