In my previous Favorite Characters article, I discussed Link from the Legend of Zelda series and how the character was defined by the games he was in, even though he doesn’t really have much of a personality on his own. Sonic the Hedgehog, on the other hand, is pretty much the opposite. Sonic is nearly all personality, and it transcends his games. That might explain why the character has endured, despite the inconsistent quality of the games he’s in.
For me, that personality was instrumental in defining the 16-bit generation. Sega initially sold the power of the Genesis based on its ability to handle arcade ports, but Sonic took it to the next level (so to speak). He was one of the most expressive video game characters on home consoles of the time, with graphics that were able to portray his facial expressions (mainly through his large eyes) and body language. He was also rendered in a very three-dimensional way, spinning and rotating him 360 degrees, creating a sense of geometry for the character rather than simply being a flat sprite on the screen. The power of the Genesis brought Sonic to life like no game character before, making him the perfect ambassador for the next generation.
Sonic’s actual design seems heavily influenced by classic cartoon characters from the early 20th century. His highly stylized anthropomorphic appearance is not unlike the earliest designs of Mickey Mouse or Felix the Cat. Even his color scheme, consisting largely of blue contrasted with white and light tan, seems like a throwback to monochromatic black and white. That minimalism helps to emphasize his expressive nature, letting his personality shine through rather than diluting it with superficial elements. Staying true to such classical influences makes Sonic feel timeless.
There were a lot of copycat characters throughout the ’90s, virtually none of which have survived. Sonic outlasted all of them not just because he was original, but because he was a fully realized character. Yeah, he’s got “attitude,” being cocky and occasionally leaping before he looks, but I think that’s balanced out by his heroic personality, and ultimately, Sonic has good intentions. I also like that he’s somewhat laid back, and takes things is stride. He’s like a guy who would be fun to hang out with in real life.
When I first decided to write a series of articles about my favorite game characters, I made a short list of the characters that I wanted to cover, and I decided that Link and Sonic would be the first two. Coincidentally, this was before Sega revealed the new Sonic Boom sub-franchise in which Sonic and company received a fairly substantial makeover. As with Link’s many incarnations, I really enjoy seeing this new interpretation of the character. It’s not the first time Sonic has gotten a makeover, but it demonstrates that he maintains a core appeal, even if his outer appearance is altered.
When I think about it, it’s a little hard to pin down exactly what I like about Sonic. He just has that intangible charisma that I can’t help but love, and it can’t be replicated with a simple formula. Whatever your opinions are of the games he’s in, or if you believe in silly things like the “Sonic cycle,” it’s worth noting that it often starts off with high hopes. To me, that indicates that most people genuinely like Sonic as a character, and we want to see him succeed. That’s gotta count for something.