Sonic the Hedgehog (Naka 1991) is the first game of the well-known series and was released by Sega in the United States and Europe in June 1991. The game premiered the character Sonic the Hedgehog, his nemesis Dr. Robotnik (aka Eggman), and the group that created him, the Sonic Team: Naoto Oshima, Yuji Naka, Hirokazu Yasuhara, Jinya Itoh, and Rieko Kodama (“Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)”).
Before Sonic, Sega was struggling in the home video game market. Japan was dominated by Turbografx-16 and North America was dominated by NES. Sega launched Genesis in an attempt to break into the market, but they were still far from excelling. The competition grew fiercer when Nintendo announced plans for the Super Nintendo, a 16-bit console, to be released August 23, 1991. As a result, Sega replaced the CEO of their North American division with Tom Kalinske, the former head of Mattel, as well as changed their marketing plan. Previously, Sega focused on celebrity themed games, but Kalinske decided they needed to work on brand awareness. The solution was to be a hit video game with a flagship character, just as Nintendo had done with Super Mario Bros. Sega’s internal 5 person development team Sega AMB began brainstorming ideas, one standing out amongst the rest: Naoto Oshima’s hedgehog, originally nammed Needlemouse, the fastest video game character yet. Needlemouse was renamed Sonic, and thus the world’s most famous hedgehog was born.
Upon release, Sonic the Hedgehog became a sensation, and to this day it is Sega Genesis’s best selling game. People were buying the console Genesis just to play Sonic the Hedgehog, and the game was dubbed Genesis’s first “killer app.” Sonic the Hedgehog was to outlive the console he was built for, as well as Sega’s niche in the console market (Cohen).
Sonic the Hedgehog can be classified as agon and ludus. The game is governed by a strict set of rules and actions: you can only move forward, up, and down. The game falls in the agon category because there is a clear goal of the game: stop Dr. Robotnik, find the Chaos Emeralds, and save his friends that were captured by Dr. Robotnik. Sonic has to maneuver through many obstacles, such as defeating enemies, avoiding spikes, collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, and defeating Dr. Robotnik in the “Final Zone” (“Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)”).
Though the game bears resemblance to Super Mario Bros, the Sonic Team was able to make it stand out amongst all the clones. What this game did differently was highlight the potential of the Mega Drive. Speed is a key part of Sonic, and that is highlighted in the game. He can either walk or roll through South Island, bouncing off springs and picking up speed in loop-d-loops. Furthermore, the way Sonic interacts with his environment depicts the physics of the world. The player must build momentums by going down curved slopes as well as increase Sonic’s speed to get through the loop-de-loops, and once Sonic slows down, he return to standing. The objective of the game was simple and clear, but its swift and smooth gameplay made the game unique and addicting (Cohen).
Cohen, D.S. “How Sonic the Hedgehog Saved Sega.” Lifewire. N.p., 18 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
Naka 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog, video game, Genesis, Sega
“Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit).” Sonic Retro. Sega, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.