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Feature: Last Night A Hedgehog Saved My Life

Posted by Damien McFerran

Damien McFerran recalls his once ardent love for Sega's Sonic

This week sees the launch of Sonic Lost World on Wii U and 3DS. Two of the most anticipated Sonic games in years, these new instalments have been subject to the usual level of hype which seems to surround any new adventure starring Sega's popular mascot. I've been swept up in this excitement too, and it has reminded me of just how significant the blue hedgehog has been in my own personal development as a gamer.

Back in the early 1990s, I was a gamer almost by accident. My dad was — and still is — massively into gaming, having lived through the days of the Atari VCS, Colecovision and Atari ST. It was he who purchased me a Japanese Sega Mega Drive system for Christmas, 1989 — the entry point for my unhealthy preoccupation with interactive entertainment.

The early years of ownership were typified by brilliant arcade-quality titles like Golden Axe, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Strider, ESWAT, Super Monaco GP and After Burner II, but despite the opulence of the visuals and the incredibly engaging gameplay, I still recall being vaguely jealous of my NES-owning chums. Having witnessed the unveiling of Super Mario Bros. 3 via the movie The Wizard — and having sampled the prequels when visiting friends — I was keen for my console to have a title capable of besting Nintendo's famous franchise. Aside from the likes of Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure — released in the west as Decapattack — there was little on the Mega Drive to challenge Mario's supremacy of the platforming genre.

Turns out I wouldn't have to wait long for that to change. The early screenshots of Sonic which appeared in magazines such as Computer & Video Games, Sega Power and Mean Machines kick-started a hype train which would gather a scary degree of momentum as the release approached. Back in the '90s, the time between a game's announcement and its release was much shorter than it is now, but even so, I recall the wait being almost unbearable. Sonic was everywhere you looked, and even before I had the cartridge in my hands I knew instinctively that I was going to fall head over heels in love with this new creation.

When I did eventually secure my copy — a second hand PAL version traded in by someone who had presumably finished it in the space of a week — my world contracted. I cared about nothing but playing Sonic endlessly, beating all of the levels and grabbing all of the Chaos Emeralds in the magical rotating bonus stages. I would gleefully invite my NES and Amiga-owning companions around so they could gawk jealously at the stunning visuals and incredible speed. My adoration bordered on obsession; I hooked up the Mega Drive to my stereo (thanks to that wonderful 3.5mm headphone socket on the MK1 machine) and recorded the audio while I was playing; I would then force family members to listen to the cacophony of beeps as if it were one of Mozart's lost works.

At school, my undying dedication to Sonic manifested itself in deranged doodlings; exercise books were covered in his likeness, and art projects usually revolved around the hedgehog hero. It must have been slightly bewildering for my teachers — almost all of which would have been blissfully unaware of Sonic's existence were it not for my enthusiastic pencil-and-paint renderings — but there was an added benefit to my actions at the time. My affection for the character undoubtedly helped me get through the first difficult few months at a new school (Saint Martin's RC High School, Stoke Golding — in case you were wondering), where I knew nobody yet managed to forge friendships based almost entirely on video gaming.

I struggle to remember the exact period of time now, but I remember Sonic the Hedgehog keeping me occupied like no other game before it. I played it for weeks on end and whenever we had distant relations over to visit it was always played on the TV in an attempt to impress them — which no doubt resulted in polite bemusement on their part. To me, Sonic represented everything that was appealing about video games and I couldn't comprehend why everyone else wasn't totally potty about him; he was cool (so cool I daydreamed about actually being Sonic, and fantasised about how much people would admire me if I was a three-foot blue animal with spikes and red shoes) and the game in which he starred was fast, exciting and seemingly a million miles away from the plump, moustached hero seen on Nintendo's consoles.

After such a whirlwind romance, it was almost inevitable that my affection would wane. Sonic 2 caught my attention — as did Sonic CD — but by the time Sonic 3 arrived I had well and truly lost interest. Super Mario World had forever changed my perception of what a 2D platformer could be; while it lacked the visual impact and sheer pace of Sega's offering, it was arguably a deeper and more rewarding experience overall. With the character largely sitting out the 32-bit era, it would fall to Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast to briefly resurrect my lapsed devotion — when it wasn't annoying me with its many bugs, of course. Since then, I've watched Sonic's career with casual interest rather than deep dedication; Lost World will hopefully change that, as I now have children of my own and will hopefully be able to see my past degree of obsession mirrored in their relationship with Sega's speedy protagonist.

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User Comments (66)

HyperSonicEXE

#6

HyperSonicEXE said:

Sonic 3 and Knuckles (the full Sonic 3) is as great a platformer as SMW. And the S&K logo on the black-toned merchandise back in the day was THE thing!
And as far as title screens go, you don't get much better than Sonic 2 or S&K standalone. Those are awesome.

kinkofer

#8

kinkofer said:

I started with Mario and my cousins started with Sonic. I think we were all jealous of each other, thinking there was something better that the other game had. I've stuck with Nintendo nonetheless, but I'm glad to see Sonic is still around.
@Damo I can relate to the school experience, I was pretty much the only kid who played video games growing up. Thanks for sharing!

readyletsgo

#10

readyletsgo said:

@antdickens so tomorrow morning when it's released? That's some embargo must say, going to get it either way I just really wanna read some reviews of it, taking forever :-)

Dreamcaster-X

#11

Dreamcaster-X said:

Sonic 2, 3 & Sonic/Knuckles are much better games than the 1st Sonic, not that it's bad at all but the sequels were much better in terms of mechanics and gameplay. The music in all the Genesis iterations are phenomenal though!!

unrandomsam

#13

unrandomsam said:

@Dreamcaster-X Sonic 2 is far too easy. (Why they stopped the Westerners having anything to do with 3 & Knuckles - even though they were working for Sonic Team USA).

unrandomsam

#15

unrandomsam said:

Hard for me to say which I like best out of CD and 3 & Knuckles because CD is ported in all the versions I have access to and the emulation is not good enough on 3 & Knuckles on any of the versions I own.

MetaRyan

#16

MetaRyan said:

Being my first real video games, I couldn't beat any of the 5 I got from my cousins (1-3, 3D Blast, Spinball) for years. Of course, I didn't figure out how to do a spindash for a while, and dat barrel... but they were still my favorite games for a long time.

unrandomsam

#17

unrandomsam said:

I think on the whole I prefer any of the other "Sonic Team" stuff.

(Most of the bad games have been Sonic ones).

Ristar / Billy Hatcher and my favourite Nights into Dreams. (Really like the look of Burning Rangers as well).

(Sonic Team doesn't seem to mean so much since Yuji Naka left.)

Rodeo the Sky Soldier I really want.

electrolite77

#19

electrolite77 said:

The original is still my favourite, which is why my optimism isn't high for Lost World, despite the Famitsu review. I must be a similar age to Damian as I can remember how huge Sonic was back in 91/92. It also evokes a nostalgia for that age (I was born in 1977) better than almost any other game which is funny.

My second favourite is the Game Gear version of the original. Sonic 2 was too easy, the Mega CD game good but a bit bloated, the DC/GC/360 games were dreadful , Lost Rings was underwhelming. A nod to the underrated Sonic R on the Saturn though, and Sonic Colours was good.

You never know, maybe Lost World is the one, the return to form....

rjejr

#20

rjejr said:

Sonic Adventure was my first and still favorite Sonic game (even though I'm apparently as old as Damo's dad, go figure.) First time I played it I hated it, couldn't get past the opening boss b/c I didn't know how to hit him. Maybe a year later I went back to it and figured it out and have been wanting more Sonic, and finding each one lacking, ever since. Though the daytime half of Unleashed was good. And Colors was god as well.

Really looking forward to this one, haven't seen anything bad yet.

And just for reference, I believe my first Mario game was Sunshine. SMG 1 and 2 are great, still don't like any of the 2D ones, and honestly, if you take nostalgia out of it, SM64 doesn't hold up that well either. I give it it's due though as the open world platformer that started it all.

ICHIkatakuri

#21

ICHIkatakuri said:

@FishieFish Sort of, I used to play Japanese games all the time on my PAL megadrive. The region locking was simply a different shaped cart and you had to file the cartridge socket at the edges to make it fit. Not every game worked though for some reason?

Squashy

#22

Squashy said:

@Damo Have you ever played the Master System versions of Sonic 1 & 2 Damien? In my opinion they're just as good as the Mega Drive versions!

retro_player_22

#23

retro_player_22 said:

Still got my Sonic Jam collection (for Saturn), Sonic Mega Collection (for GameCube), Sonic Gems Collection (for GameCube), Sonic Classic Collection (for DS) as well as the original Genesis games and love them all. I to am looking forward to Sonic Lost World.

Ryno

#25

Ryno said:

After the original I stopped caring about Sonic The Hedgehog and stuck with Nintendo and Playstation. 22 years later I am finally interested in Sonic again.

Kirk

#26

Kirk said:

I do like Sonic.

It's a pity I'm not convinced these new Sonic games are going to quite deliver.

I'm sure they'll be good but I'm just not sure they'll be good enough.

Wildfire

#27

Wildfire said:

This is only my opinion, but any from Sonic CD,Sonic 3 and Knuckles are way better than Super Mario World. I love Super Mario but Sonic was superior on the 16-bits. Also great article it made me remember the first time I've seen the blue blur and yeah!It was love at first sight! There I was glued to the shop window, looking at the tv where Sonic was blazing through Green Hill Zone! And that moment was enough to make me want a Mega Drive. Oh man! Those were the days!

audiobrainiac

#28

audiobrainiac said:

I loved sonic from day 1 as well. I really loved when u could see hints of him in other sega games such as seeing him swinging back and forth on the timer in the corner of the screen, or seeing his face on the side of a mountain, while driving a race car. He WAS everywhere. Loved Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush. I just couldn't get really deep in to the Sonic adventure series. LOVED Sonic Heroes. Had a lot of fun with that game on my gamecube. Sonic colors was pretty cool. To me Sonic Generations was a tease of an HD collection. (Wishful thinking). Hopefully, Sonic Lost world will breath some new life in to the blue blur.

Neram

#29

Neram said:

Great story, Damien! I was quite young when Sonic was released, so having the Blue Blur around seemed quite normal to me. However it wasn't until Sonic 3 came out that my mind was really blown. I rented it one time during summer holidays, only to have my perception of video games changed drastically up to that point. Everything from the sheer size of the game to the music captivated me. It truly felt like an adventure to be playing that game. Honestly, I don't think I've ever experienced that kind of thrill, that a sequel could be so grand in comparison to its predecessor, ever again.

mookysam

#30

mookysam said:

I was absolutely obsessed with Sonic when I was younger. I used to play Sonic 2 - which was my favourite game at the time - almost every weekend. After my Mega Drive died I went a little while without gaming until my Dad got me an N64, and I didn't play Sonic again until the Mega Collection came out on the Gamecube. Playing Mega Drive era Sonic brings back so many memories of my childhood and I still prefer 2D Sonic to 2D Mario. :-)

ednice

#31

ednice said:

If only the Sonic fanbase wasn't completely and utterly broken, I would finally have Sonic Adventure 3

LeVideoGamer

#33

LeVideoGamer said:

I used to be quite the Sonic fanboy, but that died after Sonic and the Secret Rings. It's a shame, really.

Anyway, looking forward to Lost World tomorrow. It might be better without them, but I would've enjoyed playing as Tails and Knuckles in the game.

unrandomsam

#37

unrandomsam said:

@FilmerNgameR I am surprised how much I liked Generations. (Other than only having 1 PC that can run it properly. It is poorly optimised.) Even more so that I liked the Modern levels so much. Just enough of the old style thrown into them.

unrandomsam

#38

unrandomsam said:

Great that I practiced a bit and then got it. (I suppose if you hate having to get better at games to fully appreciate them then you more than likely wouldn't like generations.) This looks like an incremental improvement to Generations (At least the PC version anyway).

rjejr

#40

rjejr said:

The review goes up at Midnight in the UK? So in about 15 minutes?

Guess I'll go eat dinner while I wait.

unrandomsam

#41

unrandomsam said:

@FishieFish Nearly everything works on the Jap Megadrive. (Sometimes in Japanese though. e.g Bare Knuckle 3 instead of Streets of Rage 3 etc). Most Genesis games up to a certain time point work on PAL and Vice Versa as well. (Other than the optimised 50hz ones).

Now it doesn't matter just do the switchless mod. (Needs a £0.9 PIC). You can switch between then. (Might even be easier to do the switchless mod than mod the cable if it is necessary for RGB. I know the Saturn one needs it.)

Volmun

#42

Volmun said:

Completed Sonic LostWorld! (1 hour ago) grate game Realy enjoyed it still need the Red star Rings thow and the time trials

LetsGoRetro

#43

LetsGoRetro said:

I missed out on sonic as a kid, but i honestly don't regret it. It was either miss out on Sonic or Link to the Past, Final Fantasy 2 & 3, Crono Trigger, Secret of Mana/Evermore, Act Raiser, Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Mega Man, Castlevania, Contra, SMW, Yoshi's Island, Breath of Fire 1 & 2, Lufia 1 & 2, Donkey Kong COUNTRY 1-3, Earthbound, Harvest Moon, Metroid, Mario Kart, etc etc etc. Genesis only owners missed out on SO MANY classic games that i actually used to feel bad for them as a kid. Even lesser known adventures like Robotrek & Brain Lord were better than most of the Genesis' offerings. oh, what a system...

OdnetninAges

#45

OdnetninAges said:

My first time playing Sonic was Sonic 3 & Knuckles on PC at elementary school.

At the time, the original Super Mario Bros. was my favorite and most played game, and I loved anything that had to do with Mario.

The same thing happened when I played Sonic 3&K, but to a bigger extent.

AugustusOxy

#46

AugustusOxy said:

I personally feel like Sonic 3 is an insanely over-rated game and Sonic Adventure was a unpolished masterpiece. With a bit more work, I'd say its as good, if not better than Mario 64. Deal with it.

Cohort

#47

Cohort said:

@FishieFish They also work on the SEGA Genesis, anything released before late 1993 should work (Except games that were published by Capcom or Konami, they are all locked out).

It didn't last very long as I think that SEGA stopped locking games in mid '94?

unrandomsam

#48

unrandomsam said:

Sonic 3 & Knuckles is badly emulated in any currently available version.

Still think the best thing Sonic Team ever did was Nights into Dreams.

(Nights into Dreams / Sonic Adventure 2 / Sonic CD are all great with the current PC versions and a suitable pad. (Sonic CD Needs a fightpad or usb saturn pad (The fake ones are not good enough).)

unrandomsam

#49

unrandomsam said:

@Cohort Some of the later ones are 50hz optimised though. PAL Thunderforce IV for example. (Right speed but less lag due to it being 50hz).

unrandomsam

#50

unrandomsam said:

(Really wish there were English versions of the remakes of stuff like Phantasy Star for the Saturn. That series of basically just perfect versions looks ace other than them being Jap)

GreatPlayer

#51

GreatPlayer said:

I don't know about Mario 4 being better than Sonic 2 or 3. Sonic gives you the adrenaline rush that Mario games don't.

FJOJR

#52

FJOJR said:

Sonic 3 & Knuckles is one of the best games I have ever played. It's the pinnacle of 2D Sonic games with the right amount of characters and the amount of content. Sonic Colors was the 1st 3D Sonic game in a while that had me think he was on his way back to his old glory.

unrandomsam

#53

unrandomsam said:

@FJOJR I think Sonic CD might be better. Certainly think it is better than the emulations of Sonic & Knuckles I have played.

I suppose the Sonic Jam version would be the fairest to compare against any of the modern Sonic CD versions.

(I only played the real thing at 50hz and the emulations of it are not that good. Whereas the ported recent versions of CD are really good).

GreatPlayer

#55

GreatPlayer said:

@unrandomsam I should try Sonic CD. I have never tried it. I thought Sonic Generations is pretty damn good (and I am going to try Sonic Colors).

There should be remake of Shining Force 3, originally from Saturn. I remembered I spent months incessantly playing all three episodes of Shining Force 3. They are what an RPG game should be.

TheBlueBlur

#57

TheBlueBlur said:

I've played like almost all Sonic games, but I found 06 to be difficult, and not to put a downer on the people that liked, the Sonic 4 series, but that game is just too short. But it's still a good game to me.

Cohort

#58

Cohort said:

@unrandomsam Thunderforce IV was released late 1993 like I said, pretty much everything released before then will work, obviously Konami + Capcom games wont (the Capcom games that were reprogrammed by SEGA do work though) and trying to play games that were only optimised for PAL regions on an NTSC machine is not a good idea, which is common sense really.

Obviously, not all games will work but a large portion of the Megadrive library does and vise versa.

Actually Sonic 3 is region locked, but if you use it in conjunction with the Sonic and Knuckles cart, it runs perfectly.

Nick555533

#60

Nick555533 said:

@TheBlueBlur Sonic can't play his own games. He's experiencing them in his world. See, there are 2 different worlds in gaming, us, and the fictional game characters that are in the game world. If you experience the adventure in the gaming world (the fictional world), it will be recorded in programming to be sent to the real world. Therefore, either you can't play the game, or you're not the blue blur, as you say you are. I knew you weren't Sonic, by the way. I like doing things the smart way.

Nick555533

#61

Nick555533 said:

@TheBlueBlur Sonic can't play his own games. He's experiencing them in his world. See, there are 2 different worlds in gaming, us, and the fictional game characters that are in the game world. If you experience the adventure in the gaming world (the fictional world), it will be recorded in programming to be sent to the real world. Therefore, either you can't play the game, or you're not the blue blur, as you say you are. I knew you weren't Sonic, by the way. I like doing things the smart way.

Muzikant

#62

Muzikant said:

@kinkofer I started with SMB1 on NES. My mom bought the system for $40 at a garage sale, along with a black and white tv in 1994. That was what hooked me on video games - mario. My cousins has SuperNES with SMW game, and that became the all-time favorite game for me. I even dreamed that I had that game, and I never did until I bought the Wii last year.
So far the only game that might get close, or might even surpass the Super Mario World, is Super Mario 3D World.
on the Wii, I ENJOY PLAying Newer Super Mario Bros Wii. www.newerteam.com

sdelfin

#66

sdelfin said:

-Inviting friends over to make them jealous? Not judging as I know people(and kids especially) do it, but I can't wrap my mind around the concept. My brain doesn't work that way. Though I originally wanted a Geneses(we were a Sega house primarily, getting The Master System early and NES late), I was going to hold off for an SNES until a friend of mine invited me over to play his Genesis(my first time playing). Whether he invited me over to share the fun or just to show off, I was happy all the same.

-Genesis FM-based music could be very good, and Sonic games generally had good music. I currently can't stop listening to the music from Castlevania Bloodlines. When Genesis music was done right, it was excellent.

-I played Sonic 2 a few months back, and just did two runs through Mario World(first as Mario, then as Luigi). Great games. I wouldn't say SMW or Sonic 2 or 3 are better or worse. They're just different. Certainly, SMW has more depth. That I will not argue. Nintendo was very good at adding depth at that time, while Sega was so good at straightforward, arcade-style gaming. Both are fine approaches. I find I tend to start having fun quicker with the Sonic games.

-Very nice story and I'm glad you shared it.

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