We’ve ranked the best Sonic the Hedgehog games in existence, but this is a big series. We’d be remiss not to mention all of the sheer duds that Sega has thrown their blue mascot into.
Now, just to be clear, we hate Sonic Shuffle as much as you do, but this list specifically pertains to what we consider to be the worst in the (more or less) mainline series of games, or at least in the vicinity of the core Sonic games.
That said, let’s begin ranking the worst Sonic the Hedgehog games – starting with…
5. Sonic Forces (2017)
Sonic Forces isn’t the worst entry in the series, but it is one of the most underwhelming. During development, it went by the codename Sonic 2017. After the huge Mario and Zelda comebacks on the Switch, all eyes were on Sonic to dazzle us with a triumphant return to form. Sonic Generations had set the stage and shown us it could be done, but we were hungry for more. And then we got… this.
Don’t get me wrong… it’s a’ight. I mean, the character customization idea is kind of amusing. It’s also cool that Sega embraced the Sanic meme and let you decorate your in-game costumes with it. Plus, any new music from Crush 40 is always welcome. And being released as a budget title at only $39.99 helped soften the sting of its mediocrity. But there’s still no getting around it. Sonic Forces is indeed a mediocre Sonic game that brings nothing to the table gameplay-wise. The stages are repetitive, the graphics feel like a downgrade from previous titles, and cutscenes are a slog to skip through. Juxtaposed against the excellent Sonic Mania released in the same year, this game just felt like the video game equivalent of empty calories.
4. Sonic and the Secret Rings (2007)
Look. I won’t lie. It physically pains me to put Sonic and the Secret Rings on this list, but like Travis, I too must take Old Yeller out behind the barn and put him down. I vividly remember the positive reception this game received upon release. I was 17 years old and had chosen the Wii over the PS3 as my “next-gen” console. I had been on the fence about the decision, but being a huge Sonic the Hedgehog fan, I decided to go with the Wii after Sonic ’06 was universally panned. Secret Rings was getting rave reviews in comparison.
Looking back, I think those positive reviews were just a response to how terrible Sonic ’06 was. Compared to that game, Sonic and the Secret Rings was a breath of fresh air for most professional reviewers. And while I never found it to be all that amazing as I quickly discovered that mandatory motion controls weren’t my style, I still thought the game was fine. I liked dodging the T-Rex in the dinosaur-themed stage. I liked the storybook artwork. I like the Shantae-esque genie. I liked the music, for the most part.
But I never had the desire to revisit it after beating it. And after sitting down with it again recently, I know why. This game sucks, y’all. The clunky controls kill whatever fun that could’ve been had. I can only assume my sheer love of the character must’ve powered me through it back in 2007, but I honestly can’t comprehend how I ever finished this atrocity. More recent Sonic outings like Sonic Dash on mobile prove that the on-rails movement can work – but that’s with the precision of a touch screen, not the awful waggle of the Wiimote.
3. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (2014)
Sonic Boom is a decent cartoon for kids, but the fact we were first introduced to it through this awful game should be considered a crime. Rise of Lyric is painful to play through. The uninspired level designs add insult to injury by rendering themselves virtually unplayable at an unforgivable 9 or 12 frames per second in co-op mode.
There’s a hub world between stages, but unlike something like Spyro or Mario, it’s totally barren. What’s even the point? This is seriously just a soulless cash-in that received little care in its rushed production. I’m assuming the executives just figured it’s for kids and that parents won’t be any wiser when they go Christmas shopping. Well, many of us parents grew up on Sonic. This isn’t our first rodeo, we know a stinker when we see one – and Rise of Lyric is definitely a stinker.
2. Sonic Lost World (2013)
Sonic Lost World is one of the blue hedgehog’s more frustrating outings. It adds parkour mechanics to the mix, which seems like it should be a natural fit for someone as athletic as Sonic, but then it proceeds to suck all of the joy out of the feature by making it a chore to pull off in the game.
Every time either the Wii U or 3DS versions start to get good, the frame rate massively drops, or the game decides to give you a pointless task to complete before you can move on – effectively grinding everything to a screeching halt. In the words of Jaleel White, that’s no good.
Dishonorable Mention: Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
Although it’s long been the punching bag of the gaming community – what with its mutated Dr. Eggman design, weird uncanny valley damsel in distress, and historically buggy, glitchy, downright terrible gameplay – somehow… I kind of don’t hate it?
In fact… I kind of… like it? A little? Look, I know it’s not rational. The game is objectively bad and there’s no way around that – but for me it’s kind of like the movie The Room. Once in awhile I find myself playing it and kind of enjoying just how awful it is. I revisit it rather frequently, to tell the truth. More than I revisit a lot of actually good games. I laugh at how bad it is, and any time a guest is over I have them play it if they’ve never played it before and we usually both laugh at it. But I swear, underneath all of the awfulness lies a good game screaming to get out.
If you play Sonic Generations, you can even get a glimpse of what could have been in the enhanced Crisis City stage. Honestly, it’s a fascinating game. For that reason, I don’t personally classify it as the worst Sonic game. No, that distinction goes to…
1. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010-2012)
I still get upset whenever I think about Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Talk about such a wasted opportunity. They really thought this was a worthy follow-up to the original Sonic trilogy? Listen, all you need to know is that this game was originally planned to be broken up into three “episodes”, so right away we were off to a bad start. But wait, it gets worse. The first episode was released in 2010, while the second episode came out in 2012… that’s a two-year gap… for a traditional side-scroller… and not even a good one at that.
Another thing you should know is that the third episode never came out. Sega never said why. But we all know why. Both episode of the game were just. that. awful. Nobody was enjoying it, let alone playing it!
Considering this incomplete game ever even had the audacity to put itself under the same banner as the originals just adds to its tarnished legacy, and definitely earns it the distinction of being the worst Sonic game ever.