Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that my hands down, no contest, absolute favorite character of all time is Sonic the Hedgehog. My love of the Blue Blur began innocently enough back in 1991 when my older brother received a Sega Genesis for Christmas. At that time, Sonic 1 was bundled with new Sega Genesis systems, so it was actually one of the first Genesis games we owned. My brother, being the sports fan he was, stuck with Madden and other titles of the time, but me, being 6 years old and very much into things that were flashy and bright (something that really hasn’t changed much to this day), and much less into sports, stuck with Sonic. I was immediately drawn in by the colors and intricacies of the maps, the exploration and hidden sections of the levels, as well as the implementation of the momentum physics, which were often used as the primary way to progress through levels. Back then I didn’t understand any of that, all I knew was “Ooh, pretty colors”, “Ooh, where does this lead?”, and “Ooh fast!” It was a game that even my brother enjoyed (and help me try [in vain] to collect all the chaos emeralds), and a fun bonding moment for the two of us.
Cut to 1992, Sonic 2 is released, and it’s all I want for Christmas. Santa heard my incessant 7-year-old babbling about wanting it, and delivered. I really don’t remember what else I got that Christmas, as Sonic 2 was the only thing I wanted. The colors were more vivid, the levels more complex (and there was the two-player split-screen mode which made things exciting), Sonic was faster, he had the spin dash, and he had a little orange flying companion named Tails. You could’ve repackaged Sonic 1 with brighter colors and I would’ve been plenty happy, but these new additions were exciting kept me more than content. The special stage was the highlight for me. The “3D” half pipe course was fast, had plenty of traps and bombs to keep you on your toes, and the kind of positive reinforcement that any 90s kid would appreciate when they do a good job.
Fast forward to 1994, I catch wind of Sonic 3, and I immediately knew what I wanted for my birthday. My dad gave me a small wad of cash, wished me happy birthday, and I was on my merry way to buy my copy. Sonic 1 was awesome. Sonic 2 was awesomer. Sonic 3 eclipsed the two of them. A new look for Sonic, new shields that gave Sonic added abilities, a killer new special stage along with a gumball machine bonus stage, larger, faster levels to explore, and a brand new character, Knuckles. Even though he was the antagonist for most of the game, he became a new favorite for me. A good guy at heart, well meaning, but gullible at times (insert moment of self-realization here).
I loved everything about Sonic 3. I didn’t think it could get any better than that. Then Sonic & Knuckles comes along and it locks in (literally!) seamlessly with Sonic 3. My brain short circuits from the excitement. An amazing game made even better with this continuation of Sonic 3. It felt like an even more epic journey for me. An amazing challenge, so much so that I needed my older brother to help me beat Doomsday the first time around.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the two Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons that came about during this time. The weekday morning series and the Saturday morning series were companions to a series I was already deeply mad about. Sonic, voiced by Jaleel White (who is to this day the only Sonic voice actor I acknowledge [or remember, honestly]. Nobody else did it better than him, fight me bro!), brought new life to the exploits of the Blue Blur and his crew, whether it was though dramatic action scenes, or though making crass jokes about Dr. Robotnik’s ass.
Years go by, I jump from the Genesis to the Sega Saturn. Yes, Sega Saturn. Judge me if you must. I was the only person in my entire junior high school who owned one. Everyone else had PlayStation. I regret nothing. Having NiGHTS Into Dreams alone made it worth the isolation.
But I digress, Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic R entered my life. Fantastic games in their own right, I played them endlessly with my younger sisters, but didn’t give me the thrill that the Genesis games gave me. Post junior high, the last two Sonic games that really piqued my interest were Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2. Fun forays into the actual 3D realm. Exciting, but not Sonic 3 & Knuckles exciting for me (S3&K is the rubric in which I judge all the other Sonic games in terms of excitement and greatness). From that point on, my excitement levels for the Blue Blur dropped significantly.
I thought it was just me growing up and evolving into different interests. I came to realize down the line that it wasn’t lack of interest, but more a lack of solid, or for that matter, decent games. Sega tried different angles with the Sonic franchise, but they mostly ended up falling quite flat. Sonic Unleashed was a noble attempt, but bad camera angles and a confusing as hell storyline killed that effort. Then there was Sonic 4. Sonic. 4. *long, discontented, disappointed sigh* It was an attempt to appease the Sonic fans around the world that wanted a new side scroller, and Sega refusing to give up on making a 3D Sonic platformer. It was the worst of both worlds. I bought Sonic 4 Episodes 1 & 2. The only reason I don’t completely regret doing that is because I only spent $20 for the both of them. I tried so hard to like them. But they were bad. The gameplay was bad. The gimmicks were bad. The music was even worse. Ugh, just downright awful. The one thing I feel makes or breaks a game is its music. The entire Sonic franchise made its reputation on its music as much as it did its gameplay. Sonic 4 was the proverbial combo-breaker. I was done. It was time to leave the Blue Blur behind and move on with life.
Or so I thought.
Cut to last year. A trailer comes down the pipe from Sega about a new entry in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Normally it would fly under my radar, however, one aspect immediately piques my attention. It’s a 2D side-scroller!! A pretty great looking side-scroller at that! It’s like Sonic CD, but kicked up about 12 notches. The colors are bright and vivid, the gameplay is fast and furious, and the music…oh the music. 6-year-old, 7-year-old, and 9-year-old me all screamed with excitement simultaneously after watching that trailer. Sonic Mania looked to be the answer to the prayers of so many Sonic fans around the world that just wanted a great modern 2D side-scroller. It looked impressive, and it was being put together by an incredible team of game designers, programmers, and sound designers.
Simon “Stealth” Thomley and Christian “Taxman” Whitehead made their names with the incredible job they did porting Sonic 1 and 2 for iOS and Android, along with PagodaWest Games, who got their start creating an HD reimagining of Sonic 2, were recruited by Sega to breathe new life into a franchise that honestly had seen much better days. As the months passed, and more gameplay videos started to appear, my excitement began to build, as it seemed as though this game would be exactly what I was looking for all these years. Adding to my excitement was the soundtrack, created by the amazing Tee Lopes, whose Sonic remixes I have been a fan of for years. This was the indie dream team, and I couldn’t wait to have my chance to play this new game. But alas, it was at least 1 year away from release, so I had to find ways to both pass the time, and temper my ever building excitement.
Most people who know me and have ever heard any of the music that I create know that one of the biggest influences on my musical style was the Sonic the Hedgehog series. From Sonic 1 all the way to Sonic R, my earliest tracks took at least one element from something I heard in a Sonic game. For the sake of my fragile ego I will spare you any samples of my early work because they’re like 17 years old at this point and have not held up well over the years. Back in high school I would recreate various Sonic tracks in MIDI form as an exercise in learning how to sequence, and subconsciously break down the tracks to understand and take in all the elements. Thinking about it, it makes perfect sense now why the Sonic influence is so strong. I hadn’t written anything Sonic-adjacent in more than a decade, but the ensuing Sonic Mania opened the floodgates to my creativity, and before I knew it, I had put together a 16-bit tribute to my all-time favorite video game character.
It was something that came straight from the heart of my 6-year-old self. It had more meaning than a lot of songs that I put together in the last 6 years. It was my childhood. It was my teenage and college years. All rolled into a song that took surprisingly little effort. It make me feel like a musician again, and made me remember how much of an outlet music is for me. And then before I knew it, Act 2 came along.
It always feels good to express yourself through creative means, and these felt pretty damn good! They were tributes to my childhood, as well as tributes to Masato Nakamura, Jun Senoue, Masaru Setsumaru, Spencer Nilsen, Richard Jacques, and now Tee Lopes among the countless composers that made my life great through their musical contributions to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.
By the time you read this, Sonic Mania will have mercifully unlocked in my Steam library, as the PC version had to be pushed back two weeks for “optimizations”. I have not seen a single Let’s Play of this game, or any other videos save for the initial reviews. The reviews confirmed my excitement, and the excitement of all the die hard Sonic fans out there. Sonic the Hedgehog is a character and a franchise that means more to me than any other game series, not just for the entertainment and the inspiration, but how it forged a bond between myself and my siblings, and its role in me becoming who I am today. It’s something I will hold dear for the rest of my life.
I am so ready. And so is 6-year-old, 7-year-old, 9-year-old, 11-year-old, 12-year-old, 14-year-old, and 16-year-old me.