History of a Hero: Sonic the Hedgehog

Coming back from the Christmas break we find ourselves itching to jump straight into the week’s History of a Hero. The series has been going on for a good 3 months now and, looking back, somehow we have yet to cover the character most likely to be recognised by the masses in a line-up of “popular video game mascots (behind Super Mario). This blindingly fast creature probably only needs that one simple string of words to instantly pop into your mind. Those of you who didn’t guess who our focus is today from the get-go should wonder where they went wrong in their gaming life. Today’s History of a Hero is none other than Sega’s speedy obnoxious oddly coloured hedgehog, Sonic.

Yuji Naka's original "Mr. Needlemouse" sketch would become the basis of Sonic's design

Sega’s chirpy little mascot of the 90’s came about through the direct competition with Nintendo. While the Japanese giant was tightening its grip on the market with Super Mario. The company needed a mascot to call their own, one to be recognized and associated with Sega’ themselves much the same way Mario instantly spelled Nintendo. Sonic’s design was chosen and altered from an array of designs penned by other company members, though most of these would later be used as a basis for other Sega characters. The inspiration behind Sonic’s design and attitude came supposedly came about from the likes of Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson to name a few with a signature swimming trait (or lack of) coming from creator, Yuji Naka’s misconceptions of the hedgehog species.

As Sonic came to fruition as a fast-paced platformer, he debuted on the already established Sega Mega Drive system. The critical acclaim and its resulting sales numbers quickly earned Sonic the prize of becoming the Mega Drive’s main bundled game, replacing Altered Beast.

Sonic’s simple side-scrolling premise was enhanced by the sheer velocity and dizzying speeds players could achieve, partnered with the jump and spin dash attacks giving the game a trait other side-scrolling platform games could only imagine. Fans willing enough to practice and perfect the timed jumps in accordance to their speed could see whole levels pass by them in seconds while others could take the a simple and more careful approach to hop through each stage.

Yuji Naka's "Mr. Needlemouse" sketch was interpreted by Naoto Oshima to create Sonic's debut design

The success and buzz generated through Sonic’s first outing was enough to secure him the place of Sega’s new mascot and gain himself a reputation enough to score him endless amounts of sequels and spin-off games. His second and third outing would see the hedgehog partner up with the ever increasing characters of his universe, Tails the Fox and Knuckles the Echidna.

Taking gameplay as the main focus, Sonic games generally recycle the same plot points of their predecessors. Sonic’s nemesis, Dr. Robotnik, would capture the animals of the Mobius planet and threaten to change the lavish green paradise of a world into an industrial metropolis at the Doctor’s helm with Sonic being the only one to be of any help. The games are often shrugged off story-wise without people taking the deep message of deforestation and pollution to heart.

Sonic was rapidly becoming a pop culture icon; his ever increasing catalogue of games took on the likes of Mario head on with sport and puzzle spin-offs propelling the character hard into the eyes of the public. Following suite of the great American cartoonisation of the 90’s, Sonic would later make his animated appearance in several cartoon shows as well as spreading into the comic books, popular media and general merchandise and even McDonald’s toy – all of which still happen to this day. Big fans of the series sometimes ridicule Sega for their decision to bask in the success of the franchise as an excuse to release sub-par games. Arguably starting with the characters serious jump into 3D with the 1998 game Sonic Adventure, fans complained for years yearning for the return of the classic side-scrolling gameplay of the series’ origin.

Sonic's true 3D design debuted in Sonic Adventure - A launch title for Sega's ill-fated Dreamcast console

Fighting against Dr. Robotnik, Sonic’s change from a silent hero to an voiced and cocky persona coined the nickname of Dr. Eggman to the main antagonist, a name which would prove popular enough to stick as Robotnik’s new title in every game since.

As Sonic aged from the small mute hedgehog of the early 90’s, his trip into 3D would see his design fundamentals altered to create a version more akin to the change of scope in his later games. Cheesy one-liners would eventually become his hallmark as something to say at the end of a stage or as a reply to the provocations of his rivals. As time went by, Sonic’s change in personality and gameplay would see Sega throw in a whole host of new “friends”.

After the declining sales of Sega’s console presence by their rivals, the company pulled out of the market leaving the blue mascot in a limbo-like state. His outing would soon take refuge on the platforms that aided their downfall with Sonic himself becoming a close friend of Nintendo themselves. Once created as Sega’s answer to Mario, Sonic eventually wound up in Nintendo’s popular all-stars fighting game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, A game once reserved for the characters of their creation. Fighting for the subspace emissery, the hedgehog would also show up as the second title character of Nintendo’s licensed tie-in to the Olympic games alongside Mario himself.

Left: Sonic's most recent 3D design - Right: Sonic's 16-bit inspired design for Sonic Generations

Celebrating his 20th anniversary last year, Sonic featured in Sonic Generations, a game offered as the perfect swan song to the wants of his conflicting player base. Bringing back the hedgehog’s former 16-bit self, he was ushering into a 2.5D remake and re-imagining of the series’ more memorable stages with the “Modern” taller Sonic bringing his one-liners to fill in for his former self while dashing his way through the 3D versions of the same stages.

Continuously foiling the plots of Dr. Eggman and the minions he controls, Sonic himself has been until criticism for the good part of a decade. His fans have generally stood by to make him become not only one of the most recognizable characters in gaming history, but also of the most tenacious. Most of his recent adventures have been met with criticism from both fans and critics, from going on-rails to becoming a werewolf and even taking up arms, Sonic has proven himself able to resist years of declining popularity to come back strong. With his birthday over and the warm reception of Sonic Generations still looming, we’re unsure of how Sega will continue to push for his success once again. Aside from the second episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 on the horizon, we still have little in the name of how Generations will be succeeded.



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One Comment to “ History of a Hero: Sonic the Hedgehog ”

  • shilz February 14, 2012 at 11:06 pm Like or Dislike Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    i hate it when people blame sonic as a fucking pile of shit. his new redesign is fucking awesome, and his new gameplay kicks ASS