Sonic the Hedgehog (1991): origins, development, gameplay, and review

First released in North America on June 23, 1991, for the Sega Genesis, Sonic the Hedgehog was the platform game that would eventually establish an empire of games based on Sega’s mascot.

Origins

It all started with Thomas “Tom” Kalinske, CEO of Sega of America Inc. and Hayao Nakayama, president of Sega, back in the ’90s. They envisioned the idea of a mascot that could potentially rival the competition and become the face of the company.

Back then, Sega needed a replacement for the Alex Kidd franchise to compete with Nintendo’s Mario series as well as another mascot that could breathe new life and revitalize their business.

With this purpose in mind, Sega’s research and development departments submitted several ideas, designs, and sketches in attempts to create something new that had an appeal to any potential customer regardless of race or gender.

After taking these designs, Naoto Ōshima, Japanese artist and video game designer working for Sega, conducted an informal poll in New York City to pinpoint which draft was more appealing to the crowd.

Most people leaned toward the spiky blue hedgehog. A design inspired by Mickey Mouse imbued with an appearance and attitude that people from the USA could consider as cool and hip by the time the character got developed.

When Naoto Ōshima finally pitched the idea, the company’s higher-ups chose Sonic as its new mascot. They gave him the color blue so it would match Sega’s logo, as well as shoes inspired by the cover of Michael Jackson’s album “Bad” (1987).

Another source of inspiration for Sonic’s personality was Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, and his “get it done now” attitude, which Japanese developers saw as something cool and appealing.

Development

The team responsible for bringing this idea to life consisted of programmer Yuji Naka and artist Naoto Ōshima. By that time, Yuji Naka created an algorithm that allowed from smooth movement and complex motion for sprites as well as one for consistent animation fluidity.

Sound engineers, as well as other designers such as Hirokazu Yasuhara, eventually joined the team because of the need for more content.

The core concept behind the game’s development was “speed,” and thanks to Naka’s algorithms, the team succeeded in making the titular character fast enough to quickly cross levels while preventing the slowing down of the game’s animation due to Sonic’s speed.

More often than not, credit for the level design goes to Hirokazu Yasuhara who got influenced by California’s geography while designing Green Hill. He claimed that illustrator and pop artist Eizin Suzuki was the influence behind the palette color.

The game sold over 15 million units. And as of 2020, Sega made ports of this particular game for the Sega Saturn, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 2 to 4, GameCube, Xbox (from the original to One), Nintendo Wii, PSP, Nintendo DS, and many more.

Gameplay

Sonic the Hedgehog works like a 2D side-scrolling platformer. The game emphasizes Sonic’s high-speed running through the different zones and areas, while facing the hazards which, more often than not, consists of robotic foes.

The levels feature several springs for the player to gain greater height or access different places as well as vertical loops meant for Sonic to showcase his ability to run fast.

The game features rings as the main collectible as well as a protective measure against enemies or traps. The character instantly dies if he takes damage, but if the player has rings collected Sonic will survive, instead of losing a life he’ll lose every ring collected thus far.

When players collect 100 rings, the game rewards them with an extra life.

The game feature 6 zones, each one divided into 3 acts. And at the last act of each zone, the player will face a boss battle against the main antagonist of the game, Dr. Robotnik.

Review

When Sega published Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis, this game was ground-breaking due to his fast-paced gameplay when compared to other platformers of its time as well as its colorful and detailed graphics.

The character of Sonic and the world as seen in the game had a very unique charm, and the soundtrack composed by Masato Nakamura of “Dreams Come True” fame does a nice job in enhancing the atmosphere of several levels.

Sonic the hedgehog’s graphical presentation creates a vibrant world with a visual appeal capable of keeping players invested.

The fast gameplay while simple is incredibly engaging, and the hidden rooms, as well as the bonus stages, provide a replay value that can keep a gamer enthralled and encourage players to learn and improve their gaming skills.

Despite being an old game, Sonic the Hedgehog stands the test of time and remains as a legend of the platform genre. The game has its fair share of flaws, such as puzzle sections that slow down the pacing, and an inconsistent difficulty spike.

But, when it comes to this classic game, the good definitively outweigh the bad. We fully recommend playing and finishing Sonic the Hedgehog (1991).