Over the years, Sonic the Hedgehog has appeared on many different video game systems. He started on Sega’s consoles before moving on to star in game for Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft systems. During the 1990s, he also starred in several arcade games, but most of them were never released in the United States, the lone exception being Sonic the Fighters, and even that did not become widely available to players in North America until it was included in Sonic Gems Collection in 2005. One arcade with Sonic that did not make it to North America was SegaSonic the Hedgehog, released in 1993 in Japan and Europe. This game would introduce two lesser-known characters in the Sonic universe and would feature isometric stages much like those found in Sonic 3D Blast. Today, I will tell you more about what is known as one of Sonic’s least-known games.
The game featured three playable characters, all of whom had been captured by Dr. Robotnik (known as Dr. Eggman here, since it was his Japanese name at the time and would not be used in games released outside of Japan for another six years) and imprisoned on his trap-filled island. Sonic the Hedgehog was, of course, the world’s fastest hedgehog. Mighty the Armadillo was known for being quite strong. Ray the Flying Squirrel was the other new character introduced in the game. Mighty would make one other appearance in the Sega 32X game Knuckles Chaotix, while Ray has not appeared in any other Sonic games to date. However, both characters continue to make occasional appearances in Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic book.
All three characters shared the same controls and powers, and the player would move them around using a trackball and press an action button to have them perform the famous spin attack. Each button and trackball would be of a different color to match one of the playable characters. Sonic could be controlled with a blue trackball and button, Mighty would be manipulated with a red trackball and button, and Ray would be controlled with a yellow trackball and button. The use of a trackball, however, proved to be rather problematic, and as a result, the game was kept off of Sonic Gems Collection and will likely not be released on any home console anytime soon.
As for the game play, it was similar to that featured in other Sonic games in that there were rings to collect, traps to avoid, and the main objective was to make it to the end of the stage. There were some aspects of the game that made it stand out from other older Sonic games, however. The goal was to move through the isometric courses as swiftly as possible while avoiding lava, boulders, and other hazards. The characters also had a health bar, and if they took damage, they could restore their health by collecting rings. There were seven stages in all, as well as a single boss fight.
The game is notable for being the first in the Sonic series to include voices for every character. The voices were in Japanese, and oddly enough, they were never translated into English, even when the game showed up in English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom. It would be several years before voice acting in Sonic games became a lot more common. Cut scenes were also utilized, and they showed Eggman looking at a map showing where Sonic and his friends were at while planning to destroy the three characters. These, too, have become more commonplace in many Sonic games starting with those released on the Dreamcast.
As for other features, this would be the first Sonic game to include an ice level, known as Icy Isle. Other Sonic games such as Sonic 3 and Sonic Adventure would also incorporate ice levels. At the end of the game, Sonic and his friends had to escape from the last level, Eggman’s Tower, within twenty seconds, or else the game would be over. While the typical Eggman model was used in the game, but some game tiles exist that contain the Robotnik model used in the Sonic SatAM animated series. It is believed that if the game had been released in North America, this model of Sonic’s longtime archenemy would have been used. Indeed, an Americanized version of Robotnik was being used at the time in comics, cartoons, and promotional art. By the end of the 1990s, however, the Japanese variation of the wicked doctor would be featured in all Sonic-related media released all over the world.
The game did make one appearance in North America-at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas-but then it failed to materialize in any North American arcades. For a few years, the only other source of information on the game available in North America was a preview found in Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine, complete with rather low-quality screen shots. In recent years, more of the game has been revealed to players outside of Japan thanks to various websites as well as video footage posted on YouTube. However, the details and videos are probably the closest to experiencing the game that many Americans will ever get, since until and unless Sega can make it so that the trackball-based controls can be handled rather well on modern consoles, it will probably never see the light of day anywhere in North America.
As a longtime Sonic fan, I would have wanted to check out the game, if only once, to see if the isometric courses would be better than those found in the awful Sonic 3D Blast. I would have likely gotten used to the trackball controls after a while, and it would have been neat to see Mighty and Ray, two lesser-known Sonic characters, in action. Additionally, I find it strange that Sega never bothered to translate the game into English before releasing it in Europe. Certainly the game would be easy enough to understand even without an English translation, but the lack of English dialog outside of Japan feels rather odd. This is probably one of if not the most least known Sonic games outside of Japan, and some sort of release in North America would be welcome. Maybe a reissue to commemorate Sonic’s 20th anniversary next year should be in order, perhaps with improved controls. Alas, it seems unlikely that Sega will re-release the game in any part of the world anytime soon.
Sonic arcade games such as SegaSonic the Hedgehog are largely unknown outside of Japan, and that is a shame because they would have likely been praised as much as Sonic’s Genesis games. If the arcade game had gotten a wider release, would Mighty and Ray be recurring characters in Sonic games today? Would the isometric courses receive more acclaim than criticism unlike Sonic 3D Blast? Would Sonic be as much of a superstar in the arcades as he is on home consoles? We will never know the answers to any of these questions. What I do know, however, is that this is one more game with a beloved character that should have had a North American release, but Sega did not bring it out here. Therefore, we will never find out just how good or bad of a Sonic game it was.