My reception to Sonic the Hedgehog was... shall we say, not a warm one. I mean, at the time of my 10 year old life, Mario was "the guy." He was a plumber, a doctor, and he flew with a raccoon tail. How many other video game stars could do all that? So in my mind, Mario was pretty much irreplaceable. And yet, here comes Sega, parading Sonic about and showing off how much cooler he is than Mario. Those spikes, those shoes, that smirk. Everything about Sonic just seemed like it was designed to downplay Nintendo's mascot. My at first negative opinions of Sonic largely came from Sega of America's advertising campaign of the character. Just check out this 1991 TV ad for Sonic the Hedgehog. This is smear tactics at it's finest.
Sega of America was openly slamming Nintendo and this would certainly not be the last time the company took potshots at their rivals. I look back at this commercial and laugh but when I was a kid, it did little to amuse me. Anyone or anything dissing Mario was something I just would not tolerate. You either liked Mario, or you liked Sonic and if you liked one or the other, the opposing side would condemn you for it. I was fiercely loyal to Mario and would always speak out whenever someone said Sonic was faster or his game had better graphics. Needless to say, the rivalry that ensued from this ad was legendary. Because Sega and Nintendo were constantly at each other's throats, so were Sonic and Mario. Through Sonic the Hedgehog and aggressive marketing, Sega had shown that they were not a threat to be taken lightly. We're talking some of the most heated competition the gaming industry has ever seen. It is because of this competitiveness that many still view the 16-bit console wars as the best gaming has ever seen.
|Blast Processing at work.|
|Danger doesn't faze Sonic one bit.|
I got a SNES for Christmas that came bundled with Super Mario World while my friend Justin had gotten a Genesis that was bundled with Sonic the Hedgehog. I still wasn't sold on Sega's blue, attitude-infused mascot. That all changed one Sunday in early 1992. After church I went to Ryan's with Justin and his family to eat before going to his place for a fun filled afternoon of gaming. The entire time Justin was talking up Sonic the Hedgehog. This would be my chance give this much hyped game a try.
When we got to Justin's pad, he turned on the TV and fired up the Genesis. Shortly after, Sonic popped up out of his own logo, wagging his finger with a smirk on his face, as if he were saying "You're gonna love this, kid. Trust me." As I watched Justin run through Green Hill Zone collecting rings, smashing Badniks and running through loop-the-loops, everything I disliked about Sonic suddenly vanished. It was like I was seeing Sonic for the first time. Like I was wearing fanboy blinders and someone just ripped them off so I could see clearly. Sonic's world was fast, detailed, bright and colorful. And Sonic really was quite the cool character. From head to toe, Sonic was teeming with awesome. If kept idle, he'd turn and look at the screen, tapping his foot, expressing his desire for the player to hurry up. When he ran fast, his shoes looked like stretchy red stripes. It really was like unlike anything I'd ever seen at the time.
|Livin' in the city.|
|Times like these, I feel that Sebastian lied to|
me about under the sea being so grand.
Sonic's world was just as creative as he was himself. The Marble Zone looked like ancient ruins housing lava and deadly traps below. Spring Yard Zone seemed to bring Sonic to the city with lots of bright lots, bumpers and neon signs. Definitely a Vegas feeling going on from this place. Labyrinth Zone, the token underwater stage was very different from water levels I'd played before. I was already a huge Mega Man fan by this time so characters that couldn't swim weren't new to me. But being a robot, Mega Man didn't need to breath oxygen. Sonic was a flesh and blood creature and he very much did need air or he'd drown. That was a very unsettling thought and one I wouldn't fully explore until some time later.
I think I mostly just watched Justin play the game but even that was a lot of fun. He taught me the basic mechanics of the gameplay, told me what the items did, and showed me some boss fights. I'm pretty sure he didn't beat the game but I had a blast seeing Sonic in action and on that Sunday afternoon, Sonic won himself another fan.
In the summer of 1994, a buddy of mine went on vacation and he let me borrow his Genesis along with Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. By this time, I was far more skilled at the game. I'd long since known about the level select code but I wanted to play through the game from start to finish. During a play through of Labyrinth Zone I couldn't get to an air bubble in time and I drowned. It was one of the most horrifying video game deaths I'd ever suffered. The look on Sonic's face as he descended down the screen was traumatizing. It made me never want to drown in a Sonic game again and to this day, I dread the drowning music.
|Everyone loves the music from this zone. To|
me, the tune is alright at best.
|Scrap Brain Zone pulls zero punches.|
During the weeks I had my friend's Genesis I played through Sonic the Hedgehog numerous times. One trip through I managed to get all but one Chaos Emerald and I got the bad ending. You know the one with Robotnik tossing the emeralds in his hands like a fat, smug jerk. I couldn't believe it. And the fact that he was juggling just one Chaos Emerald. ONE! That "Try Again" above him just made it worse. So later on I decided that I was gonna collect all six Chaos Emeralds and get the good ending. Which for unknown reasons makes flowers bloom in Green Hill Zone much to Sonic's bewilderment. But the best part? Seeing Robotnik jump up and down angrily on "End." Much better. Brought a nice smile to my face.
Kinda hard to imagine that one of my favorite video game characters was one I wasn't fond of in the beginning. But I look back on Sonic's first adventure with the greatest of memories (well that drowning incident scared me for life) and it's still a fun game to blast through today. They say war isn't good for anything. Well thanks to Sonic's help, we had one of the best rivalries and one of the greatest console wars in gaming.