Specials: Sonic runs a marathon...
With the release of Sonic Riders so close we, the good folks at gamingtarget.com, decided a pleasant look back at the history of Sonic the Hedgehog was in order. Assigned with the task of retelling the legend of one of videogaming's biggest stars, I suddenly realized that all those hours I spent in front of my Genesis, and all the dollars I blew on Sonic memorabilia was finally going to pay off. So sit back, grab something to drink, and enjoy a trip down memory lane as we recount the tale of Sonic the Hedgehog from his odd conception to the amazing success that he holds today.
The year was 1990. Here in United States, President Bush (Sr.) was in office, the hit novel Jurassic Park had just been released, and M.C. Hammer was busy telling everyone just how much they could not touch ?this.? However, a legend was about to be born that would last at least another decade and a half at the SEGA headquarters in Japan. Trying to develop a cool mascot for their new Genesis system, the office held a little competition to see who could come up with a better character design. The winning design would be featured in one of the first Genesis games. All kinds of ideas were submitted, most of them animals. One of the possible mascots even looked like a big fat man wearing a pair of pajamas - this character would later be the prototype for Sonic's archnemesis, Eggman. Of course, the winner of the competition was the blue spiky hedgehog we know as Sonic. Adopting the name Sonic Team, Yuji Naka and fourteen other developers and programmers began the project that started it all: Sonic the Hedgehog for the MegaDrive (Japan's version of the SEGA Genesis).
When the game was finally released in June of 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog took the now growing gaming community by surprise. Up until this point gamers were used to the slower Mario-style platform games. Sonic upped the ante by giving players a character that didn't just run and jump through levels, but floored it through stages at speeds faster than most people were used to seeing. In fact, the game was so fast some people actually got a little motion sick playing it, but judging by all the loop-de-loops and springs that Sonic Team threw in there, it's clear they wanted to give the player the experience of riding a runaway rollercoaster. Not only was Sonic fast, but he featured a fair amount of physics work to make him move. He didn't just bust out into a full run, but had to build up to it first. Also, the game featured amazing graphics that gave the stages of South Island an almost 3D effect. Obviously the game was the first to feature Sonic the Hedgehog along with the chaos emeralds, and Dr. Robotnik- who would later be called by his original Japanese name, Eggman.
Come December of the same year, Sonic began to shred it up on the portable seen with his Game Gear debut titled Sonic the Hedgehog. The game featured smaller versions of levels found in the Genesis Sonic title, yet it retained the same amount of speed and excitement.
It was another year before Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was introduced, but Sonic Team was hard at work the entire time. The sequel not only featured new stages and the new spin dash move, but it also showcased a new character, Miles ?Tails? Prower who would follow Sonic around through the entire game. Tails was even a playable character, though his adventure wasn't any different than Sonic's. The game also featured a new style of bonus stage where Sonic (and Tails) had to run down a long 3D pipe collecting rings and avoiding spiked balls. If the player had collected enough rings by the time he or she made it to the finish line, they would win a chaos emerald. This special stage would later show up in other Sonic games such as the SEGA Saturn's Sonic 3D Blast and the recent Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was home to two more series firsts, the appearance of Super Sonic and a two-player mode. Here, players would race each other to the end of a specially created stage, all while trying to sabotage the competition. Among the Sonic community on the Internet, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the most debated game even to this day because of the beta version which featured four removed stages. The background music to one of these stages is still present in the sound test of the final version of the game.
The same month that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 released on the Genesis, the portable version was released on the Game Gear. The portable Sonic sequel featured different stages than the Genesis game and had a special hang-glider item that was used in a few of the stages. It is also known for its crazy difficult bosses.
1993 was a good year for the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. The blue hedgehog was finding his way into comic books, cartoons, and even a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade float. Sonic was beginning to develop a place in American pop culture. While other non-video game related companies were having their way with the franchise, Sonic Team was busy building one of the best platformers from the 16-bit era and arguably the best Sonic title to date: Sonic CD. Released in September 1993, the game featured a new Time Travel system in which Sonic would have to go into the past of every stage to find and destroy two of Eggman's machines in order to create a bright future for the Miracle Planet, the setting of the game. Sonic CD also featured a new move called the figure 8 run, two new characters Amy Rose and Mecha Sonic, and a really cool soundtrack. The soundtrack actually varies between countries. The Japanese version features a series of remixes for each stage that get more complex as Sonic travels farther into the future, whereas the American game? doesn't; still, both soundtracks stand as some of the best music in a platformer.
On the Genesis front, players got their dose of Sonic in the form of Sonic Spinball, which wasn't made by Sonic Team. Instead, it was developed by the American-formed Sega Technical Institute responsible for the classic Comix Zone. Sonic Spinball was basically a Sonic-themed pinball game where players had to shoot Sonic around a series of complex boards and manipulate him in order chaos emeralds and complete the stages.
Sonic Chaos debuted on the Game Gear giving Sonic two new items, spring shoes and jet shoes. Both are pretty self explanatory. The player was able to choose between playing Sonic, who had the aforementioned shoes, or Tails who could fly. As far as the Game Gear games went, the title sold pretty well.
If 1993 had been a good year, 1994 was going to be the end all year for great videogaming on the Genesis. There wasn't much time between the release date of Sonic CD and Sonic the Hedgehog 3, giving players only a few months to catch their breath before diving into another Sonic adventure. What normally would have been groundhog's day, turned out to be hedgehog day when February 2nd, 1994, the first part of the largest chapter in the Sonic saga was released. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 gave the kids (and really the rest of us) a reason to crack out the old encyclopedia when it showcased yet another new character, Knuckles the Echidna. Besides being an obscure animal, Knuckles played neither a villainous nor a heroic role, something that was slightly different for the series. You could never tell whose side Knuckles was on. The game also featured a new series of bonus stages where Sonic and Tails ran on top of a 3D sphere collecting colored balls. These stages gave the game quite a bit more 3D appeal. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 also marks the first time the fire, water, and electric shields were used in a Sonic game.
Considering how content heavy Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was, it's amazing to think it was actually only half of the game it was really meant to be. In October of 1994, SEGA released the other half of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, known as Sonic and Knuckles, and finally giving players the ability to play as Knuckles. When played as a stand alone game, Sonic and Knuckles let players choose between either Sonic or Knuckles, each with different versions of the same stages. Knuckles' stages tended to be quite a bit harder and sometimes longer than Sonic's. While the standalone game was fun, the real point of the game was to lock it onto Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and get the full experience of the story. This game was the first and only game to feature ?lock-on technology?, which is basically where the top of the Sonic and Knuckles cartridge had a slot that would hold another Genesis game.
With the exception of Sonic 1, 2, and 3, when a game was plugged into the top of Sonic and Knuckles, it would either take players to a strange grayed-out screen that had scrolling text that said ?No way!? with pictures of all the familiar Sonic characters, or it would just play which ever game was locked onto Sonic and Knuckles. If the game produced the ?No way!? screen, the player could press A, B, and C on their controller and go to one Sonic the Hedgehog 3 style special stage made especially for the lock on technology. If Sonic 1 was locked onto Sonic and Knuckles it produced a color ?No way!? screen that when the A, B, C code was pressed would start a long (over 100 stages) series of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 style special stages, each significantly more difficult than the original Sonic the Hedgehog 3 special stages. If Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was locked onto Sonic and Knuckles, players could indulge in a game of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with Knuckles patched into the game. Unfortunately the game was rendered nearly unbeatable because Knuckles can't jump as high as Sonic, and the final boss almost requires you to jump as higher than Knuckles can manage.
When Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was locked onto Sonic and Knuckles, players were able to play the extended Sonic the Hedgehog 3 along with the very useful ability to save the game. With the expansion came seven new chaos emeralds for Sonic to find. When Sonic found all seven super chaos emeralds, it would turn him into Hyper Sonic, which was basically an even faster version of super sonic with a slightly different sprite, multiple colors, and little sparkles that follow him around. The new game also featured Super Tails and Hyper Knuckles for folks who were diligent enough to find all fourteen emeralds with those characters. Strangely enough, Hyper Sonic, Super Tails, Super Knuckles, and Hyper Knuckles have never been in another Sonic game since Sonic the Hedgehog 3 with Knuckles.
On schedule, Sonic had another portable adventure on the Game Gear titled Sonic Triple Trouble which added another new face to the mix: Knack the Weasel. The game played an awful lot like Sonic Chaos, but it is to be expected seeing as in Japan Sonic Chaos had been differentiated from the rest of the series under the name of Sonic and Tails, and Triple Trouble was its direct sequel, Sonic and Tails 2. It was just another case where the title changed as the game moved overseas.
In the same year a portable rendition of Sonic Spinball was released on the Game Gear. As expected it was a simplified version of its big brother on the Genesis.