It’s hard not to think of Sega without thinking of their speedy blue mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. Although the company had been producing games with varying degrees of success since 1960, it wasn’t until their 16-bit home console, the Mega Drive – known in North America as the Genesis – that Sega started to take a serious share of the market that Nintendo had been strategically cornering since 1985. A huge part of Sega’s success during this era is thanks to Sonic the Hedgehog, a side-scrolling platformer released for the Genesis in 1991.
Created specifically to compete with Nintendo’s flagship series, Super Mario Bros., Sega designed Sonic to have attitude than an edgy aesthetic that appealed to the younger generation. Everything is brightly colored and presented in a way that really shows off the console’s graphical capabilities. The story is srviceable for games of the era and genre. It has what it needs: a protagonist, a villain, and a reason to seek that villain out. Evil scientist, Dr. Robotnik (called Eggman in later games) has captured the animals of South Island in a scheme to turn them all into robotic slaves. Our hero Sonic, a hedgehog (a blue one for some reason) sets out to stop Robotnik and free the imprisoned animals.
Whereas Mario games place emphasis on exploration, Sonic is all about the speed, capable of running much faster than players were accustomed to. Rings found throughout the levels provide a single hit point. If Sonic is hit, the rings will all go flying, but some can be recovered if quick enough. The game includes seven zones, most with three levels and a quick boss fight with Dr. Robotnik to cap them off. Seven special bonus stages are also available; if Sonic ends a level with 50 or more rings, he enters a spinning area where the goal is to find and retrieve a chaos emerald. Collect all emeralds for the best game ending!
By running and taking advantage of the game’s physics and gravity, it’s possible (and quite fun) for Sonic to build up momentum for some extremely fast action. Although the primary objective is to move from left to right, avoiding obstacles and facing enemies as needed, levels will often have multiple paths that can be taken. Loops, springboards, and power-ups mix up the gameplay nicely, and the wide array of enemy types really keeps players on their toes.
Sonic the Hedgehog was wildly successful, due in large part to Sega’s decision to pack the title in with Genesis consoles in America. A number of sequels arrived in its wake, and the series continues on strong to this day. Although Sega dipped out of the console market after the failed Dreamcast, Sonic lives on and has even appeared with his former rival, Mario, in a few games.