Sonic the Hedgehog (1991 video game)

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Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 Genesis box art.jpg
North American box art
Developer(s) Sonic Team
Publisher(s) Sega
Director(s) Hirokazu Yasuhara
Producer(s) Shinobu Toyoda
Designer(s) Jina Ishiwatari[citation needed]
Programmer(s) Yuji Naka
Artist(s) Naoto Ōshima
Rieko Kodama[1]
Composer(s) Masato Nakamura
Series Sonic the Hedgehog
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Platform
Mode(s) Single-player
Distribution 4-megabit cartridge

Sonic the Hedgehog (ソニック・ザ・ヘッジホッグ Sonikku za Hejjihoggu?) is a platform video game developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. First released in North America, Europe, and Australia on June 23, 1991, the game is the first installment in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, chronicling the adventures of the titular character in his quest to defeat the series' antagonist Dr. Robotnik. The game's story focuses on Sonic's efforts to stop Dr. Robotnik's plans for world domination, release the animals Dr. Robotnik has trapped, and collect six magical emeralds known as the Chaos Emeralds.

Development of Sonic the Hedgehog began in 1990, when Sega ordered its AM8 development team to develop a game featuring a mascot for the company. After a hedgehog was decided on as the main character, the development group was renamed Sonic Team.

Sonic the Hedgehog received positive reviews from critics, who praised the game's visuals and its sense of speed. It was commercially successful, increasing the popularity of the Mega Drive/Genesis and establishing Sonic the Hedgehog as the company's mascot. Its success led to the development of subsequent games in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, as well as the creation of a media franchise of spin-off products featuring the character.


A typical in-game screenshot of Sonic the Hedgehog, taken from its first level, Green Hill Zone.

In an attempt to steal the six Chaos Emeralds and harness their power, the game's antagonist Dr. Ivo Robotnik ("Dr. Eggman" in the original Japanese release) has trapped the animal inhabitants of South Island in cybernetic shells and metal capsule prisons. The player controls the titular Sonic the Hedgehog, who aims to stop Robotnik's plans by freeing his animal friends and collecting all Chaos Emeralds himself.[6]


See also: Green Hill Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog plays as a 2D side-scrolling platformer. The gameplay centers around Sonic's ability to run at high speed through levels that include springs, slopes, high falls, and loop-the-loops.[6] The levels are populated with hazards in the form of robots (named "badniks" in the Western game manuals)[7] that Dr. Robotnik has trapped animals inside; destroying one frees the creature, but is not necessary to complete the game.[8] The player must also avoid touching rows of sharp spikes, falling into bottomless pits, and being crushed by moving walls or platforms, as well as drowning, which can be circumvented by breathing air bubbles periodically released from vents.[9] Sonic's main means of attack is the Spin Attack, in which he curls into a ball and rotates rapidly, damaging enemies and certain obstacles upon collision. This can be performed by jumping in the air or by pressing down on the D-Pad while moving on the ground.[10]

Scattered around each level map are gold rings.[11] Collecting 100 rings rewards the player with an extra life.[11] Rings act as a layer of protection against hazards: if Sonic holds at least one ring when he collides with an enemy or dangerous obstacle, he will survive.[8] However, all of the rings in his possession will be scattered; they will flicker and disappear in a few seconds if not picked up again. If he is hit without holding any rings, then he loses a life.[12] Shields and temporary invincibility can also be collected to provide additional layers of protection, but certain hazards, such as drowning, being crushed, falling down a bottomless pit or running out of time, will cause Sonic to lose a life regardless of rings or other protection.[6]

The game is split up into six zones—named Green Hill, Marble, Spring Yard, Labyrinth, Star Light, and Scrap Brain[13]—each with its own visual style and enemies. Each zone is split into three acts.[6][9] The player must navigate through each zone to progress. At the end of each zone's third act, the player confronts Dr. Robotnik, who pilots a vehicle, in a boss fight.[11] After completing the sixth zone, the player continues directly to the "Final Zone" for the last encounter with Robotnik.[citation needed] The player is given three lives—although powerups and rings give more—which are lost when Sonic collides with hazardous enemies or objects while having no rings, falls off-screen, or exceeds an act's ten-minute time limit. Lampposts that act as checkpoints allow Sonic to return to the most recently activated post when he loses a life.[14] If Sonic loses a life as a result of time running out but has another life, the time will reset to 0:00 when he returns to the checkpoint.[citation needed] If all lives are lost at any point in the game, the "Game Over" screen will appear,[7] at which point the player can return to the beginning of the act with three lives if the player has any continues.[citation needed]

When Sonic reaches the end of Act 1 or Act 2 of a zone while holding at least 50 rings, a large ring appears through which he can jump to enter a "Special Stage." In the Special Stages, Sonic is continually curled up in his Spin Attack animation, and bounces off the bumpers and walls of a 360° rotating maze. In these levels, the player earns a continue with each 50 rings found, but the main goal is to obtain the Chaos Emerald at the end of the maze without colliding with any of the "goal blocks" that instantly end the level.[7][9] If the player collects all the Chaos Emeralds and completes the game, the most optimal ending sequence is shown. However, if not every Chaos Emerald is collected, a screen shows Robotnik taunting the player.[citation needed]


In 1990, Sega ordered its in-house development studio AM8 to develop a game featuring a mascot for the company; Sega president Hayao Nakayama wanted a character as iconic as Mickey Mouse. Sega had competition with Nintendo and its mascot Mario in mind; Nintendo was dominant at the time—particularly after the release of the incredibly successful Super Mario Bros. 3[15]—and Sega wanted to gain a foothold in the industry.[16] Sega had achieved some success with Genesis ports of its arcade titles, but knew these would not be enough.[15] The origins of Sonic can be traced back to a tech demo created by Yuji Naka, who had developed an algorithm that allowed a sprite to move smoothly on a curve by determining its position with a dot matrix. Naka's original prototype was a platform game that involved a fast-moving character rolling in a ball through a long winding tube, and this concept was subsequently fleshed out with Naoto Oshima's character designs and levels conceived by designer Hirokazu Yasuhara.[17] Yasuhara originally intended to work on the game for three months, due to his planned move to the United States being delayed by the outbreak of the Gulf War, but became engrossed in the project for nearly one year.[17][1]

AM8 developed ideas for characters while also developing an engine and basic gameplay mechanics. Development shifted toward emphasizing speed, so AM8 eliminated character designs not tied to animals considered to be fast,[16] including kangaroos and squirrels. One idea was a rabbit able to grasp objects with its prehensile ears, but this proved too complicated for the hardware available at the time. The team narrowed its selection further to animals that can roll into balls, with the idea that this would constitute an attacking move. Designers then realized that this alone would not seem dangerous enough, so they focused on two creatures that also have spikes: armadillos and hedgehogs.[15] The hedgehog prevailed, although the armadillo would later become the basis for the character Mighty the Armadillo, who first appeared in SegaSonic the Hedgehog in 1993.[16] The new chararacter was originally named "Mr. Needlemouse", but the 15-member AM8 changed his name to "Sonic" and their studio's to Sonic Team to match.[15] Naka, Oshima, and Yasuhara worked 19 hours a day on the project for a period of several months.[17]

Akira Watanabe, the illustrator of the character art featured on the game packaging, said that his sole goal was to depict the characters as "colorful" and to use clear, cutting lines and gradation to "finish them neatly".[18] Watanabe said that the developers asked him to create a package design "similar to pop art". Watanabe aimed to create the design "without being particular to conventional packages". Watanabe intended to create an "original, stylish pop game package".[18]


Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2 Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Masato Nakamura
Released October 19, 2011 (Japan)
Recorded DCT Records
Genre Video game soundtrack
Length Total: 02:32:32
Disc 1: 01:07:51
Disc 2: 01:05:15
Disc 3: 00:19:26

Sonic the Hedgehog's music was composed by Masato Nakamura, a member of J-pop band Dreams Come True. The game uses the on-board Yamaha YM2612 and SN76489 programmable sound generators to produce a variety of stereo sound effects and music. The game was originally intended to feature a sound test menu with animations of Sonic breakdancing to the music of a "Sonic Band" consisting of Sharps Chicken on guitar, Max Monkey on bass, Mach Rabbit on drums, and Vector the Crocodile on keyboard. The Vector character was later re-designed and featured in the games Knuckles' Chaotix and Sonic Heroes. The development schedule meant that the feature had to be scrapped, and Yuji Naka decided to replace the test with the "Sega!" chant used in TV advertisements, which allegedly took up 1/8 of the 4-megabit cartridge.[19]

On October 19, 2011, twenty years after the game's release, a three-disc compilation of music from Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was released in Japan. The first disc contains original tracks from both games, and the second contains Masato Nakamura's demo recordings.[20] The third disc contains "Sweet Sweet Sweet" by Dreams Come True, its English-language version "Sweet Dream", and 2006 remixes of both songs by Akon. The compilation also includes comments by Yuji Naka and an interview with Masato Nakamura.[21]

Alternate versions and ports[edit]

8-bit version[edit]

A version of Sonic the Hedgehog was developed by Ancient and released for Sega's 8-bit consoles, the Master System and Game Gear. It is based on the 16-bit version of the game, with similar gameplay and premise; however, many aspects of its level design differ, such as its stage layouts, boss fights, Special Stages, and several of its themed zone settings.[22] It also features a different soundtrack composed by chiptune musician Yuzo Koshiro, which includes his original compositions alongside adaptations of several pieces of music from the 16-bit version.[23]

The Master System version was later re-released on the Wii Virtual Console in North America on August 4, 2008[24] and in Europe on September 19, 2008. The Game Gear version was included as one of many unlockable games in Sonic Adventure DX for Nintendo GameCube and PC, and Sonic Mega Collection Plus for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC.[citation needed]

Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis[edit]

A new version of the game, retitled Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis, was released for the Game Boy Advance (GBA) on November 14, 2006 as part of the original game's 15th anniversary celebrations. It included a few new features, such as the ability to save game progress, a level select option, and a special "Anniversary Mode" featuring the Spin Dash move that was not originally implemented until Sonic the Hedgehog 2. In addition, the view is slightly zoomed in and adapted for the GBA's widescreen aspect ratio.[25] The game received mostly negative reviews from critics, mainly concerning its slow framerate, chunky music, poor preservation of original gameplay, and numerous glitches.[26]

Compilation releases[edit]

Compilations that include the game are Sonic Compilation (1995) and Genesis 6-Pak (1996) for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis; Sonic Jam (1997) for the Sega Saturn; Sega Smash Pack (2001) for the Dreamcast; Sonic Mega Collection (2002) for the Nintendo GameCube; Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004) for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC; Sega Genesis Collection (2006) for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable; Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; and Sonic Classic Collection (2010) for the Nintendo DS.[citation needed]

Most compilations feature Sonic the Hedgehog largely unchanged, but Sonic Jam allows the game to be played in different modes. In addition to the original version of the game, a "Medium" difficulty setting alters the layout of rings and hazards, and an "Easy" setting entirely omits certain stages from the game's progression. A time attack feature allows players to save their fastest completion times through the Normal versions of each act, and an optional setting allows Sonic the Hedgehog to be played with the Spin Dash ability that was originally introduced in Sonic the Hedgehog 2.[citation needed]

Downloadable releases[edit]

Sonic the Hedgehog has been available for all three main seventh generation video game consoles. It was available on the Wii's Virtual Console service at its launch in 2006.[27] It was ported by Backbone Entertainment to the Xbox Live Arcade in 2007.[28] It has options for graphic smoothing, saving and loading current in-game progress, and resizing the gameplay window. It was later brought to the PlayStation Network in March 2011.

Additionally, Sonic the Hedgehog has been released downloadably on a number of other platforms. In 2007, the game was made available on the iTunes Store as a game for the iPod Nano with video, the iPod Classic, and iPod with video.[29] By 2008, Sonic the Hedgehog had sold 8 million paid downloads.[30] Sega made the first two games available for Apple's iOS in the spring of 2009.[31] The game was also present on GameTap.[32] In October 2010, Sonic the Hedgehog was downloadably released for Microsoft Windows,[33] which also got released to Steam.[34] In December 2012, it was released on the Google Play marketplace, as well as in the Amazon Appstore.[citation needed] A remastered mobile port, created using Christian Whitehead's Retro Engine previously used in the 2011 rerelease of Sonic CD, was released on iOS, replacing the original port, on May 15, 2013 with an Android version released the following day. The port features widescreen graphics, the ability to spin dash, a time attack mode and the unlockable option to play as Tails or Knuckles.[35][36] The game was renamed to 3D Sonic the Hedgehog and ported to the Nintendo 3DS in Japan on May 15, 2013, as part of its 3D Classics series. This version included a 3D mode and a Classic Screen mode that simulates the curve of a CRT screen.[37] The 3DS port was also released in PAL regions and North America in December 5, 2013.[38]


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 86.00%[39]
Review scores
Publication Score
Computer and Video Games 94%[9]
Electronic Gaming Monthly 9/10[39]
Eurogamer 9/10 (X360)[40]
IGN 8/10 (Wii)[41]
ACE 925/1000[42]
Game Freaks 365 10/10[43]
GF3K 9.8/10[39]
Mean Machines 92%[44]
MegaTech 83%[45]
Sega-16 10/10[39]
VicioJuegos 97/100[46]
Zero 95%[47]

Sonic the Hedgehog received critical acclaim upon release and has continued to in retrospective reviews. It claims a score of 86.00% at the review aggregator GameRankings.[39]

The Sega Genesis version of the game was reviewed in 1991 in Dragon #174 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 5 out of 5 stars.[48]

In 1991, Computer and Video Games writer Paul Rand gave the game a 94 out of 100, commending its animation, "lively, but never garish" colors, catchy sounds, and considerable difficulty. He declined to compare it either positively or negatively to the Mario series but claimed it was "streets ahead of every game of this genre currently available".[9]

GameSpot has described the game as "one of the best platformers of all time", crediting it as a game that "revolutionized the platform genre and gave people a legitimate alternative to Nintendo's fat plumber [Mario]".[26] It received high praise from IGN as well, stating that it had stood the test of time, and "even after 16 years, the game still looks great. You'll be impressed by the clarity and color that come through [...] Few people realize how difficult it was to create Sonic's graphics engine, which allowed for the incredible rate of speed the game's known for. But the technical achievement impressed back in '91, and still does so today."[41] EGM gave the game a 9 out of 10.[39] Mega placed the game at #3 in their Top Mega Drive Games of All Time.[49] Game Informer ranked it the 24th best game of all time in 2001. The staff associated Sega's success in the early 90's to this game.[50]

The game had sold over 15 million copies by February 2009,[51] making it the best-selling Sega Mega Drive/Genesis game of all time as well as the best-selling game of the Sonic franchise.[citation needed]


Effect on the industry[edit]

Sonic the Hedgehog greatly increased the popularity of the Sega Genesis in North America. It eventually replaced Altered Beast as the game bundled with the console.[52] Bundling Sonic the Hedgehog with the Sega Genesis is credited with helping Sega gain 65% of the market share against Nintendo.[53] In large part due to the popularity of this game, the Sega Genesis outsold the Super Nintendo in the United States nearly two to one during the 1991 holiday season. This success led to Sega overtaking Nintendo in January 1992 with control of 65% of the 16-bit console market, making it the first time Nintendo was not the console leader since December 1985.[54]

Sonic the Hedgehog added the element of momentum-based physics to the standard platform formula and introduced other unique elements as well, such as the loops, springboards, high-speed devices, and the rings, which are permanently associated with the series. While the speed contributed to the mix, the execution of the platforming element influenced the development of various 2D video games, including a subsequent wave of similar "mascot-based platforming games", such as Bubsy, Aero the Acrobat, Ristar, and Earthworm Jim.[52][55]

The game spawned numerous sequels. While the first games in the series were platform games, the series has expanded into other genres such as action-adventure, fighting, racing, role-playing, and sports. The franchise has also expanded into other media, including anime, cartoons, comic books, manga, and toys.[citation needed]

In other games[edit]

For the game's 10th anniversary, Sega included a 3D remake of the Green Hill Zone in the 2001 game Sonic Adventure 2.[56][57] It was also featured as a battle arena in Sonic Battle. In 2008, the Green Hill Zone was included in the fighting game Super Smash Bros. Brawl as an unlockable stage.[58] Sega Superstars Tennis features tennis courts that take place in Green Hill and Scrap Brain. For the game's 20th anniversary, Sega released Sonic Generations, which contains a remake of the Green Hill level. Additionally, the console versions of Sonic Generations feature the entire original Sonic the Hedgehog game as an unlockable reward, along with unlimited continues if the player runs out of lives.[59]


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External links[edit]