Nearly 25 years after his creation, Sonic the Hedgehog remains the iconic mascot of Sega. Even though the video game company is no longer the industry power house it once was, Sonic remains one of the most recognizable and enduring faces of gaming. However this was not always the case. Believe it or not, Sonic was not Sega's first pick for a mascot and considering how many other designs were in contention it's a wonder we got the blue blur at all.
Sonic was One of Many Possible Mascots!
By the 90s, Nintendo had ruled over the home console market for over half a decade. They were an unmovable titan within the industry, thanks largely to their popularity in North America. Sega had achieved their own success with their home console: the Sega Master System. However, they wanted their first 16-bit system to make them a household name. And to do that, they needed to topple Nintendo's monopoly.
This was a daring goal. But, Sega felt they had figured out the secret to Nintendo's success: a mascot. In many ways Mario was the video game equivalent of Mickey Mouse, a recognizable, friendly face for his company's brand. Sega believed that it was the strength of Nintendo's brand identity that made it so popular across the globe. So, in 1990 Sega held an in-house competition to design a mascot specifically designed to take down Mario. The proposals they considered were interesting to say the least. Let's look at a few!
9. Angry Overalls-Chick
Yes, this was an official submission. Sega's contest was intended to reward strength of concept, over artistic skill. So doodles like this were at one point serious contenders. Why? We may never know. While Sega has gradually released a lot of the artwork for these would-be mascots, they've never made a formal statement as to why they thought designs like these were good ideas. Maybe, Sega was ahead of their time, and just knew the world would one day adore angry birds.
8.-7. Demon Jester & Dragonaut
We're not sure if these two were meant to be rivals, or were the same character in different forms. All we can be certain of is that they're both friggin' weird. Demon Jester on the left has a devil tail, snake-head slippers, a creepy marionette, and way too many clown clothes for anyone's comfort. And the kid on the right isn't much better. Yeah, at first glance he seems like a typical video game adventurer. He's rocking some medieval armor, a kilt, a slingshot, nothing too crazy. Then you realize he's wearing the decapitated head of a dragon as a hat. And then the final revelation: he put a baseball cap on top of the decapitated dragon head. This kid's got issues.
6. Muppet Bart Simpson
Another design with overalls? This was a more human mascot design, featuring hair that seems a little too similar too another 90s cartoon character's to be coincidental. At least, I think it's hair...It might be a crown, but that doesn't really gel with the overalls. Maybe he's supposed to be some kind of regal carpenter? What do you think?
5. America Dog!
The bulldog may be British. But, those shades, sneakers, and Red, White, & Blue casual cowboy duds are ALL-American! Clearly, this pup was meant to appeal to a more international audience. Also, judging by the bandage over its left eye, this dog was not afraid to get in a scrap, regardless of what its immaculate, white gloves might suggest.
4. America Dog Mk.2 - America Wolf!
What could be more American than a Bulldog wearing a cowboy outfit? How about a wolf sporting the most patriotic polo shirt ever designed? I think what amuses me the most about this mascot is how diligently it's tucked its shirt into the waistband of its pants. America Wolf looks more like he was designed to promote a line of children's golf clubs.
3. Sleepy Teddy Roosevelt
Unlike, most of the mascots, we actually have some information about this one. And, no joke, this is meant to be a caricature of 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. Why? I don't know. I cannot begin to guess what kind of game would feature Teddy Roosevelt fumbling about in sleepwear, but someone at Sega clearly had a vision!
2. The Rabbit
Remember how I said all of these designs were part of a mascot contest? Well, you're looking at the original winner of it. This rabbit was what Sega wanted to represent their company, and even began making a game around it. The game would feature the rabbit running very quickly across levels, and would pick up items by standing next to them and lifting them with its ears. Then a game designer pointed out that it'd be stupid to make a game about a character that runs super-fast, if players were going to have to stop, just to pick things up every few moments. So, Sega began to rethink things. They gave up on the lifting mechanic, ditched the rabbit, and instead decided the face of their company would be...
1. Mr Needlemouse!
No, your eyes don't deceive you. This is the earliest known drawing of Sonic. However, back then he was called "Mr Needlemouse" by his creator Naoto Ohshima. Sega felt that this design was similar to the rabbit they'd already started building a game around, but featured a much sleeker appearance. And so, even though he wasn't their first choice, the Hedgehog became Sega's new mascot.
However, Sega still needed to finish that game. And to do that, they needed to choose an worthy adversary for Mr Needlemouse. And for some reason, Sega remembered that Teddy Roosevelt drawing and thought he'd be great. They slapped the two together and the rest is history.
A VERY Early Piece of Concept art for Sonic the Hedgehog.
Well, okay. Maybe it took a few more revisions to work out all the kinks. But still, you have to admit that they pretty much Nailed Sonic's look from day one. The shoes, the attitude, even his weird double-eye are all present and accounted for. Then again, when you consider just how many other designs were pitched, you'd figure one of them would have to be gold.
Buy Sonic the Hedgehog - For the Sega Genesis
So what do you think of Sega's forgotten mascots? Do you wish we'd gotten a game featuring one of them instead of Sonic? Personally, I'd pay good money to hear the story behind tuckered out Teddy Roosevelt. But, I doubt they'll be revealing that one anytime soon. Still, don't let that stop you from speculating away in the comments section below.