It's no secret that Mario was the undisputed king of the platformer. He still is, but until Sonic turned up in his debut, Mario had no equal, nothing that could hold a candle to his genius. With Sonic, SEGA had crafted a faster, sleeker, better looking rival. Colours were vibrant, levels were massive in comparison, and gamers were hooked. From the first few notes of Green Hill Zone, we knew we were in for a ride.
And what a ride! Each level felt different to the last. Green Hill was all green and blue, in comparison to the dusky Spring Yard Zone, and the mechanical factory of Scrap Brain Zone. Add in an underwater Labyrinth, and a nighttime run through Starlight Zone. Each level culminated in a boss fight against Dr. Robotnik, in boss fights that were different, and challenging. At least the first time you played them.
1991 was also the year that Sonic debuted on the Master System, and whilst I personally prefer that game to the MD one (mainly due to the fact that it was my first experience of the blue speedy wonder), there's no denying that it got left behind in the wake of the 16-bit version's popularity. Even then, the only shared items between the two were the characters, and a couple of level names. Boss fights were different, level layouts were different, and you had to find Chaos Emeralds in levels instead of through horrible Special Stages that have not aged at all well.
Sonic the Hedgehog's popularity can still be seen now. The Archie comic is the longest running video game comic ever in the US, and the Fleetway edition published in the UK ran for an impressive 200+ issues, even if they were mostly reprints in the end. Shower bottles, spaghetti shapes, clothing, house furniture. You name it, Sonic's been on it. Without Sonic, SEGA's fight against Nintendo in the 90s would've been entirely different.
Twenty years later, and Sonic is still fighting. Not against Nintendo, but against a run of bad form. If SEGA can recapture his prime from 20 years ago, Sonic could once again become a powerhouse in the platforming genre. But as it stands, RadioSEGA's Game of the Month for June 2011 can only be one game.
Happy 20th Birthday - Sonic the Hedgehog.
Requests between 5th May and 12th May