Charting The Tragic Decline Of Sonic The Hedgehog

When Sonic was first revealed in Sonic: The Hedgehog with the newly-launched Sega Genesis system in 1991, it looked as if Sega finally put together a mascot capable of dethroning Mario. When it comes to video game mascots, Mario is probably the one most people think of right away, and there are a few good reasons for that: good development, marketing strategies, and a rich backstory. Unfortunately for Sega, they never achieved the same level of popularity with Sonic the Hedgehog, and the reasons why are fairly obvious in hindsight.

What happened to Sonic The Hedgehog? It's a fair question. He was pretty hot at one time, and even though Sega no longer makes its own hardware following the flop that was the Dreamcast, Sonic is still around and making games. The character has been floating between consoles and other platforms for decades, but never really seemed to land anywhere.

The rise and fall of Sonic can be seen as a cautionary tale for future developers, given the amount of money and work that went into the character and his creation. He has even popped up on rival consoles, including those made by Nintendo. The tragic decline of Sonic the Hedgehog is a tale filled with poor marketing decisions, ridiculous makeovers, and an overall failure to judge the market.

  • Sonic Was Created To Be Sega's Chief Mascot

    Sonic Was Created To Be Sega's Chief Mascot
    Video: YouTube

    When the Sonic the Hedgehog video game was first introduced, mascots were especially important, as they represented an ideal image for a company (and of course, sold games). Nintendo was able to define their nascent brand with Mario, who began simply as Jumpman in Donkey Kong. By crafting a back-story, giving him a green-suited brother, and establishing him with a name, Nintendo effectively linked several of their product lines into one cohesive series of games, making them easier to market and sell. Wherever you saw Nintendo's logo, there was Mario, and Sega understood that.

    Sonic was an instant success for Sega. He helped to push sales of their new hardware and excited gamers with his new franchise potential. The character has been featured in video games, comics, cartoons, and just about any other form of media out there. Combined, he has been attached to more than 80 million physical game sales, and much more when packaged with digital sales.

    Back in 1991, Sega had digital gold on their hands. All they had to do to capitalize on this was to build more games with the character without screwing it up. Unfortunately, they didn't handle it well, and Sonic became something of a laughingstock in the gaming community.

  • At The Sonic Peak, Real-Life Sonic Shoes Were In Production

    The little blue guy can run really fast, which means he needs some good, comfortable shoes. Seeing as the extreme sports boom of the early 2000s was helping to drive the marketplace, Sega inked a deal with Artemis Innovations, Inc. in 2001 to help capitalize on Sonic's speed and athleticism. 

    The company ended up going bankrupt only a few years after the deal with Sega, and the whole venture was a massive loss for the company. The plan was to create both real-world and digital pairs of shoes dubbed "Soap," which featured a hard plastic indent in the sole to help the wearer grind rails as if they were skating.

    The shoes made their appearance in digital form when Sonic Adventure 2 hit the shelves. This new deal essentially allowed a player to purchase and wear the very same shoes their video game hero, Sonic the Hedgehog, wore. It didn't really work out for anyone, and the shoes were discontinued. 

  • Sonic Received An Anime Makeover

    Sonic Received An Anime Makeover
    Video: YouTube

    When you get right down to it, Sonic was perfect for animation. He was essentially a blank canvas that could be construed in a variety of different ways, by multiple creators. His trademark (and only) characteristic is heroism, so his personality could be created from scratch. This is probably why he's been featured in six different cartoons. Back in 2003, he received the anime treatment when Sonic X aired for a full 52-episode season.

    The new series followed the adventures of the many anthropomorphic animals of Sonic's universe after they are accidentally transported to Earth from their home world. Sonic then goes on a quest to find his lost friends with the aid of a young boy named Chris Thorndyke, while the pair battle the nefarious Doctor Eggman. Sonic X characters would go on to appear in additional video games, a trading card game, and a companion comic book series.

    Overall, taking the character and introducing him to the anime format wasn't a bad move for the company, seeing as Sonic X was consecutively the number one program in its timeslot. However, success was relatively short-lived, as the series went off the air in 2006.

  • Sonic Adventure 2 Attempted To Merge Three Different Game Genres

    Sonic Adventure 2 Attempted To Merge Three Different Game Genres
    Photo: Sega / Amazon

    When Sonic the Hedgehog debuted, the game was a simplified 2D platformer, and it was incredibly successful. Sega saw what Nintendo was able to do with Mario - converting him to the 3D space with Super Mario 64 - and they decided to give it a shot. Sonic Adventure 2 had a lot going for it when it was released. It came out on the Dreamcast, which showcased hardware with increased capabilities compared to its rivals, and featured games released on compact disk.

    Sonic Adventure 2 wasn't just an adaptation of the character from one genre to another, it tackled pretty much all of them. The game featured elements of a platformer, a shooter, and, of course, a 3D-style runner game. Not only did the game appear to suffer from an identity crisis when it came to genre, it had some terrible voice-acting, which only served to take away from the experience of playing the game. Other issues included a weak plot and shaky camera angles many players found disorienting.

    Even with all of these issues, the game was positively received, though many people preferred the enhanced release for the Nintendo GameCube released the following year as Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. The remastered game featured many fixes for the issues complained about in the original release.

  • The Sonic Franchise Never Nailed Down The Perfect Tone

    The Sonic Franchise Never Nailed Down The Perfect Tone
    Photo: Sega / Amazon

    If you go back and look at the evolution of Mario, one thing is clear: he hasn't changed very much over the years. Sure, he looks different thanks to the advances in graphics, but he is still a diminutive Italian plumber who sports a mustache, hat, coveralls, and enjoys stomping on turtles and eating mushrooms. You would be hard-pressed to find any officially licensed versions of Mario where he is evil or someone completely different.

    Sega decided this wasn't the best way to go while they continued to develop their character, which ended up manifesting itself in a number of variations. One of the more popular Sonic variations is Shadow the Hedgehog.

    Shadow the Hedgehog first appeared in 2001 with the release of Sonic Adventure 2 and while he is technically a different character, he is modeled directly after Sonic himself. Shadow is the antihero of the series who uses Chaos Emeralds to manipulate space and time, while also running as fast as Sonic, thanks to his hover shoes. He finally got his own title in 2005 with the release of Shadow the Hedgehog on the Nintendo GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2. The game did well financially, but critically, it suffered.

    Shadow the Hedgehog was presented as both a 3D platformer and a third-person shooter (the developers thought it was a good idea to give Shadow a firearm). When you consider the game also featured a decent amount of profanity, and a lead character with a negative disposition, you have an overall tone that doesn't remotely fit within the series. Fans didn't care for the inclusion of weapons or the overall dark tone of the game, but the character thrived and continues to appear in Sonic titles.

  • Sonic Had A Relationship With A Human Woman

    Sonic Had A Relationship With A Human Woman
    Photo: Sega / Amazon

    Things got a bit weird with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in 2006 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game itself was terribly received and barely broke a 40 out of 100 on Metacritic. Even though the game received poor reviews, there was one aspect of it that really stood out: seeing the beloved cartoonish hedgehog court a young human woman, the beautifully animated Princess Elise.

    The characters shared a kiss and at one point, and they even went out on a date. This is an odd moment for Sonic. It seems as though the developers were trying to do something different to shake up the formula, but this certainly wasn't what fans wanted. The speedy blue hedgehog deserved better.