Today marks the 25th anniversary since the original Sonic the Hedgehog video game first debuted for the Sega Genesis, and over time he became an iconic franchise that earned it’s place in video game history.
June 23rd 1991. The 1990s were beginning to get in full swing, and a promising decade for video games was unfolding. Nintendo had recently launched Super Mario World and Dr. Mario, cementing their place in gamer’s living rooms across the globe. But “not so fast, Nintendo!,” Sega cried out. They weren’t going to get off that easy. Mario was going to get some competition. Busting into the scene at the speed of sound, came the fastest Hedgehog around. Sonic the Hedgehog.
This is a brief walk down Sonic memory lane, tracing the history of the series up to this point (to put this another way, I don’t mention every single game in the series here).
1991 – 1998: The original Sonic the Hedgehog back in 1991 featured a speedy blue hedgehog that ventured forth to stop Doctor Robotnik from taking over the whole world. The side-scrolling platformer game had gold rings, springs, loop-de-loops, and checkpoints, which all became staples of the game series. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in 1992 kicked the speed and size of the game up a notch, giving Sonic a playable sidekick named Tails. This wholesome and friendly tan fox didn’t just follow along with Sonic in that game, but he ended up becoming his overall general series companion as well. Sonic also gained his signature spin dash move in that 1992 sequel. The third iconic character in the Sonic series came along in 1994’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – Knuckles the Echidna. But that game had him against Sonic as the game’s antagonist, and it wasn’t until the Sonic & Knuckles follow-up title (also released in 1994), that would have the duo team-up together for the first time. Sonic 3D Blast in 1996 marked the first time the series tried expanding beyond their original game formula, making an isometric game where Sonic was free from his side-scrolling constraints.
1998 – 2006: Sonic Adventure (1998) was a major step in the evolution of Sonic and was the top selling game for the Dreamcast console. For the first time in the series, it was a fully 3D free-roaming experience – making it basically the Super Mario 64 of the Sonic franchise. Sonic’s love interest was playable, along with the newly added Big the Cat. Both of these additions came along with the return of Tails and Knuckles, and they all joined Sonic for that story. By 2001, Sega made the decision to move away from the game console business, but that didn’t stop Sonic Adventure 2 from being a smashing success follow-up game when it came out that year. The dreams of Dreamcast may have faded, but the blue hedgehog kept on going. Sega kept Sonic’s influence alive on the Gamecube, releasing Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut in 2003. At the start of the next year, the entirely new adventure Sonic Heroes had arrived, keeping the series afloat. The story of this game was highly ambitious, following four different Sonic character teams as they search for Dr. Eggman, facing the antics of Metal Sonic’s nefarious plans along the way. 2005’s Shadow the Hedgehog had Sega pushing their limits – the game surrounding the darker and edgier Sonic series character caused people to think Sega was overstepping the boundaries of what worked for the video games.
2006 – 2016: The release of Sonic 06 (2006) served as a turning point for the franchise. Trying to capture the same lightning as Sonic Adventure, Sonic 06 became notorious for it’s flawed execution as a video game more than anything else. That slump would continue, as people’s reception to Sonic Unleashed (2008) and Sonic and the Black Knight (2009) would result in a similar mixed and critical sentiment. Going back to square one, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I in 2010 (along with Episode II in 2012), returned to the side-scrolling platformer roots that made the games adored in the first place, and the somewhat positive reviews for these games kept interest in the Sonic series alive. But still intent on trying new things, Sonic Colors (2010) showed Sega fans that Sonic still had the potential to be good. Sonic Generations in 2011 hit that mark of great quality even harder. Intended as an anniversary tribute for 20 years of Sonic, Generations revisited all the different eras of the video game series, creating levels based on the best moments from the Classic and Modern eras. Sonic Lost World for the Wii U and 3DS came out in October 2013, aiming to try and innovate on the franchise in the current era of technologically powerful hardware. What is known as “Today’s” Sonic came with the release of the first Sonic Boom game in November 2014. Sonic, Amy, Tales, and Knuckles got longer legs and a refreshed appearance starting in the first Boom game. The poor public reception to the Wii U and 3DS Sonic Boom games hasn’t stopped Sega from giving it another go, with Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice coming out for the Nintendo 3DS in September 2016. The developers have stated they learned from the mistakes of the first 3DS Boom game, and hope to provide a more refined adventure this time around.
Spin-offs: As the popularity for the games began to grow, Sega branched Sonic out into other video game genres. The most obvious of these choices was to make some sort of Sonic racing game, initially with Sonic Drift (1994, Japan only) and Sonic Drift 2 (1995). These games had Sonic and company racing around in fast cars (although seriously Sonic could probably just run on foot and end up better off), and played much like a standard Kart racing experience. Then came Sonic R (1997), which wasn’t a total Mario Kart rip-off: the characters raced across tracks in differentiating ways (some of the racers are on foot, others use vehicles), with branching paths, and the ability to pick the weather modes alongside that. It was visually impressive, but the game’s other qualities weren’t as well received. This set the tone for future Sonic racing games, as the Sonic Riders series (2005, 2008, 2010) all had a contrast of well-done aspects to their games, that end up getting bogged down by other components implemented with more glaring control scheme flaws. The Sonic and Mario series officially had a crossover starting in 2007, with the first Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games title’s release in November. Sixteen different characters across these two franchises came together to compete in Olympic athletic events, and the result of it is mini-game based gameplay that utilized the Nintendo DS and Wii’s control schemes. The success of this game caused the crossover event to become a tradition, with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games titles being released every two years for each of the Winter and Summer real-life events.
If that amount of Sonic wasn’t enough for you, he also made his way into the Super Smash Bros series, starting with Brawl in 2008.
Of course, the Sonic series didn’t stop at just video games. There was Sonic television shows, comic books, and even a movie appearance in Wreck-It Ralph. Even further, fans have taken it on themselves to flesh out the Sonic universe. Internet horror stories and “Creepypastas” about the series eventually culminated in a full-fledged fan game called Sonic.exe. The Sonic Dreams Collection by Arcane Kids released in August 2015 was a parody project that satirized the Sonic fandom in itself, receiving widespread attention for it’s surprising level of creativity and detail.
To finish off this nod to Sonic, there’s no way more fitting than to talk about the Sonic the Hedgehog Twitter account. Arguably, this is one of the main reasons the gaming community is more interested in Sega’s Blue Mascot now more than ever before.
Here’s to you, Sonic. You’ve had ups and downs, but you’ve earned every ounce of your success as a video game series, and the gaming community will always be tuning in to your next adventure.