Due to a slight tug of nostalgia that the recently released Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was unable to satisfy, I went back and played through all of the games that comprised Sonic's glory days. You know how it feels when you watch 10-year-old highlight reels of some sports team you care about? How you're reminded of how good they used to be? It was kind of like that. Between Sonic 1-3/Knuckles and Sonic CD I truly felt like they held up after all this time.
That wasn't the surprising part though. What really got me was how well some of the bosses were designed, especially in the later games. There were a few that didn't quite measure up to the rest (fuck off Labyrinth Zone), but the majority of Sonic's Genesis days (with the exception of the ultra-crappy Sonic Spinball) are a pleasant reminder of the time when bosses were more than just a string of quicktime events or a lumbering behemoth with a big "HIT THIS SPOT" sign on his forehead.
As I've argued before, a good boss needs to be three things: memorable, distinct, and challenging. Am I going to remember this boss once the game ends, or even years down the line? Is it significantly distinguishable from the other bosses in the game? Is it difficult enough that I feel like I've accomplished something by beating it? After all, a hard boss is a good boss. Hard bosses shouldn't be cheap (undodgeable attacks, ridiculous amounts of damage, etc.) but they do need to make the player work. Sonic's golden era answers the bell on all three of these conditions quite often. And now because we bloggers love our goddamn lists, here are some of my favorites.
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 - Star Light Zone
Not very challenging, but it's fun. You can either use the seesaws to jump up and hit him or launch his spiky balls back at him. The sight of Sonic and the balls flying through the air is effectively chaotic, making it a memorable fight.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Metropolis Zone
This one is pretty tough, and it's quite hard to beat him without getting hit, which you need to do if you want your precious ring bonus. You have to time your jumps perfectly while he moves back and forth, and the surprise laser before the last hit is a nice touch too.
Sonic CD - Collision Chaos Zone
This can be really frustrating, but it's fair since it's difficult to actually die and you only have to get to the top once. Like a normal pinball table, your degree of control is limited at best, and being able to fall through the flippers for no reason doesn't help. Still, the only thing that can actually hurt you are the spikes at the bottom and on the sides. Despite my utter hatred of the aforementioned Sonic Spinball, this shows that the Sonic-as-a-pinball concept works in small, concentrated doses. This boss teeters on the edge of being too frustrating, but the safeguards against dying keep it on my good side.
Sonic CD - Stardust Speedway Zone
Now this is cool. Metal Sonic has popped up in other iterations before, but never like this. I'm actually a little surprised that there haven't been more "race boss" kind of events in the Sonic games. Think about it-is there a better way for the fastest hedgehog on the planet to face his metallic rival than a race to the death?
Sonic 3 & Knuckles - Hydrocity Zone
Similar to the Star Light boss, we've got lots of bouncy-bouncy here, in addition to the boss' cyclone attack. I prefer Knuckles' version of this fight, since he doesn't come down to your level when he uses the propeller, forcing you to use the depth charge blasts to hit him.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles - Marble Garden Zone
Ahh...aerial chases. What wonders are not attainable through a scrolling background and some sprite distortion? This battle gets by on sheer thrill factor, although if you want a real challenge, play this as Tails only. It is possible to beat him, but it's very hard and requires a little bit of luck.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles - Death Egg Zone Boss 2
Oooo-gravity! That's got potential for all kinds of wacky hijinks. This is harder than it looks, since sometimes the spikes from the little exploding rover can be tough to see. You also need to be careful you don't switch the gravity right when a rover is about to blow, making you a sitting duck for an incoming spike.
Did I miss any? Do I just like them too much? Am I just too attached to the good old days? You tell me.