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            The Weird And Wonderful History Of Sonic The Hedgehog Video Games

            Games Nintendo
            Games Nintendo

            You know the expression “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”?  Well, there couldn’t be a less fitting expression for Sonic The Hedgehog. Sega’s famously speedy mascot has been racing around since 1991, but it’s been a career of fits and starts. He flew out of the block but seemed to tire rather quickly, succumbing to the same great mascot plague of the early ‘00s that took out Spyro, Crash, Rayman, Croc and several other imitators. Thanks to video game’s shift towards photorealism and increased violence, our athletic little Hedgehog suddenly found himself unable to keep up. Mario, a veritable cockroach in all the right ways, was the lone survivor of this merciless culling.

            Still, it’s not all been bad news for Sega’s golden boy. Since the ’90s, Sonic has had a few unlikely resurgences and combined with the legendary status of his early work, the speedster’s now bagged himself a blockbuster feature in the year 河南福彩app官方下载. While it probably won’t be a classic, the passionate reaction to his hideous design in the first trailer shows that this ageless icon still has fans in droves — even if they don’t actually buy his games anymore.

            Speaking of Sonic games, BOY have there been a lot of them. With over 70 Sonic titles making their way into the wild, the spikey-haired speedster has starred in everything from spin-offs, to ports, fan-made ROMs, collaborative games, classic compilations and even obscure arcade-made titles.

            While the heavy lifting’s been done by about 15  of those games, Sonic’s sales are at a whopping 98 million, putting it inside the top 20 best-selling game franchises. Mario the cockroach has scuttled all the way to the number 1 spot, as well as placing 3rd for Super Mario and 15th for Mario Kart, for what it’s worth.

            Right now, Sonic seems to have gotten his breath back for another mini burst of success, with the hope of being able to run the distance this time — not just the speed.

            On Your Marks, Get Set, Go!

            The first Sonic game launched in 1991, and it was a success right off the blocks. Debuting on the Sega Genesis, it was hugely influential in the world of platforming, and one of the biggest reasons the Genesis was able to compete with Nintendo’s hugely popular SNES. Since 1991, it’s been ported to (deep breath now) the GameBoy Advance, Windows, the Nintendo 3DS, iOS, Android, the Nintendo Switch and, most bizarrely, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV.

            The game saw Sonic replace Alex Kidd as Sega’s mascot, and by replace we, of course, mean ‘stomp him mercilessly into the ground’. Sega’s president Hayao Nakayama wanted a character able to compete with Mickey Mouse in terms of iconic status and found Alex Kidd to be far too similar to Mario.

            A few different animal designs were drawn up, but as the game engine was tweaked, the focus shifted towards animals who were fast. Kangaroos and squirrels were rejected, with the first big idea a rabbit who could grab items with its ears. This proved impossible with early ‘90s technology, so the idea of an animal who could curl up into an easy to animate ball (say, a hedgehog) was born.

            Sonic refused to raise his arms for the family photo.

            Taking on the House Of Mouse is a lofty ambition, but Sonic got as far as anybody could reasonably expect. Considering designer Naoto Ohshima has since admitted to simply mixing Felix the Cat’s head with Mickey Mouse’s body and adding spikes to create the Hedgehog silhouette. Looking at the three characters next to each other, it’s startling to see just how serious Ohshima was being.

            The inspirations for Sonic go even further though. His trademark shoes weren’t based on Magic Johnson, Carl Lewis, Joe Montana, Michel Platini or any other sporting icons of the late 1980s, but instead on the boots of singer-turned-questionable-babysitter Michael Jackson. MJ’s boots on his Bad tour were black, but Sonic’s were tweaked to be red and white. The reason? In complete and utter seriousness, the reason was Santa Claus. Ohshima thought Santa was the most famous character in the world, so to him, jolly old Saint Nick was the natural choice.

            And that’s basically the story of how a blue hedgehog, chosen because he was easy to animate, was given a cartoon cat’s face and a different cartoon mouse’s body, put on his Michael Jackson shoes with the custom Santa Claus paint job and became one of the biggest video game characters the world has ever seen.

            Oh, and until pretty late in the day he was actually the frontman of a rock band, had vampire fangs and went by the name Mr. Needlemouse, not Sonic. Jeez, this guy had no right to become a hit, did he?

            Your Allowance Is Gonna Go Fast

            However strange some of the design choices behind Mr. Needlemouse might be, he did indeed become a massive hit. A huge part of that was speed; not just that speed the game was played at breakneck speed, but that the early sequels, all great too, were pumped out at similarly unrelenting speed.

            After Sonic The Hedgehog debuted on June 23rd, 1991, the fifth game in the series, Sonic & Knuckles, was on the shelves by October 18th, 1994, with Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD & Sonic The Hedgehog 3  coming in between.

            It was relentless, and while Sonic’s success couldn’t retain this pace forever, firing off five brilliant games in just two and a half years sent good old Mr. Needlemouse right to the top of the gaming pyramid. There were spin-offs in these early busy years too, like Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car, where Sonic is a cop and Eggman/Robotnik a common thief, and SegaSonic Cosmo Fighter, where Sonic and Tails are space cops and er, Eggman/Robotnik is a space thief.

            Little known Sonic Spin-off SegaSonic Cosmo Fighter saw our hero blasting Dr Eggman and his cronies while chasing them through space.

            While the series may not be treading bold new ground for gaming narratives, Sonic The Hedgehog’s speed was a groundbreaking gameplay element. While the levels were arguably as well designed as any other platform out there, the game was brave enough to have you constantly zooming through them. Sega were fully aware of their selling points too, dialing the speed up even higher for the sequel, Sonic The Hedgehog 2.

            This game also introduced Tails, and while latter games would give Tails the ability to hover, for now the differences between the characters were entirely cosmetic. Building on the success of the first outing, the sequel was largely more of the same, but with speed based rarity still such a new idea, the game’s small additions were all warmly received.

            Boost plates, returning to checkpoints and the 3D gameplay of the Special Stages, while not all originating in Sonic, owe at least some of their longevity as platforming mainstays to Sonic The Hedgehog 2. It’s hard to imagine Earthworm Jim, Crash Bandicoot or Gex without Sonic The Hedgehog, specifically Sonic The Hedgehog 2.

            Knuckle Sandwich

            Sonic’s fourth game, Sonic & Knuckles, didn’t introduce the red echidna (no, Knuckles is not a hedgehog), as he first appeared in Sonic The Hedgehog 3. However, later that same year the fifth game did make him a playable character for the first time. This time around, there was a difference in gameplay, with Knuckles sacrificing Sonic’s jumping height in exchange for being able to glide (a power Tails would later receive) and being able to climb walls.

            The fourth (Sonic The Hedgehog 3) and fifth (Sonic & Knuckles) games were originally designed as one title before being split, and this was the first real-time Sonic’s “gotta go fast” attitude caught up with him. Previously present features like dual character control, multiplayer and the ability to save were all absent here.

            The trade-off for that is an increased novelty value of the game’s lock-on cartridge; a bold but ultimately fruitless experiment. Sonic & Knuckles came with an extra slot on the game’s plastic cartridge, allowing you to put in Sonic The Hedgehog 3 to unlock Tails and have the conjoined experience you were always supposed to.

            Sonic The Hedgehog 2 could also utilize the lock-on system, unlocking Knuckles in that game. His climbing and gliding did open up new areas of the game to explore, but his poor jumping ability made most of the bosses extra difficult, and not really worth the effort.

            Landing On Spikes

            'Sonic 3D Blast' was the first Sonic game to attract criticism from fans.

            After Sonic & Knuckles though, Sonic’s near-flawless run through the Green Hill Zone of life hit on its first snag. Continuing with his trademark speed, he misjudged a jump and impaled himself on the upward-facing spikes, scattering rings everywhere. Though he was able to gather some of them up quickly enough, Sonic 3D Blast was the first main series Sonic game to be met with any significant criticism.

            The speed on which the other games had been built upon was gone, replaced with a focus on timing jumps from platform to platform. Trading in the pace is one thing, and it might even had worked if the game had anything to replace it with, but jumping around on repetitive fetch quests was certainly not the answer.

            Although the next mainline game from Sonic, Sonic Adventure, was a return to form, it wasn’t enough to get Sonic back to the big time.

            Years In The Wilderness

            Enter the blue 'hog's most successful 3D outing - 'Sonic Adventure'

            Sonic’s next game, Sonic Adventure, is an all-time great for the series. It brought in true 3D gameplay without an isometric aesthetic and opened up the Sonic world in fresh and bold new ways. A brilliant platformer, Sonic Adventure was Sega’s big chance at re-establishing themselves after the Saturn crashed hard. There was only one issue: it was an exclusive for the Dreamcast.

            Though Sonic Adventure isn’t quite on the level of The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild (BOTW), it is analogous to BOTW releasing on the WiiU, although the quick jump to the Switch meant Zelda’s magnum opus reached the audience it deserved.
            Thankfully for all of us, Adventure did make the jump to the GameCube three years later (then the PS3 and Xbox 360 seven years after that), but it was too late for it to have the impact on Sonic’s stock that it might have if literally anybody had bothered to buy a Dreamcast.

            Being a Sega property though, Sonic’s options were limited, and so the sequel, Sonic Adventure 2, was also released on the Dreamcast. It was a solid game though, without any claims at pushing the industry forward in the way the first installment had. The game did give us Shadow the Hedgehog and Rogue the Bat though, one of whom went on to become a fan favourite, with the other joining the overflowing pile of uninspired Sonic side characters.

            The Fast and The Furriest

            Have you ever met someone you think is really cool, only to hang out with them and find out their friends are either obnoxious, intolerable, unpleasant or some weird combination of all of the above? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Sonic (and the Sonic fans) when Knuckles was introduced.

            Though Knuckles wasn’t the first side character (Tails, Amy and Metal Sonic all predate Knuckles by a year), he was really the one who opened the floodgates. He remains one of their most popular and most marketable characters, but for Sega, his success seemed to be proof that an injection of new characters was the way to dig Sonic out of the various pits he’s fallen into.

            Since Knuckles’ debut, they’ve tried to repeat the trick with Blaze the Cat, Cream the Rabbit, Jet the Hawk, Sticks the Badger (the worst offender), Tikal the Echidna, Vector the Crocodile, Rogue the Bat and Shadow the Hedgehog. That’s far from a comprehensive list, but the fact only Shadow has gotten any real traction shows you how much of a failure this scatter gunning of characters ultimately was. Even Shadow isn’t really a full-on new character, so much as he is a riff on Sonic.

            Vector is probably the second most popular and he was actually designed for the original game and ended up being cut. The rest of them are just the cartoon embodiment of ‘meh’.

            It’s A Me, Mario!

            The Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games series has been going since the Beijing 2008 Games, across the Nintendo Wii, Wii U, DS, 3DS and most recently, the Switch, and is both popular and commercially successful enough to be a big part of Sonic’s modern-day story.

            Sega acquired the rights to the Olympic video games in 2007, initially intending for a Sonic based game. With the 100m the showpiece of the Olympic Games, Sonic does seem the best choice. Due to the “atmosphere of competitive sportsmanship” the Olympics fosters, Nintendo gave Sega permission to use Mario characters as well.

            It’s a win-win, really: Sonic gets the boost of having the more popular Mario roster, while Nintendo get a game made for them from a company they trust. With the likes of Birdo, Dry Bones, Toad, Diddy Kong and Rosalina all comfortably missing the cut for Mario’s representatives though, the emptiness of Sonic’s roster becomes even clearer. Despite the imbalance though, the franchise generated enough popularity to thrive to this day.

            The series, however, is not without its faults. We can suspend disbelief for the purposes of the game that perhaps Wario could beat Sonic in the 110m hurdles, but there are other things harder to ignore. Before you point out that the game does give Sonic higher speed stats that Wario, it doesn’t give him higher speed stats than Princess Daisy. So… yeah. Suspension of disbelief.

            The controls have always been an issue, and with the series’ transition from Wii to Switch via WiiU, they haven’t really been able to iron them out. Button-only events like Rugby Sevens and Football/Soccer play cleanly, and there’s a very raw, competitive nature to the 100m or Boxing. The fiddly stuff like Surfing or Skateboarding have too high of an entry-level for what is essentially a party game though. Each installment has added new events with innovative flair, but it still doesn’t nail down all the basics.

            The biggest failing though is that in 13 years, the series has remained restricted to the Olympics. We all know Sonic calls Mario “Daddy” in this relationship, but in the interests of “competitive sportsmanship”, they really could have done more.

            While Nintendo have clearly been busy ensuring Mario remains the number one video game mascot through Super Mario Odyssey and the long-running Kart and Party series’, it would have been nice to have a little more crossover, either with a Sonic Party equivalent or even a Sega produced platformer.Alas, for now, Sonic will have to settle for struggling to beat Princess Daisy on the track.

            Doing Sega’s Heavy Lifting

            As Sega’s virtually unopposed hero product, Sonic’s arms must be aching from carrying the franchise around. There’s been some fairly decent app-based games like Sonic Jump and Sonic Runners Adventure in recent years, while the compilation/remaster/homage to the original games Sonic Mania enjoyed a successful release too.

            Mania was developed by Chris ‘Taxman’ Whitehead, whose fanmade Sonic games had been so well received, Sega commissioned him to work on an original offering which remixed his favorites from the 16-bit days.

            He’s also had his fair share of racing games; in cars despite the fact he’d probably be faster on foot. These began with the Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing, which really ought to have been called Sonic & Some Other Characters Sega Dug Out Of The Filing Cabinet Racing. It was decent, but always felt in the shadow of Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing. Eventually, in 2019, they gave up the premise of shoehorning in other characters and just went for Team Sonic Racing.

            Again, it was pretty good, and while never a challenger to Mario Kart, it could have established itself as the best competitor, offering something different and providing Sonic with something to build upon. Unfortunately, the remaster of Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled hit shelves a couple of months later with better tracks and tighter mechanics, pouring cold Wumpa juice on Sonic’s ambitions. The name Team Sonic Racing is a reference to Sega’s in house development squad (Team Sonic), but the similarity to Crash Bandicoot’s long-standing kart racing title did it no favors either.

            He’s also a playable character in the Super Smash Bros series, but the fact you’re probably just remembering that isn’t a good sign. With just one playable Sonic character compared to the double figures Mario can boast, it’s another glaring indictment of just how poor the supporting cast really is for Mr. Needlemouse.

            The Future Is Furry

            Sonic Forces
            At the end of the day, 'Sonic Forces' just didn't deliver.

            The most recent main series game was Sonic Forces, a bold attempt to tie the 3D gameplay of Sonic Unleashed and Colors, along with the 2D side-scrolling of the original games. It did both well, though neither of them great. The levels were quite bland, the game quite short and the voice acting, as usual, quite bad. In the wake of Sonic Mania, it was particularly disappointing, being highly convoluted and not very ambitious; always a bad combination.

            In all honesty, though, that seems to fade into insignificance in the wake of Sonic Forces’  biggest ace in the hole: its character creator. Nothing particularly special by the standard set by other games, but it was a first for Sonic, and was essentially fan art brought to life. Taking the spotlight off Sonic and onto you was a deliberate decision by Team Sonic head Takashi Iizuka, as a reaction to the numerous fan-created characters he’d seen over the years.

            For fans who’ve stuck with the blue hedgehog through it all, getting to put their own character into the game was a big deal, even if it doesn’t look like much from the outside.

            Neither Sonic Forces (nor indeed, Team Sonic Racing) are at the heights of the earliest Sonic games. Adventure was the closest Sonic ever got to its five quickfire hits in the first two years of its life, and the Dreamcast was too heavy an albatross around its neck. The franchise may yet get back to its glory days, but until then, we’ll always have Paris. Um, Green Hill Zone.