We made Mike listen to the soundtracks of every major Sonic the Hedgehog game and rank them. Actually, that’s not entirely true - Mike volunteered to do this all on his own, the weirdo! Let him explain in his own words:
Hello, Mike here. I unironically like Sonic music.
With this list, I wanted to settle once and for all the best soundtracks in the Sonic universe, but I wanted to have some sort of objective system for ranking. It’s not just a list of which music I liked the most or least. Instead, here’s what I considered: (1) Is there a unity of style throughout the game? (2) Does the music “sound like Sonic”? (3) How well is the music structured/composed? (4) How consistent is its quality? Naturally, this means some Sonic games with good reputations don’t necessarily have the best music, and some games that get mocked routinely might have amazing ones. Hopefully that didn’t spoil too much. But it also means that a soundtrack that rides on nostalgia, or one that sounds good only when divorced from the game itself, will not make it high up this list. With that, let’s begin!
33. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (2014)
Imagine you’re the sound designer for the game Ico, and you decide the theme tune of the game should be “Yakety Sax.” That’s how I feel about Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. A generic orchestral/cinematic score might work for some other game, but it stands out as an awful choice for the blue hedgehog. Not only is it a poor choice, but the music isn’t even that interesting on its own. It sounds like $4.99 orchestra-in-a-box royalty free music you buy for your first Unity indie game on Steam: generic and forgettable. That’s why this takes the bottom spot.
32. Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (2014)
31. Sonic & Knuckles (1994)
I had to separate this soundtrack from Sonic 3, even though the games were released as one story and often packaged together. The music for each game seems to come from totally different worlds, with wildly different levels of quality. Sonic & Knuckles is grating to the ears - the sound sample choices are questionable and ugly, the composition is bizarre, and it’s often hard to tell what is happening musically.
30. Sonic Advance (2001)
The sound chip for the Gameboy Advance kills this one. The GBA chip is the JPEG of music formats - even with good speakers the music sounds filtered and static-y. Even so, better composition could have saved it, but unfortunately this game suffers from a generic soundtrack with generic synth sounds. The choice to remix classic Sonic tunes backfires because the loss of sound quality is so apparent.
29. Sonic ‘06 (2006)
I’m not one to complain when a franchise starts going in new directions. I don’t believe Sonic music needs to stay in the late 80s glam metal phase. But this music doesn’t sound like old Sonic… or new Sonic… or any Sonic. It’s an unfocused mess that seems to be trying to have everything, which only means everything is half-baked. The rockin’ classic tunes are stunted and the experimental orchestral stuff is crude and amateurish. At least it’s not ear-shattering, which is why it doesn’t take the bottom slot. But I was hoping so hard that the most-maligned game would secretly have a banging soundtrack.
28. Sonic Triple Trouble (1994)
27. Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis and Game Gear, 1991)
Wait, don’t leave! I can explain!
This music isn’t bad. It’s good, really. But it isn’t even close to the greatest thing. Nostalgia is kind of the only thing going for it. There are some tracks (Labyrinth Zone in particular comes to mind) which just sound goofy now. Every other Genesis game figured out better how to use the Genesis chip and create a cohesive, “Sonic” experience.
Oh, I’m including the Game Gear version, since its soundtrack feels like a companion piece.
26. Sonic Blast (1996)
Not much to say except it’s better than some other Game Gear titles.
25. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Game Gear (1992)
The good: excellent use of the Game Gear/Master System sound chip. All the tracks sound great. The bad: It’s because all the tracks sound exactly the same.
24. Sonic Chaos (1993)
This one is easily the best Game Gear title - the tracks are all interesting and diverse. But spot 24 is about as good as the Game Gear gets.
23. Sonic Advance 2 (2002)
It’s amazing what better composition and instrument choice does for a brand. Unfortunately it’s still Gameboy Advance music.
22. Sonic Lost World (2013)
Super Mario Galaxy + Christmas Music + 70s Drum Solos.
21. Sonic Unleashed (2008)
The Sonic games from about 2006-2012 all have a similar issue: lack of focus. As the franchise began to mature, its composers starting experimenting with ways to branch out from the typical Genesis-chip tunes or Dreamcast-era hair metal. But it took a long time to find their footing. This game is a great example of the mix of interesting jams and bizarre, kiddie orchestral pieces that just do not mesh. At all.
20. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 2 (2012)
There’s nothing wrong with leaning into nostalgia, as these games do. The trouble is that unless the music is god-tier, then the whole time I’m listening I’m wondering why I don’t just plug in Sonic 2 and relive my childhood that way. Good music, nothing wrong with it, but ultimately falls short of the original.
19. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 (2010)
The previous, but better.
18. Sonic Advance 3 (2004)
This is how you do a nostalgic remix: check out the Green Hill version in this game. It’s still recognizably the original theme, but it has been changed enough to make it original, rather than just another cash-in knockoff. That’s all I want to say about this one.
17. Sonic Rush Adventure (2007)
This feels like a Mario soundtrack. A very competent, fun Mario soundtrack. But a Mario soundtrack.
16. Sonic and the Black Knight (2009)
Another potentially great soundtrack held back by generic synth orchestra music. Not bad, not amazing - fits right in the middle of this list.
15. Sonic Boom: Ice and Fire (2016)
This is what “Sonic of the Future” should sound like - it doesn’t depart so far from the original that it doesn’t sound like Sonic anymore, but at the same time it’s very much a different musical style from the games of the 90s. None of the tracks are stellar world-changers, but they still get the blood pumping.
14. Sonic and the Secret Rings (2007)
Wow, I forgot this game even existed. Is it any good? Someone let me know. The soundtrack is solid, so now I’m curious.
13. Sonic Generations (2011)
Is it cheating to include Sonic Generations? It’s not even trying to hide its nature as a Greatest Hits album. And the thing with Greatest Hits is that they’re naturally going to be pretty good without trying too hard.
12. Sonic Mania (2017)
Sonic Mania is a game by fans, for fans. So it uses some of the most fan-bait nostalgia tunes. Good enough for a Greatest Hits album that edges out Sonic Generations.
11. Sonic Forces (2017)
The soundtrack for Sonic Forces is better than the soundtrack for Sonic Mania. That is my genuine opinion.
10. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)
There is not one misstep in this entire soundtrack. Every level theme fits perfectly. It’s a great use of the Genesis chip. The ending sequence is still one of the best in the whole franchise. It’s the foundation for all other Sonic games to bulid upon. Sonic 2 is my parents.
9. Sonic 3D Blast (1996)
This game did not age well. Maybe it was never great. But gosh darn it if it doesn’t have some of the most memorable tunes in the whole series. So good the themes were remixed for Sonic Adventure.
8. Sonic Colors (2010)
Wow, when this soundtrack is on, it’s REALLY on. It’s refreshing to hear a Sonic-style game that doesn’t sound like we’re just reliving the glam metal of the 80s. If all the dopey cartoon music could just be cut out of it this would be much higher on the list.
7. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)
This is the peak of Genesis music. I can’t think of any possible way to improve this soundtrack. Who knows whether the rumors of Michael Jackson’s involvement were true, but if so, more Sonic games needed his magic touch in my opinion.
6. Sonic Heroes (2003)
Personally, this soundtrack does nothing for me. However, I recognize that it kicks butt anyway. There’s a reason the title track was included in Smash.
5. Sonic Adventure (1998)
Is there any game that had such amazing ideas get so thoroughly butchered in execution as Sonic Adventure? The soundtrack is no exception, though it escaped the most unscathed. Poor audio integration and levels mean that the amazingness of this soundtrack doesn’t really shine in-game. Also, Sonic’s theme song is bad. Same for Tails. And Knuckles, and Big, and E-101. However, the other tracks are THAT much better. The themes for Windy Valley, Red Mountain, and Final Egg are particularly amazing.
4. Sonic CD (1993)
I’m only considering the JP release for this one - since the NA release swapped out only some of the tracks, it ends up a confusing mess. The JP version is so much better that it makes the mildly-competent NA release sound like Sonic 06 in comparison. Okay, maybe not that bad, but JP is just that good. The music is so energetic and fun and everything fits together so well. For the longest time this was the height of Sonic music.
3. Shadow the Hedgehog (2005)
Yeah, you read that right. I’m well aware the hatred this game gets. Maybe they’re right to hate the game. I never played it. The soundtrack, however, is amazing. Yeah, it’s a lot of edgy 2000s “I’m 14 and my parents suck” metal, but that’s exactly the character of Shadow the Hedgehog. For whatever this music aims to be, it absolutely nails it.
2. Sonic Adventure 2 Battle (2001)
SA2 takes everything from the first game and improves it. The main character themes are better. The level themes are better. The random orchestrated bits are better. Each playable character has their own musical style which infects any track where they are present. And best of all, it features America’s new national anthem!
1. Sonic Rush (2005)
Deal with it.