The Rise and Fall of Sonic The Hedgehog

inflatable Sonic the hedgehog in New York
(Image credit: Getty)

You don’t have to be a huge gaming fan to know about Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s a household icon, a testament to Sega’s success. So, how did a figure SO popular in the 90s that he fronted breakfast cereals, experience such a pitiful decline into despair that he had to be led off stage, because he’d gotten too pissed at his own 25th birthday party?

Let me tell you a story.

Sonic The Hedgehog, is a platforming game, developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega. Back in 1991, everybody wanted a piece of Sonic, and for good reason. He was fierce, he had attitude, and he was more concerned with fighting bad guys than rescuing his girlfriend from a castle.

However, it hasn’t all been rings and rainbows for this little blue fiend. Although some of the Sonic games are still widely regarded as classics, time hasn’t been kind to Sonic the Hedgehog. As Sega collapsed in the late 90s due to the release of the Playstation, Sonic became the only sellable face to an industry giant. Sega had to ensure Sonic still remained relevant, by ANY means necessary.

Sonic’s integrity crumbles, under the cuteness of his recent Hello Kitty collab.

Sonic’s integrity crumbles, under the cuteness of his recent Hello Kitty collab.

The beginning is always a good place to start. It’s Christmas, 1991, and the console market had been shaken up in a big way. Up until then, Nintendo were the main players in household consoles, after the success of Super Mario. Sonic swept in like a hurricane, providing a fresh, fast, platforming experience.

Here’s what the press said:

“Definitely, without a doubt, positively the most incredible action game ever created for the Megadrive!” - EGM, 1991

“Sonic the Hedgehog is streets ahead of every game of this genre currently available!” - Computer & Videogames magazine, 1991

Sonic was thriving. Sega released a handful of games for the Megadrive that weren’t amazing by any stretch but they featured Sonic and his mates and that was all that mattered. Sonic was a superstar, there was nothing preventing him and Sega from reigning over the games industry forever.

In 1998, Sega released their last home console, the Dreamcast. On paper it was fucking amazing. It had internet connectivity, it has analogue sticks, shoulder triggers, it should have been phenomenal. And Sega, well, managed to fuck that up too. Sonic SHOULD have made the console fly.

With respect to Sega, they always had a desire to innovate and they did. The thing they didn’t do was use their own IP effectively enough to sell units. Instead, something called Chu Chu Rocket fucking happened.

In a final attempt to salvage their empire, Sega released Sonic Adventure 2, in 2001. Unfortunately, the console AND Sega were already dead in the water by then, and the once-great video game titan never made a console again.

With no console, Sega had no exclusivity. After panicked cries of ‘Oh shit!’, they began to develop and release games for other platforms. There was a desperation to keep pushing Sonic into the limelight. Sega had to throw cold water on this battered old hero, and send him in hungover to whatever mediocre brand deal they could find.

Now THIS, is where we see our feisty hero descend into madness.

A new Sonic the Hedgehog (dubbed Sonic ‘06) tried to bring Sonic’s classic platforming action into a 3D environment, with new concept and characters. In short, it was shit. The camera system was shit, the controls were shit – the entire game was broken as balls. Sonic was already on a swift decline, but this game took everything the Sonic brand stood for, and took a massive dump on it.

What goes up must come down.

What goes up must come down. (Image credit: Getty)

Here’s what the press said:

“Only the most blindly reverent Sonic fan could possibly squeeze any enjoyment out of Sega’s latest adventure.” - Gamespot, 2006

“Like the hedgehogs I used to see as a child, this game has been hit by a truck. 210.” - Eurogamer, 2006

Sonic started to appear in a number of collaborative games for other platforms. He’d disappear for a bit, and then suddenly – there he is! – hanging out with Mario on a Nintendo console. But even after a long day at the Olympics, Sonic was still spending lonely nights on his couch with a bottle of Jack in one hand and a Megadrive controller in the other, reminiscing of a time when things were better.

Living in the shadow of the giant, intimidating, and increasingly successful Mario – whose every game is met with awed gasps and fanboys crying and throwing money at Nintendo – Sonic couldn’t understand what he’d done wrong.

The only acceptable effort of redemption was Sonic Generations, released in 2011. That game was a spark in the dark for Sega. It was still an affirmation that Sonic’s glory days were far behind us, but it was a suitable tribute to those days. The gameplay was a little too forgiving, but it kept enough of the flair and content that originally made Sonic boom in the first place. Sonic Boom.

Sonic Boom was the final nail in Sonic’s coffin and it was met with all the pompous fanboy fanfare of a wet fart inside a diving bell.

Here we see the original Sonic concept, walking away from Sonic Boom’s bullshit.

Here we see the original Sonic concept, walking away from Sonic Boom’s bullshit.

They only reason they put a neck-kerchief on him is because Knuckles likes to choke him on a night time.

Sonic is now nothing more than a corporate whore. He staggers into Sega HQ every morning, drunk, and his developers put him in little outfits and send him to whatever tacky bollocks they’ve attached his name to. He’s starred in collaborations, bad TV shows, and he’s even got his own live action movie now. A cartoon hedgehog in a live action movie. Sonic has been awkwardly rebranded as a kid’s character, which has alienated the masses that grew up with him.

However, Sonic Mania is currently in development and has been dubbed as a ‘throwback’ to classic Sonic. We’ve also been shown a tiny glimpse of ‘Project Sonic 2017’ whatever the fuck that is. Sega fanboys are fawning over it, naturally, remaining in hope that one day Sega might make Sonic great again.

No millennial is going to understand the cultural importance of Sonic, or why their dad is a massive fan of some cringey video game character that had a few ‘alright’ games on the Xbox and a shit cartoon. For anyone under 20, Sonic is just a mess of gold-digging and disappointment. Sega were so sincere and really tried to keep him relevant and do good things, but they kept trying too hard to make him cool and relevant and forgot that a lot of the idea was just having fun.

I feel like this gif of a drunk Sonic being led off stage, after his shambolic 25th birthday conference, is a good indicator of where we are at with Sonic the Hedgehog.

No wonder Dr. Robotnik changed his name. I wouldn’t want to be continually associated with Sonic either.