Developer: SEGA AM3
A Brief Background:
I may have mentioned this before but, back in the early-nineties, SEGA’s super-speedy blue hedgehog of a mascot was on something of a roll; Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991) had finally swayed videogame fans away from the Nintendo Entertainment System then, after the unforgettable and highly marketed release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), Sonic’s status as a cultural icon was cemented.
It was amidst the wave of Sonic’s incredible popularity that SEGA decided to develop a Sonic title for the arcades, most likely as the arcade scene was still a popular way of enjoying videogames even with the Console War right on the horizon. Although it wasn’t the first time SEGA tried to get a Sonic arcade game off the ground, SEGASonic the Hedgehog is, perhaps, the most infamous.
Featuring the debut of Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel (two characters that were long-forgotten by SEGA until very recently) and forgoing Sonic’s trademark speed, SEGASonic used a trackball to control its three playable characters and was pretty much exclusively released in Japan. I actually got to play the game at SEGA World in London years and years ago, back when that was a thing, but the game has never been officially released or ported to other consoles since quietly disappearing from the arcade scene.
SEGASonic makes an immediate impression simply through its bright, colourful graphics; the game features a charming cartoon-like aesthetic, featuring some extremely expressive and amusing animations and facial expressions from Sonic and his two friends.
Captured by Doctor Eggman and forced to escape from his hazardous island, players are tasked with battling the game’s awkward trackball controls and navigating seven isometric levels. Generally, players are chased by some kind of hazard (a wall of fire or a drilling machine, for example), must dodge past some kind of blockage (a cage, crumbling paths, or spiked walls and the like), and clamber across monkey bars to escape danger.
Sonic, Mighty, and Ray all pretty much control exactly the same; no one character is faster than the other, they all have a Spin Attack, and the only real difference between them is the way they animate when performing certain actions (Ray uses his prehensile tail to climb, for example). Each character has a health bar, in a change for the series, which can be refilled by collecting the familiar Golden Rings generously scattered across the game’s maps, all while being chased by Doctor Eggman.
Unfortunately, as SEGASonic hasn’t been re-released or ported to home consoles, the only way to play the game now is using a ROM and an emulator. Equally unfortunate is the fact that the ROM I have for this game is very finicky and prone to crashing; as a result, I didn’t manage to get too far in the game before the emulator crashed and kicked me out of the game.
I’m pretty certain that I managed to clear at least one level when I played the game at SEGA World but, on this playthrough, my ROM conked out on me shortly after clearing Trap Tower. I probably will reload my save state and go back to the game at some point to try and get a bit more playtime out of it but, as much as I love the obscurity and visual presentation of the game, the controls make it quite difficult to play (or, at least, play well).
I love SEGASonic the Hedgehog; I would be so happy is SEGA got off their asses and made a real effort to put together a real, HD-quality port of the title that integrates modern analogue controls in place of the trackball. It, like Knuckles’ Chaotix (SEGA, 1995), is criminally under-rated, under-looked, and under-valued for its appeal and, considering SEGA loves to port and re-release their classic titles, it literally boggles my mind that we haven’t seen anything from this game in decades.
The only thing holding it back from a full-blown replay is the dodgy controls (well, that and that unreliability of the ROM I have…); even when using a trackball, the game is difficult to control but, with analogue controls better and more sensitive than ever, I could see this game being a nice distracting for an hour or so if SEGA were to spruce it up and re-release it.
What do you think of SEGASonic the Hedgehog? What was your favourite of Sonic’s short-lived arcade games? Did you ever go to SEGA World in London? Share your thoughts in the comments.