Sonic the Hedgehog turns 20 today. Is he still cool, embarrassingly '90s, or so embarrassingly '90s that he's cool again?


Image Credit: Courtesy of SEGA

Super Mario has never been cool. Yes, he’s probably the most beloved videogame character in the world, and yes, he’s the star of some of the best videogames ever made. But Mario is beloved because of his goofy nobility: He’s a regular blue-collar dude with a Deadwood mustache, and he always does the right thing, whether that means rescuing a princess or providing financial support for his tragic brother, Luigi. He’s the Jimmy Stewart of videogame heroes.

In the late ’80s, upstart Sega knew that they had to differentiate their new home entertainment system: the Mega Drive, known in America as the Sega Genesis. They didn’t want another Mario. They wanted a mascot with pizzazz, with swagger, a hero who was gnarly, radical, totally tubular; a guy who was so cool he was hot, and yet simultaneously so hot that he was cool. If Nintendo had their James Stewart, then Sega needed a James Dean. Thus: Sonic the Hedgehog, he of the sardonic smile, the blazing red shoes, the anthropomorphic mohawk cut, and the sheer overcaffeinated speed.

Sonic the Hedgehog was released 20 years ago today, on June 23, 1991. The years have not been kind. Sonic had a run of fun games in the early ’90s, but he never became a utility player like Mario; there was no Sonic Kart, no Sonic Party, no Dr. Sonic (although there was Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine). The introduction of Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic and Knuckles was a Poochie-level low point. Sonic made a well-received jump into a 3-D universe in Sonic Adventure, the bestselling game on the Dreamcast, but that’s sort of like being the richest man in an empty ghost town that is at the base of an active volcano. Sonic has had a nice retirement playing alongside his old rival in Super Smash Brothers Brawl. (Sega got out of the console business altogether after the failure of the Dreamcast, which proves that life imitates mascots.)

Here’s the question: Is Sonic just an embarrassing ’90s relic now? I’d be willing to bet that young videogamers today haven’t even heard of him. Even if they had, the whole notion of Sonic’s coolness seems to come from an adorably G-rated era: Just imagine him in a room with Solid Snake, Marcus Fenix, or any character from a Rockstar game. (It doesn’t help matters that Sonic’s trademark smirk also looks uncannily like the DreamWorks Face.) Then again, you could argue that Sonic’s era-appropriate specificity might be his strength. Unlike Mario, who doesn’t really seem to belong to any era (besides maybe neon-musical vision of the 1920s), Sonic seems uniquely well-placed to ride the oncoming wave of ’90s nostalgia. Hey, there’s a reason why we put Sonic on our list of the coolest videogame characters ever, but that was a legacy pick.

What do you think, everybody? Is Sonic still cool? Or is he willfully out of date, like Right Said Fred, Reality Bites, or the notion that Bart is the star of The Simpsons? Also, am I the only one who, as a kid, kept waiting for them to release Sega Exodus? Anyone else a nerd in Sunday school? Anyone?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:
‘Sonic the Hedgehog 4,’ a Genesis-style throwback
‘Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie’

Comments (30 total) Add your comment
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  • Shannon

    Decidedly cool. And Sonic Olympics on Wii is AMAZING.

    • Mr. Holloway

      Have definitely spent WAY more time playing Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games with my friends than I care to admit.

  • Marie

    The Sonic comic books were the best!

    • Matt

      Where have you been all of my life? I looooved the Sonic comics as a kid, especially the first few dozen, because they were so funny – I also loved the cartoon show (Jaleel White, the guy who played Urkel, did Sonic’s voice!).

  • Stacie

    Never been into Sonic. I say not cool.

  • Laura

    LOVE Sonic! That was my first video game, and recently I got a Sega game pack for PS3… I play Sonic all the time! Classic.

    • Sharlin

      When I was growing up and you didn’t have a Sega or a Sonic game… you just weren’t IN. Sonic is a great reminder of how great the Sega Genesis was. It makes me sad Sega doesn’t do consoles. However, if there was no Sega, there would have never been a Playstation or an Xbox. Sega/Sonic showed you could go against Nintendo and thrive.

  • Amy

    I say cool, though my main memories of Sonic are from the waiting room at the orthodontist, where they had a Sega we could play Sonic.

    • Kat

      Whoa, your orthodontist was awesome. My orthodontist just had an aquarium.

    • Tim

      Wow, Amy, that’s random – when I saw this headline my first thought was about discovering Sonic in my orthodontist’s waiting room too! I was never a huge fan, but for a high schooler it was much more exciting than “Highlights” magazine…

  • Latilleon

    And as an added note, didn’t Sonic do the Dreamworks face before Dreamworks existed? Therefore, aren’t Dreamworks characters doing the Sonic face?

  • Kyle

    I would love to see a Sonic movie in the works. And I dont mean a DVD movie, I want a feature film. That would be Bad-Ass! And yes, Sonic is cool!

  • Katja

    Oh my god. Sega Exodus. I didn’t even know there WAS such a thing as a Sunday School nerd. That is absurd and totally hilarious.

  • Jimmers

    Loved Sonic! I would play my Sega Gamegear all night while listening to The Crow soundtrack. Awe the 90’s, good times.

  • Christa

    My 10 year old thinks that Sonic is cool, but he would disagree with you on Mario (his hero).

  • Dave

    Nope. Mario is way cooler. No contest.

  • Jane

    I think Tails was cooler, lol!

  • Betty

    Mario is way cooler, but my 8 year old son is a sonic fan due to the olympic wii games with mario. He also LOVES the comic books, so I would say that sonic is cool.

  • Crystal

    I still love Sonic! Especially Sonic 2…I still remember countless hours in front of the TV trying to beat that game…which, if I remember correctly, I don’t think I ever did, even when years later they released that whole Sonic pack for the PS2 or 3 and you could actually save the game… Great, now I really wanna play…

  • Rach

    Had sonic on my old game gear system. Good game

    • LOL

      Sonic has the best burgers and drinks. Have you tried ‘em? Tasty!

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