Happy birthday, Sonic! The world’s fastest hedgehog has been around for a long time – today, the 23rd of June, marks the 25th anniversary of the original release of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis (also known as the Sega Mega Drive in many regions around the world).
In the time since his original debut, Sonic has gone on to be one of the most consistently popular video game characters in the world. While his video games haven’t always lived up to his reputation, a variety of appearances in other mediums such as comic books and cartoons have kept the Sonic flame alive, and Sony Pictures are currently working to developing a live action/CGI hybrid movie starring the Blue Blur.
But how much do you really know about Sonic? In his time, Sega’s mascot has generated more than a few pieces of unique trivia. Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Sonic the Hedgehog.
15. Sonic Was Based on Santa Claus, Michael Jackson, and Bill Clinton
When designing a new mascot for the company, Sega looked to create something that really spoke to everything their fans already knew and loved – a character with humor, wit, and classic 90s ‘attitude’. The result is a collection of some of the strangest concepts ever to be thrown together.
Sonic’s boots were taken directly from Michael Jackson’s look in the music video Bad (as well as the album of the same name), with straps and buckles to make the character stand out. For the color scheme, Sega looked to Santa Claus, giving the boots a red and white look that had the dual effect of making Sonic the color of the Pepsi logo, another big brand for the era.
For Sonic’s demeanor, Sega borrowed inspiration from then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, specifically his ‘can-do’ attitude. Sega wanted a character that could be cheeky and sarcastic while still getting the job done.
14. Sonic Can’t Swim Because of a Misconception
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the original Sonic the Hedgehog game is the infamous water levels, with aquatic exploration appearing in both the Labyrinth Zone and the final stage, Scrap Brain Zone Act 3. In these levels, Sonic sinks like a stone, and must navigate past dangers while moving far slower than usual underwater, gulping air that emerges from bubbles underground. Sonic’s aversion to water is an intrinsic part of the character, appearing not only in subsequent games but also as plot points in television and comic appearances.
According to Sonic’s creator and the director of his first game, Yuji Naka, this element of the game was included because Naka believed that hedgehogs can’t swim. It was therefore decided that Sonic shouldn’t be able to swim quickly through water in a similar manner to other platformers of the time, including Super Mario Bros.
What’s interesting, though, is that Naka was actually misinformed. Hedgehogs are very capable swimmers under normal circumstances, making the most annoying part of Sonic games an unnecessary inclusion.
13. Sonic The Hedgehog Comics are Record-Breakers
To cash in on the popularity of Sonic during the ‘90s, several television cartoon series were developed. The most popular of which, simply titled Sonic The Hedgehog but known among fans as ‘SatAM’ (as it first debuted as a Saturday morning cartoon). This cartoon’s popularity was enough to inspire a comic book spin-off which continued the adventures of the television show long after it was removed from the air.
This comic series is notable for several reasons. Firstly, it’s the longest-running and most consistently popular comic book series based on a video game character. Even more interestingly, though, the comic has maintained its popularity for so long that, having reached long past 275 issues, Sonic the Hedgehog is now the highest-numbered continuous comic book series available in the Western market – comics like Batman and Spider-Man are often rebooted with a new issue #1 as a way of drumming up more interest, but Archie Comics haven’t found this tactic necessary with Sonic, who constantly maintains a comfortable fanbase.
12. Sonic’s First Official Video Game Appearance Was as an Air Freshener
While Sonic the Hedgehog was the first official Sega title in which the Blue Blur played a significant role, it wasn’t his first time appearing in a game. Before taking a starring role in his own game, Sonic first made a small cameo in the Sega arcade game Rad Mobile.
Sonic can be seen in the first-person racer hanging from the inside of a car as a small air freshener. As Rad Mobile was released to arcades in January of 1991, this appearance beat the Sonic the Hedgehog game to release by six months.
Sonic the Hedgehog wasn’t even Sonic’s first appearance in a home console video game. An unlicensed appearance of the character can be seen in The Adventures of Quik and Silva, a cheap game for the Amiga console that was given away free with a 1991 issue of Amiga Fun magazine. In the game, Sonic plays the part of a generic enemy that players must defeat. While this is hardly an official game release, it’s still notable that Sonic already had a fair amount of brand appeal before his Genesis debut.
11. Sonic’s Rock Band Was Cut from the Original Game to Make Room for Sega
Perhaps the most iconic sound in gaming, the glorious cry of ‘SE-GA’ that can be heard upon turning on any early Sonic the Hedgehog game actually caused game developers more than a few headaches, and led to a lot of cut content from the original game.
Audiences were familiar with what is essentially the short theme song for the Sega company from a series of commercials that ran during the production of Sonic the Hedgehog. Loving the sound and wanting to connect the commercials with the game, Yuji Naka requested that programmers find a way to incorporate the sound into the start of the game. This proved challenging – the version that appears in the final game is so complex that it takes up 1/8th of the all space on the game’s cartridge.
The inclusion of the noise meant cutting content from the game to free up data. This meant removing a scene, likely to be used in the end credits, wherein Sonic rocks out as the vocalist of a band of anthropomorphic animals. Remnants of this can still be seen in the end credits of the Master System version of the game, where Sonic appears, singing into a microphone.
10. Sonic Originally Had a Girlfriend Named Madonna
Another piece of content that was cut from the original Sonic game was his girlfriend, a tall blonde human in a red dress, named Madonna. As with Michael Jackson and Bill Clinton, this character was a connection to pop culture of the time.
Ultimately it was decided to have Sonic focus on saving woodland creatures instead of featuring an interspecies romance in the game, but the idea was later revisited in the 2006 attempt at a series reboot which saw the Sonic franchise introduce a variety of roleplaying game tropes and which saw a human princess, Elise, fall in love with Sonic.
Madonna wasn’t the only cut character from Sonic the Hedgehog to be reworked and re-used. One of Sonic’s bandmates, Vector the Crocodile, made a later appearance as a member of Team Chaotix in the spin-off game Knuckles Chaotix, and has been seen since in Sonic Heroes and other games.
9. Michael Jackson Composed Music for Sonic 3
Sonic Team’s love of Michael Jackson was reciprocated – the famous popstar was an enormous Sonic the Hedgehog fan, and worked with Sega multiple times, including a Genesis platforming game based on Jackson’s movie Moonwalker.
Following the success of Moonwalker, Jackson and Sega agreed on a deal that would see the King of Pop compose all of the music for their upcoming third instalment in the Sonic franchise. According to reports, Jackson was initially thrilled at the opportunity and put together a team of musicians to develop the game’s soundtrack. Eventually, though, Jackson became frustrated with the limitations of the Sega Genesis and its sound chip, and asked that he remain uncredited in the final game. Shortly after, allegations of child abuse that were made against Jackson went public, and Sega elected to keep his involvement in the project a secret.
To this day, Sega claims that no music composed by Michael Jackson made it into the final version of the game. The composers that worked alongside Jackson, however, argue that it’s impossible to separate where his contributions ended and theirs began, claiming that Jackson’s music does appear in the game. Fans have also noted multiple similarities between music in Sonic 3 and Jackson’s later releases – most notably, the end credits for Sonic 3 is very similar to Jackson’s song Stranger in Moscow.
8. Escape from the City is a Remix
While we’re on the subject of musical similarities in Sonic games, it’s difficult to ignore Escape from the City, a song by Crush 40, band formed by Sega composer Jun Senoue to produce rock music for various games by the company.
Escape from the City is perhaps the most iconic modern Sonic the Hedgehog song, playing in the very first level of Sonic Adventure 2 – the music is synced up to match with the initial action on the screen as the level starts, giving a bold introduction to what many consider to be the best polygonal Sonic game.
Eager fans and audiophiles, though, have discovered that this isn’t the first time the song has appeared in a Sonic game. The song is a remixed version of a tune that appears in a multiplayer for Sonic 3, albeit with a different instrumental arrangement and without lyrics. Once the two songs are heard side by side it’s difficult to ignore their similarities, and there are multiple other instances of later Sonic games reworking tracks from earlier titles.
7. Sonic Was the First Video Games Character to Appears As a Macy’s Day Parade Balloon
It took a long time for video games to gain respectability in the eyes of the mainstream press. For a long time, even the most recognizable video game characters were thought of as irrelevant or unimportant by more established media. Sonic the Hedgehog changed this with his cross-platform media dominance, meaning that the character paved the way for gaming to be treated as just as important as other forms of media.
Case in point: Sonic’s 1993 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon, an inclusion in the parade in the ‘90s which represented just how recognizable the gaming mascot had become. Unfortunately, the Sonic balloon ran into some bad luck (and a lamppost) and developed a puncture which quickly led the balloon to be retired. The next year the balloon was repaired and put back to use, but it hit a lamppost again in 1994. After another set of repairs, the balloon yet again collided with a lamppost in 1997 and was retired. A new Sonic balloon was introduced in 2011 to mark the character’s 20th anniversary.
6. Sonic’s Skidding Noise First Appeared in Outrun
There are more than a few iconic sound effects throughout the Sonic franchise. The musical ‘bling’ which accompanies the collection of a ring, Sonic’s bouncy jump noise, and the ‘poof’ that can be heard when a Badnik is popped open are all more than a little familiar to gamers who’ve played Sonic games regularly over the years.
One noise with an interesting history, though, is the noise that’s made when Sonic skids to a stop. Because of the character’s speed, Sonic’s turning is accompanied with what sounds like rubber tires screeching to a stop, connecting the character’s momentum with that of a fast-moving car.
This sound is a deliberate choice, and it’s not the first time it appears in a Sega game – the arcade classic Outrun first used the sound effect for car tires screeching to a stop in its game, and the noise was borrowed for use in Sonic. The Blue Blur’s popularity is now so great that the noise is primarily associated with his games, but it’s important to remember that Outrun used it first.
5. Doctor Robotnik Was Based on Super Mario
At the time when Sega were looking to create a new mascot for their company, they took inspiration from a variety of sources. Most notably, the company found that their main rival, Nintendo, had a winning mascot with Mario, and Sega wanted to find a way to measure up against this stiff competition.
Sega opened things up to their staff members, asking for employees to submit their own ideas for a new mascot. Artist Naoto Ohshima submitted a series of entries, one of which featured a man who looked more than a little like Mario, with a large moustache and a round belly. While Sega ultimately went with another of Oshima’s submissions, Sonic himself, they enjoyed the Mario lookalike so much that they included him as the main villain of the game.
The character was given the name of Eggman in Japan, but Sega of America, who had a strong rivalry with the Japanese branch of the company, elected to name the character Dr Ivo Robotnik in their localization.
4. Sonic’s Original Game Soundtrack Shares a Composer with Sleepless in Seattle
Michael Jackson isn’t the only pop star to have influenced the Sonic the Hedgehog game series. Masato Nakamura, the composer for both the original Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel, was also a member of the Japanese pop group Dreams Come True at the time.
In addition to working on Sonic games during this period, Nakamura had a hand in creating music for a number of other high-profile projects. This includes music for the soundtrack to the romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle. Nakamura also composed music for the Don Bluth animated musical The Swan Princess.
Throughout the years, while Sonic the Hedgehog games have had dips in quality, and fans often argue over which entries in the series are the most enjoyable, one general consensus can usually be reached: the music which appears in the Sonic games series is often of a very high quality. Considering the number of respected musicians that have been involved with the games, this is hardly a surprise.
3. Cut Content for Sonic 2 Was Missing for 20 Years Before Being Added Back In
Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog are known for their tenacity when it comes to ferreting out hidden secrets and cut content from the games. No game has created quite as much of a stir among the fan community as Sonic 2, which featured multiple levels in the game’s beta that were ultimately cut for time.
Under most circumstances these missing levels would never see the light of day, but thanks to the theft of a beta copy of Sonic 2 during a games show, fans eventually got a good look at unfinished levels within the game that could have made an appearance if the project hadn’t been working to quite such an aggressive deadline. The most famous cut level, Hidden Palace Zone, appears in a near complete state on the beta cartridge for the game, leading many fans to wonder why it was scrapped in the first place.
After many years, however, Hidden Palace Zone was ultimately re-introduced to the game for its mobile re-release. Fan gamers Christian Whitehead and Simon Thomley, better known by the online community as Taxman and Stealth respectively, were given the task by Sega to remaster the entirety of Sonic 2 after the pair provided some excellent work on an earlier re-release of Sonic CD. While working on the game, the pair decided to include Hidden Palace Zone as a special treat for fans, providing the level with an official release a full twenty years after it had been initially designed.
2. Flicky Bluebird Predates Sonic By Several Years
Throughout the original Sonic game, and in several subsequent titles, Sonic’s task is to free his animal friends from metal cages and robotic enemies – successfully defeating a badnik will see one of several small creatures bursting forth and escaping from within the enemy.
In the first game, the most notable of these creatures is Flicky Bluebird, a character which also appears on the end of level screen in the Master System version of the game. Flicky also went on to have a larger role in a later Sonic game – in Sonic 3D Blast the player is tasked with freeing and collecting a variety of Flickies from within badniks before they can progress in the game.
The character of Flicky actually pre-dates Sonic’s games – the character first appeared in an arcade game, simply titled Flicky, in which the player, controlling Flicky, has to gather up her chicks while avoiding various enemies. The central mechanic is very similar to that of Sonic 3D Blast, suggesting that the Sonic game took inspiration from Flicky’s first appearance.
1. Sonic Was Almost a Rabbit
The development process that led to the creation of Sonic involved looking over a lot of different character designs. In addition to considering Sonic (originally named Mr Needlemouse) and an earlier version of Doctor Eggman, Sega also considered an entirely different game character.
At one point in the process of developing their new mascot, Sega settled on a rabbit with large ears – the intention was that a game would be released which involved the rabbit picking up items with its ears to throw at enemies, presenting a core game mechanic which was different to anything that Nintendo had to offer.
As work went into building the engine that would serve as the basis for the game, however, Sega began to consider a different direction for the game. The company decided that it wanted to show off the technical capabilities of its Genesis games console, and wanted to highlight its speed – with the core game mechanic centering around picking up and throwing objects it was difficult for players to maintain any forward momentum.
Sega decided to simplify the game, focusing on speedy platforming rather than a new mechanic. To do so, they elected to go for a different mascot, picking a hedgehog as an ironic twist on the idea of a fast character. With this, Sonic was born and Sega developed one of the most popular gaming mascots of all time.
Gotta Go Fast!
Having been around for over twenty-five years, Sonic’s had his fair share of ups and downs. While not all of his more recent games have lived up to the character’s early hits, his appearance in comics, television shows, and mobile games mean that Sonic is likely to continue to be a popular character for a long time to come.
Do you know any Sonic facts that are missing from this list? What’s your favorite Sonic game or television show? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.