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
Producer(s) Shinobu Toyoda
Designer(s) Hirokazu Yasuhara[1]
Jina Ishiwatari
Rieko Kodama
Programmer(s) Yuji Naka
Artist(s) Naoto Ohshima
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 (Japanese: ソニック・ザ・ヘッジホッグ Hepburn: Sonikku za Hejjihoggu?) is a platform video game developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. It was released in North America, Europe, and Australia on June 23, 1991 and in Japan on July 26. The game stars the character Sonic the Hedgehog in his quest to defeat the antagonist, an evil scientist named Dr. Robotnik who has imprisoned animals inside robots and stolen the magical Chaos Emeralds. The gameplay involves collecting rings as a form of health and a simple control scheme in which jumping and attacking are controlled by one button.

The game's development began in 1990, when Sega ordered its AM8 development team to create a game featuring a mascot for the company. After a variety of suggestions, the developers decided on a blue hedgehog with spikes along his head and spine, and they renamed themselves "Sonic Team" to match the character's name. The game was designed with a fast gameplay style in mind and was influenced by the games of Shigeru Miyamoto. It uses novel physics techniques allowing Sonic's sprite to roll along curved scenery, which originated in a tech demo created by Yuji Naka. The soundtrack was composed by Masato Nakamura.

Sonic the Hedgehog was very well received by critics, who praised the game's visuals and its sense of speed. It was also a commercial success, establishing the Genesis as a key player in the 16-bit era and allowing it to compete with Nintendo and their Super Nintendo console. It has been ported numerous times. The game also spawned numerous clones, as well as a long-lasting and successful video game series—beginning with a sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2—and adaptations into other media.


In an attempt to steal the six Chaos Emeralds and harness their power, the game's antagonist Dr. Ivo Robotnik (named "Dr. Eggman" in the Japanese release) has trapped the animal inhabitants of South Island inside aggressive robots and stationary metal capsules. The player controls the titular Sonic the Hedgehog, who aims to stop Robotnik's plans by freeing his animal friends and collecting all of the Chaos Emeralds himself.[5] If the player collects all the Chaos Emeralds and completes the game, the optimal ending sequence is shown. However, if not every Chaos Emerald is collected, a screen shows Robotnik taunting the player.[6]


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.[5] 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]

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

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.[5]

A shield powerup similar to that found in the game

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.[5][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 different vehicle each time, in a boss fight.[11] After completing the sixth zone, the player continues directly to the "Final Zone" for the last encounter with Robotnik.[6] The player is initially 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.[6] 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.[6]

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[7] to enter a special stage, known in the original Genesis manual as a "secret zone".[15] In each of the six 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]


Mario and his popular game series represented a steep hill for Sega to climb to compete with Nintendo – necessitating a memorable mascot character and a technically impressive game.

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[16]—and Sega wanted to gain a foothold in the industry.[5] Sega had achieved some success with Genesis ports of its arcade titles, but knew these would not be enough.[16] The origins of Sonic can be traced back to a tech demo created by Sonic Team head and programmer 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 Ohshima'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.[1][17]

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,[5] 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.[16] 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.[5] Sonic was originally colored a lighter blue, but this was changed to dark blue so that he would not blend in with certain backgrounds.[18] His spikes were emphasized in his design to make him look sleeker, and he was given the ability to spin while jumping so that attacking and jumping could be controlled with one button.[19] The new character was originally named "Mr. Needlemouse", but the 15-member AM8 changed his name to "Sonic" and their studios to Sonic Team to match.[16] Naka, Oshima, and Yasuhara worked 19 hours a day on the project for a period of several months.[17]

In designing the basic game mechanics, Naka took inspiration from games by Shigeru Miyamoto, which he had grown up playing. He admired the simplicity these games' basic mechanics demonstrated amidst complex environments, so he decided that Sonic would be controlled with only the directional pad for movement and a single button for jumping. At the same time, he wanted his creation to be more action-oriented than the Mario series. Due to the simultaneous need to demonstrate the Genesis' technological prowess, the developing game underwent extensive testing and continual re-designing, a process that took over six months. The developers' efforts did not go unrewarded, however. According to Yuji Naka, the game boasted the fastest ever character movement speed in a video game, and the Secret Zone's rotation effect that had been said to be impossible on the console.[20]

Packaging and release[edit]

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".[21] He said that the developers asked him to create a package design "similar to pop art" and to create the design "without being particular to conventional packages" – something that was instead "original" and "stylish".[21] The game was released in the United States on June 23, 1991. Sega of America decided to package the game with American Genesis consoles, replacing Altered Beast. Genesis owners who had purchased their consoles before the pack-in switch were offered free copies of Sonic the Hedgehog, which they could request by mail.[20]


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. Vector has become a recurring character in the series, being playable and playing a role in the stories of games like Knuckles' Chaotix, Sonic Heroes,[22] and Sonic Free Riders.[23] The development schedule meant that the feature had to be scrapped, and Yuji Naka decided to replace the test with the "Se-ga!" chant used in TV advertisements, which allegedly took up one-eighth of the memory of the 4-megabit cartridge.[22]

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, the second contains Masato Nakamura's demo recordings, and the third disc is made up of songs by Dreams Come True and Akon remixes of them.[24]

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, in 1991. The plot and basic gameplay mechanics are similar to those of the 16-bit version, but level themes, and art assets are different.[25] In addition, the level design is flatter, with no vertical loops, and Sonic cannot re-collect his rings after being hit.[26] The game 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.[27] It was the last game ever officially released for the Master System in North America.[28] The Master System version was later re-released for the Wii's Virtual Console service in North America on August 4, 2008[26] and in Europe on August 8.[29] The Game Gear version was included as one of numerous unlockable games in Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut for GameCube and Windows,[30] as well as in Sonic Mega Collection Plus for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Windows.[31]

Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis[edit]

A port titled Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis was released for the Game Boy Advance (GBA) on November 14, 2006 to mark the game's fifteenth anniversary. 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.[32] The game was panned by critics, with a Metacritic score of 33%.[33] mainly concerning its poor conversion to the Game Boy Advance, which resulted in a slow frame rate, chunky music, poor preservation of original gameplay, and numerous glitches.[34]

Compilation releases[edit]

Along with its sequels for the Genesis, Sonic the Hedgehog has been ported for a wide range of home consoles, handheld consoles, and personal computers.[35] It has appeared in compilations such as Sonic Compilation (1995) for the Genesis,[36] Sonic Jam (1997) for the Sega Saturn and,[37] Sonic Mega Collection (2002),[38] Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004),[31] Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3,[39] and Sonic Classic Collection (2010) for the Nintendo DS.[35]

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[5] and was released for the Xbox Live Arcade[40] and PlayStation Network services shortly after.[41] In 2007, the game came out for the iPod Classic, the iPod video, and video-capable iPod Nano models.[42] It was released for Apple's iOS service—compatible iPhone and iPod touch models—in April 2009.[43] The game was available on the GameTap service from September 2009.[44] In October 2010, it was released as a Microsoft Windows download,[45] which was shortly ported to Steam.[46] In December 2012, it was ported to two online app services: Google Play[47] and the Amazon Appstore.[48] The game came out on the Nintendo 3DS version of the 3D Classics in May 2013 in Japan and December 2013 elsewhere.[49]


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 86.00%[50]
Review scores
Publication Score
Computer and Video Games 94%[9]
Dragon (magazine) 5/5 stars[51]
Electronic Gaming Monthly 9/10[52]
Eurogamer 9/10 (X360)[53]
GameSpot 7.3/10[54]
IGN 8/10 (Wii)[55]
Mean Machines 92%[56]

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.[50] The game was seen instantly as a force that rivaled the Mario series,[9][51] particularly Super Mario World, which had recently been released for the Genesis' rival, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Paul Rand of Computer and Video Games compared the two in depth but declined to pick the better game, though he summarized that Sonic the Hedgehog was "faster, brighter and more colourful" while Super Mario World boasted more "depth of play".[9]

Reviewers applauded the game's graphics as colorful and detailed. Rand described the color scheme as "lively, but never garish" and praised the interaction of color with detail in the sprites, backgrounds, and animations. He also described the graphics as the best available for the Genesis.[9] Reviewer Boogie Man of GamePro called the graphics "eye-popping" and "gorgeous", especially the intricate backgrounds;[57] Mean Machines offered a similar opinion.[56] The Lessers (Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk) of Dragon said that "the graphics and animation in Sonic the Hedgehog make this a serious contender for the best video game of the year",[51] while GameZone said that the animation was "some of the smoothest and fastest ... ever seen".[58] The music and sound effects were also very well received; Dragon called them "great"[51] and GameZone "amazing".[58] Rand noted "stacks of catchy tunes and jingles" and called some of the sound effects "absolutely brilliant".[9] Mean Machines called the songs only "vaguely appealing" but was much more positive toward the sound effects.[56]

Critics also enjoyed the fast-paced gameplay, previously unheard of among platformers. Boogie Man was charmed by the "lightning-fast action",[57] while Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) exclaimed, "If you thought the Enterprise was quick, wait till you see Sonic at warp speed."[52] The game's difficulty was disputed, described as "impossible" by Rand[9] and only "average" by EGM.[52] Of the general enjoyment provided by the gameplay, Rand opined that it "plays like a dream",[9] GameZone predicted it would enchant players for hours,[58] and Boogie Man marveled at Sonic Team's ability to provide an engaging experience mostly from only running and jumping.[57] EGM, Dragon, and writer Paul from Mean Machines praised the level design, all singling out the presence of hidden rooms.[51][52][56] Paul did, however, find the event of losing all of one's rings to be frustrating.[56]

The game has maintained its popularity for decades, appearing in numerous lists of the greatest video games of all time. Frank Provo of GameSpot described the game as "one of the best platformers of all time" and noted that, despite numerous technical issues in the Game Boy Advance port, "after all these years, the underlying graphics, audio, and gameplay still hold up".[34] Lucas M. Thomas from IGN agreed that it had stood the test of time and elaborated, "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."[55] Mega ranked the game as their third favorite Genesis title,[59] and in 2001, Game Informer listed it as the 24th greatest game of all time.[60] It has also been high-selling: the original Genesis version of the game had sold over 15 million copies by February 2009,[61] while the mobile version had sold eight million paid downloads by 2008.[62]


Effect on the industry[edit]

Sonic the Hedgehog contributed greatly to the Genesis' popularity in North America,[16] especially through being bundled with it. At its peak in January 1992, the console claimed 65 percent of the market share among 16-bit consoles,[61] and during the 1991 holiday season, the Genesis outsold the Super Nintendo two-to-one. This was the first time since December 1985 that Nintendo had not led the console market, although Nintendo did eventually overtake Sega once more.[63]

Sonic the Hedgehog added the element of momentum-based physics to the standard platform formula. Other setpieces and mechanics that the game introduced, such as loops, springs, and acceleration pads have both appeared in other games and become strongly associated with the Sonic series. The game's combination of speed and platforming has also been described as influential. Numerous video game clones, generally platform games featuring cartoon mascots "with attitude", were released in the years after Sonic the Hedgehog, including Bubsy, Aero the Acrobat,[16] James Pond 3,[64] Ristar and Earthworm Jim.[65]

Sequels and other media[edit]

The game's success led to Sega developing an extensive media franchise based on it. A sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, was released in 1992; it gave Sonic a best friend and sidekick named Tails and continued the fight against Dr. Robotnik. The franchise has spawned dozens more games, amassing a large cast of recurring characters—while also keeping Sonic and Robotnik as mainstays—and surviving Sega's cessation of manufacturing consoles after the failure of the Dreamcast.[66] Aside from platformers, the series has ventured into other genres such as fighting,[67] racing,[68] role-playing,[69] and sports games.[70] The franchise has also expanded into other media, including Japanese anime[71] and manga,[72] American cartoons[71] and comic books,[73] novels,[74] and toys.[75] The Sonic game series has since become one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time,[76] with over 150 million copies sold as of May 2014.[77] Green Hill Zone has also been repurposed for various games, including Sonic Generations[78] and Super Smash Bros. Brawl.[79]


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