So we all know Sonic the Hedgehog, right? The spiky speedster burst onto the world scene back in 1991. Back then, he was Sega’s answer to Mario. Where Mario was slow and boring and… more slow; Sonic was lightning fast. The supersonic speedster was so very fast and oh, so very cool. He exemplified the attitude that permeated the nineties – he was Totally Banging. I mean Dude! Sonic was Sweet! Ok, painful linguistic time-travel over… Yes, Sonic was it. However, Sonic almost came into the world looking a whole lot different to how we know him today.
According to Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris (a great book every gamer should read by the way) when Sega of America received the initial designs for Sonic, very few people knew what a hedgehog was, and with his biker jacket, electric guitar and scary fangs – he seemed way too extreme for an American audience familiar with Nintendo’s super family-friendly Mario. So after a few tweaks – the Sonic we now know flew onto our cathode ray screens. Back then, Sonic became the mascot for the first real competitor to Nintendo in the gaming world – Sega. As the main protagonist in the flagship title for the intensely popular Sega Genesis, Sonic the Hedgehog exemplified the attitude of the company and disrupted the video game industry in a major way. Sonic WAS Sega, and Sonic was everything Mario was not, and back then that was a very good thing.
However, would a human boy have had the same massive impact on the industry we love? Could the cool, edgy rebelliousness that this weird-looking hedgehog embodied, have been the same if he was a just a small child? Something tells us, definitely not, but apparently, that’s how the idea for Sonic came about. Speaking in the latest volume of the Untold History of Japanese Game Developers series as quoted in Nintendo Life, Sonic designer Naoto Ohshima says:
I created the first design proposal for Sonic after three years in the design department. Although it wasn’t Sonic then – the main character was a human boy.
After a few design changes, and even an in-house mascot competition Mr Needlemouse, err… Sonic soon began to take form. Mr Ohshima then goes on to explain how his pitch involved a move away from the right angles so prevalent in games back then, with the aim of creating a game of smooth surfaces where the protagonist could run in circles and even through loops. Sound familiar? Yes, with the addition of legendary Japanese video game programmer, Yuji Naka, those concepts soon became the Sonic we now know and love. And the rest, as they say, is history. A blue blurry history.