Videogame designer Yuji Naka gets the idea for a new game involving a ball. He decides that a ball in itself isn't very threatening, and he hands the idea over to some character designers. The ball turned blue, got spikes, and an animal character to bear the spikes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The original Sonic the Hedgehog game came out for the Sega Genesis in the early '90s, and was later redesigned into a version for the Game Gear and Master System. The little blue guy overtook Alex Kidd as Sega's official mascot, and swept platform gamers by storm with its break-neck speed -- something absent from almost every game of its type -- and the attitude-filled character. Many, many Sonic novelties soon followed, ranging from canned pasta ("Sonic O's") to children's briefs.
By 1992, Sonic had become well-known, but with the release of Sonic 2, he became the industry's first "Mario-killer". The gameplay speed was increased, and almost never slowed down thanks to the "spin dash" attack. This also introduced the mutated, two- tailed fox Tails Prower, who featured a flight move in Sonic's game but was unable to use it in his own quest. This game also introduced the two-player races and the 3-D Bonus Stage. Many gamers still consider this to be the best of the Sonic games.
Once the Gamegear version of Sonic 2 came out, the series took up its own identity from the Genesis versions with clearly different gameplay and levels. Sonic 2 lacked the ability to play as Tails or use the Spin Dash, but was still fun nonetheless. The subsequent GG-exclusive game, Sonic Chaos, allowed playing as Tails and Special Stages (although still in 2-D). While the game's difficulty was questionable, it was still fairly fun. Its sequel Sonic Triple Trouble added better graphics, a semi3D bonus stage and the Gamegear debut of Knuckles the Echidna. It was also the only platform game to have Nack the Weasel in it, although he's appeared in a few racing games and Sonic Championship.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles:
By the time Sonic 3 rolled around, Sonic was practically a cultural phenomenon. It introduced better graphics and a new character named Knuckles, who has since gone on to become almost as popular as Sonic himself. This also featured smoother Special Stages and the ability to fly with Tails.
Sonic and Knuckles was released shortly afterwards, with a two new features: the ability to play as Knuckles and Lock-On Technology, which allowed it to "hook up" with Sonic 2 and 3 to enhance the gameplay. The cart itself wasn't too spectacular, but attatched to Sonic 3, it became possibly as much of an experience as Sonic Adventure.
Sonic CD, which was released for the flop add-on the Sega CD, is said to be in some circles the only game worthy of dethroning Sonic 2. It featured a new character, Amy Rose, Mode-7ish bonus stages, and time travel. The game itself almost justified the price of the Sega CD.
The Sonic Flubs:
Ever since Sonic CD, the series has gone downhill. There hasn't been a single "traditional" game for the Saturn, and what games there were, sucked. There was Sonic R, a surprisingly slow racer, Sonic Jam, a compilation disc, and probably a few others that are forgettable enough to leave out. There was light at the end of the tunnel, though.... Sonic X-Treme. This looked "traditional" enough, yet still showed off the Saturn's abilities. It also introduced yet another new character, Tiara. However, the game that everyone wanted to happen didn't. It was eventually scrapped for reasons that are beyond me.
While all of this was going on, Tails and Knuckles were treated to games of their own: Tails' Adventure on the GB and Knuckles' Chaotix on the 32X. Both were, in my opinion, fantastic games, but neither sat too well with critics. Tails' Adventure was much more of an adventure than an action game, and the fact that could only attack with items was the game's biggest "problem". Chaotix introduced five (count 'em) new characters: Espio the Chameleon, Vecter the Crocodile, Charmy the Bee, and Heavy and Bomb the robots. This was, by the way, the first game where there were "good" robots, although they sucked IMHO. It also featured the American debut of Mighty the Armadillo. It was critiqued very sharply for it's squirrely AI, which was one of the most important factors in the gameplay.
And arriving for sale in the US on September 9 is Sonic's saving grace: Sonic Adventure. I've played both the Japanese and American rental versions, and the game is fantastic. It introduces four new characters (Big the Cat, E-102 "g" the Robot, Tikal the Echidna, and Chaos the water god) and some mind blowing graphics. I won't ruin most of the game for you, but I will tell you this: if you aren't getting a Dreamcast, you should.
The Sega Supersite
Sega of America