“Blue streak, speeds by, Sonic the Hedgehog.
Too fast, for the naked eye, Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic, he can really move. Sonic, he’s got an attitude.
Sonic, he’s the fastest thing aaalllliiiivvveee.”
These were the lyrics I looked forward to hearing every Saturday morning, the opening to ABC’s Sonic the Hedgehog, a show based on Sega’s new mascot that was their answer to Nintendo’s Mario. Sega’s first console, the Master System, fell completely under my radar, and if not for the few games for it that Weeks kept on their shelves, I wouldn’t of even known it had existed at all. Sega’s next console, the Genesis or Mega Drive for other parts of the world, would be a completely different story and much of that had to do with the popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sega effectively captured mindshare during the early ‘90’-s through a series of unforgettable commercials that were strategically designed to make owning a Genesis cool, even poking fun of their main competitor, Nintendo, showing how fast and better games were on the Genesis compared to the Super Nintendo, ending with the trademark “SEGA” scream. As a young kid, I was easily susceptible to these ads and buzz words like “blast processing” that would fuel many school yard arguments over what was better, the SNES or the Genesis. I will forever be grateful to my parents Santa Claus for surprising me with an SNES, but if presented with a choice, I more than likely would’ve went with the competition.
This had nothing to do really with the Genesis’ overall library of games – I didn’t have much knowledge of any of them really except for the ones based on comic book properties like Spider-Man and the X-Men – it had everything to do with Sonic. Sonic the Hedgehog was a character laser focused to my demographic and I was hypnotized by him the second I saw him run through a loop-de-loop on a TV commercial. Sonic was everything that Mario wasn’t: He was cool, he had attitude, and he was also everywhere you looked.
At the checkout counter at the grocery store checkout counter, Sonic’s face was on a comic book, the book fair had Sonic junior novels and he was starring in not one, but two different cartoon shows. One was a light hearted cartoony show clearly targeted at very young kids, and the other, which featured the above lyrics, that aired on Saturday morning – giving the show the SatAM distinction – a darker take on the source material where Sonic and a band of freedom fighters fight to reclaim their home against Dr. Robotnik, the villain from the game, who was destroying the natural world and erecting pollution spewing factories.
From animated series to books of both the traditional and comic variety, I had a lot of ways to interact with the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, that is, except for the thing that started it all: the video games. I was blessed to have a Super Nintendo, I wasn’t about to press my luck and ask for a Genesis to sit along side it. That meant I had to get creative with how I would go about playing Sonic the Hedgehog games.
The first Sonic the Hedgehog game I ever owned was Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but not how you’re thinking. What I got was the dedicated Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Tiger Electronics LCD game from Tiger Electronics, a gift from my grandmother on my dad’s side. Like the Genesis game, you had a directional pad to movie Sonic and a button to jump, though there wasn’t exactly a lot of movement going on. Sonic would move his legs and a line would move on the bottom of the screen to mimic motion as best it could, but it wasn’t exactly the high octane experience I saw on commercials, far from it. It was Sonic though, and that was all that mattered to me.
Locally speaking, Sega’s in your face marketing seemed to have little effect on the stores in my area. Woolco carried the Genesis and its games, but there was only one rental store that carried any Sega product, First Stop, and that was largely the first and second Sonic games and the first spin-off, Sonic Spinball, a game where Sonic became a pinball in a labyrinth laid out like a pinball table. There just simply wasn’t enough interest it seemed to carry Genesis software, which is what I gathered from my classmates at school. I knew of one kid who had a Game Gear, Sega’s attempt to take on Nintendo’s Game Boy, and everyone else had Nintendo consoles.
Where I got a large chunk of my early Genesis play time was at demo kiosks at Woolco, but not our Woolco, the ones in St. John’s. The store in the Avalon Mall had a unit setup so you could play the original title, but the other mall, The Village, had Sonic the Hedgehog 2, still today my favorite entry in the series. Getting to play either was yet another reason for me to get excited about going to the city, especially if we were making a stop at The Village.
For those who haven’t ever visited St. John’s, if you ask someone about The Village, you’ll more than likely hear a story about a rough looking individual with a tear drop tattoo waiting by the bus stop who will ask you if you’ve got a loose cigarette to spare. The inside of the two-level shopping structure at most times of the day is a ghost town and many, myself included, wonder how it does enough business to keep its doors opened. In video game terms, I would describe it now as Dead Rising for Nintendo Wii. Dead Rising debuted on the Xbox 360 in 2006, and its claim to fame is that the mall setting was full of zombies. The game was eventually ported to Nintendo’s Wii, but because it had smaller specifications to the Xbox 360, corners had to be cut, including how many zombies were on screen at one time. That’s a roundabout way to say that The Village is Dead Rising on the Wii: it’s the same thing as the Avalon, there’s just not hat much stuff inside of it.
It wasn’t always like this though. Before such stores either closed down or moved out of shopping malls, The Village was a bustling location anchored by a Sears on one side that stretched over two floors on one end and a Woolco/Wal-Mart on the other that similarly took up the same real estate. I loved that Wal-Mart, if for nothing more than the ramp style escalator that I used to run in the opposite direction of how it was going, annoying all of those I’m sure who were just trying to get their shopping done.
The main selling point of The Village was its fountain, a structure that you would rest and look on in awe as mighty just of water shot upwards. A popular commercial for the mall declared:
“you’ll never know who you’ll meet at The Village.
You’ll never know who you’ll meet at the fountain in the square.”
More so than losing important retailers like Sears and Wal-Mart, it was when the fountain was taken out in 2006 that the soul of The Village departed, leaving only an empty husk of the place it once was.
If presented the choice of going to one mall over the other in the ‘90’-s, normally I would pick the Avalon Mall as it had an arcade and movie theater, but during Sonic Mania, The Village was the easy pick. The arcade was great and all, but it didn’t have Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and unlike the arcade, I didn’t need a single cent to play Sonic.
Whatever mall I was going to, I at least got to play a Sonic game, and though I’d rather play the second game, I wouldn’t turn away playing the first either. As I only got to sporadically play either game, and had to be mindful of the other kids who wanted a turn, I never got no further than the second or so zone in each game. I had no problem replaying the same few levels over and over though, as I was transfixed by the power of Blast Processing, watching Sonic zoom to the right while infectious music and the dinging of a claimed ring emitted from a CRT television. I was in one of the most public places you could be playing Sonic games, but I might as well have been in my own world.
Sonic wasn’t the only video game franchise associated with the Genesis that would become an obsession to me. There would be another, one that I could enjoy on my Super Nintendo no less, that was far, FAR more violent than the world occupied by Sonic and his animal friends.