COMMENTARY: Sonic the Hedgehog: 22 Years and Still Going Fast!

Faster than greased lightning, Sonic the Hedgehog is one tough Erinaceinae to keep up with, and admittedly, I haven’t been trying. I had the first Sonic the Hedgehog game when it came out way back in 1991, but not long after, I went through a dry spell in which I kept away from video games. During the interim, Sonic evolved as both a pop culture icon and corporate mascot for video game publisher Sega, while I—well, I got slightly taller.

Now here we are in 2013, and with the Sonic franchise still going strong, I thought I’d rekindle my relationship with him by checking out some recent Sonic games and toys.

Phil.November20.3Sonic Lost World, by Sega: The original Sonic the Hedgehog was a side-scroller with pretty simple game play. By comparison, the latest installment is a radically different experience at times, with some levels consisting of “classic,” 2-D, side-scrolling play, while the others are immersive 3-D from an angled, top-down perspective. Players now have the option of moving in nearly all directions, and interact with terrain in ways that would have been impossible during the 2-D days.

Phil.November20.1In Sonic Lost World, players can use the trigger button on the Wii U controller to rev Sonic up, and send him zipping along extra fast (Be warned: He can get a little out of hand if you aren’t used to it yet). When approaching tight spaces, he can subsequently ricochet off walls and perform other special maneuvers. During my demo, I actually kept my finger mostly off that button, and the game still managed to be a kinetic, occasionally vertiginous experience, with lots of rocketing off springboards into the air and pinballing faster than the eye could keep up.

Yet despite plenty of new moves, the average player can still get pretty far using the old Sonic the Hedgehog control range – just the directional pad and regular jump button. I was thankful that the game play mechanics could be boiled down so succinctly; on the other hand, it makes sense, since the appeal of the franchise has always been its speedy play, and nothing slows a player’s reaction time like having to ponder which of six million buttons to press. In the new game, players can jump, home in on approaching hostiles, and put them out of commission—all by hitting the same button repeatedly; and of course, without the title character ever breaking his stride.

Sonic Lost World is available now on Nintendo Wii U and 3DS. Overall, it’s everything a fan of classic Sonic would want plus some extra. Looks like the fleet-footed rodent has aged pretty well.

Sonic the Hedgehog licensed action figures, from Jazwares: The toymaker has a growing line of plush and other toys based on Sonic and his universe of characters. One of my personal favorites is the 5-inch Sonic the Hedgehog from the Super Posers line. Along with capturing his devil-may-care attitude via a well-placed smirk, the figure is articulated to an impressive degree: Each of his arms, for example, has moveable joints at the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers; and his wrists swivel, too. He also has extra-large feet that make him easy to stand up. Highly functional and poseable, despite such tricky proportions as a head that dwarfs his torso, fans of Sonic games should find him a well-realized version of their pixilated hero. Suitable for kids ages 4 and up.

Phil.November20.2I also enjoyed the Shadow & Silver Comic Pack, featuring 3-inch mini-figures of the anti-hero and futuristic version of Sonic, respectively, both of whom were introduced well after the original game. Although they have fewer points of articulation, they’re still highly versatile, and come with saw blade-shaped platforms that can affix to their feet. These provide stability for poses, such as the one I describe as them, “running headlong into danger.” Suitable for kids ages 4 and up, the two-pack comes with an Archie Comics book that delves into these ancillary characters for people like me, who only see cartoon rodents with awesome hair.

Between the ever-growing video game line, toys, and more, it’s clear that the Sonic franchise now has a depth that was unimaginable 22 years ago, when he was the star of just one game. Who knows what the next two decades will bring, but one thing’s for sure: He’s already come a long way fast.

For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!