Sega’s favourite mascot Sonic the Hedgehog is in the news again. Earlier this year, the blue speedster with the red sneakers caused an uproar when the trailer for his live-action film was released. Fans weren’t impressed with what they saw and the character’s design became the target of many memes.
Fortunately, Paramount Pictures listened to the criticism and went back to the drawing board, delaying the release of the film to rework the character. A leaked redesign of the new Sonic hit the net this week, and it looks far better than what was initially presented.
The mere fact that the studio took the feedback so seriously is testament to the blue hedgehog’s legacy and what he means to the gaming culture. At one point in the ’90s, it was a head-to-head battle between him and Mario over who was the more iconic figure in video gaming.
Of course, the Italian-American plumber held the advantage, having been around for 10 more years and being a part of the video game boom in the ’80s. Whether it was in Donkey Kong or the Super Mario series, the blue dungaree aficionado cemented himself not just as the face of Nintendo but also video gaming as a whole.
That said, Sonic owned the ’90s. With the Sega Mega Drive, aka Sega Genesis in the US, rivalling the Super Nintendo in popularity and sales, the company needed a flagship title and character.
Enter Sonic the Hedgehog and its two direct sequels. Gamers couldn’t get enough of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles’ need for speed, and Sonic-mania took over the world. It resulted in two animated series, comic books, merchandise and an unforgettable weekly segment on K-TV’s Power Edition where kids would phone in and scream “FORWARD, FORWARD, GRAB!” to manoeuvre the character controlled by another person in an effort to win prizes.
While Sonic spun away from all competitors, Mario continued to be a presence, even if his status wasn’t as high as what it was in the mid-’80s. Much like the adage “form is temporary and class is permanent”, the plumber bided his time and exploded in 1996 with Mario 64.
The game was on, as Mario and Sonic seemed poised to duke it out for their respective consoles. Unfortunately, as Mario gained momentum and every new title garnered more and more attention and plaudits, Sonic went the other way.
Sega released too many misfires and the character’s reputation suffered a major blow as a result. It also didn’t help that Sega stopped producing its consoles after the failure of the Dreamcast. Suddenly, Sonic wasn’t the face of a console anymore, but just another recognisable gaming character.
The hedgehog with an attitude never did say die, though, and he’s had a few successes in the past few years, namely Sonic Mania. While it’s a far cry from what Mario’s G.O.A.T. status, the speedster isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel, nor should he.
With the release of the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog film, starring Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic and Jim Carrey as Dr Robotnik, there’s an opportunity for the character to receive an additional PR boost. Even if the movie turns out terrible, it could become a cult classic—much like 1993’s Super Mario Bros., starring Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi. Look, it’s unlikely that Sonic will ever beat Mario in a popularity contest now, but it would be nice to see this rivalry reignited for a new generation of fans.