In the early '90s, the computer gaming industry was beginning to boom in the form of 2D platform games, played on 16-bit consoles. These are games where the main character being controlled almost always has to go from the left of the zone to the right, where the goal is, and is made to proceed by jumping over various obstacles, especially by jumping on platforms. The characters were well-known, with seemingly strange associations with objects. With classic games such as PacMan and Lemmings already infiltrating the gaming world, many rivalries between game companies and their products were emerging. Japan was the main culprit in enforcing this rivalry, as many games companies came from there.
It was a hard-fought battle, but finally one company prevailed over the other, killing two birds with one stone.
Beginning of the Game Console System
The games company Nintendo wielded a few well-known characters as their mascots, all from the game Super Mario World. Mario is an Italian plumber character of slight height with a recognisable moustache and a strange affection for fungi. Mario has a brother, Luigi, another Italian plumber complete with moustache and mushroom fixation but slightly taller. These plumber brothers also have a friend called Yoshi, a bipedal dinosaur with an extendable tongue and an appetite for anything that is inedible to humans. Nintendo had swept the gaming nation with Super Mario World, and some companies did their best to topple them from the number one spot.
It was at this time that the Japanese company Service Games, better known as Sega, was revelling in the moderate success of their 8-bit games console - the Master System. Unfortunately, with Nintendo's release of the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the Master System fell into the archaic graveyard for games consoles. Sega had to think of another idea.
In 1991, hard work paid off. Sega released their own 16-bit games console, soon to become a household name, and to take the SNES to its limits. Known as the Sega MegaDrive in Asia and Europe, and the Sega Genesis in the USA, it immediately shot up the ratings, even knocking the SNES off the top spot.
This was partly because of the introduction of a blue hedgehog with red tennis sneakers and a massive attitude problem.
Origins of the Game
Sonic the Hedgehog was the first game released for the Sega MegaDrive. The main character is a young teenage hedgehog named Sonic with a quickness that leaves Concorde in the dust.
The idea for Sonic the Hedgehog is quite unusual. With Nintendo's mascots being two plumbers with a hunger for fungus and a dinosaur that eats everything, and Atari's mascot being the yellow Dutch cheese-shaped and equally voracious PacMan, Sega thought of something that would be like nothing that either company had thought of.
The humble hedgehog is a peculiar creature in Japan. It is not a native animal of the country, and few had ever seen one. The researchers at Sega took their time in finding a suitable animal that they could put a personality on, and they decided that the spiny hedgehog was the suitable choice.
With the hedgehog appointed, the design of their character was next. He was given the name Sonic, due to his supersonic running speed, and was intended to be a living oxymoron, considering his own, slower-moving hedgehog brethren. Blue is a colour that denotes coolness and attitude. This attitude is best exemplified by leaving Sonic on his own, without running or jumping. He will look at you in a condescending manner, with hands on hips and foot tapping. The red tennis sneakers were added for contrast.
The hero is now established. The arch-nemesis is not another hedgehog, but a humanoid mad scientist with an egg fixation and a penchant for assimilating forest animals: Dr Robotnik.
The game was released packaged with the console and immediately had people of all ages hooked. The popularity was so great, that it not only surpassed that of the SNES, but even managed to discredit it. It has been said that many people who owned a SNES were too embarrassed to admit it, and people who owned Sega MegaDrives became, just like Sonic the Hedgehog, cool.
Sonic, as the young hero of the planet of Mobius, finds his home world strangely empty. His friends, Flicky Flyer1 and his large community of fellow birds; the dull-red squirrel, Sally Acorn, and her equally large community of squirrels; Joe the Walrus; and many others have all disappeared.
With such a major disappearance and a sudden invasion of robots called Badniks to the various zones, it could only be the work of the evil Dr Robotnik.
Dr Robotnik wants to get his hands on the Chaos Emeralds. The Emeralds are a source of great power, and Robotnik wants to harness this power to take over the world. The only problem standing in his way is a spiny blue hedgehog with an attitude.
Sonic has to scour the land, saving his friends and protecting the Chaos Emeralds from the deranged scientist. Over Mobius, the land is scattered with gold rings. Sonic collects them as they seem to protect him from things that would normally be fatal.
Also conveniently placed around the land are strange monitors. They were also of a protective quality, giving the hedgehog abilities that would mainly help, but sometimes hinder.
Sonic is on a quest in which he must succeed, otherwise, Mobius will be lost forever!
Features of the Game
Sonic the Hedgehog featured new sound tracks and effects, all exclusively composed for this game.
Each zone has its own special music. It was composed by a member of the band REM and was well-suited for the gameplay. The happy-go-lucky zones really do sound happy-go-lucky, the menacing zones are especially menacing, and each boss is given his own music.
This gives the game an original feel, and soothes the mind of the player as they go through the zone. The music is neither annoying, like the music of Lemmings, nor as repetitive as the music of Super Mario World. It is a new kind of score.
The Sound Effects
These are extremely brief but nonetheless required. Without the sound effects, how could we be sure that Sonic is breathing in that air bubble underwater, or whether we have hit that recall point lamppost? Although the sound effects are rarely taken into account, they do notify you of certain actions like jumping, hitting a Badnik and drowning.
The game consists of seven main zones and a special zone. The first six contain three 'Acts', with each third Act involving a showdown with Robotnik and his latest evil gadget for eliminating Sonic. The seventh is the final showdown inside Robotnik's laboratory.
The zones were as follows:
- Green Hill Zone
- Marble Zone
- Spring Yard Zone
- Labyrinth Zone
- Star Light Zone
- Scrap Brain Zone
- Final Zone
The zones are all different from each other, each with their own pitfalls. Green Hill Zone is predictably green and hilly, but Marble Zone is full of lava.
The Final Zone speaks for itself.
Passwords are not required or available. The point of this is to keep the player hooked and not leave and forget about the game.
There is a time limit, however. Sonic has to complete the 'Act' in under ten minutes, or he automatically loses a life.
In this Researcher's experience, it normally takes between two to three hours to complete the game in one sitting - including collecting all the Chaos Emeralds from the Special Zone.
The Special Zone
This is a 360° rotating maze zone, with Sonic required to move totally by jumping in a ball. There are seven different coloured emeralds which had their own respective zones. There is only one route to the Chaos Emerald, and it is surrounded by strange diamond-shaped blocks. The player has to work out how to get to the emerald.
Upon collection of the emerald, the zone is completed. The zone can be completed without the Chaos Emerald, by falling into a pit with 'GOAL' written on the walls. Unfortunately, you are not able to try the zone again to get the emerald.
When all the emeralds are collected, something special happens. It is unfair to ruin the surprise of this event, but nevertheless, it is very special.
The Super Sonic Spin Attack
Mario has Flower Power; Yoshi has his extendable tongue. For Sonic the Hedgehog, it is only fair that he has his own unique ability other than supersonic speed.
Hedgehogs in real-life have a tendency to curl up into a spiny ball, rendering their attackers with no real way of getting to their soft fleshy underside. The researchers at Sega take this aspect of the hedgehog and give it to Sonic but alter it slightly.
Hedgehogs cannot jump five feet off the ground. Neither can they voluntarily roll on the ground when curled up. Sonic, however, can, and he uses this ability to its full potential. When he uses the Super Sonic Spin Attack, he either rolls along the ground at high speed after running or jumps five feet off the ground while curled up. Sonic is almost indestructible whilst using this ability.
These are spread out across the land. The monitors bear an uncanny resemblance to the Amstrad monitors of the time.
The monitors can be smashed open by the Super Sonic Spin Attack. Depending on what is on the monitor, Sonic gains an ability which is either temporary or lasts for the rest of the 'Act':
- Golden Ring - gives Sonic ten more rings
- Shield - protects Sonic from losing rings or dying from one hit
- Sneakers - doubles Sonic's speed for a short period of time
- Picture of Sonic - adds an extra life
- Stars - gives Sonic invincibility for a short period of time
The lamppost doesn't look like a lamppost but more like a giant, lilac popsicle. When Sonic touches it, the sweet head of it swings round and turns red. If Sonic happens to lose a life but has previously passed and touched a lamppost beforehand, and if he had any lives left, he starts the level from the lamppost.
Sonic's success on the Sega MegaDrive spurred on more sequels for this console. However, although they are better in design, and introduce characters not previously met, the Zones are easier. This Researcher can attest to this, having completed Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in under an hour.
List of the Sequels
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)- Here, Sega introduced a new character, a young two-tailed fox called Miles Prower, better known as Tails. Tails is meant to aid Sonic in his exploits. However, Tails ends up being more hindering than helpful, and the amount of times that you try to kill him, he just comes back. This is also the first Sonic game to involve two-player options.
Sonic Spinball (1993)
Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (1993)
Sonic the Hedgehog CD (1993). Sega released an add-on system for the Sega MegaDrive, the Mega CD. This was the first game for this upgrade console.
Sonic Drift (1993). Released only in Japan, it is a go-kart racing game starring Sonic, Tails, et al.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)
Sonic and Knuckles (1994). This cartridge is unusual, as it is designed with Lock-On technology. If Sonic 3 is slotted in, you are introduced to a whole new set of levels. If Sonic 2 is put in, Knuckles is able to do all the Zones with his special abilities.
Sonic 3D (1996)
Sonic Advance (2002). This game is, rather unusually, shortly to be released on Nintendo's Gameboy Advance. You can play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy, and you collect Chaos Emeralds to thwart yet another evil Dr Robotnik scheme...
Sonic was also made for other consoles such as the recent Sega Dreamcast, but did not have the success of the original Sonic. Instead, it sank, and The Sega Dreamcast has been pulled from production.
However, the first Sonic the Hedgehog will remain a classic platform game, if only for those addicted to the speed and the pace of the blue hedgehog.