Yuji Naka Had Trouble on the Official SEGA Test – Because of ‘Mr Needlemouse’

To celebrate SEGA’s 60th anniversary, the game company hosted a special public exam to test fans’ knowledge of its history. We missed it too, we’re upset about that as well. But spare a thought for Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka, who revealed that he actually had trouble knowing the answer to one particular question relating to his blue creation. And, as most things, it all comes down to a decades-old case of mistranslation.

You see, as most Sonic fans know, when the concept of Sonic was being developed and he was still lacking a formal name, Sonic Team gave the mascot a tentative name of ‘Mr. Needlemouse.’ This fact was further celebrated when SEGA’s America office began promoting the existence of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 in 2010, giving the then-unannounced title the name ‘Project Needlemouse’.

Except, it turns out, nobody at Sonic Team ever used the name ‘Mr. Needlemouse’. In the 1990s or at any other given time.

In a tweet this morning, Naka-san expressed complete surprise at the question on the SEGA test that asks what name Sonic was given before he was unleashed to the world. The answers were: “Mister Needlemouse”, “Mister Speedymouse”, “Mister Rocketmouse” and “Mister Bluemouse”. The answer, officially, is “Mister Needlemouse”, but not to Naka-san.

Twitter user @SonicJPNews added some context here. The actual original name for Sonic, in Japanese, was “Mr. ハリネズミ” – or, in English, “Mr. Hedgehog”. Mr. Needlemouse is, it seems, a name completely alien to the original creators of Sonic.

So what went wrong here? Well, according to SonicJPNews, when you attempt to translate the Japanese word for ‘Hedgehog’ (ハリネズミ), it’s actually possible to split the word into two. “ハリ” (‘hari’) means “needle”, and “ネズミ” (‘nezumi’) means “mouse”. But together, they compound to mean “hedgehog” (ハリネズミ, ‘harinezumi’).

We didn’t think it would be possible, but it seems that even after 30 years, Sonic the Hedgehog can still fall victim to translation errors. The end result of this long-time misunderstanding is that, in 2021, one of the creators of Sonic himself comes across a question about his very development and hasn’t got the foggiest idea what it’s talking about!

残念、中さん。It looks like there are some things even a creator is not in control of. Still, we hope he enjoyed the rest of the test!

Thanks to Kori-Maru for the heads up!

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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.

7 Comments

  1. The side-note: the reason that Knuckles is such an obscure species like an echidna, as opposed to something more well-known and immediately comparable to a hedgehog like a porcupine, is because an echidna in Japanese is “harimogura” (needle-mole) whereas a porcupine is “yama’arashi” (mountain-coarse). This is also why Knuckles is mistranslated as a mole in the dub of the 90s Sonic OVA.

  2. SEGA acknowledging the Mr. Needlemouse thing for Sonic 4 marketing was brilliant, it totally fit with the whole bait-n-switch thematic they were going for with the playable character poll and the fact that each zone and special stage in Episode 1 was largely a callback to S1 or S2 stages.

  3. Wait, what? So was “Mr. Needlemouse” never a tentative name for Sonic at all? It was a misconception for 30 years?

  4. It’s a bit of a telephone game.
    The only place where ミスター・ニードルマウス is mentioned is in the Japanese wiki (our likely questionnaire source), which sources a 1-up interview, which referred the codename as “Mr. Needlemouse”. (I’m assuming that the article writer or the interviewee “localized” that particular detail).
    In any case, that name origin section is a direct translation of the English version of the wiki, sourcing that same article, and translated the name literally.

  5. Odd, so “Mr. Needlemouse” was just a misconception for all these years? Or was it just completely unknown to Naka himself (up until this public test)?

    1. I just read on Nintendo Life that Yosuke Okunari (creative producer who works on many Sega retro projects) replied and explained to Naka about the “Needlemouse” translation and that it is scrawled on a piece of concept artwork by Oshima.

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