It’s easy to forget how prominent Sonic the Hedgehog once was in popular culture. Everybody’s favorite ring-crazed mammal once stood toe-to-toe with Nintendo’s Mario. During these console wars, the Blue Blur inspired millions to trade their hard-earned disposable dollars for a Sega Genesis.
Beginning his life in the realm of video games, Sonic’s royal blue likeness has been repackaged and used to sell everything from movies, TV shows, t-shirts, and even breakfast cereal. Understandably, the mascot’s appeal waxed and waned along with the quality of his games. As a result, Sonic fans have been left with little more than nostalgia.
Thankfully for the massive success of the live-action Sonic movie, it seems that the Blue Blur is back and here to stay! So, where did Sonic go and why are so many people excited to see him return? Let’s journey through Sonic’s storied history and see what answers we might find.
While industry giants Sony and Microsoft bookend the console wars of today, the battles of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were fought by two different companies: Sega and Nintendo. In particular, Sega was trying to take a piece out of Nintendo’s market share. Sega’s goal came to fruition with the 1991 release of Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis.
Billed as Sega’s answer to Mario, the first Sonic the Hedgehog put the Genesis on the map. This 16-bit platformer was fast, technologically impressive, and a heck of a lot of fun. In order to capitalize on the game’s success, Sega would develop three sequels for the Genesis and one for the Sega CD. The high quality of these five games solidified Sonic’s place in video game history.
Unfortunately, the following decades were not so kind to Sega’s mascot. No matter how hard Sega tried, they couldn’t recreate the magic of the classic Genesis games. Eventually, the company’s need to reinvent Sonic on a yearly basis severely damaged his reputation to all but the most hardcore fans. While there are some bright spots, the narrative surrounding Sonic is that of a fallen icon.
Well until Paramount Pictures brought the Blue Blur to the silver screen in early 2020. But more on that in a bit.
Over the years, Sega has since redefined the Sonic brand with a slew of media ventures. Despite that, it’s only right to begin with where it all started — video games. As of 2018, the entire Sonic franchise would go on to exceed 800 million in game sales.
Considering there are almost 100 games in the franchise, there’s no way to highlight every single Sonic game. So, let’s highlight three of the best.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Despite being the second game in the series, many consider Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to be the peak. While the first Sonic built a good base for gameplay, Sonic 2 perfected it.
The Spin Dash made the game even faster. The introduction of Tails gave an innocent sidekick for Sonic’s attitude to play off of. And the levels were so large that it encouraged endless replayability.
Although Sonic 2 was a hard game to follow, Sonic CD for the Sega CD was up for the challenge.
On top of introducing Metal Sonic and Amy Rose, Sonic CD shook up level design with its time travel system. By spinning signposts, Sonic could travel between past, present, and future versions of each level. Each version would change the level in significant ways.
Plus, there’s the incredible soundtrack. I can listen to “Sonic Boom” all day.
By 2017, Sonic had so many misses that it was hard to be hopeful about the series. Then Sonic Mania was released.
Going back to the classic 2D style, Sonic Mania is a love letter to the series’ past. As such, it includes remixed versions of fan-favorite levels and modes, along with some brand-new levels and ideas.
Many saw Mania as a return to form for Sega’s favorite hedgehog. Thanks to the lackluster Sonic Forces, one that didn’t last long.
Animated TV Shows
Children love two things: cartoons and popular characters. As such, it didn’t take long for Sega to enlist Sonic for some animated series. In fact, 1993 saw the start of two completely different Sonic TV shows.
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog ran one season, compiled of 65 self-contained episodes. Each episode pitted Sonic against Dr. Robotnik and his henchmen, all while learning a lesson along the way.
At the very same time, Sonic the Hedgehog, more commonly known as Sonic SatAM, took a much darker tone than Adventures. Sonic SatAM had Sonic working with the Freedom Fighters to overthrow Robotnik’s iron rule over their land. While only lasting 26 episodes, it’s beloved by fans of the franchise.
Sonic’s most recent show was arguably his most successful. Debuting on the Cartoon Network in 2014, Sonic Boom ran for a total of three years and 104 episodes. It opted for computer-generated graphics and a self-deprecating sense of humor.
Riding high on the success of the video game, Sonic was picked up by the guys and gals over at Archie Comics.
While similar to the plot of Sonic SatAM, Archie’s comic series followed Sonic and the Freedom Fighters’ plight to protect Knothole Village from Dr. Robotnik’s tyranny. It enjoyed a lengthy, 14-year publication run until Sega of America ended its publishing partnership in 2017. Though Archie’s contributions to the Sonic Universe are no more, the publisher still shares 50 percent of the bragging rights for being the longest-running comic series based on a video game.
Sega would move on from Archie, but not from Sonic comics. The series is now distributed by IDW Publishing. IDW’s run is heavily influenced by the Sonic series of video games and details Sonic’s ongoing battle with Dr. Eggman. Blending both old and new characters, the Sonic comics continue their monthly publication to this very day.
Paramount Pictures’ Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t the first movie starring the Blue Blur. That honor belongs to 1996’s Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie.
Released in two parts in Japan and as a feature film in North America, the movie sees Sonic help Dr. Robotnik reclaim Metropolis from Metal Robotnik and stop the Robot Generator from destroying the planet. However, things turn to the worse when the Robot Generator’s destruction reveals a new threat: Metal Sonic. Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is a serviceable film that fans of the series will no doubt enjoy, though it lacks the press and fanfare of the franchise’s latest release.
Currently, Sonic sits atop the mountain of blockbuster movie success. This is hard to believe given the controversy that once clouded its release.
Initial trailers were panned for the human-teethed monstrosity that was Sonic. Sonic’s CG design got so much backlash that Paramount was forced to delay the film to redesign Sonic. Against all odds, Sonic the Hedgehog would be largely celebrated by fans as a great new addition to the beloved franchise. This positive reception led to earning $306.8 million worldwide.
Pleased by the results, Paramount Pictures has already greenlit a sequel. In fact, Sonic 2 is set to release in theaters on April 8, 2022.
It’s hard to fully quantify Sonic’s true impact on the video game industry. Would Nintendo have evolved into the creative juggernaut it is today without Sega’s speedy blue hedgehog nipping at their heels? Maybe or maybe not. From the outset, Sonic the Hedgehog has pushed rival developers to be more creative and create more memorable games.
The franchise’s insistence on branching out of games and into other successful avenues has been mirrored too. Today, video game properties are always looking to expand into toys, TV, and movies. You can thank Sonic for that, too.
Though there have been bigger games, more successful game-based movies, and more effective merchandising, it’s impossible to begin any conversation on the pervasive expansion of the gaming industry without spending a bunch of time discussing Sonic’s contribution to it. Sonic the Hedgehog will forever belong on gaming’s Mount Rushmore — and that’s a legacy worth more than a million gold rings.