Sonic the Hedgehog’s 20th Birthday

Sonic the Hedgehog. For many of us retro games an icon. A trailblazer and true competitor to that ever-present and overly-competent plumber.

To many of the younger generations, well, I don’t know. The subject of many random game outings and IP tie-ins, of which very few are done well. An object of ridicule.

When Sonic first got a few column inches in gaming mags, the news fresh from America (way before we had internet) made the excitement palpable. The screen shots looked cool. He had bags of attitude, and because all the shots were stills, word on the street was the guy was rapid. Faster than any scrolling platformer you’d ever seen before. Eat that, plumber!

20 years ago, I was 16. I think I’d finished my exams, and school was in a wind-down period, so my absence on release day wasn’t noticed. I’d asked and pestered Ken at MicroByte about release day, delivery time, amount of copies expected, and had about £35 saved for weeks. I rang in the morning before setting off into town, and was told the game was en route via courier to the shop.

Doing my very own Sonic impression, I hot-footed it to the train station and headed into Liverpool city center, walking into MicroByte mere seconds before the delivery guy. Ken signed for the box, and opened it up. Silence. Here it was. I didn’t stick around to watch a demo, handed over the cash and did one.

I hammered the game, but savoured every moment. I looped every loop and collected every ring on the first 3 levels. I’d completed the game in three days round at a friends house, watched by four or five other lads, all competent gamers and older than me, so a bit of a moment. I grew up with Sonic.

Sonic was the Mega Drive’s defining moment. The platform had a champion. A challenger to Mario, and a statement for all Sega gamers, and back then he was cool as fuck.

Time and franchise licensing have not been kind. While Sonic Adventure brought back the epic speed through levels (chased by an Orca Whale, brilliant memory!) and a few decent tie-ins like Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, most of his own games on recent platforms have been crap.

Sonic on the Nomad

The 20th birthday was a chance to play the classics again, fully rose tinted, and appreciate a time gone by. This was helped by the release of a Sonic Generations demo, which to be honest, made me nauseous. A forced 3D perspective that moved too much with simple up and down jumps, and overly detailed background graphics really made the game feel like the game was trying too hard.

Sonic on the Mega Drive by comparison was like “Ahhh, relax. This is how it should be. The physics are correct, the backgrounds not overly colourful so you can see the baddies and bullets, now just run!”

I don’t think we’ll ever see Sonic back to his best. Personally, Sonic 2 was his pinnacle, but I am old and jaded. Mario has, overtime, utterly trounced the blue fella, but that’s due to Nintendo’s understanding of protecting IP. Sega needs a lot more than a Generations “tie-in” paying lip service to the way he used to move to bring Sonic back to relevance. Which is sad.