There are a handful of games that one could point to and say they forever changed the course of the video game industry. Among them? Sonic the Hedgehog. First released on the Sega Genesis on June 23rd, 1991, it challenged Nintendo’s dominance. It introduced a new kind of platformer to the masses. It sparked the imagination of an entire generation. Nearly 30 years later, the world of Sonic continues to grow and thrive, but it all started in a little black cart with six unique zones hiding inside, waiting for someone to plug it in and explore South Island.
As the kids who played the game grew up, it was only a matter of time before many became curious as to how this game came to be. Through research, interviews, and a lot of persistent digging, much of the game’s development has come to light. The process as to how Sonic and Eggman were designed. The months spent perfecting Green Hill Zone. The debates between the American and Japanese branches of SEGA, arguing how the game would be formed, advertised, and all the million little details inbetween that could make or break the company’s hopes in the 16-bit era. It’s a fascinating story, but there was always one piece that was missing. An early piece of media that would let someone take a peek into the development process, to experience a version of Sonic just a bit different than the one that hit store shelves.
That puzzle piece has finally been discovered. And it is glorious.
For those who have pored over prerelease screenshots of the game over the years, or watched fuzzy clips in the background of Wayne’s World, it’s a welcome site to finally see these lost bits come to life in all their glory. The rolling checkered balls of Green Hill Zone. The UFO’s of Marble Zone. The trippy background of Sparkling Zone. Yes, even “Clock Ork Zone” is here, albeit in an incomplete state. And of course it’s incomplete! The game wasn’t finished yet. Some of the level design will feel familiar, but other segments will definitely throw a curveball or two, making you ask “oh heck what is going on here?” You can tell Sonic Team was still trying to find that perfect balance of fun and difficulty as the June deadline was heading towards them. For the first time, we can join them in that moment, experiencing the highs and lows of a game they hoped would succeed, but had no idea how it would be received.
For years, finding a prototype of the game was the holy grail for many a Sonic fan. We here at Sonic Retro certainly have dreamed of this day ever since Simon Wai stumbled across a prototype version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The fact that an early version of a game could be played by anyone was a revelation. The research and engineering that it inspired shaped an entire community. Those early days were certainly instrumental to the passion the folks over at Hidden Palace have had since starting their crusade back in 2005 to track down and preserve this video game history. They have been responsible for saving quite a bit of early prototypes over the years, including the Sonic 3 prototype from Sonic Month back in 2019. If anyone was going to present a playable build of the original Sonic, it was going to be them. Which is why we thank them for their service, for their time, for everything. It’s certainly kicked off the new year in the right way.
It’s been almost 22 years to the day since the Sonic 2 “Simon Wai” prototype was uploaded onto the forgotten world of Usenet. Just one day short, to be exact. But it’s certainly a fitting way to finally experience this once lost moment in video game history. Head on over to Hidden Palace to read their write up, and download the ROM to experience it for yourself. Then, chat about it on our forums, or Discord. And be sure to pick up the latest issue of Retro Gamer when it hits shelves, where the full story of how this prototype came to be will be revealed.
Source: Hidden Palace – Dreams Come True: Sonic 1 (MD Protoype)
Screenshots taken from the Hidden Palace Wiki