Imagine you are one of the game designers over at Sega circa 1991. You are under pressure to produce a winning games franchise to combat the dominance of Nintendo’s fat little plumber. So what is the killer idea you pitch to the Sega executives? A blue hedgehog….
Yes, the most unlikely of characters in computer game history (with the possible exception of Lester the Unlikely), Sonic the Hedgehog saved the Sega Megadrive and went on to become one of the most successful and instantly recognizable characters in gaming history. The first game went on sale on 23 June, 1991 making the spiny blue mammal 20-years-old today. Since launching a couple of decades ago, the franchise has sold over 80 million games and Sonic became one of the first inductees into the Walk of Game in 2005 alongside long term rival Mario and Zelda’s Link (who recently celebrated his 25th birthday. For those who don’t know, Sonic is a blue 15-year-old anthropomorphic hedgehog, who has the ability to run at supersonic speeds and the ability to curl into a ball, primarily to attack enemies. We still remember picking up the game and being blown away at the speed of it - compared to the lopping gait of Mario and others - Collecting rings, dodging spikes and fighting Dr. Ivo Robotnik to get those all-important Chaos Emeralds.
Following the huge success of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, two official sequels followed in quick succession with the introduction of that annoying two-tailed fox Tails and Sonic’s official squeeze Amy Rose. Only in 2010 was Sonic 4 released but in the meantime dozens of spin off titles were published, many of which Sonic wasn’t even the star of. In 1998 Sonic was once again in top form with the release of Sonic Adventures on the much-missed Dreamcast console. While Sonic had gone 3D with the Sonic 3D Blast game in 1996, this title was the real deal with that incredible speed matched with superb 3D graphics. Sadly the Dreamcast died out and with it Sega’s hardware legacy. That left Sonic to collect rings on hardware from Sony, Nintendo and later Microsoft. Despite the many, many titles published in the past ten years, Sonic has never really recaptured the glory of his early life. The battle between Mario and Sonic was well and truly finished in 2007 when they appeared together in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games and the following year in Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
To mark the 20th anniversary, Sega is releasing Sonic Generations, a combination of modern Sonic - with its 3D style - and classic Sonic. It seems ironic that as video game consoles have become faster and more powerful, the character who blasted onto the gaming scene with so much speed has failed to find his feet. We would certainly welcome a return to form for Sonic.