The Sega Mega Drive, with its 16-bit high definition graphics power, was having limited success with not only its original releases, but also the console ports of Sega’s arcade mega hits such as Space Harrier, Super Hang-On, and Golden Axe. The one thing that was lacking was a mascot to directly compete with Nintendo’s Mario. Sure they had started with Alex Kidd back in the mid 80’s, but he was much too similar to Mario and Sega wanted to stand out and be different from the competition. In 1988 Sega held an in-house contest to find that next mascot to rival Mario.
Hayao Nakayama, president of Sega of Japan, wanted a character that would be as iconic as Mickey Mouse and be used to represent the face of Sega for the long run. For three years programmers and designers worked endlessly to create the next mascot for Sega. They wanted to emphasize on speed so they created designs using animals such as kangaroos and squirrels. A rabbit was one animal that was considered which had ears that could grapple on to objects and throw them at enemies. However the idea was too complex for the Genesis hardware. Eventually, Naoto Ohshima would be the successful designer of Sonic’s iconic hedgehog design by combining the head of Felix the Cat with the body of Mickey Mouse.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic The Hedgehog was released on June 23rd, 1991 in the US. Development of the game had started one year prior in 1990. The team that created the character and developed the game decided to call themselves “Sonic Team” to match the character they were developing for. The team name wouldn’t be an official brand until 1996 when they started working on games not featuring Sonic, such as Nights Into Dreams, Burning Rangers, and Phantasy Star Online. The music for the game was composed by Masato Nakamura, who is a songwriter and bassist for the J-Pop group Dreams Come True. Fujio Minegishi, the director of Sega, had originally suggested close friend Yuzo Kayama to write the score. However the team didn’t feel that his music would fit into the theme they were going for.
The game was a groundbreaking success and was re-released and ported over to many consoles and handhelds including the Game Boy Advance, Sega Saturn, GameCube, PS2, Xbox, and many more. A remaster of the game was released for the iOS and Android devices which came with many enhancements including widescreen graphics, an additional special stage, a time attack mode, the ability to spin dash, and the ability to play as Tails or Knuckles. The original Mega Drive/Genesis release sold over 14 million copies worldwide by 1997. Its earnings were higher than a typical $200-300 million blockbuster movie at the time. Sonic the Hedgehog, when bundled with the console, was the main factor in popularizing the console in the US. The Sega Genesis held 65% of the 16-bit console market outselling the Super Nintendo. Sonic the Hedgehog is the sole reason for the animal mascots we have in gaming with such characters as Bubsy the Bobcat, Aero the Acro-Bat, Earthworm Jim, Radical Rex, Crash Bandicoot, and Gex the Gecko.
The overall story of Sonic the Hedgehog revolves around a series of different colored jewels known as Chaos Emeralds which when brought together can give the user immense power. Meanwhile, a scientific mad man named Dr. Eggman (who was originally called Dr. Ivo Robotnik in these earlier games) has been kidnapping all of the world’s animals such as rabbits, birds, and squirrels, and entrapping them inside a variety of robot servants. His main goal is for world domination and building his own personal Empire of robots. With the power of the Chaos Emeralds he can become ruler of the world in an instant, so it is up to Sonic to defeat the robots, save the animals, and prevent Eggman from fulfilling his dreams of world domination. By collecting the Chaos Emeralds, this will further prevent Eggman from taking over the world. While it is not enforced, it leaves the player with either finishing the game with a bad ending (collecting some, or none of the emeralds), or a good ending (having collected all of the emeralds). This was the basic storyline for the earlier Sonic games prior to 1999. Later games expand on the story by introducing new characters, new major enemies, and the Master Emerald, which can grant the user control of the Chaos Emeralds.
Sonic was originally going to have a female human love interest named Madonna. This decision was due to Naoto Ohshima’s collegues calling his hedgehog design “cute” and seem like a “child”, but in his eyes Sonic was more older and mature. To further express this maturity he designed an adult woman in a red dress who would be Sonic’s girlfriend. She was meant to be a character that would chase Sonic around, “the male fantasy”.
It was also believed that Madonna was going to be the “kidnapped heroine that is saved by the hero”, and would be too similar to Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Sega of America’s project manager for Sonic, Madeline Schroeder, says that she was responsible for the removal of Madonna in an attempt to make the game an easier sell for the western markets. Also the damsel in distress storyline had become too cliché and the team decided that they should focus more on Sonic facing against Dr. Eggman and saving the world.
Another development fact is that Sonic was at one point going to be the lead singer of a band. Other band mates would include Max the Monkey on bass guitar, Mach the Rabbit on drums, Sharps the Parakeet on lead guitar, and Vector the Crocodile on keyboard. Early storyboard concepts show that the members were all going to be captured by Dr. Eggman and needed saving by Sonic.
According to Madeline Schroeder, the decision to cut the band from Sonic was to soften the character and his world for the American audience. Yuji Naka on the other hand states the removal was due to time constraints, and with the freed up memory, the space was used to fill with the infamous “SEGA” chime that was used in the Japanese ads for the game.
A prototype which has recently been found showcases a number of differences from the final game. Such changes include the default SEGA logo on black background, different Zone names (Sparkling Zone → Spring Yard Zone ; Clock Work Zone → Scrap Brain Zone), a different Zone order, the addition of “Press Start Button” text, UFO’s flying in the background of Marble Zone, a number of flashing signs in Spring Yard Zone, Labyrinth Zone with a different background and no water, along with many other smaller changes.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Due to the overwhelming success of the first game, Sega was clearly on board with a sequel. The game was officially released in Japan on November 21, 1992 by Sega Technologies Institute. The game introduces players to Miles “Tails” Prower, Sonic’s closest friend and iconic sidekick. While in later Sonic games you could use Tails to fly through levels, in this game you could not fly. The flying animation was only used to come back to life after a death when Tails is in a single player game while controlling Sonic. With two playable characters came the first Sonic game with a 2-player split screen option. You chose between 3 different zones and raced each act to see who can finish first. Other conditions include highest score, most item boxes smashed, and most rings. There was also a Special Stage battle where the player with the highest number of rings won.
Super Sonic is a new form of Sonic that is introduced to the game, as well as a “new” 7th Chaos Emerald to collect, where in the previous game there were only 6 emeralds to collect. Collecting all 7 emeralds will grant Sonic the power to transform into Super Sonic after collecting and holding at least 50 rings. Super Sonic is a form that will allow Sonic to run at such a fast pace he glides through the levels with ease. He is also immune from being damaged by enemies, lava and spikes, however he can still be crushed, or fall down a pit to his death. Hmm...collecting 7 emeralds...becoming Super...eerily similar to that one really popular anime...
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is probably the most well known documented game in the series with a number of prototype and beta versions being discovered and uploaded on to the internet throughout the years. There are a number of sketches of zones that were originally going to be included in the final game, but due to time restraints, had to be cut from the final product. 11 zones are in the finished game, however there were plans to have up to 18 or more zones.
One of the zones, “Hidden Palace”, was the only partially playable zone that was found in an early beta version of the game. You could play roughly a minute or so into the level before you were stopped by a very steep slope that was impossible to climb up. With the remastered release of Sonic 2 on mobile, this zone became fully playable through a secret exit in Mystic Cave Zone Act 2. Another zone simply called “Wood Zone” had about 5-10 seconds worth of playability before a bridge sticking out of a wall blocked you from moving forward. When entering the level select menu, 2 more zones “Dust Hill” and “Genocide City” are listed, however they are completely empty and will send you falling to your death.
A screenshot of “Dust Hill Zone” was printed in gaming magazines for its preview content of the game before it was released. It is the only known evidence of what the level looked like before it was removed for the final release of the game...At least that’s what was long thought. A newer beta version of the game was discovered years later in 2019 which saw Mystic Cave Zone using the “Dust Hill Zone” title card in place. This answers the question of the mysterious zone in the level select, but what IS the desert-looking level? As it turns out it was yet another planned zone titled “Sand Shower Zone” that has yet to be seen in any beta version of the game. As for Genocide City, the name was going to be changed to Cyber City Zone for the US release so it didn’t sound so dark in translation. It was going to be a single act level that was to connect between Metropolis Zone Act 2 and Sky Chase Zone, however last minute changes turned the level into a 3rd act for Metropolis Zone (the only zone with 3 acts, while the remaining prior levels only had 2). The only evidence of this level’s existence is two pieces of concept art with one piece labeled as “Genocide City or Cyber City”.
With so many levels planned, what was the original concept? As it turns out Sonic 2 was originally going to be a game all about time travel. Not exactly the time travel that was implemented in Sonic CD, but a different sort of time travel. The “Present” was a group of 5 Zones followed by a “Warp Point” which brought you to a different time period. The “Future” time period consisted of 4 different zones, the “Ruined Present” time featured 3 zones, and finally the “Ancient” time period contained 5 zones. There was also a “Medieval” time period, but no zones were ever mentioned here. This was all during the very early stages of development before anything was even programmed for the game yet. Zone names such as “Ocean Wind Zone”, “Rock World Zone”, “Blue Lake Zone”, “Tropical Plant Zone”, and “Olympus” are written on the various concept art pieces.
Sonic the Hedgehog CD
Sonic the Hedgehog CD was released on September 23, 1993 for the Mega CD add-on and developed by Sonic Team. The game follows the same flow in story as previous games with a few differences. This time Sonic is faced with time traveling between the past, present, and future to determine and change the fate of the world against Dr. Eggman. Instead of Chaos Emeralds, Sonic can collect Time Stones to bring a brighter future and stop Dr. Eggman from successfully taking over the world. There is also an alternate way to save the world, and that is through traveling to the past of each level and locate and destroy robot transporters that can be found in each act. Destroying these will destroy every enemy in each level and will create a “Good Future” for that particular level. Destroy all the robot transporters in every level and you will achieve the good ending for the game.
Normally when you play through the game you start the first and second acts of each zone in the Present. Act 3 will either take you to the Bad Future or Good Future of that level, depending on if you’ve successfully destroyed the robot transporters in the previous 2 acts. Of course if you’re unsuccessful in completing the game through this method, or collecting all of the Time Stones you will receive the bad ending to the game.
Sonic CD introduces 2 new characters to the series. Amy Rose, a pink female hedgehog who is Sonic’s love interest, and Metal Sonic, Dr. Eggman’s latest creation. Metal Sonic is a robotic version of Sonic with the same level of speed and is able to read and anticipate Sonic’s every move. He goes on to become a recurring enemy throughout the series.
This was the largest Sonic game in terms of data size with over 21MB of levels, special stages, and animated cinematics, compared to Sonic 2 which was only 1MB in size. There are 70 level maps total in the game. Each zone’s first 2 acts contains 4 variants of each map (Past, Present, Bad Future, and Good Future). The third act only contains Bad and Good Future versions. Each zone also has 4 unique songs representing each time period that you travel to. In total that is 28 songs used just for levels. The original soundtrack for the Japanese and European releases was composed by Naofumi Hataya and Masafumi Ogata. The American release of the game was delayed by 2 months due to Sega of America wanting a new “rich and complex” soundtrack to go with the game’s release. They brought along Spencer Nilsen and David Young of Sega Multimedia Studio to compose the music with a few tracks being written and produced by former Santana keyboardist Mark “Sterling” Crew. Only the “Past” music selections could not be replaced as they were sequenced as PCM audio tracks (they looped infinitely).
It wasn’t until 2009 when indie programmer Christian “Taxman” Whitehead made a remastered version of Sonic CD which included the option to select either the Japanese/European soundtrack, or US soundtrack, the option to play as Tails, and the option to use the Sonic 2 style spindash as opposed to the Sonic CD version. Christian also wanted to create 2 new levels for the game, the first being called Desert Dazzle, which would be his own original level with original enemies, boss fight, graphics and music. The other would be called Relic (Rainbow) Ruins, which was a level that was scrapped from the original game. This is evidenced by how the levels were labeled in the data. Each level corresponds with a R followed by a number, The first level is represented by an “R1”, second level “R2”, up to the last level which is “R8”. However, in the final game the first 2 levels labeled are R1 and R3, skipping “R2” entirely. This was more famously known as “the R2 level”, since very little is known about what the level is, its name, the theme, enemies, etc. Most of what is known is speculation, including the name.
Some people have called it Relic Ruins while others call it Rainbow Ruins. The idea that it is even a “ruins” themed level comes from the similar theme order between Sonic CD and Sonic 1. Sonic 1 starts with a colorful green grass level with blue skies and tropical style trees, followed by ruins in the middle of lava, followed by a carnival-styled level, water level, etc. Sonic CD however, goes from the colorful green grass level straight to the carnival-style level, then the water level. There is one piece of unlabeled concept art that shows a series of rainbow reflected waterfalls going off some grassy gray ledges. This is the only possible evidence there is that the missing level was planned to be ruin-based. As for development leftovers for these levels, only the music tracks have been made available which you can listen to online. These tracks were obviously never used in the final game, but it gives you some bonus content that was cut from the remaster. The reason why these two levels were cut from the game was because Sega wanted the remaster to be as faithful to the original as possible.
While the original was the Sega CD’s best selling game, it had only sold 1.5 million units compared to Sonic 2’s 6 million units sold. This was largely due to the fact fans of the series needed to buy a Sega CD unit in order to play the game, and that in itself was a pretty big investment that many fans did not want to partake in.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was released on February 2nd, 1994 for American audiences as the first to play the new entry before the European or Japanese regions. This would be Sega’s biggest game in the series to date. The story begins with Sonic and Tails flying across the waters on Angel Island (where this game takes place) when suddenly reaching land, Sonic crashes into a strange character. Here is where we’re introduced to a new mischievous character named Knuckles the Echidna, who after colliding with Sonic, steals all of the Chaos Emeralds that he was carrying and runs off with an evil laugh. Is he a new ally of Eggman’s? Or perhaps just a thief who likes to steal shiny things?
Sonic 3 is another pretty extensively documented game in the years following its release. The most notable bit of research is Michael Jackson’s involvement with composing the music for the game. During the early days of the internet it was always speculated with evidence comparing Michael Jackson’s music and the music of Sonic 3, but there was no word from any of the music composers of the game whether this was true or not. In a 2009 interview, Brad Buxer who was Jackson’s musical director, officially confirmed that Michael Jackson did indeed work on the music for the game. So why was all of this such a big deal and a mystery? Well for starters Michael Jackson is not credited for the music in the game.
This was a very unfortunate time for the King of Pop as 1993 was the time when he got his first allegations of child molestation and sexual abuse. Jackson himself wasn’t too happy with how the music was turning out due to the quality limitations of the Yamaha YM2612 chip in the Sega Genesis. Because of this along with the controversy spreading around like wildfire, Sega and Jackson went their separate ways with Michael Jackson requesting his name be removed from the credits. Meanwhile, the rest of the sound team tried to rework as much of the music as possible before the game’s official release. While some tracks were replaced, most of what Jackson had helped work on had already been implemented into the game.
The most telling piece of music that has Michael Jackson written all over it is the ending credits song used in the game. In 1996 the tune was the basis for his single “Stranger in Moscow”. Another notable example is during the song used for Carnival Night Zone a digitized sample of Heavy D saying “Jam” can be faintly heard which was taken from Jackson’s 1991 single “Jam”. The glass shattering sound in that same song is also the same sample used in Jackson’s other hit single “In The Closet”. Knuckles’ theme music is strikingly similar to Jackson’s 1996 single “Ghosts” as well as his 1997 hit “Blood On the Dance Floor”. There was a theory relating to the Ice Cap Zone music, however that was debunked in 2013. The song closely resembled a previously unreleased song performed by Buxer’s band The Jetzons in 1982 called “Hard Times”. Prior to this there have been theories surrounding Jackson’s songs such as “Who Is It”, and “Smooth Criminal” being closely similar to Ice Cap’s music.
After the game’s release Brad Buxer along with Bobby Brooks, Darryl Ross, Geoff Grace, and Doug Grigsby would all move on to get involved with Michael Jackson’s next album “HIStory: Past, Present and Future”. This also would be a true telling of the relationship between the music of Sonic 3 and Michael Jackson.
Now if that isn’t enough info about the game’s music here’s another little tidbit. Some of the music in the Sonic & Knuckles Collection on the PC (which was released in 1997) is vastly different from the music used in the Genesis version of Sonic 3. This was originally thought to be due to the drama circulating Michael Jackson and his involvement with the game’s music that they purposefully changed some songs for the PC release. In a surprising twist the PC music is actually the ORIGINAL soundtrack BEFORE Michael Jackson was even hired to help produce the music! In a 2019 stream hosted by HiddenPalace.org (a website that preserves full video game prototypes and betas), a prototype was discovered of Sonic 3 dating November 3, 1993. During the stream there were obvious differences in the intro to the game, some removed sprite details for Sonic, a few level design changes, but then some of the game music such as Knuckles’ theme, Carnival Night Zone, and Ice Cap Zone, were entirely different from what was used in the final Genesis release. Many people watching the stream noted that the music used was the same music (albeit with slightly different pitches) that was used in the Sonic & Knuckles Collection for the PC.
As for Sonic 3, the game is completely ignored in terms of being ported over on modern consoles, mobile, and plug and play devices. Even Christian Whitehead himself, who has done remasters of the first two Sonic games, offered to remaster the third game as well to which Sega declined his offer. There’s no concrete evidence that the music itself is the reason Sonic 3 is being held back from being released during these modern times, but it wouldn’t be the first time. Nintendo’s Earthbound was held back for years before being released on Virtual Console for the Wii due to much of the game’s soundtrack using samples from popular songs by The Beatles and other artists.
Sonic & Knuckles
Remember when I mentioned that Sonic 3 was Sega’s biggest game in the series to date? Well, Sonic 3 was originally planned to span across 14 zones, however because that was too large of a game to fit inside a single cartridge it had to be split into 2 games. Sonic 3 provided the first 6 zones of the game, while Sonic & Knuckles (released on October 18, 1994) provided the remaining 8 zones. To connect the two games together to provide the entire Sonic 3 experience a lock-on adapter was built into the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge allowing for a second Genesis cart to be plugged on top.
The “lock-on technology” as it was advertised was actually developed between Sonic 1 and Sonic 2, two and a half years before the release of Sonic & Knuckles. When the team at STI came to the hardware division at Sega to explain their situation with Sonic 3 they were given the adapter to use on the Sonic & Knuckles cartridges.
To expand the usage of the lock-on adapter outside of using Sonic 3 they implemented the ability to play as Knuckles in Sonic 2. They did not add that ability to Sonic 1 as it “didn’t feel right” to add Knuckles to the game. As for every other Genesis cartridge the team implemented the “Blue Sphere” mini game. When you first power on Sonic & Knuckles with any random game that was not Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 a black screen with Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Eggman would appear with the words “NO WAY! NO WAY! NO WAY! NO WAY?” scrolling across the top of the screen. By pressing A, B, and C on the control pad at the same time the screen will activate the Blue Sphere mini game changing the scrolling text to “GET BLUE SPHERES!” followed by a Level 1, and series of 12 zeroes at the bottom of the screen.
The blue sphere mini game is the iconic special stage used in both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles to collect all the blue spheres on a 32x32 wrapping grid in order to collect a Chaos Emerald. This mini game is a seemingly endless variation of that special stage. Programmed into the mini game are 128,016,000 different grid patterns that play in order with difficulty ratings ranging from 1-13 (13 being the hardest). The levels themselves, however, are programmed up to 134,217,728, in which after clearing the “last” level, will revert the counter back to “1”. While the unique 128 million grid patterns are less than the 134 million levels, the grid patterns will repeat back to the 1st pattern after the last pattern has been cleared, despite the level number will continue to increase until its maximum before resetting as well.
There is one unique feature with Sonic 1 when plugged into Sonic & Knuckles and that is you are able to play the entire Blue Sphere mini game. Other games will only allow you to play one single stage, or a small number of stages depending on the rom header and stage’s code. Some larger games such as Phantasy Star IV and Super Street Fighter II will not load the Blue Sphere game at all, and will just boot up Sonic & Knuckles as if nothing is connected to it...and yes, even plugging Sonic & Knuckles to itself will also boot up Sonic & Knuckles like normal.
As for “Knuckles the Echidna In Sonic the Hedgehog 2” just playing as Knuckles wasn’t the only change that was made to the game. Some of the more game changing features included adding 1-Up monitors to a lot of the levels for Knuckles to climb his way towards. When Knuckles respawns at a star post after losing a life he will retain the number of rings he collected when reaching that star post. When playing the Special Stages, the ring requirements are lower than in the normal game making collecting all the Chaos Emeralds much easier.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles unlocks the full game as was originally intended with the standalone Sonic 3 game. Not only can you play Sonic and Tails’ story, but you also get to play through Knuckles’ story through his point of view. If you manage to collect all of the Chaos Emeralds before the start of Mushroom Hill Zone (the first level of Sonic & Knuckles), you get teleported to the Hidden Palace Zone where the Chaos Emeralds transform into inactive Super Emeralds, a series of enhanced Chaos Emeralds that hold even more power. Collect all 7 Super Emeralds and you’ll have the ability to transform into either Hyper Sonic, Super Tails, or Hyper Knuckles (depending on which character you select to start your game).
Collecting 7 Chaos Emeralds will allow Sonic and Knuckles to transform into Super Sonic / Super Knuckles. Tails is the only character where this effect will not occur. However, collecting all 7 Super Emeralds will allow Tails to transform into Super Tails. He carries the same speed increases and invulnerabilities as Super Sonic and Super Knuckles, as well as his own unique ability to send “Super Flickies” to hone in on enemies to defeat.
Sonic and Knuckles on the other hand get enhanced transformations turning them into Hyper Sonic and Hyper Knuckles. Their speeds are further increased making them the fastest (and almost uncontrollable) characters in the game, as well as the ability to breathe underwater and gain a new unique ability. Hyper Sonic gains a new “Hyper Flash” ability, which is a mid-air dash that can destroy all on-screen enemies. Hyper Knuckles gains the “Gliding Shock Wave Attack”, which while gliding at full speed in any direction, if Knuckles clings into a wall, it will cause a shock-wave that will destroy all on-screen enemies at once.
A version of Sonic 3 (potentially called “Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Limited Edition”) was planned in development which was basically Sonic 3 & Knuckles contained on a single cart (but using the original Sonic 3 title screen). There are only two prototypes of this game that have been released. Both prototypes are labeled with dates that came after Sonic 3’s initial release. Because every zone would have been squeezed into a single cart, the game would possibly have a lower price than Sonic & Knuckles. Only two gaming magazine publications, SEGA Magazin and Famitsu, have mentioned this game. The game was to be released in addition to the standard Sonic 3 game, and it was to be 24 Megabits in size. Unfortunately the game never came out.
Sonic 3D Blast (aka Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island)
Sonic 3D Blast was Sonic Team’s first 2.5D game co-developed by Traveller’s Tales and released on November 9th, 1996 on the Sega Genesis. The gameplay is a bit different from previous entries. Each level contains 5 robots which must be destroyed to free a trapped flicky. You must then bring the flickies over to a floating ring which will unlock a door to the next area of the level. You must rescue a total of 15 flickies to clear each Act.
Hidden within each Act are Tails and Knuckles standing still and waiting for you to give them 50 rings so that they may take you to the Special Stage (as opposed to grabbing a giant ring or stars over a checkpoint) to collect a Chaos Emerald. Unfortunately there is no Super Sonic transformation in this game, however you can return to Special Stages after collecting all 7 emeralds and collect extra lives at the end of each. Collecting all 7 emeralds will allow you to fight Dr. Eggman in a final boss battle for a true ending to the game.
The game was released on the Sega Genesis and Sega Saturn consoles, and while the main gameplay is roughly the game, there are some differences between the two. Most of the changes pretty much take advantage of the added size of the Sega Saturn’s memory. The first of these changes is the different Special Stages between the two consoles. Both versions will ask you to collect a certain number of rings and avoid obstacles, but in the Sega Genesis version are you running down a winding wooden bridge over lava, while in the Saturn version it is presented very similarly to Sonic 2’s Special Stage as a simple half pipe under a beautiful sky (which changes with each stage)
The other difference is the soundtrack that’s used between both versions. The Genesis soundtrack was composed by four musicians including Tatsuyuki Maeda and Jun Senoue, who both helped create some of the music and sound effects for Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. The CD quality music for the Sega Saturn soundtrack was composed by Richard Jacques, whose done quite a few soundtracks for Sega and Sonic games. The ending credits theme to the Saturn version is titled “You’re My Hero” and was also composed by Richard Jacques with Debbie Morris providing the lyrics.
The Sega Saturn version, which was released a year after the Genesis version, was actually a very last minute decision due to complications of a future unreleased Sonic game. The Saturn version was hastily commissioned and completed in only seven weeks. During that time, many graphical updates, FMV sequences, new music, and a new special stage were all developed and shipped with the added memory provided on the CD-ROM.
In 2017 Jon Burton, who was the lead programmer for the Genesis version of the game, released an unofficial Director’s Cut patch to the game which included a level editor, password save system, time attack challenges, and the ability to transform into Super Sonic.
This was certainly no joke. What started as what many believe to be an April Fools pitch to Sega executives was used to create the first and only Sega 32X Sonic spin-off game “Chaotix”. The game started as an early prototype to a Sega Mega Drive game known as “Sonic Crackers” (referred to as “Sonic Stadium” in the ROM header). The game featured Sonic and Tails tied together by a pair of rings on each end and they ran through levels using each other’s momentum to navigate.
The game layout was planned to have been separated into seven “Worlds”, each world having five “Attractions”, and each attraction had a “Field”. The prototype that’s available (dating April 1, 1994) only contains 2 Worlds, the 2nd world being the most playable as it has its 5 Attractions available with 4 different Fields (one Field is linked to 2 different Attractions) in tact and playable. The first World contains only one playable Field that all 5 Attractions lead to, and the Field loops infinitely with no ending.
No Field really has an ending, but they can be “completed” by either reaching the top of the level, or remaining in the level for 3 minutes, in which case the Game Over song from Sonic 1 will play before returning you to the World screen.
Knuckles’ Chaotix (USA and EU) or Chaotix: Featuring Knuckles the Echidna (JP) was first released in Japan on April 21, 1995 for the Sega 32X. The game was a rushed product as sales of the 32X were not doing too good and Sega needed some sort of influence to drive more sales of the system. While they did have plans to release Sonic for the 32X there was nothing coming out in the foreseeable future, so they took the Sonic Crackers idea and created a fully functional game out of it.
There is no word on exactly why Sonic and Tails were removed from the game entirely, but Sonic’s sprite was transformed into Mighty the Armadillo, while Tails was just outright removed entirely. Knuckles, Mighty, along with Espio the Chameleon, Vector the Crocodile, and Charmy Bee make up the “Chaotix” team of characters. Each character has a unique move set to help navigate through the various attractions in the game.
If you recall during the Sonic 1 development Vector was to be a member of Sonic’s band, which never left the concept art phase. He is really the only character that’s been brought to light from an artists imagination 4 years prior to his debut in Chaotix. Mighty was a character taken from a 1993 Japanese arcade exclusive Sonic game titled “SegaSonic the Hedgehog”. Espio and Charmy Bee are the only two making their first debut completely fresh from start to finish.
Two more playable characters are playable as well that are not exactly members of the Chaotix team. Bomb and Heavy are both Dr. Eggman’s “Mechanics” that try to slow down the Chaotix team progression through the attractions. While they cannot be selected as your main character, they can be used as your partner character through the Combi Catcher, which is a device used to pick your partner character before each attraction you play in. Bomb and Heavy are used as “fake” partners and take up multiple slots in the Combi Catcher as opposed to the Chaotix team which each take up 1 slot.
With the exception of a set of tutorial levels at the beginning of the game, there are 5 attractions with 5 levels each, plus a final battle with Metal Sonic and Dr. Eggman. Due to the size and length of the game, a battery-backed saving system was implemented to save progress. There is no set order of attractions or levels for which you play in. Instead, a randomized selector highlights each attraction, and hitting the giant bumper in the middle of the screen will stop the selection and take you to that attraction and whichever level you have to play. If all 5 levels of an attraction are completed the attraction is removed from play and you have the choice of any remaining attractions. After all attractions are complete you are left to face both Metal Sonic and Dr. Eggman in the final set of confrontations.
Knuckles’ Chaotix is another game that did not have Chaos Emeralds in its world. Instead you are out to collect “Chaos Rings”, which play a similar role to Chaos Emeralds. Reaching the special stage goes back to the Sonic 1 style of collecting at least 50 rings before reaching the end goal where jumping through a giant ring will lead you into the special stage.
The special stages consist of running along the sides of a giant hexagon collecting a set number of blue spheres while avoiding pits, spike balls, saws and other hazards along the way. These stages are timed based on the number of rings you are carrying. If your ring counter drops to 0 or you fall down a pit, the special stage ends. Collecting all 6 Chaos Rings will give you a good ending featuring the only appearance of Sonic and Tails in the game! Playing special stages after collecting all the Chaos Rings will bring you to a wireframed version of each stage, and finishing those stages will give you 50,000 points each.
Knuckles’ Chaotix is one of three classic Sonic games (the others being SegaSonic the Hedgehog, and the Saturn version of Sonic 3D Blast) that have never been re-released on any newer console. It did have a brief re-release in 2005 under the GameTap subscription service for PC, but is no longer available as the service has been discontinued since 2010.
SegaSonic the Hedgehog, and Sonic the Fighters
Sega AM3 wanted to test out Sonic’s popularity in the Japanese arcade market and decided to develop an arcade exclusive title called SegaSonic the Hedgehog. The reason why it wasn’t just called “Sonic the Hedgehog” was because Sega had lost the trademark to the Sonic name during its production. Supposedly Sega of America failed to turn in the paperwork for the trademark so that Sega of Japan could use the Sonic name in its title. SegaSonic the Hedgehog was released in Japan in June of 1993.
The game is an isometric platformer where you can play as either Sonic, Ray the Squirrel, or Mighty the Armadillo. Sonic and his friends are trapped by Dr. Eggman and taken to Eggman Island, which is filled with devastating traps and obstacles in every direction and it is up to you to help Sonic, Ray, and Mighty to escape the island. The game is played using a trackball for controlling the characters and a single jump button. Up to 3 players can play at a time for the most heart racing action of any Sonic game.
SegaSonic the Hedgehog is the first platformer that plays very differently from the standard formula of Sonic games. The game consists of 7 short areas with no enemies or bosses to fight. Your only major enemy are the obstacles that are chasing you out of each level symbolizing a time limit to complete each area. Fire, ice, lightning, pitfalls, spikes, buzzsaws, and many other deadly traps await you in this hectic game.
It has been rumored that the game was going to have a 32X port, but the plans had never left the ground and the game had remained an arcade exclusive, especially when so few arcade units were distributed. The game was planned to be released as part of the Sonic Gems Collection, however due to the complications with emulating the trackball movement to an analog stick the game had to be scrapped. There did seem to be plans to bring SegaSonic to the overseas market as there is English translated dialog found within the game’s code as well as a pair of sprites that depict Dr. Robotik from the American Sonic the Hedgehog Saturday morning cartoon. Unfortunately the game was only ever available in Japanese arcades.
During development of Sega’s next arcade hit Fighting Vipers, an unknown Sega AM2 developer was creating crude, yet playable models of Sonic and Tails into the game’s codebase. While they were never finished, it caught the attention of Yu Suzuki (the producer for Fighting Vipers), and he pitched the idea over to the director and stage designer, Hiroshi Kataoka.
When Kataoka brought the concept over to Yuji Naka, he was afraid that the idea of Sonic characters beating themselves up wasn’t going to be approved. Luckily, Naka was not only approving but very receptive to the idea. The decision was made to continue working with the Fighting Vipers engine and modifying it to represent the world of Sonic and simplify the gameplay. Thus Sonic the Fighters was born into existence and was also released in small numbers across the world in May of 1996.
This was the first and only Sonic arcade game to be released overseas (titled Sonic Championship) and even be ported over to consoles years later for easier accessibility. The game is playable on the 2005 release of Sonic Gems Collection as well as on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade with online functionality. The PSN and XBLA versions also allow you to play as the boss characters Metal Sonic and Dr. Eggman as well as an unused character named Honey the Cat, who is a modified version of the Fighting Vipers character Honey (or Candy in the US version). These three characters were not originally available to play in the original arcade port.
Sonic the Fighters was originally going to have a Sega Saturn release, however no such port has ever conceived. The closest thing to a Saturn representation of the game was in the game Fighters Megamix. Included in the game were 2 of the characters, Bean and Bark, as well as the use of the South Island stage and music, and Aurora Icefield stage using the Flying Carpet stage music.
The game has a roster of 9 base characters to choose from, and 2 boss characters to fight as well. There are also a variety of unused characters that can be found in the game as well, but cannot be accessed unless you hacked into the games code. Characters such as “Eggman Mech”, “Rocket Metal”, “Mechless Eggman”, “Big Eggman”, “UFO Eggman”, and an Unused form of Eggman are found in the game’s data.
Most of these hidden characters were mostly used for cutscenes and were not meant to be used as playable characters during in-game action. As for Honey the Cat, she was not discovered until the 2012 release on PSN and XBLA where her character data was fixed from how it looked in the arcade version. When hacked into the arcade version, Honey’s character data isn’t quite complete. She has no pre-match character portrait, so the game defaults to Eggmans model with “???” as the character name. One of her eyes is always focused on the camera while the other is on the enemy. Also, when squished by Amy’s Piko Piko Hammer you can see the model of Honey was based off of Amy as Honey’s body suddenly turns into Amy’s for a brief moment.
On September 24th 2021 Sega will be releasing Lost Judgement, the sequel to Judgement, a spinoff of the Yakuza series. Within the game will be a small arcade that will feature both Fighting Vipers and Sonic the Fighters arcade cabinets, fully playable within the game. Will it be the 2012 version, or a direct port of the original arcade version? We’ll find out when the game releases later this year!
If you’re a fan of the Sonic series then you probably no doubt have heard about this little unreleased game that was planned for the Sega Saturn back in 1996. It was to be Sonic’s first fully 3D platforming game to ever be released. The game has gone through an extensive timeline of development dating back as early as 1993.
This mockup image here was made during the development of the 32X and before the release of Sonic 3D Blast. It was created by former STI employee Chris Senn who states that it was to explore an isometric version of a Sonic game. It was to be a game similar to such games like Sonic 3D Blast, and SegaSonic the Hedgehog. Currently this unfinished game is only known as “Untitled STI Sonic Game”, and COULD potentially be the earliest concept that might have lead to what would have been Sonic X-treme.
Stage 2 of development came in the form of an early design idea created by STI for the Sega Mega Drive simply titled “Sonic-16”. This idea was based around the Sonic the Hedgehog Saturday morning cartoon and its art style would reflect that of the show rather than the typical sprites that were being used for previous games. It was also to be more story driven and be slower paced, while also having faster moving segments as well.
While the gameplay was essentially a side-scrolling platformer, Sonic also had the ability to move forwards and backwards much like the standard beat’em ups of the time. Sonic also had a few new moves incorporated including the ability to throw rings at enemies, a buzzsaw move to destroy obstacles, and a “Spike Blast” move, which shoots quills in all directions from Sonic’s body and damages enemies on-screen.
A demo of the game was created (dated November 1993) and shown to Yuji Naka for approval. Unfortunately he gave a thumbs down and the game was never developed beyond that. The only evidence of this game’s production is the concept video which Chris Senn has uploaded for the public to see.
Stage 3 of STI’s future Sonic game development woes came after the release of the 32X with a project known as “Sonic Mars”. The proposal was put together on May 17, 1994 by lead designer Michael Kosaka with assistance from Chris Senn and Don Goddard. The framwork was still to work around the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon, but be a fully 3D environment rather than a 2D side-scroller.
When the proposal was accepted by Sega of America and was shown to Yuji Naka, he simply shook his said and said “good luck”, knowing first hand how difficult it was making a Sonic game and was not all that impressed with what he was shown. Shortly after the proposal was accepted, Michael Kosaka left Sega due to issues between him and the producer of Comix Zone, Dean Lester. Chris Senn became the new lead designer with Don Goddard and the two re-worked the script of the game. They eventually dropped the Saturday morning cartoon premise due to disinterest as well as the major re-work they did, especially when switching development from the 32X to the Sega Saturn where the game was renamed Sonic X-treme.
Finally, we reach the final and most developed stage in the likelihood that could have been Sonic X-treme. A large assortment of assets from character models, textures, music, test levels, demo builds, and even the original source code and game engine are all available on the internet.
DEVELOPMENT STORY TIME BEGINS (TL;DR at the end)
Sonic X-treme was split into two separate development groups. One led by Chris Senn and programmer Ofer Alon who focused on the development of the worlds and levels. The other group led by programmer Christina Coffin who developed the boss encounters with a separate engine that was used during the 32X development of “Sonic Mars”.
Both teams were watched over by developer Mike Wallis, who was also responsible for the smaller groups forming in each team. These smaller groups were all focusing on the other aspects of the games (character and enemy models, items, etc) and were meant to make the overall development easier on the team. However, the entire process was a mixture of confusion, lack of communication, and inconsistency.
March 1996, a meeting with Sega of Japan reps, including the (then) president Hayao Nakayama did not go so well. Two different presentations were available for show. One running the game using a PC engine that Chris was working on, and another using an engine created by Point Of View, who technical director Robert Morgan brought on as a third party to handle programming duties and led by Ofer. At this time neither Chris or Ofer were in the building to properly show off their engines running the game. Chris’ PC engine was further along in development than the POV engine that Ofer was behind.
Sonic X-treme running on the POV engine was the one shown to the SOJ reps, and Nakayama was nothing less of furious with the results shown to him. Simply put, the game ran at a maximum of 3-4 frames per second. He demanded STI work on the game in the similar engine that was being used for the boss battles. At this time Chris had arrived with his further developed PC engine, however he got too nervous to showcase it to the reps as tensions were already so high between them and the dev team. By the time Ofer arrived, the SOJ reps had already left the building.
After the meeting, STI gave in to the demands and made Christina Coffin lead programmer, while Mike Wallis gathered his team away from the STI politics and focused on the project in hopes to have the game finished by Christmas. In the meantime, Wallis contacted the (then) CEO of Sega of America Bernie Stolar and asked to use the engine that was being used for NiGHTS into Dreams. After spending two weeks to become familiar with the engine, Yuji Naka heard that his engine was being used without his consent. As a result, Naka threatened to quit Sega if the team continued work with the engine, so to grant his wishes, the X-treme team halted development with the engine and was forced to start back at square one.
With pressure building on whether to make the Christmas deadline, Christina literally moved into the development headquarters working nearly nonstop on the game, and sleeping for a few hours in a cot within the office. She ended up with pneumonia in August of 1996 and was forced to step down from development. The game did not make the Christmas deadline.
The official word at the time was that the game had been “postponed”, but many of the key developers knew that the game had finally been cancelled after years of production. To make up for lost time and have some type of game released for Christmas the team did a last minute port of Sonic 3D Blast for the Sega Saturn with enhanced graphics, a new special stage, and a new soundtrack. All of the advertisement money that was for X-treme went towards NiGHTS Into Dreams, which became the Saturn’s top seller that Christmas with Sonic 3D Blast coming in second.
DEVELOPMENT STORY TIME ENDS
The game ended up being canceled due to a messy development period between 1995 and 1996 with tense meetings with Sega representatives, using multiple engines to develop the game, and lack of communication between developers. Because of the tight deadline to get a game out by Christmas, STI decided to make a last minute port of Sonic 3D Blast for the Sega Saturn to take Sonic X-treme’s (now canceled) place.
The story to the game was never really set in stone. There were at least 8 different storylines that were created throughout the game’s production timeline. One such storyline was quickly thrown together for a Red Shoe Diaries feature in Game Players magazine. The story follows Sonic as he receives a distress signal in the form of a “blue streak” and runs to the home of a Professor Gazebo Boobowski and his daughter Tiara (Sonic’s new love interest). The two are guardians of the “Rings of Order”, and are also knowledgeable in the art of ring smithing. Dr. Eggman learns about the Rings and sets off to retrieve the rings for himself. The professor asks Sonic to retrieve the rings before Eggman gets a hold of them.
The final story that was authored by Hirokazu Yasuhara and Richard Wheeler tells of Dr. Eggman returning with a new Death Egg that is larger than planet Earth and its gravity is causing other planets to fall into an orbit with the space station. Tails teleports Sonic to the Death Egg, but during teleportation one of the planets intercepts where Sonic was heading and he ends up on a strange planet. Sonic also discovers that Eggman’s robots are being powered by an alien species called “Mips”, which are the natives to the planets that have become part of the Death Egg’s defenses.
Gameplay was to be a more open world version of the Chaotix special stages where Sonic could walk up walls and ceilings while having full 360 degree control. Chris Senn wanted to use a number of playable characters including Tails, Knuckles, and the newcomer Tiara Boobowski. Christina Coffin briefly toyed with the idea to include Amy Rose to the roster as well, but nothing had been done to include her.
Each character was to have their own unique play style and camera position. Sonic would have a ¾ view, Tails would play from a third person or behind the shoulder perspective, Knuckles would play from a top-down perspective, and Tiara would be a more modernized 2D side scrolling view. Ofer Alon, the game’s lead programmer, convinced Chris to stick with the core Sonic gameplay and if time allowed, he could add in other playable characters.
At least 4 levels were at the point of being established levels for the game with another 3 or more not as far into development. Jade Gully, Crystal Frost, Red Sands, and Galaxy Fortress/Death Egg were just 4 of those levels that had an established environment, level layouts, music, and items placed. Like previous Sonic games, each level contained 3 “Acts”, but in Sonic X-treme each Act had its own unique title. An example of this would be Jade Gully Act 1: Emerald Clouds, Jade Gully Act 2: Wolf Den, Jade Gully Act 3: Bamboo Transit.
Other levels that were thought of include “Blue Ocean”, the game’s underwater level, a bonus Christmas Level, which would have been only been accessible when the system clock was set to December 25th, and a level called “Metal Blade” which had a similar dark environment to the Death Egg level where you would have battled Metal Sonic as the boss. Candy Mountain was another potential level title, as well as an Egyptian-themed level, but most levels that were left barely developed were used as test levels.
The first major 3D game Sonic Adventure was released in Japan on December 23, 1998 as a release title for the Sega Dreamcast. The US release of the game was 9 months later on September 9, 1999. During that 9 month period, Sonic Team was focused on fixing and tweaking the more major bugs as well as fixing numerous glitches and adding a more robust internet exerpience. When the game released on American shores an International version was released in Japan titled Sonic Adventure International, which carried over all the bug fixes of the US release.
Sonic Adventure began in its earliest stages as “Sonic World”, which was a 3D environment in Sonic Jam for the Sega Saturn in 1997. Sonic World took place in a Green Hill-esque environment with buildings featuring various artwork, movies, and music from the classic Sonic games. Because there was no real 3D representation of Sonic for the Saturn, this was the best that Sonic Team could create to hold fans off until his real debut in Sonic Adventure in the coming year.
The game plays much like an open-world series of stories where you can choose one of 6 characters (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Big the Cat, and E-102 Gamma) and play through their individual stories across 11 action stages, and 4 adventure fields. There are also a series of mini-games as well as a Chao Garden where you can raise little creatures known as Chao and race them on the side as a form of relaxation from the main game.
Big the Cat and E-102 Gamma are two new characters introduced to the series. Big the Cat lives in the jungle with his friend/pet “Froggy” who always seems to run away and go hiding from Big inside large bodies of water. Big’s stages are all about fishing for, and catching Froggy. E-102 Gamma is part of Eggman’s E-100 series of robots who eventually betrays him after a mission to capture Birdie from Amy turns his emotions towards goodness and kindness as opposed to destruction and villany.
Tikal is another new character to the series who is a young Echidna girl who sealed Chaos along with her own spirit inside of the Master Emerald 3,000 years ago. This was after Chaos went on a destructive rampage as a result of Tikal’s father attempting to steal the Chaos Emeralds and Master Emerald. She, along with Chaos, have been set free after Eggman shatters the Master Emerald in an attempt to use Chaos for his own takeover.
Sonic Adventure was the first Sonic game to have optional DLC available to download completely free off the game’s Internet option. Simple things such as alternate character voices during menu selection and even limited time events such as seasonal events, console launch events, and special contests were available to players who connected their consoles to the internet.
On June 17, 2003, Sega released Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut for the Nintendo GameCube. This was an enhanced version of the original Sonic Adventure which further improves the game in terms of graphics, a new mission mode, an enhanced Chao Garden, and 12 unlockable Sonic Game Gear titles based on how many emblems you collect throughout your journey. If you manage to collect all 130 emblems in the game you get the option of playing as Metal Sonic in Trial Mode. In the original Dreamcast version of the game collecting emblems was simply just a fun thing with no purpose behind them other than a 100% completed save file.
Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic Adventure 2 was a worldwide release on June 23, 2001 for the Sega Dreamcast. It came at a very interesting time in the Dreamcast’s unfortunate short lifespan as it was released shortly after Sega had announced its departure from the hardware business and halting all production of future Dreamcast consoles.
Unlike Sonic Adventure where you selected a character to complete their specific story, the game offers 2 different Story Sides: Hero Story and Dark Story. Each story has you alternating between 3 different characters throughout their respective side of the storyline. Completing both stories will unlock the Last Story which brings the overall compelling story to a close.
The game spans across 16 stages in the Hero Story, 14 stages in the Dark Story, and the final stage completing the game. There is also one additional stage which replicates Green Hill Zone Act 1 in complete 3D, but is only unlocked when you’ve collected all 180 emblems in the game. The Chao Garden makes its return and brings along a Hero Garden and Dark Garden, depending on how you raise your Chao. You can also enter in either a Chao Race or Chao Karate mini-games.
Free DLC was also available for Sonic Adventure 2 and included such little goodies as menu themes, different karts to ride in the kart mini game, and seasonal outfits for characters to wear while in 2P mode.
On February 12, 2002 the first enhanced port of Sonic Adventure 2 was released on the GameCube called Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. This was the first Sonic title to be released on a Nintendo console, pretty much ending the long Sega vs. Nintendo battle with Sonic joining forces with Mario for future games on Nintendo (and other) consoles. This updated version of the game improves on graphics, load times, frame rate, and a few quality of life features that were not in the Dreamcast version.
FUN FACT: Ryan Drummond provided the voice of Sonic for a number of titles including Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes, and Sonic Advance 3. He was replaced by Jason Griffith who started his voicing of Sonic through the Sonic X TV series and do a number of titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. He was then replaced by Roger Craig Smith who is the current voice of Sonic starting his career in Sonic Free Riders.
Check out Part 2 for the continuing saga as Sega shuts down their hardware division leaving Sonic as a free agent!