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The best 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games

Sonic Origins
(Image credit: Sega)

Sonic Origins is the latest collection spotlighting the classic 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games from the Sega Genesis era. This bundle packs features such as all-new opening and ending cutscenes for each game, an “anniversary” mode that presents the titles in a widescreen format and new challenges that reward you with “coins” you can use to unlock new content. Though this isn’t the first Sonic the Hedgehog collection, the extra features seem enticing.

This collection represents the pinnacle of the Sonic series for many people, myself included. But how do they stack up against one another? Below, we’ll rank the games in Sonic Origins from best to least-best. We’ll also list some of the best 2D Sonic games released on systems beyond the Sega Genesis.

(If you're interested in 3D Sonic games, you can check out the first seven minutes of Sonic Frontiers gameplay.)

Note that this ranking is different from our previous "every main Sonic game ranked, worst to best" feature, which you should check out after reading this one. Also note that after the time of this writing (5/20/22), the games on Sonic Origins will no longer be available on Steam as standalone titles.

That said, here are the best 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games.

Sonic Mania 

sonic mania

Sonic Mania is a love-letter to the original Sonic the Hedgehog games. (Image credit: Sega)

Sonic Mania is the Sonic the Hedgehog game that should have been released on the Sega Saturn since it’s a natural evolution of the Genesis entries – only 23 years after the fact. This title is also a massive love letter to the franchise that was created by fans, for fans.

In truth, Sonic Mania is both a sequel and a remake. While it contains its own unique stages, it also has reimagined versions of select levels from the first four titles. The original music also receives remixed iterations which sound absolutely fantastic. If there is any game that encapsulates what makes 2D Sonic games great, it’s Sonic Mania.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 introduced Tails into the series. (Image credit: Sega)

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 surpasses the original in almost every single aspect. It has sharper graphics, larger levels and more inventive boss battles. The game also introduces Tails, who has become a staple of the series. Tails’ inclusion allows for two people to play at the same time, which added to the game’s already substantial replayability.

We also can’t forget how the game standardized video game release dates with its “Sonic 2sday” launch, which was a huge deal at the time. This one is arguably the best of the original Genesis titles.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Sonic 3 was the biggest Sonic game of its time, filled with massive levels and a ton of challenge stages. (Image credit: Sega)

After two successful Sonic games, many wondered what Sega would do with a third installment. You can tell the company didn’t hold back as Sonic 3 is still the biggest 2D adventure the franchise has seen. The levels are so large that it's impossible to find everything in a single go. They sometimes feel too huge, but that’s part of the game’s charm. This title introduced Knuckles, who was initially an antagonist.

We’ll ignore the long-running rumors of Michael Jackson’s involvement with the game’s soundtrack and leave this section by saying that Sonic 3 is still great. We're glad it's in Sonic Origins considering how legal issues forced Sega to remove it from certain collections of the past. 

Sonic CD 

Sonic CD

Sonic CD lets you travel to different timelines within levels. (Image credit: Sega)

A lot of people missed out on Sonic CD due since it was exclusive to the Sega CD add-on. This is a shame since it's one of the strongest games in the franchise and my personal favorite Sonic game.

Sonic CD is effectively three games in one since each level is broken up into past, present and future iterations – each containing different paths to take. Thanks to the Sega CD's power, this title had some of the most colorful graphics the franchise had experienced at the time.

The most distinctive aspect of Sonic CD was its North American soundtrack, which leveraged the power of CDs. CD technology also allowed the game to have animated cutscenes that are still impressive today. If you haven’t played Sonic CD, you need to remedy that.

Sonic the Hedgehog 

Sonic the Hedgehog

(Image credit: Sega)

The original Sonic the Hedgehog was the scrappy underdog that took on Super Mario and made Sega into a legitimate Nintendo rival. Though the Genesis' “blast processor” was nothing but marketing smoke and mirrors, Sonic the Hedgehog did have some of the fastest movement seen in platformers of the time.

Other than seeing how fast Sonic could run, this was a solid game filled with imaginative, multi-tiered levels. It also had a surprising amount of depth due to all the secrets one could find hidden in the colorful environments. Sonic the Hedgehog became an instant classic for a reason. It’s that good.

Sonic & Knuckles 

Sonic & Knuckles

Sonic & Knuckles was a solid expansion of Sonic 3. (Image credit: Sega)

In what could be considered an early version of DLC (minus the downloading), Sonic & Knuckles was an expansion to Sonic 3. What was interesting about this game’s cartridge is that you could attach Sonic 3 to the top of it, which added additional levels. It was also possible to insert Sonic 2 and play as Knuckles in that game.

On its own, Sonic & Knuckles offers a comparatively bite-sized adventure. But paired with Sonic 3, it’s one of the best entries in the series since it makes an already great game even better.

Honorable mentions

Sonic Triple Trouble

The Sega Game Gear had its own share of Sonic the Hedgehog games and Sonic Triple Trouble is arguably the best of the lot. It took the best aspects of the previous Game Gear titles to deliver a tight and focused 2D platformer. It also had some of the most impressive graphics of Sega’s 8-bit handheld.

Sonic the Hedgehog (Master System)

Like the Game Gear, the Sega Master System had a handful of Sonic games to call its own. The first one, simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog, was and is the best of the lot. Being an 8-bit game meant that Sonic wasn’t able to run as fast as he could on Genesis. But the Master Systems’ limitations didn’t prevent this from being an all-around solid Sonic adventure.

Sonic Advance 3

If you want a fast-paced (and portable) Sonic game, then you can’t go wrong with Sonic Advanced 3. This title features a large roster of characters, clever level design and colorful eye-catching graphics. While there are some 3D effects here and there, this is a 2D Sonic game at its heart and is the best of the Sonic Advance trilogy.

Sonic Spinball

I’m tossing Sonic Spinball on this list purely for myself since I enjoyed it a lot despite not being a traditional Sonic game. But it’s 2D, so it technically counts. In all seriousness, I’ve never much cared for pinball video games so it’s a small miracle that I actually enjoy this one. But the levels were well-thought-out and the graphics were pleasing. Not one of the best 2D Sonic games but one that I still like to play even now.

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.