We all know the story: Nintendo hit a home run with Mario and SEGA needed a mascot all of their own (Alex Kidd just wasn't cutting it) so a group of SEGA employees began drawing up possible candidates. In the end an artist by the name of Naoto Oshima created the first prototype drawings of our little blue friend, giving him the codename “Mr. Needlemouse”. Whilst original designs had Sonic bearing fangs, SEGA of America decided to tone down his appearance to a more family-friendly design in order to reach out to more potential players.
It was June 23rd 1991, and Sonic the Hedgehog had just been released on the SEGA Mega Drive (or Genesis to our American friends), what a day! Sonic boasted breathtaking 16-bit visuals, a cracking soundtrack and a wide variety of interesting levels, complete with Badniks and spike-filled pitfalls. Headlining was our hero Sonic and his arch nemesis Dr. Ivo Robotnik. The evil Doctor took it upon himself to enslave all the cute furry animals that inhabited the planet Mobius so that he might use his newly-built army to gather the illusive Chaos Emeralds and rule the world.
The player was tasked with defeating Dr. Robotnik's minions and then the Doctor himself in order to free his woodland chums and restore peace to Mobius. In his quest, players would guide Sonic through several of the planet's “Zones”, each of which was split into three “Acts”, the third of which ending with a Boss battle with Robotnik. Gameplay was fast paced, filled with explosions and robots and if the player was lucky enough to gather all of the hidden Chaos Emeralds they would be treated to a different ending upon completion.
Fans loved the fast-paced gameplay, which took full advantage of the Mega Drive’s awesome processor power, I remember my first encounter with Sonic was on the Master System version (the Mega Drive’s 8-bit predecessor) and I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. It was not until I saw a Mega Drive playing Sonic the Hedgehog in a shop window that I realized that I had been missing out and I constantly bugged my parents until we got our very own Mega Drive so I could play Sonic “properly”.
Needless to say, the game was a huge hit. Players had a new hero, SEGA had their mascot and the green light was given for a sequel.
The eagerly-awaited Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was released November 24th 1992 in the west (Japan got the game three days prior), and fans were delighted to see a new face on the box. Yes, Sonic 2 saw the arrival of Miles “Tails” Prower, Sonic's two-tailed fox sidekick. This exciting addition to the formula meant a constant companion in your quest that was controlled by the computer or by a second player, meaning more muscle on the side of good.
But not satisfied with the addition of Tails, SEGA also included the truly phenomenal Super Sonic. Yes, when Sonic collects all seven Chaos Emeralds and fifty gold rings, he transforms into Super Sonic, allowing him to jump higher and run so fast he literally runs off the screen as the camera cannot pan fast enough. Witnessing this spectacle for the first time was the highlight of my childhood and cemented Sonic as the coolest character in gaming (after all, Mario's fire flower ability is hardly as impressive).
With such memorable areas as the Chemical Plant Zone and the Casino Night Zone coupled with even more fantastic tunes, Sonic 2 began strongly. The fight with Mecha Sonic and the Final Battle with Robotnik's giant walking robot onboard the Death Egg Space Station, culminating in a fiery ejection from the battle and a tear-jerking final cutscene turned Sonic 2 into an utter smash-hit and timeless classic.