Sonic’s 29th Birthday

It was 29 years ago on 23rd June 1991 that Sonic first blasted onto the Mega Drive. To celebrate this odd milestone Retro Faith brings you 29 interesting facts and trivia about his first outing.

  • In 1990 then Sega Director Hayao Nakayama ordered a new company mascot to be as iconic as Mickey Mouse. Well, Sonic is pretty popular but Mickey Mouse iconic? Sonic may not have quite reached the heights of Disney’s famed rodent but Sega’s own Blue Blur has done alright for himself.
  • The work began with just two Sega employees, Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, The project was initially titled ‘Defeat Mario’. Although Mario would once again take his crown back in 1996, I think it is safe to say that Sonic was certainly on top in the early to mid 90’s.
  • The whole game was born from a tech demo Naka produced featuring a ball moving smoothly through a tube. He had found a way to make sprites roll on curved objects. It was Ohshima who combined the demo with his early character designs.
  • During development two animals were put forward as the basis for Sonic’s design. The team wanted an animal that could roll into a ball. We obviously got the hedgehog but the other animal, an armadillo, was later reworked to be Mighty for SegaSonic, Chaotix and Mania fame. 
  • Sonic was originally called Mr. Needlemouse but a vote amongst the development team led to the change to Sonic. The team then dubbed themselves Sonic Team. Needlemouse is the direct translation of hedgehog from Japanese.
  • Sonic’s arch nemesis Dr. Robotnik was always called Dr. Eggman in Japan. It was not until the revamp of Sonic in 1998 that Eggman was used globally.
  • The ‘Seeee-gaaaa’ start up chant was added after a proposed sound test was scrapped due to time issues. The idea was to have Sonic breakdancing in front of other animals. One of these was a crocodile playing a keyboard who would later become Vector in Knuckles Chaotix.
  • Before Amy Rose was on the scene, it was proposed by the development team that Sonic’s love interested was a human girl called Madonna. Thank goodness that idea was scraped by Sega of America who wanted a simpler back story for Sonic.
  • A two player mode had been designed but due to Yuji Naka’s technical limitations at the time it was decided this would be held back for a sequel. If all had gone according to plan would Tails have made his debut in the original Sonic?
  • Splats the Badnik, an original enemy in the game, was left out at final release. Some early demo copies of the game had them appear and their sprite is accessible with the debug mode cheat.
  • Sonic was first shown to the public in January 1991 at the International Consumer Electronics Show where it won the prize for innovation. Sega waited so long to first show the game as they wanted it to have a big impact on the gaming world.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog the Special Stages are referred to as the Secret Zone. This was the only time the Special Stages have been called something different.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog replaced Altered Beast as the pack-in game in North America and Europe. It was the shift Sega needed to emphasise they were more than just an arcade porting company.
  • In the manual an extra life bumper is shown as an item in the Special Stage. These did not make it to the final game but can be seen on tile palettes accessible with the debug mode cheat.
  • U.S. Gold acquired the rights to port Sonic over to home computers such as the Atari ST and ZX Spectrum but the plans for the release fell through. It would not be until the end of the decade that Sonic would appear on a non-Sega console.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog sold over 15 million copies and is the Mega Drive’s best selling game. This is mostly attributed to its inclusion as a pack in title.
  • After the initial release a new revised cart was programmed. It added rolling cloud and water ripple effects. It also solved a few minor bugs such as the level select cheat menu that originally had the zones in the wrong order.
  • Sonic’s first appearance was not actually in his own game but dangling from the rear view mirror in Rad Mobile. Subsequently this game was ported to the Saturn and effectively became Sonic’s first appearance on that system.
  • Before the game took its final form programmers Naka and Oshima were testing a rabbit that could grab items with its ears. This design would later split into two other characters. Ristar, who was in Sonic Team’s first non-Sonic game, and Cream who uses giant ears to fly like Tails.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog game engine was recycled and enhanced to make Ristar. The original design for Ristar had him wearing red and white shoes that resemble Sonics. The Western game art has Ristar in a very similar pose to that of Sonic’s cover art.
  • Ohshima has stated he borrowed Felix the Cat’s head and Mickey Mouse’s body for Sonic’s look. Michael Jackson’s boots from his Bad album sleeve inspired Sonic’s patented footwear. And their red and white colour is based on Father Christmas.
  • The music for the game was written by the Japanese pop group Dreams Come True. They went on to produce music for films such as Sleepless in Seattle and the The Swan Princess.
  • Yuji Naka left Sega after finishing work on the game. He said that he was frustrated with Sega of Japan. He moved to the States where he ended up back with Sega, this time for their US office.
  • He did a naughty thing before he left Sega of Japan though. In the iconic intro of Sonic are all the names of his colleagues who helped make the game. They are in black text on a black background but can be seen in the code. Sega, like Atari before them were not keen on showing the names of their workers in the games.
  • The wing emblem for the games title screen is said to be from the original pitch when Ohshima told Sega executives Sonic was from the imagination of a fictional fighter pilot who slapped images of Sonic on his fighter jet. Apparently the pilots nickname was Hedgehog due to his spiky hair.
  • Sonic cannot swim due to an oversight by Naka. He mistakenly thought that hedgehogs cannot swim but that is not the case. In fact they are quite accomplished when they get going. It is hard to imagine a Sonic game without the dreaded countdown though.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog is set on South Island, a strange island that is hard to locate as it is rumoured to float around the Pacific Ocean. This setting is primarily used in the early Sonic games but makes an appearance in the recent Sonic Forces.
  • The skidding noise Sonic makes when he comes to an abrupt stop has been heard in another Sega title. The same sound can be heard in the 1986 smash hit arcade game OutRun.
  • The little blue birds that pop out of the Badniks are called Flickies. One of them appeared in the arcade platformer Flicky long before the idea for Sonic was even conceived.