As the 1990s dawned and Nintendo soared, Sega desperately needed a new mascot. The video game company’s previous icon, floppy-haired moppet Alex Kidd, had failed to capture the public’s imagination. Naoto Ohshima, a designer and artist at Sega of Japan, had a better idea: an aggressive blue hedgehog named Sonic. Interestingly, Ohshima imagined Sonic as a fanged creature with a rock band and a human girlfriend. Sega lost the fangs, the band, and the girlfriend, but they kept the rest. And thus was launched a franchise that would eventually include television series, toys, toothpaste, and too many games to count, ranging from widely lauded to utterly lambasted. How did the character get so popular? Where did the franchise go wrong? And just where does the world famous hedgehog stand in the current gaming scene? Polygon’s Blake Hester answers these questions and more in an article called “Sonic The Hedgehog’s Long, Great, Rocky History.”
There is no better metaphor for the Sonic The Hedgehog franchise, Hester argues, than the giant Sonic balloon that occasionally appears in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The accident-prone inflatable has had numerous run-ins with trees and light poles, and it even managed to slightly injure a kid and a cop one unhappy day, but the darned thing keeps coming back. Sonic’s greatest champion in the early days was Sega of America’s Al Nilsen, a man so sold on the character’s “great gameplay” that he eagerly took part in publicity tours and challenged fans to side-by-side comparisons with Nintendo’s iconic Mario. Feeling that the franchise has been diluted with too many supporting characters, Nilsen is one of those who show dismay over Sonic’s current lowly state in the video game industry.
As the article details, the franchise did not always gracefully adapt to technological advances in gaming, and the plots of the games started becoming more convoluted with each passing sequel and spin-off. Recent games that were meant to redefine the character for a new era have met with widespread disdain from fans. And yet, through it all, Sonic’s current caretakers at Sega are optimistic for the character’s future and express a desire to win back the public’s trust. And Nilsen, despite his negative feelings toward latter-day entries in the franchise, agrees: “Sonic is not dead; he’s just out of the spotlight.”