Back to the Start of the Race: A Celebration of Sonic the Hedgehog
When we talk about what was once the war between Sega and Nintendo for most iconic and best series, it’s easy to say Nintendo won with Mario. After all, Mario has been in more successful modern games than Sonic and in the end, Sega just couldn’t keep up in the console race. That said, nothing is ever so cut and dry. Sure Sonic has had some rough times, but there’s no denying the genuine charm of the character and the franchise when it is in proper form. That’s is, after all, why we still care if a new Sonic game is good or bad isn’t it? Today is the day it all started back in 1991. It was today that the original Sonic the Hedgehog hit shelves.
The goal with Sonic was clear from the beginning. Mario was the bar. The original development team was tasked with creating not only a mascot that would trump Mario in terms of style, but a game that would be technically advanced and moreso than anything that could be found in a Mario game. In fact, former Sega President Hayao Nakamura went as far as to say that the team needed to design a character as iconic as Mickey Mouse – no small task in the least. The original team had already decided to create a game that would emphasize speed. They needed a character that would match that theme.
Numerous concepts were floated for the character that would encompass the speed that the team was looking for. Beyond just fast animals, they had decided that the character should roll into a ball as its primary form of attack. When it came down to this criteria, the two options left were hedgehog and armadillo. Though the team went with hedgehog, the armadillo concept would be kept for Mighty the Armadillo, a character that would come much later in the franchise. Other ideas for Sonic included making him a vampire, giving him a rock band, giving him a human girlfriend, and making him light blue instead of his iconic dark blue color. One of the only ideas to survive was giving him red shoes, inspired by Michael Jackson’s boots on the cover of the Bad album.
Mario games may have been the starting point and reference by which Sonic was created, but the main focus was speed. Programmer Yuji Naka was wanted levels that could be cleared far faster than Mario levels. Thusly, Sonic was built as a simple jump-button platformer in the original Mario vein, but with a speed and processing rate that would flex the capabilities of the Sega Genesis system. The entire game is built around accessible level design with set pieces that Sonic must then traverse. As such, it’s much more action oriented for the most part and would succeed in making Sonic the fastest character ever to appear in a video game at the time.
There’s no doubt that the recent years have been quite unkind to interactive media featuring the once proud Sonic the Hedgehog. Honestly, anyone can make jokes about how bad the slew of games had been since Sonic ’06, but doing so is putting on blinders to the fact that Sonic has still remained a relevant character well beyond the life of his games. TV shows, comics, and even the occasional spin-off game have allowed Sega to keep an appropriate spotlight on the blue blur and his friends throughout the years. We might still be waiting year after year for the Sonic game that matters again, but the fact that there’s jokes to be made and hope to be had still speaks to the relevance of Sega’s iconic mascot.