20 Years of TSS: The Biggest Sonic Stories of the Last Two Decades

What’s that? You want Sonic the Hedgehog news, sonny? Well, it just so happens that we’ve got a whole LIBRARY’S worth of news stories and features covering the last twenty years! We could tell you when Archie Sonic #117 hit comic store shelves… or we could tell you something interesting instead. How about the biggest Sonic stories to hit the internet since The Sonic Stadium opened its doors in 2000?

The below stories are among some of the most earth-shattering that took place from 2000-2020. They’re not necessarily our favourites, but they do represent some of the most important moments in the Sonic online community over the last two decades. Take a trip down memory lane with us… and if you have any stories you remember that aren’t covered in this feature, why not reminisce in the comments section below?

SEGA Exits Console Hardware

The first truly planet-shaking news took flight mere months after The Sonic Stadium launched! Talk about timing. It all started with a casual – and frankly odd – rumour in late 2000 that SEGA was planning to develop a Sonic the Hedgehog game on Nintendo’s Game Boy.

What? Sonic on a non-SEGA platform? It was just too silly to pay any attention to – and indeed, SEGA at the time did squash the rumour. But then it started to get serious.

A rumour took off that SEGA planning to outright discontinue its Dreamcast console and exit the hardware business entirely. Adding fuel to the fire was the then-outrageous claim that SEGA Japan would be looking into developing games for the Game Boy Advance as well as SEGA’s long-time bitter rival, Sony’s PlayStation 2.

On 30th January 2001 – five months before the release of the highly-anticipated Sonic Adventure 2 – it was official. SEGA was dropping out of the console market. We had an opinion on it. It hasn’t aged well.

Sonic Adventure 2’s Dreamcast Launch

The Sonic Stadium launched about eight months before the release of Sonic Team’s Dreamcast swansong, Sonic Adventure 2. And man, was there hype for this game! Details were agonisingly drip-fed from Sonic Team since the game’s E3 2000 announcement trailer, which only made fans cling on to any tiny morsel of information for dear life. Like this preview we wrote in December 2000 based on what little was revealed.

Unexpectedly, fans got a taste of the game’s first stage in a demo disc that came packaged with Sonic Team’s online RPG, Phantasy Star Online. We went a little bit crazy in previewing it.

SA2 was also significant because its release marked Sonic the Hedgehog’s 10th anniversary, and as a result a special edition package was announced that included a coin and CD soundtrack. The game’s main antagonist, Shadow, also got top billing at E3 2001 with his face adorning the side of Los Angeles’ humungous Convention Centre.

Sonic Goes Third Party

That original ‘Sonic on Game Boy’ rumour came back to bite everyone in the butt, as the blue blur most definitely did make the jump to Nintendo’s handheld family of devices. Following the release of Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast, Sonic Team worked with Dimps to develop a brand new 2D platform game on Game Boy Advance called… imaginatively, Sonic Advance.

This, along with a port of Sonic Adventure 2 for the Gamecube, was a landmark event. Sonic the Hedgehog, SEGA’s bright blue mascot that led the fight against Nintendo in the 1990s, was now being played on the same console as Super Mario. It was simply upside-down land.

Once this happened, the floodgates opened up with furious rumours that Sonic would be mixing it up with Mario in a brand new game series. This was denied several times over by Sonic Team and SEGA heads… but it didn’t help that SEGA and Nintendo too started teasing the same.

Of course, we only had to wait six more years for it to finally happen though…

Sonic X Anime Announcement

SEGA was talking about creating a new Sonic the Hedgehog anime as early as 2001, but it wasn’t until 2003 that ‘Sonic X’ became known to the world. The show was a collaboration between Sonic Team and Toei Animation, and crucially was overseen by Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka. This gave the show a level of authenticity that hadn’t been seen before in past Sonic cartoons and media.

Although the characters stuck to their SEGASonic canon, much of the rest of the anime did not. For example, the premise and locations largely did not follow the video games (save for a few episodes that adapted the Sonic Adventure series). Sonic is teleported to planet Earth from his home planet, and navigates human city life with a newfound pal, Chris Thorndyke.

A new animation series was enough to get many Sonic fans excited back in 2003, but the fact it had Sonic Team’s involvement and was supported by a bunch of merchandise, CD soundtrack releases, comics and more increased the hype a hundred fold. With US and UK fans having to wait a good year or so before a localised version aired on their TV screens, many would eagerly await the release of a timely fansub of the next Japanese episode and binge online.

SEGA and Sammy Merger, Restructuring

Although they had jettisoned their loss-making hardware division, SEGA was still hurting for capital a good couple of years after it officially went third party. In an effort to rescue itself, it had announced a merger with pachinko manufacturer Sammy Corporation (after rumours surfaced that it would be actually merging with Namco). The resulting corporate entity would become SEGA Sammy Holdings, and Sammy president Hajime Satomi would run the whole reformed organisation.

Shortly after this announcement, SEGA decided to restructure its entire operations. It meant that a lot of in-house development studios would be closed or folded in with others. Space Channel 5 developer, United Game Artists, was merged into and became a part of Sonic Team, for example. Only SEGA-AM2 survived unscathed.

This was a significant story because it dramatically affected the development of future Sonic games and the organisation of Sonic Team. This also wouldn’t be the last time SEGA re-organised itself in this way. Today, the company has multiple studios in Europe and the US, but its Japan operations (besides the Ryu ga Gotoku Studio) has far fewer identities behind its projects now.

Shadow the Hedgehog’s Walk of Game 2005 Announcement

This one broke peoples’ brains – “Sonic with a gun” was the general consensus. Perhaps the most baffling part of this announcement was its setting. Shadow the Hedgehog was revealed as part of SEGA’s celebration of Sonic’s acceptance into the Hollywood Walk of Game.

It was a real switcheroo; SEGA unveiled two different promotional trailers back-to-back. The first was a simple celebratory blast through Sonic’s past, chronicling the incredible and colourful journey that the blue blur had taken so far. And then, the second trailer – a complete tonal change, as landscapes of bright green hills got blasted with bullets, to reveal an angry boi walking towards the screen holding a pistol. He shoots the camera. Weirdness ensues.

Shadow the Hedgehog ended up being simply an ‘okaaaaay’ game – certainly not worth massively complaining about, considering it was a spinoff – but the original reveal was just so incredibly strange that it immediately shaped the community’s conversation about how good the game was going to be.

Yuji Naka Leaves Sonic Team

What would happen if Shigeru Miyamoto suddenly up-and-left Nintendo? Or if Walt Disney woke up one day and said, “screw it, I’ll give this all up and open a restaurant chain or something”?

That was pretty much the sentiment within the Sonic community when it was announced that original game co-creator and long-time head of Sonic Team, Yuji Naka, had decided to leave SEGA. Rumours had circulated just after E3 2005, where the studio showed off their then-next-gen Sonic The Hedgehog game.

And at the time, the trailer looked super-impressive! So to hear of Naka’s intentions to leave and set up a new studio called PROPE was doubly-surprising. Needless to say, with the fullness of time, one could probably speculate as to the internal events that might have led to Naka’s departure, considering how much of a mess ‘Sonic 06’ ended up

Mario & Sonic Team Up!

It finally happened! Two of gaming’s most bitter fictional rivals – Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario – were to bury the hatchet and team up in a brand new video game series. SEGA and Nintendo announced joint-development of ‘Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games’, to be released on the hyper-popular Wii console.

Sure, it wasn’t exactly the platforming action game that Sonic fans had dreamed of since 2001, but really if you think about it… that wouldn’t have made sense. Not that Sonic and Mario taking part in real-world Olympic events makes much more sense, but a spinoff sports series definitely seems like a scenario in which you could bring these two worlds together in a sensible manner.

The Mario & Sonic series remains a massive series, selling millions of copies with each new release. Since the original Wii release there have been games on Nintendo DS, Wii U, 3DS and Nintendo Switch.

Sonic the Hedgehog in Super Smash Bros!!

Once Mario and Sonic were confirmed to be teaming up for the Olympic Games, the genie was truly out of the bottle. Anything was possible! Could Sonic REALLY be set for an appearance in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros series now? This had been a persistent rumour (and hoax) since around 2001, but sure enough in October 2007 it became official. Sonic was a fighter in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Wii.

Sonic the Hedgehog joining forces with Mario in a new spinoff series was one thing, but having the blue blur appear in one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises was huge news. Not only that but his iconic Green Hill Zone was revealed to be a stage in Smash Bros Brawl too, including Angel Island Zone music newly-arranged by Jun Senoue! He’s been a mainstay of the party brawler series ever since, appearing in Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS as well as Super Smash Bros Ultimate for Nintendo Switch.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4’s Bizarre Marketing Campaign

The announcement of a brand new 2D Sonic game in and of itself wasn’t groundbreaking news in 2009. The Nintendo DS and GBA before it had seen a number of new side-scrolling action titles to complement the blue blur’s 3D adventures. What gave ‘Project Needlemouse’ such gravitas was the fact that it was not only destined for home consoles, but eventually touted as a full-on canonical, numbered sequel to the Sega Mega Drive originals.

Perhaps more than anything else, though, was the interesting way in which Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was marketed. Practically no information was initially revealed – not even the name. A trailer that was released gave absolutely nothing away, and had journalists scrambling to beg SEGA for any kind of detail.

Instead, SEGA sought to tease fans with concept art of a single badnik and other strange niknaks in return for social media engagement. Famously, a ‘playable character list‘ was unveiled, that got whittled down over the weeks until only one name was left: Sonic. An expertly-crafted troll on the community that has been the basis of SEGA America’s Sonic brand marketing ever since.

These days, we expect the Sonic Twitter account and main SEGA America Sonic brand team to think of crazy ways to promote upcoming projects, and we can pretty much date this strategy back all the way to Sonic 4. Fans went a little bit nuts over this strange new approach. Of course, Sonic 4 came out and… it didn’t really hit the mark, but it’ll forever be remembered as the genesis of what eventually became the ‘Sonic Twitter’ era of Sonic brand marketing.

Michael Jackson x Sonic 3 Theories Confirmed

It was perhaps the worst-kept secret in Sonic the Hedgehog history. And to this day, SEGA will still not formally confirm or deny the legendary pop star Michael Jackson’s involvement in Sonic 3’s soundtrack. Yuji Naka himself famously danced around the issue when asked about it in 2009.

The subject has been hotly discussed and debated for many years. But close collaborators of Michael Jackson, who also worked on the game, have firmly confirmed the existence of his work with SEGA. Twice in fact; once in a French magazine in 2009 and again in 2016.

So significant was this news that it has likely contributed to the fact that SEGA has not re-released Sonic 3 (or its counterpart, Sonic & Knuckles – a game that does not include Jackson’s tracks but also lacks impact without its predecessor) for many years now.

Sonic Boom: The Cross-Media Brand That Could

What started off as a simple cartoon announcement became a surprise full-blown multi-media experience. February 2014 was quite a ride for the Sonic community, as the ‘Sonic Boom’ sub-franchise was formally announced with a cartoon, comic, merchandise and game line all of its own.

So confusing was the premise that SEGA had to go out of its way to clarify that this was not in fact a complete reboot of the Sonic franchise as we knew it. We interviewed SEGA’s Stephen Frost about the approach of this new-look Sonic series, that sees the characters wrapped up in sports tape and rocking some serious new attitudes.

Ultimately, with the best will in the world, unfortunately the Sonic Boom franchise ended up falling apart at the seams. The games just did not connect with the fanbase, and ended up becoming sales bombs. Little by little, the focus of the brand centred more and more on the one pillar of the multi-media project that was working – the animated series. Sadly, this appears to have also been shelved according to a former executive producer. A shame, as the TV show was really quite good.

Sonic Mania, The Fans-to-Riches Story

A game by the fans, for the fans. Or, as Takashi Iizuka once put it, ‘by the Mania[cs], for the Mania[cs]’! Such a simple marketing message, that struck gold the second the announcement trailer was revealed. The packed hall of frenzied Sonic fans at SEGA’s official Sonic 25th Anniversary party went absolutely gaga for this, a brand new entry in the 2D Sonic series – and unlike Sonic 4, this was a project that had some real promise.

For a start, the game’s development was led by a coalition of coders that cut their teeth creating Sonic the Hedgehog fan games and other associated hobby projects. Christian Whitehead, the maestro behind Sonic CD’s iPhone port and architect of the ‘Sonic Retro’ fan game engine, was the key driver behind Sonic Mania alongside Simon ‘Stealth’ Thomley, another famous name in the Sonic community.

But make no mistake. Despite their fan gaming roots, the Sonic Mania project and the Mania team itself was far, far, far from a ‘fan game made real’. To say otherwise would be to discredit the developers’ expertise and talent. This was no ‘official fan game’. Together with PagodaWest Games, Whitehead and Thomley formed something of a super-indie development union, and worked with SEGA to rediscover the magic that had been lost since the classic Mega Drive games.

This game’s announcement was hugely significant, not just for its development context but also for the adulation that the finished product received from fans. Some of our most popular (and favourite) stories involve Mania in some way – including this crazy fan art created from a misinterpretation of a end-level boss.

Archie Sonic Cancelled, SEGA Moves License to IDW

It seemed to be going so well for the Archie Comics run of Sonic the Hedgehog. After dealing with lawsuits and going through some turbulence with its particularly strange and messy canon, fans were hyped again for the Archie-published book. Particularly since fresh new artist Tyson Hesse had joined and was producing a short series called Sonic: Mega Drive.

But all was not well in the House of Riverdale. Mysteriously, upcoming issues of Sonic the Hedgehog were being delayed, with no formal explanation. Solicitations had also suddenly stopped, which only raised suspicions. In July 2017, the game was up and the word was out – SEGA was to cease licensing Sonic to Archie, ending a run that lasted nearly 25 years.

Die-hard fans of Archie’s multi-threaded Sonic canon and extravagant cast of original characters were devastated at this news, as almost all of that cast and story would effectively be dead.

Shortly after this news, SEGA announced a brand new partnership with IDW Publishing to start a brand new comic book series – one that would follow the guidance of SEGA Sonic’s canon and characters a lot more closely. This was a smart move, in hindsight – the rebooted first issues revitalised interest in the franchise within the comic industry as it completely smashed sales records.

Sonic’s Movie Design – And Redesign

In the twenty years that we have been in operation, no long-running project has been as hotly anticipated or had a greater fan interest than the Hollywood Sonic the Hedgehog movie. It’s a story that goes back some seven or eight years, as multiple studios planned to lead production on the project before it eventually ended up with Paramount Pictures.

Hype steadily grew since 2017, as logos were unveiled, on-set photos leaked and cast was locked in (including Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik and Ben Schwartz as Sonic). But out of everything that happened during the run-up to the movie’s release, nothing broke the internet more than the reveal of CG Sonic’s original design.

After a leak or two, the movie’s first official trailer caused a tsunami of criticism from not just the Sonic community, but almost everyone who laid eyes on it. The community reacted, as did even Sonic co-creators Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima. Everyone was incredibly disgusted, confused and straight-up weirded out.

Very soon after the trailer’s release, the movie’s director announced that changes were coming to the blue blur’s big-screen design. As a result, the movie got delayed from its late-2019 launch window to 2020. Eventually, a new trailer hit the internet, with a brand new design drawn up by Tyson Hesse at a cost of around $5 million to the studio. It did its job, because everybody absolutely LOVED it.

The movie launched in February 2020, and was a massive box office smash, breaking video game movie records and netting over $300 million worldwide at last count. Ironically, since COVID-19 caused most of the world to lockdown and social distance, Sonic the Hedgehog may well end up being the biggest movie theater hit of 2020!

15 Honourable Mentions

What were the biggest news stories of the last twenty years for you? Let us know in the comments box below!

Published by

Dreadknux

Founder of The Sonic Stadium and creator/co-organiser of the Summer of Sonic convention. Loves talking about Sonic the Hedgehog in his spare time. Likes Sonic Colours a little too much for his own good, apparently.

3 Comments

  1. Man such a crazy ride of shocking Sonic-related gaming news, good and bad, over the two decades. Here is to more!

    Also, I had completely forgotten about that “F**k off to Naka” piece of news until right now. lol

  2. Oh gosh such sad times when Sonic’s voice got replaced for no reason, and Boom was revealed, but man the Sonic 4 thing probably takes the cake.

    The Shadow the Hedgehog game had all the wrong ideas but is still fairly fun to play today, it complements Heroes and the Adventure series quite well.

    One of the things I absolutely can’t stand about it is when there’s a render of Shadow holding a generic gun, as if that were the main weapon of choice (and it’s not, it’s hardly even in the game.)

    I wish SEGA would give this the NiGHTS treatment, and release it on Steam with two options: Original and Less Edge versions, with the Less Edge using the none “damn” recordings, replacing the Shadow renders holding a gun, replacing the ridiculous menu sfx.

    Would be hilarious if they gave it this much attention again but I think an 06 port has more chance of happening ngl.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.