The best Sonic games on PlayStation

By Lee Brady,

Sonic games have a colourful history on PlayStation — especially with the positive addition of Sonic Frontiers on PS5 and PS4. For those looking for the very best, we've ranked all Sonic the Hedgehog games on PlayStation for you.

With Sonic Frontiers having launched on PS5 and PS4, we figured it was as good a time as any to list the best Sonic the Hedgehog games on PlayStation consoles. After all, while Sonic's star has been shooting higher in Hollywood, the blue blur's games have been rather absent as of late — what better way to remind ourselves of which ones to revisit before diving into the latest release?

FrontiersExcited to see where Frontiers lands on the list!

Airing public opinions on Sonic the Hedgehog can be a dangerous game — the Sega mascot's fan community have the power to perpetuate debates over games that don't even exist, like Sonic Adventure 3, so imagine how they feel about games that do exist. While some say SOAP shoes are the best, others won’t budge on their love for Big the Cat, and I respect these positions equally — hopefully, you’ll extend my wordy adoration the same courtesy.

To help narrow this list down (yes this is a shortened list), we decided to exclude any Sonic games that you cannot earn trophies for on a PlayStation console. So that means no Game Gear titles, no Sonic '06 (it still makes an appearance), no Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, etc. Don't get me wrong, I would talk about all of them if I could, but my contract with TrueTrophies is very particular about the length and frequency of my Sonic the Hedgehog essays. So let's get into it — the top 22 Sonic games on PS5, PS4, and PS3!

The best Sonic the Hedgehog games on PS5, PS4, and PS3

best Sonic games

Sonic Forces — PS4

Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) for the PS3is not on this list because it doesn’t have a trophy list, but despite what you may have heard about its famously unfinished design, it would not have taken last place. While Sonic ‘06 failed to deliver on its design ambitions, at least it had ambitions — Sonic Forces failed to deliver on the discarded McDonald’s pencil maze it calls a design, or even muster the willpower to finish pencil-sketching the maze.

The best thing you can say about Sonic Forces is that its story, peppered generously with moments of Sonic characters bathing your mute freak of a custom character in unearned praise, is that it’s genuinely and consistently hilarious. The worst thing you can say about Sonic Forces is that it shows a fundamental lack of understanding on every conceivable level regarding what Sonic games are or why people play them.

Reduce movement and player input to single inputs and instant win buttons. Reduce level designs to kill pits and straight lines. Reduce environment design to the question: “what if x, but y?” (i.e “what if Green Hill Zone, but sand?”). Throw in a custom character on the belief that players would rather be some dude who knows Sonic than Sonic himself, then make sure that character’s playstyle utterly kills fluid momentum, and for the first time even the most unblinking of Sonic’s fans might start to agree with all the uncharitable things said about Sonic Team as game designers.

best Sonic games

Sonic the Fighters — PS3

Look, let’s not linger here — while some games do have the word Sonic in their title, and maybe even the character Sonic the Hedgehog in the roster, that does not make all such games genuine Sonic games. Heartbreakingly, Sonic Forces is 100% a Sonic game, which is why its failings must be made abundantly clear and separate from the rest of the list. Thus, the job of ‘list divider’ falls to Sonic the Fighters — which is absolutely not a Sonic game.

That’s not to say Sonic the Fighters isn’t a fun game — it's a solid if shallow brawler whose highlights just so happen to fall well below the standards of our best PlayStation fighting games list. It’s just simply not a fun Sonic game — nothing particularly interesting is done with bringing the Sonic roster to the Virtua Fighter format, and you know that’s true because if these exact same characters, spin dashes and all, were reskinned to look like the Super Mario roster, you know not a single kid would play it and cry aloud “why is Mario in this Sonic game?”

Sonic Spinball — PS3, PS4

I love pinball — or, at least eventually I learned to love pinball, in spite of Sonic Spinball nearly convincing me I didn’t. Sonic Spinball’s floaty, cluttered, all too frequently hidden threats and dangers at the other end of unseeable kill lanes are enough to drive any child far away from the elegance of real pinball games. Trial and error only work as a gameplay mechanic if you don’t game over on level three, Sonic Spinball.

best Sonic games

Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing — PS3

Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing was an absolutely fine HD stab at Mario Kart in the days before Mario Kart inevitably went HD and stabbed all the way back, killing All-Stars Racing dead in an instant. Or, at least it would’ve been had Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing’s excellent successor not beaten Mario Kart 8 to the punch and killed it first by way of an inferiority complex.

best Sonic games

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II — PS3

Whichever flavour of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 you prefer, it really doesn’t matter — they both taste like failure to anyone with actual tastebuds. Though it sure was more interesting when Sonic 4 was simply a bad iteration of Sonic 2 than when it tried to be a bad iteration of itself. The Tails buddy mechanic adds little, yet detracts lots and lots more from the broken-yet-zippy flow of the first part.

Best Sonic Games

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I — PS3

In 2008, Mega Man 9 was released on Nintendo’s WiiWare channel and was a bitesize return to glory for Capcom’s long-stagnant mascot — one that thrived purely for having brought Mega Man back to its basics. For many, it seemed a harbinger of positive change for the future of classic mascot heroes after years of trendy reboots and reimaginings that saw Sonic get tall and Bomberman turned into a gritty, edgy post-apocalyptic version of itself in Act Zero.

Then Sega of America slapped the name Sonic the Hedgehog 4 on a third-party mobile phone title with gimmick-riddled gyroscopic controls, and that bright future was quickly snuffed out. Leaving aside the nonchalant sacrilege of Sega’s title choice, it does bear mentioning that Sonic 4 isn’t a downright terrible game — it’s slight, ugly, and jank as all hell, but not terrible. If you can put up with its rubbish physics, do yourself a favour and try to get the Untouchable trophy for beating the boss rush mode without taking a hit — I promise, it salvages the game just a little.

Best Sonic Games

Sonic 3D Blast — PS3, PS4

Missing the upscaled graphics and texturally moodier music of its Sega Saturn counterpart, the Genesis/Mega Drive version of Sonic 3D Blast is the only version on PlayStation consoles — the second-best version of an already not-excellent Sonic game. It is, however, uniquely bad enough to warrant playing, and it was co-developed by Traveller’s Tales, whose later Lego series would become synonymous with impressive in concept, roughshod in execution, 2D-3D action platformers.

Best Sonic Games

Team Sonic Racing — PS4

It seems even the Sonic racing games, with a critical track record far above the average of the Sonic series as a whole, can’t help but innovate themselves into comparative mundanity. Team Sonic Racing is a conceptually fascinating failure — a racing game with a genuinely novel teamwork mechanic that just so happens to not work very well. The result makes Team Sonic Racing feel a little too much like Mario Party, though it’s still worth playing for that soundtrack.

Best Sonic Games

Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine — PS3, PS4

Look, I know I talked about the whole Mario thing with Sonic the Fighters, and it's absurd to put this game higher when it quite literally got reskinned for the Super Nintendo with Kirby characters in it. If you want a fake reason why this gets to be so high when similarly non-Sonic game Sonic the Fighters does not, it’s because now that Puyo Puyo has made a cameo in Sonic Mania, Mean Bean Machine is officially in-some-way canon. If you would prefer the truth, though, it’s because I really like Puyo Puyo and earning the Yatta! trophy back in 2009 was an absolute blast.

Best Sonic Games

Sonic the Hedgehog — PS3, PS4, PS5

Consider this the point where the list proper begins, and please know that when all’s said and done, I’ll never stop playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog. The core of the entire Sonic franchise’s best features and worst tendencies lie crystalised somewhere within this original outing. Fast action across stunning locales goes hand-in-hand with pace-killing platform labyrinths and frustrating difficulty spikes, but when the good outweighs the bad, and the music hits right, we’ll do it all over again. That’s Sonic, baby.

Best Sonic Games

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed — PS3, PS Vita

While there are eleven entries ahead of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, think less about it being the 12th best Sonic game on PlayStation and more about it being a racing game so good it nearly cracked the top ten of a best Sonic games list (it was a little closer prior to Sonic Frontiers' release).

When this incompressible nightmare of a game title landed on PS3 in 2012, it genuinely felt revelatory. Despite the novelty of its vehicle transformation gimmick and the variety in its fan service-riddled tracks and character roster, Racing Transformed (worth a shot) put skilful driving first and foremost and delivered an optimised experience that still offers an unparalleled rush to this day.

Best Sonic Games

Sonic CD — PS3, PS4, PS5

The biggest problem with Sonic CD is that it doesn’t inform the player how radically different from Sonic the Hedgehog it plays when you’re playing it right. To get the best ending, players need to travel to the past in every stage and destroy a big machine that’s hidden in every level. As you try to do so, you’ll suddenly understand why the design of these levels feels so multilayered and dense, yet also why you needn’t interact with nearly any of it to beat the game.

Each portion of the stage around one of the game’s time travel posts suffices as a mini side-challenge in itself, and if you’re playing the game as the designers intended, you’ll be backtracking and exploring each layer of each stage and passing these micro-momentum challenges in order to send yourself back in time.

The result is a game that weirdly doubles down on all the tricky, pace-killing platforming of the first title, converting Sonic 1’s design into a unique-yet-awkward momentum-based puzzle platformer. That said, Sonic CD offers so unique a flavour of Sonic game compared to Sonic 1 that it actually warrants playing more than the original, offering us a glimpse at an alternate timeline for a series whose real-life future still ended up containing the game Sonic Forces.

Best Sonic Games

Sonic Unleashed — PS3

Sonic Unleashed has within it one of the best 3D Sonic games ever made. Everything anyone ever liked about the Modern Sonic stages of Sonic Generations is done here a little better and with a little more focus. The result of Sonic Unleashed’s daytime stages is essentially a rhythm game just loose enough to let you feel genuinely like a genius anytime you carve out a shortcut through each level’s dense, multi-channelled design.

It’s a shame then that Sonic Team refused to leave well enough alone and tossed in a baby’s first God of War with the game’s Werehog stages. Sonic games have had alternate gameplay styles before that still wind up leaving a decent impression on the player — the Werehog simply outstayed his welcome by werehogging three-quarters of the game’s runtime. Sonic Unleashed is the best Sonic Adventure 3 and I mean that as both a recommendation and a heartbroken condemnation.

Best Sonic Games

Sonic Adventure 2 — PS3

Sonic Adventure 2 suffers from the exact same problem as Sonic Unleashed, diverting the player's attention far too frequently to alternative gameplay styles that take much more of your time and are far less fun than the conventional 3D Sonic (or Shadow) stage. How any team of creatives could look at the gameplay of E-102 Gamma from Sonic Adventure and think, “yeah, we should double down on that,” I will never understand.

Yet that’s what Sonic Team did, and thus Sonic Adventure 2 has Tails and Dr. Eggman stages that feel utterly antithetical to Sonic’s design in every way imaginable. That said, at its best Sonic Adventure 2 packs in a dense action-platformer design that feels often far punchier than many of Sonic’s later titles. The plot is campy gold, the soundtrack is quintessential video game listening, and any Sonic game with a Chao Garden is going to get a free bump up the list.

Best Sonic Games

Sonic Colors Ultimate — PS4

When Sonic Colors came out, it quickly became my personal favourite 3D Sonic game. For once, there was no filler — no Werehog, no side characters, and no dramatically different playstyles. The gimmick this time around, the wisp power-ups, fondly recall the shield power-ups from Sonic 3 and very rarely have a negative hit on the flow of gameplay. It culminates in what is easily the most consistent 3D Sonic experience and was such a shock to the system that it took forever to realise that ‘most consistent’ does not equate to ‘best.’

Of course, when I say Sonic Colors, I mean Sonic Colors — the original game on the Nintendo Wii. Sonic Colors Ultimate, a PS4 remaster of the Wii game, is a worse version of Sonic Colors. The reasons for its inferiority are mostly technical — its supposedly higher frame rate isn’t all that consistent and its incongruent ‘Tails Save’ mechanic adds virtually nothing but bloat. That, and Sonic Colors Ultimate’s remastered lighting engine confuses ‘more’ lighting with ‘better’ lighting, ironically draining the game of much of its colour.

Best Sonic Games

Sonic Frontiers — PS5, PS4

The mixed Sonic Frontiers reviews are in, with opinions ranging from "the best 3D Sonic game yet made" to "the most regressive, unenjoyable product ever designed" and every take between. Now having played through the game ourselves, we can confidently say it's not the best 3D Sonic game yet made, but it's hardly far off the mark.

When Frontiers hits its stride, it looks like an all-timer — its open-world approach to Sonic Unleashed's daytime level design turns the otherwise mundane action of hunting down collectables and moving from A to B in your average open-world game into a miniature speed gauntlet. This simple trick allows Sonic Frontiers to burrow into your memory in a way that so few open-world games manage as they ask you to meander thoughtlessly over terrain for minutes at a time. The story here is also surprisingly heartfelt, giving Sonic and his friends actual character traits to work with for the first time in a long time. Plus, with a little tweak or two in the options, you'll find Sonic has never controlled quite so well in a 3D space.
Without the tight level design of Sonic Unleashed or Sonic Generations, however, it does become hard to justify indulging in the game's micro-gauntlets just to accomplish moving from A to B. The game starts strong, but as the hours roll on you realise nothing actually challenges you much in Sonic Frontiers. Guardian fights and Cyber Space levels offer the biggest amount of variety, but neither are really all that central to the gameplay and are often too insubstantial to feel rewarding to beat.

Sonic Frontiers emerges frontloaded with potential, but nothing the game sets up really pays off in the long run, its best ideas coasting on the engine, gameplay, and even whole chunks of actual level design from Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Generations. Frontiers does relatively stick the landing all the same, rounding out to a more consistent experience than Unleashed, and that's a remarkably strong place to start for the supposed future of Sonic games.

Sonic PlayStation list

Sonic Adventure — PS3

Today, what’s perhaps most striking about Sonic Adventure is the confidence. Released only two years after Super Mario 64 suggested what 3D platformers should probably play like, the developers of Sonic Adventure come crashing onto the scene, hot off the back of fascinatingly doomed projects like Burning Rangers and Sonic R, ready to give Sonic in 3D an honest shot — and they go hard.

An open-world 3D adventure game running at hardware-intensive speeds, sporting no less than six fully-voiced and playable characters, with an experimental nonlinear narrative, a baby alien raising Tamagotchi-like minigame, the biggest console graphics money had yet to buy, and all in the name of Sonic the Hedgehog — a character who hadn’t released a big budget game in four years at that point.

Of course, confidence doesn’t equal quality, and even die-hards have to zoom out and admit that, when it comes down to it, no one really wants to play as any of those other five characters — especially when they break the game’s flow as hard as Big the Cat. At the same time, even today you can feel the raw AAA-for-its-time energy radiating off Sonic Adventure, and it’s an energy we’ve never quite seen on the same scale since.

Sonic PlayStation list

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 — PS3, PS4, PS5

After Sonic 2’s streamlining of Sonic 1’s multi-layered platforming stages, Sonic 3 works to deliver the best of both and largely succeeds. Levels feel crammed full of explorable nooks with discoverable secrets, yet also give the player ample space for high-speed platforming — this way, the game very rarely slows you down or stops you utterly dead in your tracks like Sonic 1 often does.

Of course, it does have one segment that literally stops the game dead if you can’t intuit entirely new controls to move a magic clown barrel out of your way in Carnival Night Zone. Then you think back on all of the zones in Sonic 3, and besides maybe the first two, you struggle to find much love for the four others between the weird spinning tops, the balloons, and the long drop ice pits. It’s top-tier Sonic when it hits its stride, but there are many bumps along the road.

Sonic PlayStation List

Sonic Generations — PS3

What gnaws at Sonic Generations’ high spot on this list is just how little it earns its place. To become the best 3D Sonic game yet produced, all Generations had to do was gut the Werehog out of Sonic Unleashed, pare back the more flavour-driven changes made in Sonic Colors, and pair it all with a nakedly imperfect 2D representation of Sonic that plays exactly how a person who hasn’t played Sonic 3 in 15 years thinks Sonic plays. There’s something so sensible about Sonic Generations, so buttoned-down, that it’s hard to give it much credit at all for its accomplishments.

That said, Sonic Generations not only works as a perfect celebration of the Sonic franchise’s longevity and variety, but it offers some of the loosest, twistiest 3D Sonic race course designs yet. Blitz through Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone without thinking, and suddenly Sky Sanctuary Zone hits you with its alternate paths and its wider spaces — it puts agency back into the 3D Sonic level design formula.

Sonic Generations’ character motion and level design are so fun that even the semi-mandatory filler is killer. By Planet Wisp you see a condensed return of the risk-reward gameplay that made Sonic’s design so good all the way back in 1991. It may lack the creativity and challenge of Sonic Unleashed’s daytime levels, but at least there are no few diversions — Sonic Generation is, even without its own soul, still a blast.

Sonic PlayStation List

Sonic and Knuckles — PS3, PS4, PS5

As an adult, I can appreciate that Sonic and Knuckles is the considerably stronger half of the third Sonic game — every zone in its nearly healthy runtime is a banger and errs far closer to the linearity of Sonic 2 than the density of Sonic 1 and Sonic 3. This would not have swayed my much younger self, however, as the fact that this game didn’t have Tails, and thus wouldn’t let my little brother play too, was a dealbreaker.

If taken as its own game, S&K showcases 2D Sonic design as its most thoughtful — its gimmicks are far less experimental and its design is driven more by specific wants from the player. We want tension from the player — the lights go out on a timer in the Sandopolis. We want to disorient the player and have them think both vertically and horizontally — magnets in Flying Battery. Only one Sonic game has ever taken this considered design further, and it’s up next.

Would either game have ranked higher had this been a combined Sonic 3 and Knuckles entry? Well, if anything it would have dragged S&K’s spot down a little. While the full combined game feels more substantial, there’s no getting past the fact that Sonic 3’s stages are just broadly not very fun. Instead, celebrate that Sonic and Knuckles’ level design is distinctly genius enough to make even this half of a single game project good enough to rank third on its own.

Sonic PlayStation list

Sonic Mania — PS4

Where Sonic Generations borrowed much of its predecessors' best elements to functionally stand above them, to suggest the same of Sonic Mania would be to admit you’ve never actually played the game. The return of past zones hardly matters when Mania keeps throwing new twists on top of them, and to keep doing so while furthering Sonic & Knuckles' thoughtful, player-demand-based level design is what makes Mania utterly astounding.

Sonic Mania may not push the boat much further out than Sonic & Knuckles ultimately did — we’re seeing here the finishing of a thought half-explored by the franchise over 20 years before Mania came out. Levels are sprawling and vertical, yet motion is fast and loose, aided by Sonic’s greatest addition in years, the drop dash — a move that, like the spin dash before it, makes its best case whenever you try to play an older Sonic game without it.

Still, by completing the unfinished design possibilities that S&K started, Sonic Mania moves well past a simple celebration of past glories and into a furthering of those glories. From this point on, time will tell if someone looks at what Mania accomplished for Sonic and dares to truly reimagine the original 2D series format — either way, it’ll be a very tough act to follow.

Sonic PlayStation list

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 — PS3, PS4, PS5

30 years after its blockbusting debut, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still as close as we’ve yet come to seeing exactly what makes Sonic as a video game legacy truly make sense. Later Sonic games like Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles would try and find a more delicate balance between Sonic 2’s pared-back, linear-leaning level design and Sonic 1’s various platform labyrinths, but that impetus could not have been gained organically — there simply was no doing Sonic 2 again.

Pare the level design further back from Sonic 2 and Sonic is left with linear levels that play themselves. Ramp the level design up in complexity and you rob Sonic 2 of its quintessential simplicity, and it’s Sonic 2’s simplicity that makes it sing. Compare Sonic 2’s Emerald Hill Zone to Sonic 1’s Green Hill Zone, or Casino Night Zone to Spring Yard Zone, and you can see how the design makes it feel like Sonic 1’s developers were massively overthinking what constitutes a challenge in a game where momentum is a challenge all of its own.

Sonic Frontiers landed a Top 10 spot!Sonic Frontiers landed a Top 10 spot!

When Sonic 2 gets more complex and challenging near the end, it comes long after the player has perfected manoeuvring Sonic through a level, coming to terms with exactly how he jumps, rolls, and spin dashes — the player masters momentum before the game even considers a Sonic 1-like labyrinth such as Metropolis Zone. The designers of Sonic 3 and Knuckles knew they couldn’t simply have momentum be the challenge again — veteran Sonic players would not find themselves remotely challenged. So, to compensate, the Sonic 1 level hazards return in force.

Maybe that’s why, even as early as Sonic 3’s development, Sonic’s developers pushed to make the character’s games 3D. Sonic 2 had left no room to breathe in 2D — not without fundamentally altering how the hedgehog moved. No other entry on this list comes close to being a game design philosophical nightmare like Sonic 2, and that should be reason enough to put it at the top spot. Still, it’s also simply the most fun game on the list — it strikes the perfect balance between hard and fast, and here it shall remain until Sonic Team finally masters Sonic in 3D.

That's the list! If you're still collecting those Sonic Frontiers trophies, let us know what your thoughts on the game are and whether it should have been ranked higher or lower than it was in the comments below!
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee loves writing about the game design of classic PS Plus Premium games and upcoming PS5 games like Marvel's Spider-Man 2 and Final Fantasy XVI. He's a big proponent of video games as an evolving artistic medium, though he's also a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog games, so the medium might want to keep looking for a better spokesperson.
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