It was 1990, and Sega was on the ropes. Nintendo had a firm lead in almost every country in the world, Super Mario Bros. 3 had just been released, and the Super Nintendo was looming on the horizon. Hayao Nakayama, then president of Sega, issued the challenge to his company: Sega needed a new mascot, brand recognition and a game that could sell a million units. After a number of rejected ideas, Naoto Oshima (a character designer), Hirokazu Yasuhara (the original game and level designer) and Yuji Naka (the programmer) from research and development team AM8 brought their talents together to form a character and game that would become legend: Sonic The Hedgehog.
In one stroke, AM8 (who changed their name to Sonic Team after Sonic's launch) found the perfect blend of style, design and attitude adroitly capturing the image Sega was trying to spread about its new machine: It was cool, fun and, above all, it was fast. The game showed off the Genesis' faster CPU - clocking in at a blazing 7.6 MHz, it left the slower, fatter, mustached Mario and his pitiful 3.58 MHz in the dust. And it wasn't just that Sonic was a fast game - it was such a fast game, only the mighty Sega Genesis could handle it! It had "Blast Processing," a phrase not many people really understood, but nobody cared, because "Genesis does it, Nintendon't!"
Since his original launch in 1991, Sonic has appeared in a new title every year. Some are considered classics of gaming, some are considered sad attempts, and some just aren't considered. But Sonic has weathered time and changes with the same determination, speedy red shoes and carefree smirk that endeared him to millions of gamers all those years ago. If only what he represented had weathered the change as well.
When he broke onto the scene, Sonic was a rotund, blue hedgehog with bright red sneakers. He was a heroic figure who sought to free his animal friends from the evil clutches of Dr. Robotnik (known as Dr. Eggman, now, to match how the Japanese have always known him).
Sonic was a fun, carefree character that wasn't killing anyone - he merely broke the robotic devices enslaving the animals and freed them from their eggy overlord. It was a vastly different sort of gaming than we'd been used to: Instead of exploring levels, you focused on how fast you could burn through them. When Sonic curled into a ball and shot through the various pipes, ramps and loop-to-loops, you weren't playing, you were holding on for dear life.
In 1992, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 launched for the Genesis and Game Gear. In the Genesis version, two-player action was introduced, along with the ability to play as Miles "Tails" Prower. Sonic picked up some new tricks, too: He now had the Spin Dash Attack, which allowed him to spin up to speed in place before charging forward. We also saw a new incarnation, the almighty Super Sonic, an invincible-but-difficult-to-control version of Sonic. Critics and gamers alike enjoyed Sonic 2, and Sonic became a household name.
In 1993, Sonic CD came out for the Sega CD and introduced another of Sonic's friends, Amy Rose, as well as Sonic's arch-rival, Metal Sonic. Sonic was a bit sluggish in this game - although he got the new Super Peel-Out, he was vulnerable to running into enemies when using it, and it slowed down the gameplay. On top of that, the overall feeling was a bit darker than the Sonic most people knew. The game was extremely enjoyable, but here we saw the first signs of Sonic leaning toward more "mature" themes and gameplay and again Sonic demonstrated his (and the Sega CD's) speed. Unfortunately, the Sega CD lacked market penetration, so sales were nowhere near as strong as Sonic 2, although Sonic somehow still maintained his fame.