For everyone that is old enough to remember, the decision to buy either a Super Nintendo or a Sega Genesis was a major one.
Did you make the choice to buy the Super Nintendo -- a solid, classic console with some incredible games made by a reliable company? Or did you make the hip purchase of the Sega Genesis -- the arguably “cooler” of the two consoles, with games that were much more “extreme” and “hardcore” than anything offered on Nintendo’s little gray and purple machine?
Both systems were great, but it was rare to find a kid in the neighborhood that owned both -- a far cry from the multiple-console homes of today.
The SNES or the Genesis. For many gamers that fell in love with the original Nintendo, this would have been a ridiculously easy choice ... but with the 1991 release of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis and a marketing campaign that can only be described as magnificently ludicrous, Nintendo’s loyal followers (including me!) began to question their preferred system of choice.
When the Sega Genesis was released in 1989, it had some surprising competition. While the graphics on the revolutionary-for-the-time 16-bit system were absolutely groundbreaking, the original NES was so popular that the Genesis did not make the initial dent that Sega was hoping for.
But as the first year past, and Nintendo still had not released its follow-up to the NES, the Genesis started to gain ground. The arcade industry was booming, and Sega promised gamers that most of the popular games you could play in the arcade could also be played on the Genesis (and look almost as good!).
This tactic paid off, as the Genesis slowly began to pick up steam.
But then 1991 came along and everything changed. A few months before Nintendo would release its Super Nintendo in North America, Sega started promoting a brand new 2D platformer called Sonic the Hedgehog.
In addition to the game, Sega also ran one of its most famous marketing campaigns of all time -- a campaign focusing on something called Blast Processing!
According to their ads and commercials, Blast Processing was something only the Sega Genesis could do, allowing their games to run much faster and smoother than anything on the Super Nintendo.
Regardless of the truth behind this notorious advertising, “Blast Processing” became a serious buzz word.
Coupled with Sega’s other infamous ads (“Genesis does what Nintendon’t!”), the gaming industry couldn’t stop talking about the Genesis and the games that utilized Blast Processing, including the much-hyped Sonic the Hedgehog.
When people finally played Sonic the Hedgehog, all thoughts about the validity of Blast Processing were forgotten (at least, for the time being). Sonic the Hedgehog was a massive hit. The marketing behind the game certainly helped, but what made the game an instant classic was the feeling gamers had the minute the first level started.
Sonic the Hedgehog was fast. Really fast.
It is right after the classic “SEEEEEEGGGGAAAAA!” intro and high-energy opening title screen when players are immediately dropped into Sonic the Hedgehog’s first stage: Green Hill Zone.
At first glance, the colorful, quirky little game looks to be nothing more than a Mario clone starring a sassy blue hedgehog.
Sonic can jump; he can run back and forth. Nothing much out of the ordinary.
But then players press and hold right on the directional pad and everything changes.
By running on a continuous path, Sonic speeds up to absurd speeds, trumping anything that could be done by holding down the “run” button in the Super Mario games.
Of course, the option of taking things slow is there -- jumping on platforms and hopping on the heads of enemies to kill them -- but that isn’t the draw of the game. The real highlight of playing is to run as fast as you can to get to the end of the stage.
As Sonic races through the now-legendary Green Hill Zone, much more than the normal platformer obstacles are there to meet him.
Instead of only encountering a smattering of enemies and moving platforms, Sonic travels through giant loops and small, claustrophobic tunnels, spinning and whirling around like an out-of-control roller coaster.
While running at ridiculous speeds, Sonic takes giant leaps of faith, landing perfectly and continuing his high-speed sprints.
The stage flashes by in a blur of color.
Eventually -- sometimes in mere seconds! -- Sonic makes it to the end of the level, spinning around a sign and revealing an image of the blue hedgehog himself.
The levels in Sonic the Hedgehog move so fast and are so frenetic, yet controlled, that they become a well-choreographed dance, one that players can enjoy watching just as much as they enjoy participating in.
The entire experience is absolutely exhilarating.
In this one glorious, breathtaking, revolutionary stage, Sonic the Hedgehog defined itself as an instant classic.
You can watch Green Hill Zone -- the very first level in Sonic the Hedgehog -- right here:
Fun fact: I wanted to be a roller coaster designer my entire life -- I even went to college for it!
I have always been fascinated with the twisting, unpredictable tracks of a well-designed roller coaster. I actually think the sleek, knotted tracks are things of beauty -- gorgeous manmade creations that entertain as much as they terrify.
Because of this lifelong obsession, I was blown away the first time I ever played Sonic the Hedgehog. I felt like I was actually playing a roller coaster.
The first time I reached the first loop in the Green Hill Zone I wanted to do nothing else. I just wanted to keep running through it over and over again. It was like nothing I had ever experienced in a videogame before.
As much as I loved running fast through the levels in Super Mario Bros., that classic game never gave me the specific feeling of riding a roller coaster.
It was magnificent. It only took one level, but after running through Green Hill Zone I fell instantly in love.
Funny enough, before I decided to write this Memory Card, I thought: Maybe this moment is a little too insignificant. In a feature series full of dramatic, heartbreaking, emotional sequences, maybe writing about Sonic running through a level felt a little too ... slight.
But then I thought about how Sonic the Hedgehog still exhilarates me today, all these years later.
With every new Sonic game that comes out, all I want to do is see what kind of amazingly cool things I will able to run through in the first level.
In a way, the success of this roller coaster experience can make or break a new Sonic game for me. If the first level gives me that same sense of exhilaration that Green Hill Zone did (while also offering some literal new twists to the mix!), I will most likely love it.
Conversely, start off a new Sonic game without that same sense of speed and roller coaster wonder and the game will probably be a dud.
IT’S LIKE SCIENCE!
Sonic has become just as much of a staple in videogame history as it has become a joke. It seems that every new Sonic game is met with such a (justified?) critical bashing that it is hard to get excited about the series anymore.
But think about that first time you grabbed the Genesis controller and played through Green Hill Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog.
Think about that first loop. (And the first twist in Sonic the Hedgehog 2!)
It was revolutionary.
Without Sonic, would there have been the minecart levels in the Donkey Kong Country series? Would there ever be a Uniracers? Would Bubsy exist? Okay, forget about that last one, but you know what I am saying.
The first level of Sonic the Hedgehog was -- and still is! -- one of the most exhilarating experiences in videogame history. Even today, I still get excited when there is a roller coaster-like level in a game. The faster, the better.
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