If Sega was going to compete with the goliath that was Nintendo, they needed to revamp their marketing after the generation of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System were winding down. They needed something with spunk, something with speed, something that appealed to teens. Sega created Sonic The Hedgehog and the up-and-down mega-hit series was born. In 1991, Sonic Team developed “Sonic The Hedgehog” for the Sega Genesis while Sega published it. The side-scrolling platform game immediately captured the imaginations of gamers everywhere. How did Sonic The Hedgehog do it and why is this game so influential?
While researching the plot of Sonic The Hedgehog, I came across vastly different versions of the Japanese and American manuals. The Japanese manual is wonderfully written with plot points but the American manual sounds like a bunch of crap marketing trying to convince kids that Sonic is cool. Read them for yourself:
Dr. Ivo Robotnik, the mad scientist, is snatching innocent animals and turning them into evil robots! Only one tough dude can put an end to the demented scientist’s fiendish scheme. It’s Sonic, the real cool hedgehog with the spiked haircut and power sneakers that give him super speed.
(Side note – so it’s his sneakers that make him fast? He doesn’t have these powers naturally?)
Help Sonic fight hordes of metal maniacs and do the loop with the Super Sonic Spin Attack. Speed down twisting tunnels and swing over dangerous booby traps. Leap across lava pits and dodge burning rocks. Then splash through the chilling waters in an underground cavern. And if you’re lucky, you can warp to the secret zone where you spin around in a floating maze! Your greatest challenge lurks in a secret lab where you come face to face with Dr. Robotnik himself!
Spin through space, loop ’til you’re dizzy, save the animals and become the superhero. Be Sonic! Be atomic!
This prologue sounds like Sega is desperate to have you play Sonic. It’s like the girl who is too clingy and not confident in herself. You don’t need to convince me to play with all of those lame descriptions, I’m already interested! Let’s read the Japanese version which is a stark contrast in marketing efforts.
The evil mad scientist Dr. Eggman is up to his old nasty tricks again. “Sonic… that annoying, impertinent hedgehog. Thanks to him, my great plans are always laid to waste! Oh, but this time, I’m going to rub him out with the power of science! Ha ha ha ha ha…”
South Island is a treasure trove of gems and ancient ruins. They say that it’s the island where the mystical Chaos Emerald lie. The Chaos Emeralds are a super-material that gives energy to all living beings. Also, when applied to scientific purposes, they can be used for nuclear and laser-based weaponry. However, nobody knows exactly how to get a hold of these emeralds. At the same time, though, they do say that the reason why South Island is always moving is that the emeralds are somewhere inside the island’s hazy depths.
One day, crisis visited upon the island. And who showed up with it but Dr. Eggman and his cronies. “I’ll find those emeralds even if I have to dig up the entire island to do it!”
Dr. Eggman set up a fort in one corner of the island and went about carrying out his plan.
“Eggman, you still haven’t had enough? Sonic hurried as soon as he heard the news. Dr. Eggman never seemed to leave him alone, even though Sonic had beaten him every time so far. It sounded like Dr. Eggman considered Sonic his sworn enemy, but he was never any match for Sonic.
However, this time something is amiss.
“Have you seen it, Sonic? This time is going to be different! Because this time, I’ve turned all the animals on the island into robots!”
“All of them go about in accordance to my orders. In other words, Sonic, everyone on the island is your enemy! “Gya – ha ha ha ha ha ^Cough^ ^ack^ ^ahem^. This time, the world really will be all mine!”
This is terrible! Hurry! Sonic the Hedgehog – everyone is waiting for your help!
I don’t know about you but when reading both prologues, I wanted to play the Japanese version much more. They painted a picture of Sonic’s relationship with Dr. Robotnik as they have a history. You read about the chaos emeralds and why they are important to recover and what they do. I even pictured Dr. Robotnik speaking with his dialogue. The whole prologue in Japanese is much more captivating than the English version which throws every promise of a cool game into a ball and rolls it at you. Thankfully for Sega, their other marketing tactics in commercials and malls immensely improved.
When you think of the most iconic music in video games where does your mind drift to? I’m not sure there’s one more recognizable or catchy as the music for the first level in Sonic. Green Hill Zone is fantastic as an intro level to what the next generation of gaming could be. The warm inviting tune captures your attention and lets you know that this is going to be special.
For the rest of the game though, I didn’t find my attention turning toward the music. Sure, you don’t want to be bogged down by symphonies of tunes, but nothing like the first stage even came close. Green Hill Zone is about as perfect as developers can hope to achieve when creating a video game. It’s not overly difficult but also doesn’t hold your hand. It’s linear in the sense that you need to get to the right-hand side of the level to complete it but the way you choose to get there is up to you.
As Sonic, you’ll make your way toward the end of the level by spinning, running, jumping, and pushing objects. Your health is guarded by rings which was a unique aspect at the time. By collecting rings scattered throughout the stage Sonic can take hits from enemies. If Sonic doesn’t have a ring, and he gets hit, he dies. If you get hit with rings, they go flying all over the screen but you are given a few seconds to recover them.
I love Green Hill Zone but it gives you a false impression of what the game will be. Believe it or not, I had never played Sonic the Hedgehog properly until this review. I had played the first few stages when I was a kid and that was it. Judging from the first stage you’d think Sonic was all about speed as it was advertised all over. The further you progress into the game, however, speed plays less and less of a factor. You’ll switch from freely sprinting or spinning downhills to methodically jumping on platforms or pushing switches to open doors. I was left disappointed that the high of the speed in the first stage didn’t carry over to the later levels.
The thrill of the sprint is replaced with levels filled with obstacles that will block your path, switches to open gates, and liquid that makes Sonic slow down considerably. This doesn’t mean Sonic is a bad game, just one that I was caught off guard by with all of the speed marketing.
Finishing levels with over 50 rings in hand will result in a bonus stage where Sonic can collect a chaos emerald. It’s a strange mini-game but one that works to split up the levels. To completely “beat” the game, you’ll need to collect all the chaos crystals. If you don’t, Dr. Robotnik will juggle the ones you didn’t collect on the end screen. Collecting them all results in Dr. Robotnik stomping on an “end” sign. Not much incentive to collect all the crystals in my opinion.
Once you get past the first zone, the difficulty ramps up. It’s not hard like Mega Man, but you’ll notice that you can’t just fly through the level. Enemies aren’t overabundant and all of them take just one hit. The hardest parts of the game came when Sonic was underwater. You’ll have to find air bubbles to keep breathing and mixing that with puzzles can result in a few deaths.
My favorite part of the game was the boss fights with Dr. Robotnik. They are pretty easy but the difficulty doesn’t matter. You just have to hit Dr. Robotnik’s ship a few times before it’s destroyed. The final encounter with him was much easier than anticipated. He’ll shoot a few purple balls at you but they are easy to avoid and then he’ll pop up from four different pillars to try and crush you. Hit him a few times and he goes down.
I had a few babysitters growing up and one of them had a Sega Genesis. When I was around five or six I’d go over and play Sonic but I never got past the second zone. I also had a Tyger Electronic Sonic and played that quite a bit. It wasn’t until nearly 25 years later that I played Sonic for a full playthrough.
Sonic the Hedgehog is an example of an incredible video game in the early 90s. The music and characters are so iconic and it’s easy to see why gamers were so drawn to Sega. Marketing played a big role in the success of Sonic but I wish that there was more of the gameplay that I found in the first stage. It’s the first game in a series that has been dragged through the fire as the ultimate tease to gamers who love it.
Sonic The Hedgehog scores an 8.9 out of 10.
What are your thoughts on Sonic The Hedgehog? What do you remember when it first came out? Did it make you buy a Sega Genesis or switch from Nintendo? How do you feel about the series as a whole? Let me know your thoughts, I’d love to read them. If you’d like to own a used copy of Sonic The Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis you can purchase a copy of it on eBay for $20.