Sonic the Hedgehog by Sonic Team, for Sega Genesis - released in 1991.
So, what am I gonna write about today? Battle Pinball? Master of Monsters? Warsong? Faery Tale Adventure? Sigh... all week it has been obscure games already (my favorite!) I guess I should throw you a bone and write about a game some people have actually played..
Sonic exploded onto the scene in the heat of the 16-Bit wars. Nintendo was preparing to release their new system in the fall of 1991, and along with it a new sure-hit blockbuster Mario game was packed-in. Sega had been a successful steward with their 16-Bit dominance in the meantime, but now Daddy was coming home to clean up. Something needed to be done.. and fast (get it?)
Alex Kidd was Sega's previous would-be "Mario Killer" mascot - unfortunately for Sega, the only person he seemed to be killing was himself, as most Western gamers dismissed his adventures with a yawn and a shrug. Sega went back to the drawing board and created a more accessible character, essentially spawning a whole new style/generation of "anthropomorphic mascot characters with lots of attitude." Nearly all of them failed, but for one reason or another, Sonic has stuck it out all these years.
The new game was remarkably simple. Ditching Alex Kidd's punch attack and item acquisition, Sonic used all three Genesis control triggers to jump - otherwise, all you would do in this world was run. Taking a major cue from Mario, you'd jump on enemies to "free" them (kill!), there were a couple of the prerequisite powerups (shield, 1UP, speed sneakers) but overall the game was about collecting rings, getting to the bosses, and saving the day.
Sonic was a lot more technologically impressive than many of the Genesis titles which came before it. Every world was dripping with lush color and detail, and lots of nice animated touches. The world of Moebius was beautifully styled and illustrated to so much stronger of a degree than what you'd usually see in these otherwise slapped-together manner of games. Character Action games had never really been the Genesis' strong suite up until this point, so it was very refreshing to see what could be done (and it certainly stood in stark contrast to the opposition which largely existed on the system's 8-Bit rival). Also, as noted the game moved really fast, much faster than any action game seen before.
The game was rounded out with a peppy, matching soundtrack, and of course very well-designed levels. Nothing too difficult, but enough was there that required a certain level of patience and interaction from a dedicated player (you couldn't merely hold right and spam the jump button to get through any level - many required precise movements and careful planning). Sonic was a hit that no one expected, and rightly so - and when the much-beefier Super Mario World followed on the higher-tech SNES some months later, that game was not looking much better than what we had here running on "the inferior Genesis hardware." In fact Mario's game was starting to feel a bit stale in light of this new freshness.
Sonic has been around for ages now, and while many of his 3D games have been less than satisfying, the original 2D iterations are still absolutely classic gaming at it's best. They hold up very well today, and are still being reissued for play on modern consoles. If you've yet to attend this party, it's high-time you made an entrance!