Sonic the Hedgehog, a title that literally saved Sega back in the 16-Bit days of gaming (circa early ’90s for those who didn’t live through it). Up until Sonic came along, Sega was squarely set to lose what little market share they were able to wrestle away from Nintendo’s 8-Bit Nintendo Entertainment System (marketing and savvy licensing were key). Sega had a long running love/hate relationship with their “mascots” up to Sonic- they had Alex Kidd (who was as close to a mascot as you could get without him actually being one), Altered Beast, Shinobi and countless other titles that COULD have been the mascot for Sega to battle Nintendo’s Mario if fans would have gotten behind them. Fans didn’t for various reasons (Altered Beast being a given as to not being able to carry a system on its own, a key to any mascot).
Sonic hit the market turning around Sega’s fortune in the process. Through edgy commercials that featured extremely short clips of gameplay, Sega was able to really push home (no pun intended) the excitement and speed that Sonic represented. For once, Nintendo had a viable challenger to their plumber that never actually did anything work related in his games (no one thought to license Mario for a Pipe Dream game? I mean, seriously, they never did).
Sega took the marketing straight to Nintendo, taking the offensive with ads that featured televisions sitting side by side running Sonic and Mario. Behind the televisions was a spokesman asking the viewer, which would they rather play? On one screen Sonic was busting through levels at breakneck speed while on the other screen viewers saw Mario plodding through a level carefully collecting coins and avoiding enemies. The marketing worked quite well for Sega.
Sonic was all about how fast you could get through the sprawling levels, not so much about exploration of any kind (though players had that option, it was frowned upon by the timer that ran onscreen reminding gamers of how long they were playing the current level). No mascot is worth his salt without a powerful enemy to take on and Sonic had a doozy of a main rival (not Mario, at least not yet, that would come about 15 years or so later). Dr. Robotnik (sorry, I knew him as that, not Eggman) was an evil genius with apparently limitless access to machinery and talent to put it together in wild contraptions to thwart Sonic from saving the Flickies (they got their own game on the Genesis too under the name “Flicky.” Some may find fun in that game. Some).
Sonic has touched EVERY Sega branded console outside of the educational stuff. From Genesis to Master System to Saturn (a lackluster offering that only featured retro releases, not much new). Ending the Sega home console line with the Dreamcast and upon the demise of that seminal system, Sonic went multiplatform taking on the competition to mixed results.
Sonic is now legally able to drink in the United States, he has turned 21 today and we salute you, you little blue varmint.
The Community would like to thank Carl Williams from Gaming on Batteries for contributing this post.