Reviews - Updated on May 8, 2022

There is an opinion among gamers that video games should be out of politics. However, history says otherwise. Back in the last century, topics related to politics were constantly raised in video games – after all, people who had their own thoughts and experiences were engaged in them. One of the most striking examples is the games of the 90s for the Sega Genesis console, the central theme of which was environmental protection. Well, the most famous symbol of that era, which after so many years remains on hearing, was Sonic.

On guard of nature

The fact that Sonic the Hedgehog really raises this topic was told about ten years ago by Yuji Naka, a programmer who was actively involved in creating the first game about the blue hedgehog. Even then, the villain Doctor Robotnik was invented, whom Naka called a collective image of people whose activities negatively affect nature.

In 1991, this became a sore subject, and although I had my own opinion on this issue, I did not publicly express it. In Sonic the Hedgehog, I managed to express thoughts in a different way, which I did with the help of Robotnik, which pollutes the environment and contributes to its degradation through various techniques. Only Sonic could put an end to his deeds.

Yuji Naka, one of the creators of Sonic

Society has always been concerned about the protection of nature. In the United States, both large organizations such as WWF (1961) and Greenpeace (1969) and smaller movements such as Save The Rainforest (1988) and Save The Whales (1977), advocating rainforests and whales, respectively, appeared every now and then. Anti-nuclear movements and many other demonstrations were held in Europe and Asia, to which activists managed to draw crowds of people. And in 1992, a year after the release of the first Sonic the Hedgehog, the Earth Summit was held, where several important declarations and agreements were signed by the delegates of the UN member states. The motto of this conference is: “Our last chance to save the planet.”

Such crowds were not uncommon.

Such crowds were not uncommon.

Three years earlier, George HW Bush, who called himself “the environmental president”, came to power in the United States. He has indeed done a lot: introduced the long-awaited amendments to the Clean Air Act, signed the Energy Efficiency Act, and launched a global change research program. Not all Americans supported the direction chosen by Bush, but nevertheless, the topic of protecting the environment became many times more popular under his rule. In 1990, ABC TV channel showed a two-hour documentary Earth Day with the participation of Hollywood actors, the animated series Captain Planet Rescue Team appeared, hundreds of thousands of people took to the demonstrations …

At the same time, in Japan, the team within the walls of SEGA was trying to figure out how to repeat the success of Nintendo. Mario gained insane popularity, games with his participation were sold in huge numbers and contributed to the growth of console sales. SEGA needed not only cool games for their Genesis console (also known as Mega Drive), but also a memorable mascot – Alex Kidd from the game of the same name was not considered, since he looks like Mario. Genesis didn’t take off in Japan, so SEGA tried to conquer the American market by directly comparing its platform with its competitor from Nintendo in advertising.

The legendary advertising slogan, invented specifically for the Western audience.

The legendary advertising slogan, invented specifically for the Western audience.

So the mascot was created primarily for the American audience. The team came up with several images, one of which was drawn by designer Naoto Ohshima – the same blue hedgehog turned out. According to Oshima, he even went on vacation to New York and showed images of the characters to random passers-by in Central Park – the hedgehog seemed to everyone the most interesting option. The designer was inspired by different people from Michael Jackson (Michael Jackson) to Bill Clinton (Bill Clinton) – an image was needed that was close to any American.

Animals save animals

Design alone was indispensable – it was necessary to explain who Sonic is and what he does. And since the care of nature has become the number one topic in the US, it seemed logical to make a game about an animal that saves other animals and defeats an unpleasant person and his technology. During his speech at the GDC 2018 conference, Hirokazu Yasuhara spoke about this approach – he was engaged in card design in Sonic the Hedgehog.

Recording of the authors of Sonic the Hedgehog at GDC 2018.

The central idea of ​​the game was the confrontation between nature and destructive technologies. On the one hand, there are powerful enemies who are engaged in scientific research and do not respect flora and fauna. On the other hand, the opposition, which is far from being so strong at first glance, but really wants to save the planet.

In the process of playing through the early games of the series, it is not difficult to notice the theme of protecting nature. Sonic fights only with robots (although they look like animals), and as soon as they die, normal animals appear in their place, fleeing. Especially a lot of representatives of the fauna are released from the cages after each victory over Doctor Robotnik. The levels get darker and darker: the first part begins in the green and blooming Green Hill Zone, and ends in the industrial Scrap Brain Zone, where there is no greenery anymore – only red lights on buildings in the background, smoke from factory pipes and water polluted with waste.

The atmosphere is so-so.

The atmosphere is so-so.

In Sonic the Hedgehog 2, there were more locations, so they were able to reveal the theme there better. Already in the second chapter, we get to a chemical plant, in the middle of the game we explore an area called the “Ocean of Oil”, and the story ends with a cutest scene with a flock of bald eagles flying after Sonic and Tails. By the way, bald eagles, which Robotnik used as a source of energy for his inventions, are the national birds of the United States and live only in North America. Coincidence? I don’t think.

Subsequently, other game developers for the Sega Genesis either tried to repeat the success of Sonic, or sincerely wanted to speak out on the same topic. In Awesome Possum (1993), an evil scientist sent robots to the planet, and the protagonist and his animal friends tried to save nature. In Vectorman (1995), humanity left Earth to explore other planets, and the nasty robot Raster became a dictator and threatened the environment. Not to mention the famous Ecco the Dolphin (1992). There were similar games before Sonic – in Growl (1990), for example, the main character was a forest ranger beating poachers.

The Growl idea, by the way, still seems fresh - the brand could be revived!

The idea of ​​Growl, by the way, still seems fresh – the brand could be revived!

Tom Kalinske, former CEO of Sega of America, argued to VICE that developers weren’t forced to follow trends:

I have always allowed our teams to do what they love, what they have a soul for. All involved in these games were environmentalists. <...> I tried to remain politically neutral when I was in charge of SEGA, but I always supported the desire of the teams to do what they felt was right. I think today these games can teach a lot [современных разработчиков].

Tom Kalinske, CEO of Sega of America from 1990 to 1996

Unfortunately or fortunately, this topic has not received significant development in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. After Sonic CD, where each location had versions from the past and the future, the developers were less eager to speak out about environmental issues. Although the first Sonics did not explicitly state this, relying more on visuals than on introductory videos or descriptions on disc boxes. But when SEGA announced it was selling NFT content last year, it became clear that SEGA was “not the same anymore,” going against the company’s once “green” direction.

As a result, Sonics turned out to be great entertainment and competed with Mario platformers, thanks to which SEGA was able to fight with Nintendo in the console market. These games will soon be re-released on all current platforms – the Sonic Origins compilation will be released on June 23, which includes Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic CD. Knowing the background of these games, you start to look at them a little differently.

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