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Prerelease:Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)

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This article is a work in progress.
...Well, all the articles here are, in a way. But this one moreso, and the article may contain incomplete information and editor's notes.
Notes: Subpages could use some more documentation.
To do:
Move stuff that's present in the recently-dumped prototype to the respective page.
Other languages:
English • ‎polski

This page details prerelease information and/or media for Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis).

The people behind the making of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, which would arm Sega for taking over the US video game market from Nintendo in the early 1990s.

In order to compete with Nintendo's best-selling NES console, Sega wanted to create a new mascot in the same vein as Mario from Super Mario Bros. which would be created into a video game in time for the release of the then-forthcoming Genesis console. Much of the development time was spent trying to figure out what the mascot would be like in order to have a wide appeal, where several ideas were considered before being scrapped entirely or put into newer games.

Sonic the Hedgehog managed to become one of gaming's pop culture icons in the 90s after the initial release of the game, which also helped Sega to set up a rivalry with Nintendo at the time.


Early Development

Concepts & Ideas
What helped make Sonic who he is now.


February 1990
Japanese news footage of Sega R&D that includes a brief glimpse of an extremely early build.
1990 Tokyo Toy Show
The famous demo build, and the game's public debut - sadly, now presumed lost.
Sonic1prerelease pcesicon.png
Pre-WCES Build
Considerably more fleshed out than the TTS build, but still a typical early build.
WCES-like Builds
Minor refinements relative to the previous build, though still far from complete.
Sonic1prerelease lateringicon.png
GPSG Build
Green Hill's sunflowers now have green centers instead of pink ones, plus some other changes from earlier builds.
Sega Shinsaku Soft Video Footage
The game is clearly now in late development, but still features a multitude of small differences.
Sonic1prerelease manual1.png
USA Manual Build
Almost everything has been finalized at this point, but a few differences remain.
Game PV Footage
Despite this build being very close to the US release, it retains leftovers from earlier late builds.

General Differences


Prerelease Prototype
(insert act clear music here)

During much of the game's development, Sonic could not run off the screen at the end of an Act (similarly, but not identically, to how the 8-bit versions behave). Instead, Sonic would fist-pump the air if the player jumped after clearing the signpost. The animation was still present as late as the Shinsaku Soft Video build, and the relevant sprites are still in the final game.

Title Screen/Level Select

Tokyo Toy Show Early Prerelease Later Prerelease
Who turned off the lights? That's better! Press the start button? Okay!
Prototype Final
Press The Start Button to start playing! What do I do? WHAT DO I DO?!

The title screen of the build shown at the Tokyo Toy Show has a smaller banner (and "SONIC" text). (Interestingly, this title screen heavily resembles the one from the 8-bit versions.) Since the title screen shares the same art/palettes as Green Hill, it used to have the differently detailed background in early pre-release materials before it got adjusted to resemble the final's background not too long afterwards.

Early Prerelease Later Prerelease
Enjoy a nice blue gray color. No Clock Work Zone Act 3 for you.
Prototype Final
Now in red color! Now including Spring Yard, Scrap Brain, and Final Zone!

The stage select once used a bluish-grey palette instead of a sepia-tone one. Later on, the palette got changed to the final's sepia-tone feel. Some acts have Xs listed after them (possibly to mark if they were incomplete), and Final Zone is missing from the list. It's possible that Scrap Brain/Clock Work Act 3 had the boss fight in it, similar to the other Acts. The stage select text is positioned upwards, too, possibly because of the lack of slots like Final Zone.


Many prerelease pictures have the HUD display the Ring counter as "RING" instead of "RINGS".

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease actcard.png Sonic1protoactcard.png Sonic1 actcard.png

The title cards had a minor addition in the prerelease photos: a small period can be seen after "ACT".

Sonic1prerelease debuglives.jpg

A couple of prerelease screenshots show an early version of Debug Mode, where numbers indicating Sonic's position are shown at the bottom of the screen (and replace the lives counter).


In addition, BallHogs originally faced the screen and walked similarly to Crabmeat.

Sega Music Collection

Three alternate versions of Sonic tracks appeared as part of Sega Music Collection, a collection of BGMs from several Mega Drive titles which was distributed digitally in Japan via the Sega Game Toshokan dial-up service.

As heard in this videotape recording of a user's online session with the service, this version of Green Hill's BGM matches the recording of the Tokyo Toy Show '90 demo music, and all three tracks match the BGM for the Tera Drive store demo.

All three tracks have noticeable differences compared to the final game's BGM.

[4:26] "BGM1" (Green Hill Zone)

  • Much faster tempo.
  • Missing the descending arpeggio in the intro, and the synth chords.
  • The overall arrangement is a bit barren compared to the final BGM.

[5:31] "BGM2" (Special Stage)

  • Slower tempo.
  • The melody line is played by two detuned FM voices at the same midrange octave, resulting in a mellower sound. (The final version's melody transposes FM channel #6 up one octave, to play intervals.)

[6:26] "BGM3" (Sparkling Zone)

  • Slightly slower tempo.
  • Livelier kick drum programming.
  • No noise channel imitating a shuffle hi-hat.

In addition, both tracks with PCM drums ("BGM1" and "BGM3") have the original kick and snare tuning as heard in the TTS '90 demo, the Tera Drive store demo, and the Sega Shinsaku Soft Video build.

To do:
I've extracted these three tracks from the video, looped them properly and normalized them for easier analysis. Download here.Zoinknoise

Zone Differences

Green Hill Zone

Prerelease Prototype Final
He came in like a wrecking ball~
Not funny, didn't laugh. No ball :(

A large boulder was planned to have been at the beginning of Green Hill Zone, which would have chased after Sonic (more info in the Videos section). While the boulder was removed from the final game, the idle sprite was kept and used as part of Robotnik's Egg Mobile Hammer Ball-shiyo. In addition, the boulder can be selected using debug mode, although it can't be placed. In the 2013 mobile release, while the boulder still goes unused, it actually can be placed in debug mode and behaves faithfully to the original idea. It can also be placed like this in Sonic Mania's Green Hill Zone.

Prerelease Prototype Final
That's a nice view!
Sonic1protoGHZBG.png Sonic1 ghzbg.png

The background for Green Hill used to have front mountain tiles that were detailed in a similar fashion to the back mountains in early pre-release materials. This was changed later in development and later pre-release materials to resemble the final version's background.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease GHZFlowers.jpg
Sonic1protoGHZFlowers.png Sonic1 ghzflowercomp.png

The sunflowers seen in Green Hill were initially purple, but were changed to green in the final game. They still use their original palette in the game's ending, however.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease ghzact2map.png
Sonic1ProtoGHZ2Map.png Sonic1 GHZAct2MapFinal.png

In Green Hill Zone Act 2, in the place where you break through a wall to get three monitors, the Shield Monitor was once an Extra Life one.

(Source: Raze UK Issue 12)
Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease boss.jpg
Sonic1protoboss.png Sonic1 boss.png

Robotnik originally didn't laugh when he dropped the checkered ball or hit the player. It seems like he lacked the laughing animation at this point in development.

Marble Zone

Sonic1prerelease mzearly.png

This well-circulated image depicts a version of Marble Zone not seen in any other prerelease coverage, with flipping platforms, a more segmented ground, chunkier lava, and larger ruins.

Based on the improbable camera position and lack of HUD, this "screenshot" is probably a mockup - at the time, a typical method for publishers to release compelling images of games still in early development.

Sonic1prerelease mzearlyalt.png

An alternate scan of the above.

Early Prerelease Later Prerelease
Sonic1prerelease ufosred.jpg Sonic1prerelease ufosgreen.jpg
Prototype Final
Sonic1protocbt.png Sonic1 marblezonenoufos.png

In many prerelease screenshots, and in the background of a scene in the movie Wayne's World, UFOs are seen spinning in the sky in Marble Zone. Being red early on, they were changed to a green and blue look until they were removed from the game in the final version. In the 2013 port, they were added in debug mode and function flawlessly. In Sonic Mania, similar graphics are used for the lampposts in Studiopolis Zone.

The first three rings in Act 1 are also absent and replaced with a Buzz Bomber and a Yadorin.

Prerelease Prototype Final
I WANT TO BELIEVE Sonic1protoufos.png I'm waiting...

Spikes was also planned to be in the zone in place of Caterkiller and can be still be spawned there with debug mode in the final game. In addition, this area's moving platform was changed.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease mzpillars.jpg Sonic1protomzpillars.png squish

In this screenshot, the background is positioned higher up and lacks rings. The lava has a less polished appearance, too.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease mdfmz2.png Sonic1protomdfmz2.png Sonic1 mzlavaflow.png

This screenshot show Act 2 with a monitor before the lava flow. This monitor is not there in the final game.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease mzspikes.jpg Sonic1protomzspikes.png Sonic1 marblezonespikes.png

An early screenshot of the end of Marble Act 1 shows an unused, sideways variant of the "spike chandelier". It was replaced in the final game with the moving green blocks seen throughout the level. The object itself wasn't removed, however, and will properly work if placed back into the Zone using a level editor. The used spike chandelier was made smaller for the final game, and flames were added to the torch in the background.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease mzfire.jpg Sonic1protopiggy.png Sonic1 marblezonefire.png

This screenshot of Marble Act 3 shows a broken animation of the fire from the torch in the background. Note that the animal that appears in this zone in the final is not Picky (the pig) but rather Ricky (the squirrel), possibly due to the zone order being rearranged.

Spring Yard/Sparkling Zone

Prerelease Prototype Final
Good luck!
Sonic1proto sparklingbeginning.png Sonic1 springyardbeginning.png

Early in development, Spring Yard had a completely different look and was called Sparkling Zone. The foreground was the same and was left relatively unchanged, but the background showed a large city with flashing lights and signs. In addition, the pillars seen throughout the level were originally colored both purple and blue.

Earlier Prerelease Prototype
Sonic1prerelease szspikes.jpg Sonic1proto szspikes.png
Later Prerelease Final
Sonic1Prerelease SZSpikes.png Sonic1 springyardbumpers.png

This area near the starting point in Act 1 once had spiked balls spinning around the bumper, presumably removed due to making the part too difficult. Interestingly, this obstacle was kept when Sparkling was changed into Spring Yard (although the length of the spiked balls was changed from 6 to 5), possibly because the level order wasn't changed yet, which means that the difficulty in the zones had not been tweaked yet.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease szarea.jpg
Sonic1proto szarea.png Sonic1 springyardarea.png

In this shot, the sparkles can be seen in the background, as well as the lack of some rings.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease szslope.jpg Sonic 1 Prototype Sparkling Zone Slope.png Sonic1 springyardslope.png

Spring Yard's slopes originally weren't blocked by a spring as seen here.

Labyrinth Zone

Prerelease Prototype Final
It's probably more fun playing this early level than Sonic Labyrinth. Sonic1proto labyrinth2.png Sonic1 labyrinth2.png

All known pre-release photos of Labyrinth Zone show it in a very early state, seemingly lacking objects and water. Although it appears as though there's no background, other screenshots from the same source indicate that it did have a background. However, it doesn't seem to loop well and is only visible from certain parts of the stage.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease labyrinth.jpg Sonic1proto labyrinth.png Sonic1 labyrinth.png

Other early screenshots of the level reveal the aforementioned background, with a rocky design. Earlier versions of Labyrinth also included smaller versions of the crystals seen in the final game.

8-Bit Proto 16-Bit Final 16-Bit
Sonic18bit labyrinthcrystal.png Sonic1Proto16bit labyrinthcrystal.png Sonic1Final16bit labyrinthcrystal.png

Interestingly, these smaller versions of the crystals are very similar to the ones that appear in the 8-bit versions. The proto design would later be used as a module for the bigger, more complex structures found in the final game.

Star Light Zone

Prerelease Prototype
Sonic1prerelease starlight.jpg Sonic1proto starlight.png

Star Light had a less blocky appearance and used its truss tiles more often, which gave it a more "under construction" look. The area containing four monitors at the beginning of Act 1 had two pits and a breaking platform at some point in development.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease starlightact2.png Sonic1proto starlightact2.png Sonic1 starlightact2.png

Act 2 had a very different (and less empty) starting area.

Later Prerelease Final
Boing Sonic1 starlightsprings.png

The row of springs in Act 3 originally had a second row facing downwards.

Scrap Brain/Clock Work Zone

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease clockworkzone.jpg Sonic1protoclockworkzone.png Sonic1 scrapbrainbeginning.png

Scrap Brain was originally called Clock Work Zone... or "Clock‎‎ ‎ ork Zone", since the title card font doesn't contain the letter W (there's simply no room for one). The first rows of rings are not present. Also the background and foreground shared the same colors.

Prerelease Prototype
Sonic1prerelease cwzconveyor.png Sonic1protocwzconveyor.png

Diagonal conveyor belts were once used in Scrap Brain, but were removed and most likely replaced with the spinning platform conveyors.

Chunk $10 Prototype
Sonic1 Gen Proto CWZ Chunk 10.png Sonic1ProtoSBZ2Map.png
Act 1 Final Act 2 Final Act 3 Final
Sonic1 Gen SB BG 1.png Sonic1 Gen SB BG 2.png Sonic1 Gen SB BG 3.png

Scrap Brain used Act 2's layout as its background. It wrapped in both directions but didn't appear to scroll. The final game uses completely different art for each Act.

Prerelease Prototype Final
Sonic1prerelease cwztunnel.jpg Sonic1prototypecwztunnel.png Sonic1 scrapbraintunnel.png

The tunnels with the large beams that move back and forth were originally zig-zagged.

Special Stages

Early Prerelease Later Prerelease Prototype
Sonic1prerelease latercessz1.jpg Sonic1lateprerelease specialstage.png Sonic1prototypeSpecialstage.png

Every prerelease screenshot of the Special Stages shows a layout that does not appear in the final game. The earliest screenshots have it entirely made out of gold blocks, with no rings whatsoever. Most of this early layout would be shown off in the Soft Video footage.

S1ProtoSS Full.gif

The image on the right is a map from the prototype.