“Sonic the Hedgehog” an imperfect, yet iconic series

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First Posted: 11/2/2014

This week marks the second feature on a video game “family tree” provided to me by Plusnet, a British internet service provider.

Last time I looked at “Super Mario Bros.”, the series that put video games on the map and (arguably) is still synonymous with the term.

Mario, however, has a rival that is often a blue blur as he races across the screen.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” first zoomed onto Sega Genesis on June 23, 1991. Developed by the Sonic Team and published by Sega, the franchise featured Sonic, a blue hedgehog that introduced a whole new level of speed to video games. Story-wise, it’s simple — the evil Dr. Ivo Robotnik (or “Eggman”, as he is referred to by some) is trying to steal the six Chaos Emeralds and has trapped animals inside robots to do his deeds.

Sonic comes in to chase down Robotnik, while freeing the animals from their robotic confines.

The game’s mechanics were simple. Players navigate Sonic from left to right across levels (called “side-scrolling”), collecting rings and jumping on any robot in the way. Special zones gave Sonic the chance to get those Chaos Emeralds. Sonic eventually finds his way to Dr. Robotnik’s lair, and depending on whether the player had collected all of the Chaos Emeralds determined whether or not they receiving the “good” or “bad” ending.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” holds a very special place with me as a gamer. It was one of the first video games I played, along with the iconic and controversial “Mortal Kombat.” I remember many late nights with my brother, Josh, and watching him play in amazement.

That fondness for the series carried over to “Sonic the Hedgehog 2”. First released on Nov. 24, 1992, the game brings Sonic back to pursue Dr. Robotnik — this time, Sonic is accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Miles “Tails” Prower. The game added a 7th Chaos Emerald to capture, along with a new “Spin Dash” ability to make the fast series even faster.

If the player collects all 7 Chaos Emeralds, Sonic can turn into “Super Sonic” — in that form, he can move even faster through the levels.

If there’s one game (or games) that truly define the series, it has to be “Sonic the Hedgehog 3” and “Sonic & Knuckles”. “Sonic 3” was released on Feb. 2, 1994, while “Sonic & Knuckles” was released later that year on Oct. 18, 1994.

“Sonic the Hedgehog 3” introduced Knuckles the Echidna to the series, whom Dr. Robotnik tricks into his service. “Sonic and Knuckles”, however, gives players the opportunity to play as Knuckles — he can’t jump as high as Sonic, but he’s just as fast, can glide and has a different path through the levels than his blue rival.

I have been a devout Knuckles fan ever since.

The neat thing about “Sonic the Hedgehog 3” and “Sonic & Knuckles” is the pair were initially supposed to be one complete game. Time and money constraints prevented that from happening, and instead, “Sonic and Knuckles” had special “lock on” technology in its game cartridge.

You connected your “Sonic 3” cartridge to the “Sonic and Knuckles” cartridge, and the two games combined into one.

“Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles”, as I like to call it, is the game that got me into gaming. To this day, the game stands as one of my all-time favorites, and I still like to play it on occasion. Unlike “Super Mario Bros.”, I’m pretty good at “Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles” — I can have almost all of the 7 Chaos Emeralds within the first 2 levels, along with an unspeakable number of lives and continues.

Not to brag, of course.

Unfortunately for Sonic, the rest of his franchise has not been nearly as successful as his rivals over at Nintendo. I can’t speak on the handheld games having not played them. More recent titles such as “Sonic and the Secret Rings” and “Sonic Unleashed” have tried to incorporate Sonic in a third-dimensional way, and the games have been panned by critics as a result.

Sega has tried to get back to its roots with “Sonic the Hedgehog 4” episodes 1 and 2. The games follow the same principal as the original on the Sega Genesis, but with today’s visuals and some extra features.

The games are admirable attempts to get Sonic back into the spotlight, but just don’t have that same magic. Sonic somehow feels lighter than he did, and games aren’t as fast as they could be. If they would make a new Sonic game with the old-school graphics, and maybe with some new bells and whistles, I’m sure fans everywhere would be thrilled.

I know I would.

Sonic, however, did appear in “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” in 2008, where he could face off against none other than Mario himself. I played that very match time and time again, and Sonic always wins.

Despite Sonic’s limited time in the limelight, he’s still an iconic character and one of the most recognized franchises in the industry.

Here’s to hoping that maybe someday, Sonic will speed his way into a new era of glory.