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Sonic the Hedgehog – start of an era

Sonic the Hedgehog is a platform, single-player video game developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega in 1991. A blue anthropomorphic hedgehog called Sonic is at the center of the aim due to his mission to stop Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik from finding the six powerful Chaos Emeralds.

Even though Sonic the Hedgehog was released 30 years ago, its popularity remains alive to this day. Instead, this game started a decades-long franchise with cult status, various spin-offs, and different consoles.

The adorable blue hedgehog also stepped into the world of cinema with Sonic the Hedgehog movie released in 2020, which became the highest-grossing video game film adaptation of all time in North America. Thanks to its success, Sonic is getting a sequel in April 2022.

Curiously enough, Sonic came to life as an effort by Sega to rival the popularity of Nintendo’s Super Mario. After not achieving the expected results, Sega had to improve the odds of its Genesis ports against the much stronger competitor, Nintendo.

Alex Kidd was the product of their initial effort, but the public saw it as too similar to Mario, causing disappointing results. Because of that, Sega organized an in-house contest to create a worthy rival. For the next three years, various designers and programmers worked on a unique character that can beat the popularity of Super Mario.

Their effort resulted in multiple mascot ideas, gameplay mechanics, and engine suggestions. Everyone saw speed as a priority, which is why the team removed characters without velocity and agility.

Some ideas were overly demanding for the Genesis hardware at the time, making them fall out of the equation. Sega decided to choose an animal that can curve its body into a ball and attack the opponents. However, the team wanted something more aggressive.

It is when characteristics such as hedgehogs and armadillos came to the forefront of priorities. Naoto Ohshima suggested a hedgehog character by placing together the body of Mickey Mouse and the head of Felix the Cat.

Ohshima knew that the mascot should find a way to the hearts of Americans. It is why he took a trip to New York and took the sketches. After that, he decided to ask people he encountered in Central Park which one they like the most. Sonic was the clear winner, making Ohshima confident about the character idea.

Various popular trends and figures at the time influenced how Sonic would look. For instance, the creators used the boots of Michael Jackson as an inspiration for the buckles on his shoes. Santa Claus was the inspiration behind the white and red color scheme due to being the most famous character in the world.

Initially, the American and Japanese Sega branches had a few disputes concerning the identity of Sonic and the name of the main villain. However, they came to a conclusion, which finally started the project called “Defeat Mario”.

Sonic the Hedgehog received positive critics and praise, particularly for its colorful aesthetics and graphics. Even though the public still saw Super Mario World as a game with more depth, Sonic had a faster character and livelier sceneries. Moreover, some critics even described Sonic as the start of a new generation of games.

Thanks to its instant success, Sonic was bound to become a long-lasting franchise. But what about the original gameplay, graphics, and features? Let’s go down memory lane.

Playful, simple, and addictive

After Dr. Ivo Robotnik captures the animal residents of South Island to find the six Chaos Emeralds and steal its power, the adorable blue hedgehog has to stop him and free his friends. The player controls Sonic in this 2-D side-scrolling platformer, hoping to defeat the evil scientist and collect the emeralds first.

Sonic’s speed is probably the most addictive element of the game as it includes running across various levels with multiple challenges, such as bottomless pits and springs. Moreover, obstacles also include robots that Dr. Robotnik used to enslave the animals.

Hence, one of the goals is to destroy these robots and free the captives. But this is not a necessary step to complete the mission. Controlling Sonic, the player also has to avoid various hazards and traps that aim to kill him, such as spikes and moving walls threatening to crush him.

However, Sonic is a powerful critter with a unique power called the Spin Attack, allowing him to curl his body into a ball and spin briskly, damaging his opponents and particular objects. To do so, the player has to either jump or roll on the ground.

The game has a classic approach to health bars. The player starts with three lives that they can lose if they collide with an obstacle or opponent without having any rings to protect them. Moreover, death awaits if the player falls to the bottom of the screen or surpasses the time limit of ten minutes.

Checkpoints are a safe haven for the player after losing life or running out of time. However, once they lose all three lives, the game ends.

Overall, Sonic had stellar expressions and abilities from the beginning, explaining the popularity of the game. There is a small number of elements that feel overused and repetitive (e.g., lava). The adrenaline rush and excitement follow the player as they struggle to save Sonic from multiple hurdles.

Although a 90s game, the original Sonic the Hedgehog is not outdated or tacky. It still has the same level of freshness and addictiveness. Even the graphics and character animations still look appealing and retro-cool.

Looking back, everything about this entry feels iconic, from the opening theme to the soundtrack. Some levels, such as Marble Zone, are a tad off due to its slow mechanics. Yet, the overall impression remains untouched.

On the other side, Sonic the Hedgehog feels too easy, and the boss fights could be more complex. But for that era, this game introduced groundbreaking speed and level design.

A classic that still feels just as relevant

An intense wave of nostalgia follows the previous decade. However, even without the 90s nostalgia, Sonic the Hedgehog is still just as relevant. Besides the remarkable animations and engaging gameplay, the game started one of the most popular series ever.

But Sonic the Hedgehog also inspired other game developers and animal characters, resulting in animal-with-attitude games. It is why it would be unfair to talk about the latest Sonic entries without mentioning the one that gave birth to more than just a game franchise.

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