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Prerelease:Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)

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This page details one or more prerelease versions of Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis).

Early Development

Creating Sonic

Before the release of the Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega wanted to make sure that their new console would sell as well as the NES. To do so, Sega held a competition throughout all of its branches to create a character that would end up replacing Alex Kidd as the mascot of the company. Many ideas were created for it, such as:

Eventually, it came down to four designs created by Naoto Ōshima, who had previously worked on the Phantasy Star series:

Sonic1prerelease earlyrobotnikconcept.jpg
Imagine if Sega had chose the bottom-left design...
Sonic1prerelease rabbitconcept.png
Apparently, Sega watches a lot of cartoons
A fat, pajama-wearing man based on Theodore Roosevelt. A hedgehog character called "Mr. Needlemouse". A grey rabbit who could throw things with his ears. A regular man, likley based on Bart Simpson and Mario.

In addition, there was an armadillo character drawn by Ōshima, but no concept art has surfaced of this design.

Hairy the Hedgehog?

It was decided that the hedgehog character was the best of the lot, and was redesigned into Sonic the Hedgehog (Seen right). Some of the other designs were reused later; the pajama-wearing character became the basis for Dr. Eggman/Robotnik's design, while the rabbit's ability to throw things would later be used in Ristar.

Early Ideas

Lady Madonna, children at your feet...

Early in development, several ideas for Sonic the Hedgehog were created by Naoto Ōshima. One of these ideas was Madonna, a human love interest that was described by Naoto as a "male fantasy" who would chase Sonic around. She was scrapped early in development, but the reason why is split into two stories, both contradicting each other:

  • The first one, told by Sega of America project manager Madeline Schroeder, says that she was responsible for removing Madonna in order to make the game easier to sell in Western markets.
  • The second story, told by Yuji Naka, says that Madonna never got past the concept stage due to how she would have made Sonic the Hedgehog more similar to Super Mario Bros.
Is that the Time Eater?

At the same time that Madonna was being created, Ōshima drew up a picture showing potential enemies that Sonic could have fought. They included a six-fingered hand, a purple creature with a large jaw and yellow gloves, a walking cannon and exclamation mark, a flying hand similar in appearance to Bat Brain, a large white ghost, and a bee-colored Robotnik. The development team thought that Robotnik's design was the best out of the bunch, so the other concepts were scrapped. The purple creature did make it to a prototype build shown at the 1990 Tokyo Toy Show, but had its colors changed from purple and yellow to blue and red.

Sonic1prerelease bandconcept.jpg

Another idea that was thrown out was the Sonic the Hedgehog Band. Originally, the plotline for Sonic the Hedgehog would have involved Sonic saving both his bandmates and the Animal Friends from Robotnik; concept art was drawn for this (shown below), but was never put into motion. In addition, there was a full sound test where Sonic breakdanced to his band playing music. Due to time constraints, the idea was scrapped, and the sound test ended up being on the level select. The room that the graphics took up on the ROM (around an eighth of the cartridge size) was replaced with the "Sega!" chant heard at the beginning of the game.

(Source: Sega's Yuji Naka Talks!)

The crocodile character, Vector, eventually debuted in Knuckles' Chaotix.

Collected Works Concept Art

Released in 2014, the book Sega Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works contained some never-before-seen concept art of Sonic the Hedgehog. They are from an earlier version of the game's story, when Sonic's band hadn't been scrapped yet.

(Source: Azukara)

Title Sequence

Sonic1concept title.jpg

An early version of the Sega logo and title screen. Instead of its short, iconic jingle, the Sega logo would have had Sonic leaning on it. The logo would have slid over to the left, making Sonic fall back. After this, the screen would have been covered in stripes (?) brought in by Robotnik and Sonic's bandmates, and the giant Sonic emblem falls in place from the top of the screen.


Sonic1concept miniboss.jpg

Within the concept art is an idea for a construction-themed midboss that Sonic would have fought, which held one of Sonic's bandmates and their respective animal species. Sonic would have had to dodge a giant wrecking ball as he used two platforms to destroy the machine. After the machine is destroyed, a small cutscene would play where Sonic and the respective bandmate would cheer.

Rather interestingly, Robotnik is watching the entire scenario unfold, and is riding on a flying sled that has a very similar appearance to the one shown in the ending to Sonic CD.

Final Boss/Ending

Sonic1concept ending1.jpg

The first design for the final boss was very different: it would have consisted of Robotnik behind a shield, firing turrets at Sonic. Presumably, the boss would have to be defeated by tricking the turrets to shoot at Robotnik's shield. After the boss is defeated, Robotnik runs away from Sonic and jumps into a small plane. As he takes off, however, Sonic jumps onto the plane and destroys it.

Sonic1concept ending2.jpg

As Sonic falls from the sky, he is swooped up and carried away by Sharps the Chicken, one of his bandmates. He is flown over to Green Hill Zone, where his other bandmates and animal friends are waiting for him. The two land, Sonic jumps towards the player, and the screen fades out to black.

Misc. Screens

Sonic1concept specialitem.jpg

A small animation that would play whenever Sonic got a "special" item, i.e. a key. Other than the setting of the scene, which seems to take place in an early rendition of Marble Zone, it seems that the idea of Chaos Emeralds hadn't been thought up yet.

Sonic1concept stageclear.jpg

This screen would have played after a Zone was cleared. It shows Sonic jumping through a strange circle (of rings?), with a heart in the middle of it. Judging from where it would have occurred, as well as the layout of the "items", it's possible that this would have been an after-Zone minigame where the player could have gotten more rings or points.

1990 Tokyo Toy Show

Sonic1prerelease tokyots1.jpg

The very first time Sonic the Hedgehog was shown to the public was at the Tokyo Toy Show in June 1990. This build of the game shows a very early version of Green Hill Zone, with large mountains and some odd blue structures in the background. It had seven layers of parallax scrolling, including trees and giant rocks in the foreground. Sonic also had a different, more open standing pose.

Sonic1prerelease tokyots3.jpg

After running for a bit, he would eventually come to a large sign with "YOU ARE WELCOME SEGA SONIC" written on it.

Sonic 1- TTS90-1HQDS zpshb85afi0.jpg

At one point in the demo, a blue creature wearing red gloves would have attacked Sonic. This creature was one of the original ideas for an enemy that Sonic would have to fight, and was seen in a piece of concept art featuring Madonna, Sonic's scrapped love interest.

Sonic1prerelease tokyots creature landing.png
Sonic1prerelease tokyots5.jpg
Sonic1prerelease tokyots4.jpg

Sonic would eventually reach the end of the level, where "Debut approaching" was written in Japanese.

Sonic the Hedgehog Madonna TTS.jpg

There was also this screenshot showing Sonic with the aforementioned Madonna.

(Source: SGGG MANIAX - 幻のソニック)
Tokyo Toy Show Final
Sonic1prerelease tokyowalksprite.jpg
Sonic1 walksprite.png

Compared to the final game, the sprites of Sonic shown at the Tokyo Toy Show went through some changes.

  • There's less shading on Sonic, most noticeable around and on his spikes.
  • His ears are facing forward in the Tokyo Toy Show demo; they were changed to face the camera at an angle in the final game.

General Changes


(insert act clear music here)

A prerelease screenshot shows Sonic jumping and doing a fist-pump after clearing an act. The sprites for this animation are still in the final game.

Sonic1prerelease hurt.jpg

This screenshot shows an injured Sonic being knocked back further than he does in the final game.

It should be noted that Sonic, in many of the prerelease images for Sonic the Hedgehog, has a different palette with lighter blues. This was changed at the last minute because he would often be hard to see against Green Hill's ocean.

(Source: Interview: Mark Cerny)

Title Screen/Level Select

Tokyo Toy Show Later Prerelease Final
Who turned out the lights? Press the start button? Okay! 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) and is missing the background. A later prerelease screenshot shows the (possibly final) title graphic, as well as the "PRESS START BUTTON" text that was mistakenly disabled in the final game.

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease stageselect.jpg Sonic the Hedgehog-stageselect.png

The stage select once used a bluish-grey palette instead of a sepia-tone one. 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.


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

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease actcard.png Sonic1 actcard.png

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

Level Changes

Green Hill Zone

Prerelease Final
He came in like a wrecking ball~
Sonic1 ghzballcomp.png

A large boulder was planned to have been in 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 sprites were reused as part of the first boss. In addition, the boulder can be selected using debug mode, although it can't be placed. Green Hill's background was more featureless at one point, too.

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease GHZFlowers.jpg
Sonic1 ghzflowercomp.png

The sunflowers seen in Green Hill were planned to be purple, but were changed to green in the final game. They can still be found in the game's ending, however.

Marble Zone

Sonic1prerelease mzearly.png

Pictures exist of a very early (possibly mockup) version of Marble Zone, with flipping platforms, a more segmented ground, chunkier lava, and larger ruins.

Prerelease Final
I WANT TO BELIEVE I'm waiting...

In many prerelease screenshots, and in the background of a scene in Wayne's World, UFOs are seen spinning in the sky in Marble Zone. The Spikes badnik was also planned to be in the zone, and can be still be spawned with debug mode in the final game. In addition, this area's moving platform was changed.

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease mzpillars.jpg squish

In this screenshot, the green pillars that crush Sonic are missing. The area to the right is different in the final, and the lava has a less polished appearance.

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease mzspikes.jpg 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.

Spring Yard/Sparkling Zone

Prerelease Final
Good luck!
Sonic1 springyardbeginning.png

Early in development, Spring Yard Zone 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 blues.

Earlier Prerelease Later Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease szspikes.jpg Sonic1prerelease szspikes2.jpg Sonic1 springyardbumpers.png

This area near the starting point in Act 1 once had spiked balls spinning around a bumper, presumably removed due to making the part too difficult. Interestingly, this obstacle was kept when Sparkling Zone was changed into Spring Yard Zone.

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease szarea.jpg
Sonic1 springyardarea.png

Further into Act 1, this part of Spring Yard was completely changed in the final release!

  • A set of spikes, a lamp block, and a pillar were removed.
  • A Motobug is seen in this picture. The only Zone that they appear in in Sonic the Hedgehog is Green Hill.
  • The Roller badnik is purple in this screenshot. It was colored blue in the final game.
  • The flashing blue lights in the background have a simpler design.

Labyrinth Zone

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

All of the known prerelease photos of Labyrinth Zone are of the stage in a very early state; it was shown to have been devoid of objects, water, and even a background.

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease labyrinth.jpg Sonic1 labyrinth.png

Later screenshots of the level showed it with a rocky background, but no items or water still. The early versions of Labyrinth Zone included smaller versions of the crystals seen in the final game, as well as ceiling variants which were removed for whatever reason.

Sonic18bit labyrinthcrystal.png

Interestingly, these smaller versions of the crystals appear in the 8-bit versions of Sonic 1.

Star Light Zone

Sonic1prerelease starlight.jpg

Star Light Zone 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 Final
Sonic1prerelease starlightact2.png Sonic1 starlightact2.png

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

Prerelease Final
Boing Sonic1 starlightsprings.png

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

Scrap Brain/Clock (W)ork Zone

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease clockworkzone.jpg Sonic1 scrapbrainbeginning.png

Scrap Brain Zone was originally called Clock Work Zone... or Clock ork Zone, since the title card font doesn't contain the letter W. The Zone would have been set entirely indoors, and its background and foreground shared the same colors.

Sonic1prerelease cwzconveyor.png

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

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease cwztunnel.jpg Sonic1 scrapbraintunnel.png

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

Special Stages

Sonic1prerelease specialstage.png

Every prerelease screenshot of the Special Stages show layouts that do not appear in the final game.


1991 CES Footage

This video (slowed down for better visibility) shows two versions of Sonic the Hedgehog that were shown at the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show. They feature some notable differences from the final, including:

  • A different version of the Ball Hog badnik which faces towards the player and throws a bomb on both sides, similar to Crabmeat. The Buton in the final version looks of the 8-bit version looks and acts similarly.
  • Monitors that cycle between the various powerups, including the unused Robotnik face.
  • Wonky physics (noticeable with ramps).
  • The early debug mode, which is on the bottom right of the screen instead of replacing the score. It also uses the life counter's VRAM storage.
  • A minor aesthetic change: the water and sky colors of Green Hill are the same, similar to the title screen.

The second version of the game, shown in the latter half of the video, changes Green Hill's water color to the final's.

US Commercial

The US commercial for Sonic the Hedgehog features gameplay footage of three zones. A few noticeable changes can be seen between it and the final game:

  • Sonic acquires an extra life at 50 rings, not 100.
  • Labyrinth Zone Act 3 is shown to be incomplete; some of the water tiles and objects are missing, including the hidden door. At the end of the clip, Sonic is seen going through the water slide without his animation changing.
  • One of the loops in Green Hill Zone Act 1 has an invincibility monitor instead of a shield.
  • In the same act, the area between the two "S" tunnels has several rings instead of a lamppost.
  • The drum samples in the music have a lower pitch. The final Sonic the Hedgehog uses a modified DAC driver so that it can play the "Sega!" chant. As a side effect, the driver reduces the sample rate of every DAC sample. This can also be noted in the 1991 CES Footage, but this is the most audible prerelease source where the difference can be heard.

Nick Arcade Pilot

The original pilot for Nick Arcade, taped around April 1991, has a contestant playing a prototype version of Sonic the Hedgehog with some noteworthy changes, including:

  • The "Press Start Button" text and purple sunflowers in GHZ, mentioned above.
  • The Green Hill Zone boulder in motion: after Sonic passes it, the boulder proceeds to chase him down the hill until it rebounds its path.
  • Slightly different ring placement around the second bridge.
  • The higher-quality DAC samples, which can be heard in the background.

Wayne's World

In the film Wayne's World, after Wayne interviews the owner of Noah's Arcade (and mocks him in the process), a TV in the background displays a commercial for the arcade. Even though it cuts out after around two seconds, the commercial lasts long enough to show Marble Zone with the UFOs in the background!