Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Happy 19th Birthday, Sonic The Hedgehog!

Back in my early gaming years, I was more of a Sega guy than a Super NES player during the infamous 16-Bit "Console Wars" generation. It wasn't just because I owned a Mega Drive console (my cousin had a SNES I could play as well); the line-up of games SEGA chugged on back then were pretty impressive, and titles like Altered Beast, Bare Knuckle, Shinobi, Spider-Man vs The Kingpin, and even a port of Street Fighter II already kept me happy as can be. However, anyone who owned a Mega Drive or Genesis can attest to the fact that there was one game in the list that was easily a MUST PLAY title. I'm sure those who bought a Genesis the first time got this packed along with the machine. This game's arguably synonymous with the system itself!

Yes, Today is the 19th year anniversary of the release of the original Sonic The Hedgehog game for the Sega Mega Drive/ Genesis, and conversely, it's also Sonic The Hedgehog's birthday! That's right, everybody's favorite little blue hedgehog celebrates almost two decades of existence, and it's hard to believe that it all started in 1991, turning into a lucrative franchise that has persisted through several generations of console platforms. To celebrate this occasion in gaming history, this post will be all about how I remember the heroic freedom fighter, and how much he meant to me then, as well as now.

In many ways, Sonic was Sega's answer to Nintendo's Mario, only that instead of relying on headjumps and mushrooms, this guy excelled using his most famous asset - his speed, to conquer evil and take back his home planet Mobius from the evil reign of Dr. Robotnik (Dr. Eggman in Japan). Controlling and playing the character was similar to any Mario game sure, but there were obvious differences. He collected rings that served as his extended "lifebar", and roamed around several zones to fight and free his roboticized friends, as well as face Robotnik numerous times. That was how I remembered playing Sonic for the most part, and the game's success spawned several sequels on the Genesis, earning him a sidekick and more allies in the fight to free Mobius from tyranny. Sonic 2 was actually my favorite in the series, but the first game also holds a special place in my list, especially with its awe-inspiring soundtrack. Ah 16-Bit music, how I missed you.

Sonic The Hedgehog Gameplay

Besides his "way past cool" attitude, what I enjoyed about Sonic was the thrill of playing the character and experiencing his adventures hand-on. Apart from the sequels that followed in the Genesis, more titles eventually popped up as Sega began producing more powerful consoles to further their evolution in the gaming industry. Probably the other Sonic series I appreciated the most was the Sonic Adventure games for the Dreamcast. Sure, it wasn't 2D sidescrolling platform gaming anymore, but there was something appealing about playing this new three dimensional take on the blue hedgehog's adventures, especially with Sonic Adventure 2, which brought a whole new meaning to the words "fun" and "speed". Same emphasis was still placed on spinning, running, collecting rings, and evading/ defeating bad guys, but these Sonic games were on a completely different level compared to the classics, and that was somewhat of a good thing back in the day. Heck, Sonic even got his own comic book and cartoon series to boot, and I used to follow the latter in Cartoon Network diligently. There were several animated shows, but my favorite was the one with Princess Sally and the freedom fighters, offering a more serious form of storytelling to the hedgehog's escapades.

Sonic The Hedgehog SatAM Intro

Unfortunately, the day came when Sega decided to pull out of the console business and focus all of its efforts into producing games only, and Sonic practically became a "free agent", meaning the property could appear in any console that was formerly a competitor. As such, Sonic teamed up with his once eternal rival, Mario, and through several crossover games, fans finally had the chance to duke it out - Plumber vs Hedgehog. That was not to say that Sonic didn't have his own series of solo games produced anymore - there were several in fact. Unfortunately, they didn't capture the charm of the character, and recent attempts strayed away from what made the character cool in the first place. Luckily, all that is about to change with the upcoming 2010 release of the "true sequel" to the series - Sonic 4: Episode 1. The blue hedgehog returns to sidescrolling action in a 2.5D setting. Everything old is new again, and if it wins the appreciation of the fans once it comes out, then it would be a fitting gift to the hedgehog's 19 years of existence.

With several games, cartoons, and even a comic book series published by Archie Comics, Sonic is truly one of the best gaming characters I've had the privilege and pleasure of knowing since I got into gaming all those years ago. He certainly entertained many with his cocky attitude, and he remains a cool character through and through, and we have artist Naoto Oshima, designer Hirokazu Yasuhara, programmer Yuji Naka, and Sonic Team to thank for. Happy Birthday, Sonic The Hedgehog!

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