With over three decades of video game lore, there is a lot of content to draw on for Sonic’s story. Starting with Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis, there was a simple plot with little story told. But the original titles on Genesis fit nicely together as a trilogy. But after the Genesis era, things really started to fall apart for the blue hedgehog.
Fortunately, new games and movies have brought about a resurgence in Sonic’s popularity. But besides this popular new content, there are tons of comics and TV shows that all add to the story of Sonic the Hedgehog. If you want to learn more about Sega and their Sonic games, be sure to check out our guide on the Sonic the Hedgehog series.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s Story
Sonic’s story is a pretty simple one. As a blue hedgehog with super speed, he’s always fighting his nemesis Doctor Eggman. But in the early days, Eggman was actually called Doctor Ivo Robotnik in North America and Europe. The character was identical, but the name difference did cause confusion. Sega uses both Robotnik and Eggman but still considers Eggman the proper name.
Needless to say, Eggman serves as Sonic’s arch-nemesis and the main antagonist in most games. He is often shown trying to collect Emeralds, which gives him power. The exact power they provide differs depending on the story. However, they usually have little impact on the actual story. Eggman also has a large number of minions who are machines.
Over the years, a large cast of characters and sidekicks have joined Sonic, with Tails being one of the first additions. He is a fox with two tails that can fly and is often used as a partner to Sonic, like Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. There is also Amy Rose, who has made several appearances. She is a pink hedgehog that is often depicted as Sonic’s girlfriend.
Then there is Knuckles, who’s the most confusing character in the Sonic universe. As a short-backed echidna, he is sometimes portrayed as the villain, while other times, he fights alongside Sonic. The reason for this conflict? He holds Master Emerald, and Eggman tries to trick Knuckles into joining his side. Though he often ends up working with Sonic to defeat Eggman.
Early Game Story
The early games didn’t provide much in the way of story development. The games were fairly simple, with Sonic trying to defeat Eggman. However, later games added more characters and created more room for a story. As the games went on, designers made clear depictions and added metaphors. The biggest being Sonic and nature on the good side and Eggman’s destructive robot army on the other.
But Eggman is far more dastardly as he also tries to capture animals, which is why Sonic must defeat him. In the second game, Sonic teams up with Tails as they take on Eggman again as he tries to create the “Death Egg.” Sonic damages Eggman’s machine, which causes it to crash. At this point, Sonic and Tails think they have beaten Eggman but quickly learn that they have not.
In the third game, we first meet Knuckles, who is working with Eggman. Knuckles finally learns that Eggman has tricked him to get his Emerald. Upon learning this, Knuckles teams up with Sonic, who embarks on a quest to defeat Eggman. Sonic is able to defeat Eggman for good and returns the stolen emerald, effectively ending the original storyline.
The 3D Era
Sonic Adventures started the 3D era of Sonic games, where it, like many other games, was transitioning from 2D to a bulgier world. But Sonic Adventures does much more than look good. It explains the backstory of how the Knuckles clan sealed an evil being known as Chaos into an emerald. Knuckles serves as a protector of the emerald but fails.
From there, the story expands upon the lore from previous games. Eggman again is on a quest to collect the emeralds, and Knuckles is duped into helping him before eventually assisting Sonic and Tails. Going into the sequel, we get to see Eggman’s grandpa, who is frozen alongside Shadow, who is a hedgehog that manages to frame Sonic for his crimes.
Throughout Sonic Adventures 2, Sonic and his allies try to prove his innocence and take Eggman down. Eventually, Sonic is freed and takes down Shadow while Tails goes after Eggman. This is when they find out that the man they’ve been battling isn’t Eggman but his grandfather. Shadow changes sides and teams up with Sonic, Tails, and Eggman to save Earth.
After the first Sonic Adventures games, the series takes some strange turns but sticks to the same basic formula. Sonic tries to stop Eggman from taking over the world with Tails by his side. Knuckles is also present in most games and follows the same plot of switching sides. This continues through Sonic Heroes, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors.
The Modern Era
The first major shakeup in the Sonic series came with Sonic Generations, which saw a great blending of stories. The original Sonic from the first games meets up with the modern Sonic. Both are in 3D, but there is a distinct art style difference. This clash was caused by a rift created by Eggman finding a time meter while floating in outer space.
Sonic Generations ends with the defeat of Eggman and classic Sonic and Tails going back to their time. From there, the series goes back to the modern era with Sonic Lost World. The game takes a turn when Eggman loses control of his minions and tricks Sonic and Tails into teaming up with him. The game ends with Tails pretending to be under the control of these creatures and defeating Eggman.
Sonic Forces start with the world under Eggman’s control and Sonic’s friends leading a resistance movement. There is also a new character that you get to customize. The villain Infinite is wreaking havoc, and Sonic seeks out Shadow for help. With Shadow’s help, they manage to destroy the new Death Egg, the Deat Egg robot, and eventually take down Eggman.
The most recent game, Sonic Frontiers, brings an all-new story to the Sonic universe. It expands on the lore in previous 3D games. Sonic teams up with Sage, a creation of Eggman. Sage is best described as a hologram that is malfunctioning, causing her to switch sides. But before defeating Eggman, Sonic learns of the Ancients, a band of aliens that were drawn to Master Emerald.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s Origins
In the early 1990s, Sega was vying for market share against a fast-growing Nintendo. The company already had a lucrative arcade business and released The Master System in North America in 1986. But when Sega launched the Genesis in 1989, they knew something was missing. The console struggled at launch, and no marketing campaign alone could solve the problem.
What Sega needed was a Mario competitor. With the recent release of Super Mario Bros. 3, Sega needed a character that could not only be in a flagship game but also be the face of the franchise. Sega started a competition to create a new game that would embody the Genesis console. Naoto Ohshima, who did the artwork, and Yuji Naka, who did the programming for the actual game, were the winners.
The pair created a demo that highlighted the character as a fast-moving ball. After creating the demo and getting the green light from corporate, Ohshima and Naka were joined by Hirokazu Yasuhara, who would work as a designer. The little ball from the demo would undergo a number of changes until the designers came up with the blue hedgehog we know today.
Sonic’s appearance is supposed to be simple and cartoony to appeal to children, but it also presents a “cooler” alternative to the Italian plumber. After perfecting Sonic, the team went on to create other in-game characters like Doctor Eggman. Not only did Sega now have a flagship game, but they now had a mascot who they could use to market their entire brand.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s Rise to Fame
Sega released the first Sonic the Hedgehog game in June 1991 on the Genesis console. To the delight of Sega, the game did exactly what they expected, and sales of the console shot up. But what many people don’t realize is that the first Sonic the Hedgehog game wasn’t the first appearance of Sonic. During the development, Sega let its arcade division use the character in its arcade racer Rad Mobile.
Few noticed Sonic’s inclusion in the game. Unfortunately, it didn’t perform well because of its clunky gameplay. Fortunately, that was not the case for Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis, as critics and gamers adored the game. But Sega was far from done with the character as the company had plans to use him in other endeavors.
The next order of business was developing an 8-bit version of the game for the aging Master System and the Sega Game Gear handheld. However, the games were actually designed from the ground up to run on these low-powered consoles. But even with the step-down in power and graphics, the 8-bit version still received praise.
After the massive success of the first game, Sega obviously wanted more Sonic games. Both Naka and Yasuhara left their previous jobs and moved to Sega Technical Institute (STI) in America, where work was underway on Sonic sequels. The most notable addition to the game was Tails the fox who was created by Yasushi Yamaguchi.
Unfortunately, the development of the sequel title didn’t go quite to plan. The language barrier between the American team at STI and those still at Sega in Japan, including Ohshima, made work difficult. This eventually led to the two teams creating separate games rather than working on the same project.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was released on Genesis in November 1992 to widespread success, and it became clear that Sonic was more than a one-hit-wonder. But that left in limbo the game that the team in Japan was working on. Eventually, that game would release as Sonic CD in 1993. It introduced some new characters but was notable for its video cutscenes.
Sonic CD received critical success, but the fact that it required the CD attachment hampered its success. Not only was the added device costly, but few games used it. To have a Sonic cartridge for 1993, Sega released Sonic Spinball, a unique take on pinball. The game wasn’t great and suffered because most of the team was working on Sonic 3.
The End of a Generation
Sega realized that Sonic’s days on the Genesis were numbered. The console started showing its age with Nintendo’s release of the SNES. But they still had one big game up its sleeve. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was in development by STI for a while and received numerous design changes. But Sega eventually decided to split Sonic the Hedgehog 3 into two games.
In February of 1994, Sonic released Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis. It took much inspiration from the previous titles and included Tails. But a few months later, Sega released the second installment on a separate cartridge titled Sonic & Knuckles. Despite being part of the same game, it introduced Knuckles as an antagonist.
Sonic and Knuckles had a slot at the top of the cartridge where players could attach Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Once stacked, you could play the two games in unison, and they even unlocked extra content. Both games racked up massive sales for Sega, but the company knew it was time to move on.
Besides Sonic’s Genesis appearances, he was also in a number of smaller titles. As mentioned, Sonic the Hedgehog was remade as an 8-bit game for the Game Gear and Master System. But Sonic the Hedgehog 2 saw a similar 8-bit revision for the Game Gear and Master System. These consoles also received other titles like Sonic Spinball.
Sonic Triple Trouble and Sonic Drift came out in 1994 since Sonic 3 was not remade. Additionally, Sega made numerous arcade games that featured Sonic and the other characters from his universe. Much like Sega CD, the 32X accessory was never widely adopted. However, it did receive a Sonic spinoff titled Knuckle’s Chaotix.
The Next Generation
Things in the world of Sonic changed dramatically after the first three titles. Sega switched focus to their new Saturn console. With some major development shakeups, work soon began on Sonic 3D Blast. It used ideas previously devised during the development of Sonic 3, such as using an isometric design like Super Mario RPG.
The game was released in 1996 on the Genesis. But Sonic 3D Blast was unlike its predecessors as it took a slower approach. The game was also adopted as Sonic Blast on the Game Gear and Master System. The team at STI was also working on Sonic X-treme for the Saturn console, but the game was eventually canceled in 1996. Sega later ported 3D Blast to Saturn as the only main Sonic game on the console.
Sega also tried porting the other Sonic games to the console in a bundle called Sonic Jam, which was well received. The company also tried its hand at a racing game titled Sonic R, which received a lot of criticism. Both games came out in 1997, but the damage to Sonic himself was already done, and Sega was ready to jump ship on the Saturn.
In 1998 Sonic Adventure came out on the Sega Dreamcast, but a lot had changed in the gaming world since Sonic’s last major hit. The PlayStation and Nintendo 64 popularized 3D graphics, and gamers had high expectations. Then, Sonic Adventure 2 came out in 2001 with great success, but it was the final game released on a Sega console.
Sonic the Hedgehog After Sega Consoles
After Sega announced that they were no longer in the console business, they continued developing Sonic games for other consoles. They started by releasing some of their previously exclusive titles on other consoles like the GameCube. After the initial launch of games like the Sonic Advance series (which were just rebranded Sonic the Hedgehog titles), Sonic Shuffle, and Sonic Pinball Party, Sega still struggled.
Sonic games still weren’t selling as well as they once did, and Sega couldn’t find a working formula. Over the years, Sonic went back and forth between 2D and 3D, much like Mario has. Over the years, Sega did see success with titles like Sonic Unleashed and the Mario and Sonic at the Olympics crossover. But one of its best titles is the recently released Sonic Frontiers which is the first title set in an open world.
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