It is June 23rd and that marks a milestone in video gaming as one of the most popular game mascots turns 25 years old. That would be Sega’s speedy blue fuzzball, Sonic The Hedgehog. To celebrate the anniversary, let’s take a look at the various appearances of the beloved character in the arcade space (Sega’s real playground).
UPDATE: 6/23/2021 – It’s been five years since this post was first published, so let’s update it for year #30!
Before that, Sega Amusements International has been celebrating the event themselves with a little party, some cake and a BBQ:
— Sega Amusements International Ltd. (@SegaAmusements) June 23, 2016
— Sega Amusements International Ltd. (@SegaAmusements) June 23, 2016
Update #2 (6/23/2023) – Former AH writer HeavyElectricity shared this very detailed history of Sonic The Hedgehog where it reveals that Sonic’s true birthday (as far as the actual game release went) was on June 11th.
Sonic (Hearts) Arcades
Rad Mobile (Feb. 1991) – Throwing a little wrench into the mix is the actual first appearance of Sonic in a video game but since he was just a car accessory and not a primary element to the game, the anniversary sticks with the official release of Sonic on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Rad Mobile was noteworthy for other reasons as well – it was Sega’s first step into 32-bit based hardware that would be a monster sprite pusher and the game cabinet was closer to a simulator ala Hard Drivin’.
Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car (1991) – A lot of kiddie rides are fairly lame but Sega gave a couple of them Sonic level upgrades with this and the following title. Granted, the games are still basic since the target audience was small children (that said, as this video shows, adults could fit into the ride):
Segasonic Cosmo Fighter Galaxy Patrol (1991) – For the second Sonic-infused kiddie ride, they went with a little more excitement as you play a vertical scrolling shooter (or shmup as it is often called). Sonic pilots a spacecraft that could not only shoot but punch enemies into oblivion. Its no Raiden, but it still fits the bill:
Sonic The Hedgehog 1 & 2 (1991/1993) – Thanks to Sega’s own answer to the popular PlayChoice-10, select original Genesis/Mega Drive titles were available as coin-op arcade games. This was known as the Mega Tech (also the Mega Play, which featured fewer cartridge slots) so that arcade patrons could experience Sonic The Hedgehog without owning the home console. Mega Tech’s are rare depending on the region, with the cabinet never attaining the same level of popularity as Nintendo’s console-to-arcade solution in the US – but it did well in Europe, where the Sega name would frequently outperform the Big N.
UNRELEASED: Segasonic Bros. (circa 1992) – A recent discovery showed that a puzzle game based on the Segasonic idea was in the works and by Bubble Bobble creator Fukio Mitsuji. The game didn’t test very well so ended up in the dustbin until it was discovered by collectors these many years later. The prototype was brought to CAX 2018 by ShouTime, CEO of exA-Arcadia, where I got a chance to play it…I wasn’t any good at it though:
Segasonic The Hedgehog (1993) – The release of Sonic The Hedgehog was a huge boon to Sega on the home side and since they were a major player in arcades as well, it made sense to give Sonic his own official arcade outing. This brought us the unique Segasonic The Hedgehog title which featured more detailed, isometric graphics running on their 32-bit System 32 hardware. Using trackballs to control the action, it also had support for 3 player co-op, where additional players could be the little known characters Ray and/or Mighty. That said, this quite tough and it never made the same kind of splash for arcades that the character did for consoles.
Segasonic Popcorn Shop (1993) – Sonic worked when combined to sell a kiddie ride so why not an interactive popcorn vendor? That’s right – play an arcade game where Robotnik is trying to steal your popcorn; end up getting real popcorn from it. This used a special hand-crank controller for the action.
Sonic The Fighters / Championship (1996) – After the Segasonic line was given some time to breath on the market, Sega decided to take the character in a different direction – down the road of a 3D fighter. The company was well known for Virtua Fighter so one can see the sense out of putting your iconic mascot into such a game. That said, this one was never held in high regard by the market, not becoming Sega’s Smash Bros...but perhaps being an influence towards that idea for Nintendo.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Arcade (2011) – After Sonic Championship failed to ignite sales, Sonic took a long hiatus from the arcade market, apart from occasional cameos. That would change 15 years later when he once again became the star of an arcade title, this time a casual racing game based on a port of a home console release. There were some differences between ports in terms of performance and a few pieces of content, otherwise it stood out for the color-changing cabinet design and the option to include a ticket dispenser.
Apologies for the early video…I didn’t have a tripod back in those days:
Sonic Athletics (2013) – If you haven’t heard of this one before then no worries – as an attraction for the Tokyo Joypolis, it was never developed to be a wide arcade release. It is interesting in that it seems to have set the stage for the recent Mario & Sonic Olympics game that we’ll get into in a moment. Here, players run on a treadmill as they compete on the track
Sonic Dash Extreme (2015) – In recent times, Sonic has found his way into a variety of arcade products, including both redemption & sports pieces like Sonic Blast Ball; air hockey tables; and basketball games. As of 2021, the Sonic-themed air hockey and basketball machines are still available new. Back in 2015, they released a videmption game based upon the mobile endless runner title that is more commonly known as Sonic Dash. The ‘Exteme’ arcade build kicks it up a few notches by offering a huge 55″ screen and a unique, oversized D-pad controller. While this could be set to “Amusement Mode” so it plays like a regular arcade game without tickets, I’m not aware of any locations out there that used the setting.
Mario & Sonic At The Rio 2016 Olympic Games Arcade Edition (2016) – When I originally published this story, this title had begun shipping just a few weeks prior to Sonic’s 25th anniversary. Taking a vibe from the old Track & Field games, this Sonic game has the most unique control scheme out of all the titles mentioned above, providing exergaming entertainment based on some of the most recognizable video game characters around. The game was available in 2-player and 4-player editions, both sporting vertically mounted 55″ screens but the 4 player version came with an additional display above each cabinet and a camera system. As such, it worked better for tournament-style play.
Mario & Sonic At The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Arcade Edition (2020) – Released in February 2020, this sequel to the 2016 edition was one of the last brand new games launched right before the pandemic put the brakes on everything. The game addressed some of the technical issues that plagued the 2016 version, namely the joysticks which were often the bane of arcade technicians everywhere. It replaces those with far more reliable giant buttons, while still making use of the running/jumping pad. This also includes “retro Tokyo events,” based upon the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games, the four mini-games sporting an 80’s look and feel to them. This game is still available new and can also convert one of the 2016 models, although Sega has not released a giant 4-player version with the top display like they did for 2016. Here’s some video I shot of it when it appeared at Amusement Expo 2020 in March of last year:
The most surprising exclusion of character in the arcade space is the lack of an official Sonic-themed pinball machine. This is surprising because of pinball levels found in some of the home games or Sonic Spinball itself and the fact that Sega used to have pinball divisions. At least from the latter, the character was frequently used by Sega Pinball, but only in the attract mode promotions when the Sega name would pop-up. A fun variation of this appearance was in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, where Sonic sometimes appears as Frankenstein’s monster:
Would you like to see a proper Sonic pinball machine? I do imagine that they would base it off of the recent movies, although I think it would be best to focus on the OG games.
So that’s a wrap for now – which one of these titles is your favorite?