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Feature: The Sonic Games That Never Were

Posted by James Newton

The hedgehog's untold past explored

Sonic the Hedgehog has appeared in more games than we can count, but just as interesting are some of the games that never saw release. Join us as we delve through the Sonic archives to take a look at some of the unfinished and unreleased games in the hedgehog's history.

Sonic the Hedgehog: The Animated Series

Back in the 1990s Sonic was everywhere, with not one but two cartoon series dedicated to his name. While one was a generally light-hearted affair about chilli dogs and slapstick robots, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Animated Series (also known as SatAM) cast the hero as the leader of an underground resistance on the oppressed Planet Mobius.

SEGA Technical Institute in the U.S. began work on a video game based on a cartoon series (based on a video game), doing away with the series' famous speed in favour of a slower, almost stealthy experience: Sonic was able to move back and forth between the foreground and background, throwing rings as weapons and using them for special moves.

The game never got made it past the concept stage, but gameplay elements would later turn up in the cancelled Saturn project Sonic X-treme.

Sonic Crackers

While any new ideas in Sonic the Hedgehog: The Animated Series game were left well behind, Sonic Crackers' main concept went on to form the basis of 32X adventure Knuckles' Chaotix.

Sonic and Tails each hold a ring that exerts a band of energy, holding the two characters together. Using the energy's elastic nature, it's possible to fling your team mate around to reach higher areas, gain speed and more.

Often incorrectly considered to be SEGA's attempt at Sonic the Hedgehog 4, the game was likely an engine test for Knuckles' Chaotix, and although the game was never released a short 'beta' version is widely available online. Interestingly the beta includes overworld "field" stages that presumably were to act as hub levels, a feature that was reintroduced many years later in Sonic Adventure.

Sonic Extreme

Not to be confused with another cancelled Sonic outing, the Saturn project Sonic X-treme, Sonic Extreme was a skateboarding game on Xbox that was unearthed just a few months ago.

Discovered on a developer's Xbox, the game was likely a pitch from developer Vision Scape Software that never got past the approval stage. The videos released so far show a side-by-side battle mode, not unlike GameCube release Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, as well as a trick-based mode that sees Sonic pulling off flips and manuals in a Green Hill-inspired skate park.

Considering Sonic Team's own Sonic Riders was released on the Xbox, GameCube and PS2 it's likely SEGA didn't want two boarding games in the same generation, so another hedgehog outing was consigned to the recycling bin.

Sonic Saturn

One of the most common reasons touted for the Sega Saturn's undeserved death was the lack of a true 32-bit Sonic game. While PlayStation owners tucked into Crash Bandicoot and N64 gamers rejoiced in Super Mario 64, Saturn fans were left wanting: a spruced-up port of isometric Mega Drive outing Sonic 3D, compilation Sonic Jam and racer Sonic R all failed to fill the void of a system-selling Sonic adventure.

It needn't have been this way, though. Sega Technical Institute (STI) had multiple Sonic projects in the works, and although Sonic X-treme is the most well-known it's the untitled Sonic Saturn that arguably showed the most promise.

Although little of the main adventure has been shown, the concept art revealed shows a tantalising glimpse of Sonic chasing Sonic CD nemesis Metal Sonic across a wetlands boardwalk, with the traditional loop-the-loops and giant Robotnik city hiding away in the background.

The game's bonus stage also merits mention: placing Sonic on a pool table, players would use the 'hog's spin dash move to pot the balls and earn a Chaos Emerald. After the game was canned, STI attempted to resurrect the pool bonus stage for Sonic 3D on Saturn, but SEGA went with a 3D version of the iconic Sonic the Hedgehog 2 tube special stage.

Sonic Mars/X-treme

Arguably the most famous unreleased Sonic game took a long and complicated route to incompletion. Another Sega Technical Institute production, the project went through many incarnations, starting off on the Mega Drive before moving to 32X, Saturn and finally PC, never seeing the light of day on any system.

In its earliest form, the game was to be an isometric action game on Mega Drive, long before Travellers' Tales created Sonic 3D, but with the 32X on the horizon SEGA believed the add-on needed a solid Sonic game to lure in the masses. Codenamed Sonic Mars, a reference to the system's codename, the game would tie in with the still-running Saturday morning cartoon show. However, development difficulties stunted the game's progress, and with the 32X dying off SEGA moved the game over to Saturn where it became Sonic X-treme.

The video below is from the animation pitch used to sell SEGA bosses on the idea of Sonic X-treme:

Unlike many of the games in this article that only exist at the concept stage or as ROM dumps, Sonic X-treme was shown off by SEGA itself on more than one occasion, even making an appearance at E3. The game was a very different beast to any Sonic game before it: a fish eye-style camera lens gave the world a warped look and stages would rotate, letting Sonic run up walls and along ceilings, with the gravity changing accordingly.

The game's development could hardly have been more difficult. Project lead Michael Kosaka left the game after a year, with Christian Senn stepping up to the role of producer to try to steer the game back onto course. After a further year's development the project was still experiencing difficulties — while technical work and game concepts were doing well, the game itself wasn't coming together as a whole, and so SEGA brought in outside firm POV to take over technical development.

POV's involvement failed to save the project, though: when SEGA of Japan's then-president Hayao Nakayama paid the studio a visit to check on development, POV's vision so incensed him that he reportedly stormed out of the presentation. However, Nakayama was more keen on a demonstration he had seen of the engine powering the game's boss mode, a NiGHTS-like 3D affair, and instructed STI to make the game in that fashion.

The team behind this new version, codenamed "Project Condor", was under even more pressure than before: Christian Senn claims that team members were moved to a separate building, provided with meals and beds and locked in, with a deadline to finish the game before Christmas 1996. It was never concluded of course, and after over three years of development, platform changes and internal politics, the plug was finally pulled on Sonic X-treme.

The whole sorry affair was enough to kill off Sega Technical Institute and its members disbanded. In recent years, former STI member Christian Senn has released documents, artwork and music from the cancelled project, as well as an in-depth Sonic X-treme FAQ that's a fascinating insight into the most famous Sonic game we never played.

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User Comments (47)

BelmontHeir

#3

BelmontHeir said:

Wow, I've got a pretty strong stomach for that sort of thing but the short little video of Sonic X-Treme animation nearly gave me motion sickness. XD

Xkhaoz

#4

Xkhaoz said:

Good article. I've already read most of what there is to read about most of them, but it was still a good read.

komicturtle

#5

komicturtle said:

Oh Sonic.

These are some pretty interesting games. I enjoyed Sonic Riders and probably would have not liked that boarding game above. It's too slow compared to Sonic Riders.

pikku

#6

pikku said:

No offense to anyone who does, but I never liked Sonic games. Just too fast for me, I guess. I tried to get into Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 on the GCn, because my brothers have so much fun playing them, but I could nevr get used to the laggy controls and terribly crappy high pitched voice acting. Sorry Sonic, but Mario wins by a long shot.

SilverBaretta

#10

SilverBaretta said:

I believe there is an ongoing fan effort to recreate Sonic X-treme using a custom engine, so maybe we will play it one day......

Cool feature, too, very interesting.

MasterGraveheart

#11

MasterGraveheart said:

Dude, I'd have LOVED that Sonic Animated Series game! And who knows? Maybe if it DID get off the ground, characters like Sally, Bunnie, Antoine, and Roter could have made it into Japan's Sonic games?

Yeah, I know, people like speed with Sonic, but that one... still looked pretty good!

@pikmaniac04: You shoulda tried the games at Sonic's Golden Age, i.e. the Genesis Four: Sonic 1-3 and Sonic & Knuckles. Sonic Colors is pretty good too, butthe Genesis games are where I'd suggest newbies start off in ANY case.

Tasuki

#12

Tasuki said:

I always found it funny that the guy who did Sonics voice was none other than the Urkman Jaleel White (Steve Urkel from the show Family Matters if any of you are old enough to remember that show).

Hyperstar96

#13

Hyperstar96 said:

@pikmaniac04: Well no wonder! The Sonic Adventure games weren't all that great compared to the 2D games. Try some of the older, 2D Genesis games (as in NOT Sonic 4!!!) and come back after you have.

daznsaz

#15

daznsaz said:

i would of liked the animated series one walking around with stealth loved the chronicles rpg one liked the 1st one they made but now if i play them you cant explore a level properly you can only fly along which i know is the point on the 3d ones you dont seem to do anything a lot of the time just watching him do whatever but loved him when he 1st came out

TKOWL

#16

TKOWL said:

That SatAM game and Sonic X-treme look like a lot of fun, though the former looks a bit slow for as Sonic game.

antdickensAdmin

#17

antdickens said:

That's some serious Sonic knowledge right there Mr Newton. I assume that would be your Mastermind category of choice?

suburban_sensei

#19

suburban_sensei said:

What I find funny is how slow Sonic seems to move in all of those games. Wasn't Sonic doing what Ninten-didn't? Which was to move faster than a bat out of Hell. I do think the SatAM game was a cool idea, I have that entire series on DVD and its actually really enjoyable for nostalgia sake.

Supremeist

#20

Supremeist said:

Sonic Saturn looks weird but fun!
Happy 20th, Sonic.
You may not be as legendary as Mario or Link, but you are still a Video Game Legend.

sykotek

#21

sykotek said:

I'm not the biggest Sonic fan, but after watching the videos, I'm not surprised that none of these were released. Why did SEGA even bother thinking about making these games in first place? They're all horribly slow. The one thing all Sonic games should have in common is fast pacing and sense of speed. If you don't have those or prioritize gimmick platforming or lame enemies, then GTFO. Sonic should never be slowed down.

Radixxs

#22

Radixxs said:

SatAM looks pretty awesome, but the last video of Sonic X-treme looks horrible. That's the worst video I've seen of any game pre-production or otherwise.

JamieOStaff

#23

JamieO said:

Great stuff James, I love the subject matter for this feature, there is something mystical about games that have been lost in time, especially when they involve a character as iconic as Sonic.

This is the type of feature that I keep returning to, I really enjoy learning about extra bits of specialist knowledge, it is good to dig deep into more unusual topics from the history vaults of video games.

Incognito_D

#24

Incognito_D said:

interesting article. I had never heard of most of these games, except of course the infamous Sonic X-Treme!

TwilightV

#25

TwilightV said:

Nothing annoys me more than a Sonic "fan" who always whines about how Sonic games should "return to form" and are never happy with any of what Sega offers. They should all learn to be more passionate and dilligent about Sonic's vast history, like James is here.

SwerdMurd

#26

SwerdMurd said:

wow....out of everything, only Sonic X-treme seems to get the speed right, and they all look atrocious. Makes logical sense why they didn't get released.

NeoShinobi

#27

NeoShinobi said:

Some very fascinating suff here.

That Sonic X-tream video was terrible though. There are much more impressive demos out there that are much closer to what the actual game would have looked like.

MiiMiiMii

#29

MiiMiiMii said:

The first one (from the cartoon) sounded so wrong until the gameplay footage. I thought that looked very cool.

Punny

#30

Punny said:

@3DS: Are you sure it wasn't Knuckles' Chaotix? :)

I was never aware of Sonic Extreme before! If it was a bit faster and had all its bugs eliminated, it would have been an awesome final release!

Henmii

#32

Henmii said:

Nice article! You guys should also have shown Sonic x-treme (the platform one) with the fish-eye lens. That one looks sooo cool, and was probably some inspiration for Nintendo's Mario galaxy!

I really hope that Sega finishes this version someday and brings it to the download-services. For me it would be worth the sickness!

JimmyWhale

#34

JimmyWhale said:

I bet Sega fanboys died with excitement when they saw those screenshots! Only to be letdown... then again, Nintendo fans experienced the same thing with Starfox 2...

James

#35

James said:

@Atomic_3DS_Man Technically the last video is of "Project Condor" which was an off-shoot of Sonic X-treme, and the video before is an animation test (rather than in-game footage) but they're both part of the Sonic X-treme project, yeah.

@Henmii I did have a Sonic X-treme video included but thought there was too much video to take in :)

DrCruse

#36

DrCruse said:

On the FAQ linked in the article, it says that Sonic Saturn was just an early name for Sonic Xtreme, which is always what I thought.

Henmii

#38

Henmii said:

"I did have a Sonic X-treme video included but thought there was too much video to take in :)"

Aw, man!

Royspaceghost

#42

Royspaceghost said:

I love, love Sonic, but as it was pointed out, I believe that Sega's home console demise was in part because of the inability of Sonic to make the leap from 2-D to 3-D and all because of his trademark speed, consoles at the time prove more than enough to provide and awesome 3-D experience, like Super Mario 64 but the difference resides in the fact that Mario doesn't run that fast at all, and the graphics at the time didn't do any good to the blue hedgehog's speed. R.I.P. SEGA as a console manufacturer, long live Sonic 2-D games.

KingMike

#45

KingMike said:

You forgot one sort-of canceled game: Sister Sonic, the altered Sega CD version of Popful Mail. Sega canceled it after they got enough hate mail from fans, demanding the game remain as-is. :)

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