It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, we don’t mean Christmas – pfft! – but instead Next-Gen Console Day! This month sees the launch of two new platforms in the Xbox and PlayStation family of gaming systems, and we couldn’t be more excited about both. Today, Microsoft formally releases the Xbox Series X and S, and with backwards compatibility a major factor we decided to dig into the archives and check which Sonic the Hedgehog titles you can play from Day One.
The following games are all Sonic the Hedgehog (or Sonic-related) games that are currently playable on Xbox Series X or S as of Tuesday 10 November, 2020. Microsoft and/or SEGA may add more titles to the Xbox Backwards Compatibility list in the future, and we’ll try to update this whenever that happens.
Without further ado, in almost-alphabetical order…
SEGA Mega Drive Classics
This Xbox One compilation is a very good place to start if you want to spend some time down SEGA Memory Lane. Not only is it jam-packed with loads of timeless Mega Drive/Genesis titles, but you can get instant access to a bunch of old-school Sonic the Hedgehog games this way too. Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic Spinball, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and Sonic 3D Flickies’ Island (aka Sonic 3D Blast) right there for your ample enjoyment. Sadly, no Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but don’t worry… we’ll get to that.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
While you won’t be able to play the original Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing on your next-gen Xbox, you can play this incredible sequel which blows it apart in almost every way. A true love letter to SEGA’s history, this kart racer takes Sonic and friends through roads, across water and even into the sky! Every SEGA fan worth their salt has to own this game, it’s the law. Sorry, we don’t make the rules.
The original 1999 classic was released on the Xbox 360’s ‘Xbox Live Arcade’ service about ten years ago, and is still available to play on your 2020 next-gen console (as well as its ‘DX’ expansion as DLC). Its gameplay has been ravaged a bit by the passage of time, but it still holds up as an interesting example of how to turn Sonic into an incredibly lite-adventure game. If you had a Dreamcast as a kid, this is worth it for the nostalgia factor.
Sonic Adventure 2
There’s a lot more fluff in Sonic Adventure 2 compared to its predecessor (I mean, mechs? Treasure hunting? Cam’aaahhhhn), but in terms of game mechanics this sequel is a lot tighter – the Sonic and Shadow stages are still a total joy to play. SA2 rides high on many fan’s ‘best of’ lists, and is definitely worth a re-buy at its current price.
Christian Whitehead’s incredible Retro Engine-powered port of Sonic CD is a technical marvel – essentially recreating the Mega CD exclusive platformer from the ground up! Without this, Sonic CD would have probably been sat to gather dust in SEGA’s archive… what better reason to pick this little gem up? The gameplay itself is not everyone’s cup of tea – the stages’ awkward design flow and the focus on high-speed time-travel has been known to put some fans off – but as a 16-bit curio from yesteryear, this can’t be missed.
Alright, look. Sonic Forces isn’t the greatest Sonic game in the world, we know that. It tries a little too hard in the story department, undercooks the platforming gameplay, somehow manages to screw up shoehorning Classic Sonic and we’re still not sure what’s going on with the Avatar stuff. But there is something about it that compels us to come back to it every now and then. You can get some fun out of it, and it’s worth playing through at least once for curiosity’s sake if it goes on sale. Mind you, if you’ve always had fun from it and truly love the game, even better – you’ll be able to replay this Xbox One title to your heart’s content on Xbox Series X and S.
This is more like it! Sonic the Hedgehog’s 20th Anniversary title on Xbox 360 was not only a great nostalgia trip – it was also an incredibly fun and enjoyable platforming adventure. For about as long as it lasted, that is. You can beat this game in less than a day, but this is a case of the journey being more important than the goal here. Taking the best bits of what worked in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colours and fine-tuning the mechanics made for a great Modern Sonic experience, while we could forgive Classic Sonic’s wonky 2D physics for the interesting set-pieces and inventive level design. Particularly in stages like City Escape!
Sonic Mania / Sonic Mania Plus
Arguably the greatest Sonic game to release in 20 years, Sonic Mania took things back to the series’ 2D roots. No incoherent, overly-complicated storyline; no hardcore anime-style robot enemies; no strange new gameplay mechanics. Just straightforward, no-nonsense platforming action with slick level design, inventive bosses and unique character traits that enhance the core gameplay. If you’re any kind of Sonic fan – including a lapsed fan that has not been particularly interested in the franchise for many years – you owe it to yourself to get this.
Sonic the Fighters
Yes, even this quirky spinoff arcade game can be played on today’s latest next-gen consoles. Sonic the Fighters won’t necessarily command a lot of your time, as the bare-bones premise will hold you and a mate over for bursts of an hour at best. But it’s fantastic that this game got any kind of re-release at all, and as an early 3D fighting game the polygonal graphics still have quite a bit of charm. Get it for preservation’s sake.
Sonic the Hedgehog (XBLA)
The original Sonic the Hedgehog game has been re-released on more consoles than you can shake a stick at. It’s on almost every bloomin’ thing. And one of those consoles was the Xbox 360, shortly after Microsoft launched its Xbox Live Arcade feature that offered bite-sized digital game downloads to users. With this game appearing in SEGA Mega Drive Classics, there’s little point in getting this separately, but in case you bought this way back in the late 2000s on Xbox 360, know that you’ll be able to download and re-play this on your shiny new Series X or S console too.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (XBLA)
Much like its predecessor, Sonic 2 has (almost) been re-released on every console under the sun. And for good reason – it’s a fantastic game that still holds up to this day. As with Sonic 1, you’ll be able to get this classic platformer in a number of other formats (including SEGA Mega Drive Classics on Xbox), but if you bought this when it was originally released on Xbox Live Arcade, you’ll be greeted with the Sonic 2 icon and bag yourself some more Achievements on a replay.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (XBLA)
Sadly, it looks like SEGA will have a really hard time re-releasing Sonic 3 (and by association, Sonic & Knuckles) on any modern gaming platform for the foreseeable future, thanks to its soundtrack. But back in 2009, SEGA released a version of the Mega Drive classic on the Xbox Live Arcade platform – a version that can still be bought to this day. Better yet, it is compatible with the Xbox Series X/S, making them the only platform (besides PC) where you can still get this gem in its unaltered form. Annoyingly, you can’t buy this directly on your console though; you need to either purchase this on an Xbox 360 or via the really old Xbox 360 Marketplace website (links below).
Sonic & Knuckles (XBLA)
Sonic & Knuckles is also only available via the Xbox family of consoles (outside of PC), meaning that if you haven’t done so already we HIGHLY recommend that you buy both this and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 from Xbox 360 Marketplace. That way, you can not only grab two stunning Mega Drive classics in their original format, but you’ll also be able to run the combined 16-bit epic Sonic 3 & Knuckles. S3&K is highly regarded as the best Sonic the Hedgehog game ever made, so you’ll want to get in on this pronto. And they are both cheap as chips, too! Do it.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I
As bungled as the execution was on this, SEGA’s 2010 return to Sonic’s 2D roots is not without its merits. Just don’t go in expecting a classic Mega Drive experience (and ignore the whole wall-standing thing) and you should be fine. However, given how rather embarrassed Sonic Team ended up getting over Sonic 4: Episode I, it’s unlikely that it will get re-released in the future. Meaning that you should pick it up on Xbox to ensure you can keep playing it on Series X or S, if the mood takes you.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II
While a lot better than Episode I, there was still something a little… off with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II. However, it did a better job of mashing classic Mega Drive environments together to produce some truly unique new Zones, and the team play between Sonic and Tails is reminiscent of some of the cooler Tag mechanics from Sonic Advance 3. If you get or have Episode I, you should probably do yourself a service and get Episode II as well – if only so that you can complete the set and access the special Metal Sonic episode.
Perhaps the most earnest of Sonic the Hedgehog games ever made, Sonic Unleashed is a very pretty game with a lot of fans. Unfortunately, the game itself has plenty of design issues (particularly in the Sonic day stages, which required an extraordinary amount of muscle memory to feel like you were accomplishing anything), but it TRIED, dammit, and that’s gotta be respected. The Hedgehog Engine is an impressive feat of graphical engineering, which will apparently be able to truly sing on an Xbox Series X/S with backwards compatibility. It seems that next-gen Xboxes can run the game without so much as a judder or lag, making it an obvious buy for anyone who’s still on the fence. Give Sonic Unleashed some (more) love this Christmas.
Team Sonic Racing
Of course, the most recent Sonic title is also available to play on Xbox Series X and S via backwards compatibility. Team Sonic Racing is a karting spinoff developed by the same folks behind All-Stars Racing Transformed, only this game sticks entirely to Sonic’s universe. To be honest, it’s really not a patch on its predecessor, but for a budget title there’s some fun to be had. Most significantly, the game features an incredible soundtrack by Sonic Sound Director Jun Senoue, so even if you treat this game as little more than an interactive album release you’re bound to have a good time.
Xbox Sonic Games You Can’t Play… Yet.
At least not right now, on your shiny new Xbox Series X or S consoles. The following games are Sonic titles that have previously released on older Xbox hardware, but have yet to be made backwards compatible with the latest generation of systems.
- SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis Ultimate Collection (Xbox 360 / Disc Only)
- SEGA Superstars Tennis (Xbox 360 / Disc Only)
- Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (Xbox 360 / Digital: UK / USA)
- Sonic Free Riders (Xbox 360 / Kinect / Digital: UK / USA)
- Sonic The Hedgehog (Xbox 360 / Disc Only)
- Shadow the Hedgehog (Xbox / Playable on Xbox 360)
- Sonic Heroes (Xbox / Playable on Xbox 360)
- Sonic Mega Collection Plus (Xbox / Playable on Xbox 360)
- Sonic Riders (Xbox / Playable on Xbox 360)