It all began 20 years ago, when a blue hedgehog raced out of our game consoles and into our hearts in the first Sonic the Hedgehog game. Today we celebrate Sonic's 20th birthday with a look back at his long and illustrious--though slightly confusing--career.
As I've grown up, Sonic has grown up with me, so I wanted to take a moment to address you directly, Sonic the Hedgehog, and to say just what you've meant to me.
The Beginning: 1991-1997
Everything was so simple in the early days. It was just you, running free and destroying robots to liberate the animals that had been trapped inside them by the evil Dr. Robotnik. You know, normal hedgehog stuff. The fast, fun pace of your game, along with the great art and sound design, won you millions of fans from the very start and put you right up there with the greats like Mario and Pac-Man.
Things stayed good for a few years. In 1992 you met your best friend Miles "Tails" Powers, a superfast fox with two tails. (Do you live near a nuclear-waste dump, by the way?) In 1994, you took your first steps into 3D in the bonus levels of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and you met your best frenemy Knuckles the Echidna in the game Sonic and Knuckles.
Back then everybody seemed to love you; even a certain famous plumber couldn't break your stride. Every time Sega put out new hardware--even ill-fated missteps like the expensive Sega CD accessory, which added a CD drive and $300 to the cost of the Sega Genesis--you were there, and you were awesome.
The 3D Years: 1998-2002
Then your adventures started taking on an added dimension. The first signs of what was to come showed up in 1998's Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. You personally managed the transition to 3D very well, but gamers were confused by Sega's choice to devote large amounts of time in a game called "Sonic Adventure" to adventuring with characters not named Sonic the Hedgehog. Instead players took on the role of Amy Rose, your biggest fan and a pink hedgehog with an unexplained giant mallet. Or Big the Cat, who let players follow the exciting exploits of a large feline that really liked fishing.
Sonic, things were starting to get really confusing. You were moving away from what made us love you.
Out of Control: 2003-2010
This is the time the drugs kicked in. Or so we assume, anyway, because things got really weird. Your whole life seemed as if it were going at about 1000 miles per hour, and not in the cool, good way that was usually the case. It was moving in a bad, motion-sickness kind of way. You started ditching your old friends and hanging out with new faces: evil, sexy bat jewel thieves, robot pirate captains. But these pals, too, were quickly discarded in the search for a quick hit.
By my count you've now starred in four different cartoon shows, your own long-running comic book, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 separate Sonic games. All of these projects have their own overlapping but mutually exclusive cast of characters, including three separate evil versions of you, two separate origin stories for your mom--one of whom looks disturbingly like you in drag--and a time-traveling silver hedgehog from the future with psychic powers. I really, really wish I were making some of this up.
The rotating cast of characters, now well into the triple digits, has gotten totally out of control. Recently, Shadow the Hedgehog, an edgy version of you with guns, even got his own starring turn in a game.
A Return to Form: 2011
These days everybody seems to be waiting for your big comeback, and the folks at Sega are apparently trying to oblige. In preparation for your twentieth-birthday celebration, Sega has been hyping Sonic Generations, a new title that combines a modern Sonic game with the option to play as "Classic Sonic," with the 2D gameplay that made you famous. Time will tell if this is the game that finally brings back the Sonic we love--but even if things never go back to the way they were, we'll always have the good times. Happy Birthday, Sonic the Hedgehog.