That iconic title screen; the refreshing emphasis on pace, not precision; smashing through walls. There are so many hundreds of reasons why Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the greatest games of all time by any company, but you simply cannot extricate him from the modern day Sega we all know and love.
As fondly as we all think of Alex Kidd, he was never going to be a more recognisable mascot than Mario, particularly as his games were nowhere near as good (sorry, Alex – I appreciate you coming out of retirement for Sega Superstars Tennis, though). Enter Sonic and Sega’s whole position changed from under siege to undefeatable, creating a phenomenon that blew Europe and America away.
I could give a rich analysis of Sonic and everything he started in 1991, but it wouldn’t be anything you hadn’t read before, so here’s my account of why he’s so important to me.
The first time I saw Sonic the Hedgehog was at my brother’s new flat. As a family we’d always had computers – Atari STs, VIC 20s and so on – and this was my very first time playing on a video games console. I couldn’t believe it looked so advanced, with all the parallax scrolling and background animation, not to mention the speed. I don’t think I was very good at it, but my brother showed me the now-famous level select cheat and warped to the Final Zone. I was a mixture of jealous and terrified, I think.
After that I really, really wanted a Mega Drive, but at the time they were still quite expensive, so my parents compromised and bought me a Master System. I didn’t mind at all, as long as I got to play Sonic, and I have to say it’s a tough call for me to decide between the Mega Drive and Master System versions of the first game. The Master System holds so many good memories for me, and I spent hours and hours finding Chaos Emeralds and special stages, and the music and design still warms my heart. Having defeated the boss of Jungle Zone once, I leapt across a gap to finish the level and actually died, probably the only time someone has completed a level and then snuffed it. “Doing a Jungle Zone” is still a popular insult with my brother.
It goes without saying that Sonic is a fantastic game, and it is here on merit, but to me it’s so much more: it is a memory of times I can’t enjoy any more. I really fell in love with Sonic the Hedgehog, more so on Master System than Mega Drive. To me it was the start of a new passion without limits, and if my parents hadn’t bought me that Master System with Sonic the Hedgehog built in, I’m certain I would have turned out completely differently, which sounds dramatic but I’m convinced is true. I’m sure when most people look back at branching moments in their lives they think of jobs they didn’t get, lovers who left them and so on, but in my young life I can trace this James Newton all the way back to that day I first played Sonic the Hedgehog. I wouldn’t change that for anything.