Growing Up with Sonic the Hedgehog (1991 - 2016)

How the development of Sonic the Hedgehog is symbolic for a personal depression
April 20, 2016
Sega MegaDrive/Genesis years (1991 – 1996)
Sonic is and always will be my hero. I met him for the first time in 1991, on my Sega MegaDrive, I was 10 years old at that time. He wasn't the first game I played – actually I had already played a lot of others. I had a Sega Master System and played a lot of Double Dragon, Bubble Bobble and Alex the Kidd in Miracle World on that system. I also spent hours on Crystal Quest, Shufflepuck Cafe and Oids on my father's old Apple MacIntosh computer. But Sonic the Hedgehog was something special. His cool, speedy but relaxed attitude showed he could take on the world – and so felt I at that age. The world was a large place, that was waiting for me. I was gripped – and in all honesty still am – with the colorful graphics, the fantastic music and the speedy gameplay (that made me an impatient gamer, unsuitable for RPG's to this day). (I will only not speak of the Labyrinth Zone, one of the most frustrating game levels of all time).

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

Sonic proved himself once more when I was 12 with the even better and bigger Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in 1992. It showed his first impression wasn't just a coincidence – he was still ready to take on the world, and so was I, I felt. Sonic even brought a friend with Miles 'Tails' Prower – notice how no-one uses his first or last name anymore nowadays. The game was enjoyable with another person, which was a warming addition. I even enjoyed the split-screen 2-player modus a lot, despite some massive slowdowns in the Mystic Cave Zone. And the music in this game! I still have it on my iPod today. The game also introduced Metal Sonic and the dash move for the first time, which was great. While waiting for the next installment of Sonic, Sega released Sonic Spinball (1993) which I rented a lot from a video store (video stores, ancient history by now!) and I enjoyed quite a bit, despite never being able to getting past the second stage. The game was (and is) a little confusing to me, but I liked the music, and Sonic still had his cool attitude, so he couldn't do wrong really.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) & Sonic Spinball (1993)

I reached the aged of 13 and went from grammar school to high school and Sonic grew with me. He had never been more mature than in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (February 1994), which added another new interesting character with Knuckles. With this Sonic I could take on high school, I was pretty sure of that (I especially replayed the Ice Cap Zone over and over again – I loved to see Sonic snowboarding in the snow on that cool beat). However, when the first year of high school past, I wasn't so sure of myself anymore and the first signs of a depression were showing – though I didn't realize that at that time and age. I saw my depressive mood mirrored in Sonic's latest adventure – Sonic & Knuckles, which was released almost a year later (October 1994). I didn't enjoy this game as much as Sonic the Hedgehog 3, it was too similar and I found the levels weren't as interesting as in the previous games (with the exception of the beautiful Sky Sanctuary Zone). But the brilliant add-on function saved the game and even created the best Sonic game to this day with Sonic 3 & Knuckles. But this excellent technology addition also disguised the fact that maybe Sonic was getting a little less sure of himself – just like I was in my first year on high school.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) & Sonic & Knuckles (1994)

It wasn't until 1996 we got a new Sonic game. Sonic never disappeared for me in the between years – I kept playing the first four games (especially Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but also Sonic 1 and Spinball), and in 1996 I was 15 and reached the third or fourth grade, but I wasn't a happy teenager – I was very insecure, a little depressed, and felt that the world was a large and scary place, that wasn't waiting for me at all. So when Sonic returned in a new MegaDrive/Genesis game, I jumped with joy. He came back to cheer me up! That was until I actually got to play Sonic 3D Blast (1996). Of course, initial I wouldn't admit I didn't enjoy this game at all. Sonic never had looked better, and it were the best 3D graphics I ever seen on any MegaDrive/Genesis game! That couldn't be a bad game! But looks were deceiving, and they hid that Sonic was also suffering – like me – from insecurity and lack of direction were to go in his life (2D or 3D...?). Since I liked him so much I felt sorry for him, just like I felt a little sorry for myself.

Sonic 3D Blast: Flickies' Island (1996)

Nintendo Game Boy Advance & Nintendo GameCube (2001 - 2005)
In 2001, aged 20, I went to university and while still being depressed at times, I made quite some friends for life and really enjoyed studying something I liked. Sonic also seemed to get on the right track again with Sonic Advance (2001) and Sonic Advance 2 (2002) for the Game Boy Advance (I somehow missed part 3) with a return to his excellent 2D platform roots.

Sonic Advance (2001) & Sonic Advance 2 (2002)

I was also one of the few people that bought a Nintendo GameCube not to play a new Mario title, but to finally be able to play some old famous Sonic titles that I missed since I never owned a Sega CD or Sega Dreamcast. The GameCube finally gave me the opportunity to experience Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut (2003, Dreamcast original from 1998), Sonic Adventure 2 Battle (2002, Dreamcast original from 2001) and Sonic CD (which was included on the Sonic Gems Collection 2005, original Sega CD from 1993). I was especially looking forward at the time to finally being able to play Sonic CD, but that game disappointed me the most. I felt it had some very confusing levels, the bonus stages looked good but were way too hard and I didn't like the past/future/past element at all – it just slows down the game and adds to the confusing. It's also the game that introduced one of the first not-so-great side-characters in Sonic games with Amy. The game had some good parts though – especially the music and the renewed Metal Sonic.

Sonic CD (1993)
Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut and Sonic Adventure 2 Battle showed a Sonic that still had some greatness, but was slowly getting lost in the world (again 2D or 3D...), just like I was. The Hub World in the first game is confusing and not great at all. The games gave Sonic and all his annoying and superfluous friends voices, which were cry-worthy bad – a practice Sega has held up to this day. I was ashamed for some of the new characters (especially Big the Cat, Shadow the Hedgehog, Rouge the Bat, Tikal the Echidna and the still horrible Amy Rose). The whole attitude of the Sonic games became very childish with the Sonic Adventure games, or I was getting old. I still enjoyed some of the stages, despite some bad ideas (like the item searching levels with Knuckles and Rouge), but I felt my friend Sonic and I were growing apart.

Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut (2003) & Sonic Adventure 2 Battle (2002)

Nintendo DS & Nintendo Wii (2005 - 2007)
But true friendship never fades and will always have highs and lows, so when I was aged 24 Sonic and I found each other once more in some excellent new 2D adventures on the Nintendo DS: Sonic Rush (2005) and Sonic Rush Adventure (2007). I tried not to see his depressed sides and ignored all his suffering 3D outcomings on other platforms (like I tried to ignore my own depression). The Rush games were fast, fun and had excellent music – all things I always enjoyed about Sonic. With the 'Adventure' element of the second game however returned some of the childish additions I didn't like about the latest Sonic, but I pretended this didn't happen. Maybe I was in denial.

Sonic Rush (2005) & Sonic Rush Adventure (2007)

Sonic continued his renewed but ambiguous friendship with Sonic Colors, released for Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS in 2010 – I reached the age of 29. The Wii and DS game are totally different, but I once more enjoyed both of them, despite still having the same issue with my friend: he wasn't growing up and seemed stuck in a childish past. I was now at age that I also thought a lot about my (young) past, that somehow always seemed better when looking back. Just like my blue heroed hedgehog friend, better times for me were in het past and would not lie the past, or at least so I thought.

Sonic Colors (2010)

Microsoft Xbox 360 (2010 - 2012)
I reached 30 and Sonic proved me wrong - the past wasn't always better, the present had a lot to offer too, as he showed me inSonic Generations (Xbox 360 - also on PlayStation 3) in 2011. It is a great Sonic game for newcomers to the series, but people like me who grew up with all the Sonic games will especially appreciate all the homages to the previous games. The game has excellent music, and offers and mix of old '2D' Sonic and new '3D Sonic'. The White Hub World isn't perfect, and once more all of his annoying friends are present - but at least the old 'non-talking' Sonic also makes a present. I know it's silly at my age by now, but this strong comeback of my old hedgehog friend really cheered me up. Also a different version of Sonic Generations was released for the Nintendo 3DS - I thought this one was quite good too (it reminded me a little of Sonic Rush), though a little on the short side. The online modus were pretty fun though.

Since Sonic made such a great return in Sonic Generations, you can understand I was also excited to play his totally new 2D adventure, that was released in two digital download-only parts as Sonic 4: Episode I (2010) and Sonic 4: Epsiode II (2012) (Xbox 360, also on PlayStation 3). It's the only Sonic game I do not own a physical copy of. Not everybody seemed happy with the Sonic 4 Episodes, but I enjoyed playing them, though the character model of Sonic seemed a little bit on the large side. However, after finishing the Sonic 4 Episodes, I never felt to return to the games, unlike to the original games. It wasn't a bad game, but it felt a little like a routine release on automatic pilot rather than a fresh and exciting new release. It somehow reminded of the job I was on and the boring drag of everyday life. Sonic was still there, but it seemed we hadn't much to tell each other anymore.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I

Nintendo 3DS (2013)
But Sonic promised me to return in a new, grand and exciting adventure. He showed me fantastic trailers and since his latest outings were excellent (the Generations games on 3DS and Xbox 360) or decent enough (the Sonic 4 Episodes) I believed him. It was a long time ago I had been looking forward to a new Sonic game, but now - aged 32 - I felt it once more. Sonic would be back and convince the world he still mattered! Then I got actually to play Sonic Lost World (Nintendo 3DS, 2013). Just like Sonic 3D Blast this game looked amazing, but it was even less fun. Just like myself Sonic had a lot of issues, and therefore many problems proving to the world he really still mattered. All the annoying childish elements were back, and I had to force myself to get through many annoying and frustrating levels to actually finish the game. His speed was gone - some levels could take over 15 minutes to actually finish. Especially a snow level with a snowman could take forever. I had always been careful not to pick up Sonic's mediocre adventures, but this was the first time that I actually bought a Sonic game I didn't really enjoy. Yes, I was disappointed and for the first time I lost faith in my long time friend - and with that I lost a little more faith in myself. Since then, I didn't buy any new Sonic game anymore, but I started to replay the classic originals over and over again. So I guess were both stuck in the past.

Sonic Lost World (2013)

Personal Sonic History (games mentioned)
* Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis, 1991)
* Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis, 1992)
* Sonic Spinball (Genesis, 1993)
* Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis, 1994)
* Sonic & Knuckles (Genesis, 1994)
* Sonic 3D Blast: Flickies' Island (Genesis, 1996)
* Sonic Advance (Game Boy Advance, 2001)
* Sonic Advance 2 (Game Boy Advance, 2002)
* Sonic Adventure 2 Battle (GameCube, 2002)
* Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut (GameCube, 2003)
* Sonic CD, in: Sonic Gems Collection (GameCube, 2005)
* Sonic Rush (Nintendo DS, 2005)
* Sonic Rush Adventure (Nintendo DS, 2007)
* Sonic Colors (Wii, 2010)
* Sonic Colors (Nintendo DS, 2010)
* Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I (Xbox 360, 2010)
* Sonic Generations (Xbox 360, 2011)
* Sonic Generations (Nintendo 3DS, 2011)
* Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (Xbox 360, 2012)
* Sonic Lost World (Nintendo 3DS, 2013)
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