I wouldn't say safe play is the option for a poor player. Using Castlevania as an example for the umpteenth time, recklessness often ends in a quick, swift death for the player. Caution and intelligent play are what's encouraged, memorizing and analyzing enemy patterns and striking when the moment is just right. Of course, that has hardly anything to do with Sonic, but I felt I should point that out regardless. It's kind of controversial, but one way I think to help introduce a more "fair" difficulty curve in Sonic games would be to limit the ability to collect rings you've lost after getting hit. Maybe not removing that ability altogether, but say you can only re-collect a ring one time and one time only. So it discourages the player from getting hit over and over again and collecting the same lost ring an unlimited number of times and forces them to learn how to actually dodge things.