It was back in the early '90s when Sega was competing heavily with Nintendo. By that time, Super Mario Bros and its sequels had come out and their tremendous success made the Nintendo the only console kids cared about. The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive desperately needed a saviour who could take on Nintendo's plumbers and make the brand cool again.
A blue hedgehog by the name of Sonic came to their rescue; a really, really fast hedgehog. The speed of the game was astonishing. It blew every other platformer out of the water.
Sonic released in 1991. That same year, the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive outsold the SNES by two-to-one over the crucial Christmas period, an achievement which is largely Sonic's credit.
Sonic is now one of the most famous video game characters of all time, and he's had his own movie but originally the character was created as a fight back strategy to compete against Nintendo.
Sonic's initial ideas included a hedgehog, an armadillo, a porcupine, a dog, and even an "old man with a moustache."
Sonic was even initially supposed to have received dance moves in the original game. However, the animations simply could not fit into the Sega Genesis cartridge.
The "old man with a moustache" concept, meanwhile, went on to become Sonic's nemesis, Eggman or Dr. Robotnik.
Sonic was originally created by Sega for a Japanese game but had to be localized by Sega of America for US audiences. Their Japanese counterparts supplied the game itself but had absolutely no backing documentation about it, so Sega of America created what they called a "story bible."
This "Sonic Bible" contained the complete and lengthy background of the character and his relationship with Dr Robotnik.
According to Sonic Bible, "Sonny Hedgehog was born on Earth in the early 21st century, in the town of Hardly, Nebraska, population 1,226. He and his mother and five sisters live underneath a scraggly hedge beside the local burger joint, and subsisted on burger scraps, milkshakes and the occasional slug or bug that crawls their way," reads the opening lines of the document.
Sonic's Nebraska origins were later changed, but much of the story ended up in various incarnations of Sonic's story. As Sega began to exert more control over subsequent releases, Sonic's story in later games would come to reflect that of his original Japanese details.
Here are a few things you might not know about Sega's iconic standard-bearer.
His story started with a ball in a tube
Programmer Yuji Naka started small. His prototype for the game featured a simple character rolling through a long tube while inside a life-sized ball. He used this version of the game to create the algorithm that would make Sonic's complex motion scheme possible.
Before Sega landed on a hedgehog, Sonic was a rabbit
Sega was bent on creating a character that would rival the appeal of Nintendo's Mario. Early drafts of the brand's hero envisioned him as a rabbit that could grasp things and fight with prehensile ears. When Sega recognised that this design would be too technologically difficult to pull off and that having a character who would pick up and throw things would slow down the game's fast pace, the company shifted its sights to the general community of "rolling" animals that could use their bodies as weapons.
They wound up with a head-to-head battle between hedgehog and armadillo. Of course, the hedgehog ultimately won, despite Sega's concerns that most Americans wouldn't have any idea what a hedgehog was.
His name was not always 'Sonic'
Even after Sega settled on the hedgehog, an idea proposed by designer Naoto Ohshima, the company tried out a taxonomically confusing name for the character: Mr Needlemouse. (Project Needlemouse would serve as the code name for the later game Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I during its development in 2009).
The character had some famous influence
A number of pop culture icons were gathered as resources for the character's creation. Ohshima borrowed Felix the Cat's head and Mickey Mouse's body for Sonic's basic likeness. Michael Jackson's boots from the Bad album sleeve inspired Sonic's patented footwear.
And led an interesting social life
Sega's staff had worked out a hefty back-story for the character, most of which were scrapped before the release of his debut game. Originally, Sonic was the leader of a rock band—consisting of a parakeet, a monkey, a rabbit, and a crocodile—as well as a skilled break-dancer. What's more, he was also romantically involved with a woman—not a female hedgehog, but a human woman—named Madonna.
Sonic's archenemy went by many names
As you may know, Sonic's primary nemesis Dr Ivo Robotnik was originally known as Dr Eggman in Japan; Sega's US and Japanese headquarters could not agree on a universal moniker. American developer Dean Sitton came up with the Robotnik name for Sonic's central villain, borrowing the forename Ivo from his sister's contemporaneous boyfriend from Croatia. Other options tossed around for the baddie's handle: Badwrench, Badvibes, Bad Year, and Fatty Lobotnik. Sonic's nemesis, Dr Robotnick - or Eggman, if you're picky - was almost the star of the show, before Sega repurposed the character's original design to turn him into a villain.
The game might take place in California
The game's official setting is the fictional South Island, which may or may not be retroactively located on the likewise fictional planet Mobius (the established home of Sonic and company in a number of the franchise's cartoon and comic series). However, the original game's most iconic level, the Green Hill Zone, was modelled after the landscape of California.
Sonic lived up to his speedy reputation
At the time of Sonic's release, the hero was the fastest-moving video game character ever created. In 2001, Sonic programmer Yuji Naka told Edge magazine, "Sonic was delivering high speed no other game was capable of, and the Mega Drive allowed this stunning demonstration of rotation during the bonus stages. This was said to be impossible on the hardware at the time."
But, Sonic himself was not all that fast
According to the player's manual that accompanied the game, it was Sonic's "power sneakers" that afforded him his renowned speed, not any innate superpowers.
The game includes a hidden message
The most scandalous thing about the message is not in fact what it says, but the way it was embedded into the game. In a covert act of rebellion against Sega's prohibition of post-game credits, Naka did indeed include a displayed list of the names of all parties responsible for creating Sonic, printing them on the screen that introduces the game. Since Naka printed the names in the black text before a black background, they were effectively invisible and could only be seen via cheat code.
First appearance as an air freshener
Sonic's first ever appearance in a video game was as an air freshener. No, we're not kidding, the hedgehog made his game debut dangling from a car mirror in Sega's 1991 arcade racer, Arcade Rad Mobile.
How fast is Sonic?
Running is the name of Sonic's game, but just how quickly can he move? It depends who you ask, but it's generally accepted that he can run as fast as, if not faster, than the speed of sound. Yuji Naka has also said that Sonic needs at least eight hours of sleep or else his ability to run will be affected.