In 13 days, Sonic the Hedgehog is turning 25 years old. That’s something crazy to think about – I still remember the first time I spotted the hedgehog, running wildly in the Marble Zone on a game kiosk in a department store that no longer exists, my parents probably silently hoping that it wouldn’t become yet another childhood obsession.
In the build up to this gaming milestone, we’ve been slowly getting a trickle of hedgehog-related news: the latest Fire & Ice trailer, Sonic in Lego form, Archie’s next Sonic Special. While we wait on baited breath for the next big Sonic game reveal, Jun Senoue and Wave Master have given us more information on the next soundtrack release regarding the fastest thing alive. On Jun’s “Believe in Myself” column over at Japan’s Sonic Channel, the official track list for the 2-CD, 1-DVD set has been revealed, celebrating the entire scope of the Sonic gaming franchise.
In the Sonic Internet community, there have been few stories that have captured the imagination like the tale of Sonic the Hedgehog 3‘s music. With a feel unique from the previous two entries in the series, the discussion of just who composed what have filled untold pages of conversation for well over a decade.
The reason behind that infatuation? Michael Jackson, one of the biggest pop stars of all time. A man who not only defined a decade with the release of Thriller, but also unknowingly inspired the belt buckle of Sonic’s shoes. The idea that a musical icon that large was connected to the gaming sensation of the 90’s in any way was incredibly tantalizing. It wouldn’t be long before audio files, YouTube videos, and snippets of interviews would fill in the gaps. From Qjimbo to GameTrailers, everyone sought to find the answer to what seemed the impossible – confirmation that the King of Pop had been involved in the soundtrack of Sonic 3 at some point, as SEGA’s official line to this day has been to deny or leave no comment.
While it has been almost certainly determined that Michael Jackson was not only involved but that some of his contributions made it to the cartridge, the Huffington Post’s Test Kitchen released today a brand new look at the entire Sonic 3 Jackson story. From what happened behind the scenes to the fandom’s unending interest in the truth, “The Michael Jackson Video Game Conspiracy” by Todd Van Luling covers it all.
With new interviews from Roger Hector, Doug Grigsby III, Brad Buxer, Cirocco Jones and Matt Forger, to comments from Ben Mallison and Steven Nipper that illuminate the community’s part in the story, the article is definitely worth a read for those with even a passing interest in the subject matter.
The only question I’m left with is…who has ever called a Sonic fan a “Blue?”
The Dreamcast era was a special moment for many a SEGA fan. At the time, it was the company’s last great hope, but soon transformed into its swan song. For fans of the SEGA brand, even if the system had no hope on tackling the PlayStation behemoth, it was an unbridled time for ingenuity and creativity. One of the draws for the company had always been its lack of fear when it came to innovation, and games like Jet Set Radio and Phantasy Star Online were offerings other players at the time just couldn’t provide.
Of course, the return of Sonic the Hedgehog as a full-fledged icon was more than welcomed. It was the hedgehog that drew many people to the system in the first place. How many would have played through Streets of Rage or Ecco the Dolphin if they had not first bought a Genesis to run through the one video game that could take on Mario? That’s what made the unexpected arrival of Sonic Dreams Collection all that more alluring. The website in which the unassuming program was released sets the stage: that during the prime of SEGA’s developmental creativity, a small, previously unheard of studio within the halls of the company wanted to use the Sonic brand in all sorts of wild, new, game-changing directions.
SEGA’s mascot had already been in numerous platformers, a handful of racers, a fighting game, a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The idea that he could have been the face of numerous off-the-wall concepts is not all that far fetched, especially considering the time and place. Loading up the Arcane Kids offering was nearly irresistible, and once going through it, well…
Sonic Dreams Collection might be the greatest Sonic the Hedgehog game of the past decade.
When news of a new Sonic fan film hit from out of the blue, I must admit, I got way more excited than any normal human being should. Sure, we’ve had some recent projects come out of the pipeline like the yearly Christmas tradition of Sonic and the gang doing holiday-type-things, the Sonic Prologue animated short (that I’ll sadly admit to not having watched) and more than one Sonic.exe film (which I’ll gladly admit to not having watched), but they didn’t capture my imagination like that one magical moment a few years back. When Jim Sass, Richard Kuta, and Eddie Lebron all threw their hat in the ring at once, trying to create Sonic fan films with very different goals in mind.
Their legacies, only history will know for sure. But ever since that triple knuckled punch, I’ve remained pretty quiet on the subject, at least when it comes to writing about fanfilms on the front page of Retro. But when I was linked The Hedgehog, and saw that initial poster of an awkward teenager sitting upon a merry-go-round dressed as Sonic, I knew I had to watch it posthaste. And moreso, talk about it. Did that enthusiasm last after I watched the short? Well, not in the same way, I can safely say. But before you read what I thought, go ahead and watch it for yourself. A brief warning, even though there’s nothing violent or sexual in it, the film is definitely not targeted towards kids, so hide them away for seven minutes.
We all know the story. 19 years ago, everyone was getting super excited about the upcoming release of Sonic X-treme, which would mark Sonic’s first fully three dimensional adventure. Long story short, the game was never released, and the Sega Saturn always had a hole in its library, no main Sonic title ever being released.
While bits and pieces of what the game would have been have leaked/been released over the the years, last November JollyRodger showed up with a plethora of material from defunct gaming studio Point Of View, including the source code for a variety of Sonic X-treme builds on both the Saturn and the PC. Being as the code could only run natively on hardware very few people have access to, Jolly took it upon himself to begin the process of porting the code to modern PC’s. Earlier tonight, the first public release of this labor of love was been released, “version 037” of X-treme now fully operational.
Sonic X-treme. Just the name can send a shiver up the spine of anyone who anxiously awaited the release of the game, reading the Red Shoe Diaries over and over again, trying to dissect each screenshot and guess what obstacles were in store for each new zone. Meant to be Sonic’s first foray into the world of 3D gaming, the title was quietly cancelled during 1996, a Sega Saturn port of Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island filling the hole in scheduling. For years, speculation ran wild as to what happened, and over time many of those involved in the project have spoken about it, including Chris Senn who created an entire compendium chronicling the development history of the game.
But with all we’ve come to discover in the last 18 years, there are still aspects that have been hidden away, the most glaring being how it would feel to hold a controller in your hands and move Sonic about in his fish-eye world. The only playable build thus far had been the test arena from Christina Coffin’s boss engine, a green hill-esque terrain with not much more than random Flickies populating a finite plane with no end goal. That, however, is about to change in a very big way.
Long before Sonic the Hedgehog was their mascot, SEGA was known the world over for their fantastic arcade outings. Space Harrier. Hang On. Out Run. Each game compelled whatever young mind was near to slide quarter after quarter into the cabinet, keeping the company relevant even while their home content, featured on the Sega Master System, was overtly eclipsed by the competition. Finally finding success in the console market in 1991 didn’t slow the videogame maker from producing titles for the arcade circuit, but it did raise the question of whether or not SEGA would deliver Sonic outside of the Mega Drive, making those crazy about The Most Famous Hedgehog In The World to venture outside the home and hunch over a static arcade cabinet.
Wanting to exploit the character that was to define them, SEGA was immediately aware of the demand. In 1991, they released a pair of early games exclusive to arcades, Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car and its spiritual successor, SegaSonic Cosmo Fighter Galaxy Patrol, two early attempts that were geared directly at a younger demographic. The first two 16-bit titles would also be retooled for arcade consumption, released on the Mega Play platform where players were given the same levels as the home version but with far shorter time limits.
It wasn’t until 1993 that the first dedicated arcade experience featuring the hedgehog was released, the aptly titled SegaSonic the Hedgehog. One look at the title screen made it clear it wasn’t just a rehash of home content, featuring two brand new characters joining Sonic in an isometric world where players had to use a trackball to get Sonic and his friends out of the never-ending trouble following them. Released at the height of Sonic’s popularity, the game was virtually ignored, in part because it was almost exclusively a Japanese title. Those few that were exported to the west came with Japanese vocals and text intact, and as such was overlooked by the writers of both Sonic comic books being published at the time.
If you are an avid reader of our sister site SEGAbits (and if you aren’t, shame on you), you more than likely read a news article from last month announcing the “Surviving the Dreamcast Apocalypse: SEGA Fans in the 21st Century” panel that will be part of the TooManyGames convention. That’s right, three days of video game insanity at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA, and right smack dab in the middle? A panel by SEGA fans, for SEGA fans. On June 28th, at the stroke of noon, all eyes will turn on SEGAbits Admin/Writer Barry the Nomad, “My Life With SEGA” creator A.J. Rosa, and The Website of the Dead owner Kori-Maru. There will be all sorts of SEGA discussion, reflecting on the moment where the company that ruled our childhoods forever changed, plus never before seen clips from A.J. that’ll be sure to dazzle. But how can you have a panel about SEGA and not touch on Sonic at some point?
Sonic Retro’s own David The Lurker (oh wait, that’s me) will also be there spooling a tale that is both familiar and strange. If you have the entire wiki memorized, you won’t be shocked by anything I have to say, but featured therein will be THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE HIDDEN PALACE ZONE, a trip down memory lane as we reflect on the one level that has captivated the minds of hardcore fans since it was teased in magazines way back in 1992. Missing from the final product, it inspired a legion of fans to create a Sonic Internet community that would have been vastly different had Craig Stitt’s baby made it into the final version. There’s a reason that “Master Emerald” still hides out in our logo.
So if you’re in the Greater Philadelphia area, or have the urge to travel, you can still register to get in. Be it one day or all three, I promise it’ll be a wild and crazy time. And if not…well, the Angry Video Game Nerd will be at the same convention. You can always go bother him afterwards.