Sonic the Hedgehog Turns 20

A gaming icon officially exits his awkward teen years

By , Contributor

Sonic the Hedgehog is 20 years old. If you remember his debut appearance on the Sega Genesis back in 1991, you likely believe you're old. I certainly do.

Sonic came into being as a competitor to Nintendo's Mario, the fat, pudgy plumber waning in interest for a younger generation, so in steps the hip, teenage-like rebellious blue hedgehog. He was the Ying to Mario's Yang, a polar opposite built on speed, blast processing, and roller coaster like curves that would stop Mario dead in his tracks.

Developed by Sega hotshot Yuji Naka, Sega officially had their marketing icon, a replacement for the drab, "never quite made the big time domestically" Alex Kidd. Like Mario, Sonic's image would don everything, from lunchboxes to nightlights. It was a marketing boom, Sega rising in popularity with older kids who were looking for something a little more edgy.

Sonic would continue across platforms, certainly selling a number of handheld Game Gears, but popularity has its limits, the one Sonic-based title on the ill-fated Sega 32X Genesis add-on, Kunckles Chaotix, a resounding failure.

Sonic would celebrate one additional bright spot, Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, a 3D platform title that brought the character into a new generation. Since then, many gamers felt the character was beginning to wane, shoddy side games like Sonic Free Riders and a over reliance of new faces to the series shuttering the market.

Still, Sonic survives with revivals like Sonic the Hedgehog 4, an episodic game release aimed to bring back classic gameplay without the slippery 3D movement. Sonic also teamed up with Mario, something most retro gamers never thought they'd see in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. Never mind that Mario shouldn't be able to keep pace on foot; they're on the same cover, and that's what matters.

Sonic is showing signs of life after so many misguided attempts to reinvent a character that no one really wanted to see reinvented. Sega may have pushed out one too many Sonic sequels in the 16-bit era, but all he needs now is a vacation to get things back in order. Hopefully Sonic's 25th and 30th will be just as worthwhile to celebrate.

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Matt Paprocki is a 13-year veteran of the video game, movie, and home media scene. He has written thousands of reviews, has been published on a variety of websites, and contributes his thoughts daily on a diverse range of topics.

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