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Prerelease:Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)/1990 Tokyo Toy Show

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This is a sub-page of Prerelease:Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis).

Who turned off the lights?

The debut of Sonic the Hedgehog occurred at the Tokyo Toy Show in June 1990, a full year before its eventual release. Only about a dozen low-quality screenshots remain of this obscure build, with most context derived from vintage magazine coverage and developer interviews.

Sonic1 TokyoToyShow1990 micomBASICView.jpg


Info about this build has always been scarce and difficult to verify. In addition, Yuji Naka (the game's lead programmer) has privately and publicly disputed two key details about this demo that are supported by the historical record: whether or not it was available to the public on the show floor, and whether or not it was playable.

  • The History of Sonic the Hedgehog (an official retrospective published by Sega in 2013) states that, while the demo did indeed appear at TTS '90, it was only shown behind closed doors to industry insiders and was not publicly shown on the convention floor.

The demo can be seen running in two newly discovered photos of Sega's booth at the toy show, and its screening can be seen (barely) in the only publicly-known footage of the toy show that shows Sega's booth. Naka appears to be correct on this point.

  • Surviving evidence suggests that this demo wasn't actually playable, much like subsequent autodemos of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Game Gear and Sonic Adventure for Dreamcast. An article in Electronic Gaming Monthly #26 (June 1991) described the TTS '90 build as a "self running, one screen demo" (in this case, "one screen" being a reference to the demo's only level, Green Hill), and the surviving screenshots appear to corroborate this.
  • However, Naka stated in a 2011 interview with GamesRadar that the TTS '90 build "was something that was playable". EGM #29 (September 1991) also quotes Naka stating that the TTS '90 build was a "playable demo" intended "to show what [the finished game] would be like."
(Source: EGM September 1991 Issue)

The recently discovered image on the right shows a controller connected to the console that is running the demo, though it doesn't necessarily confirm that the demo was playable.

Also, during the above GamesRadar interview, Naka claimed that this demo was slated for inclusion in Sonic Mega Collection, but Sega had apparently lost the original binary.

Title Screen

Sonic1prerelease titletokyo2.jpg Sonic1prerelease titletokyo.jpg Sonic1prerelease TitleTTS.png Sonic1prerelease titletokyo3.png

The demo's title screen. The solid black motif seen here was quickly done away with, although the overall look survived intact in the Master System and Game Gear versions' title screens. In addition, though not obvious, large portions of this graphic were redrawn by the final game's release.

In this version of the title screen, the letters are differently sized, the ring surrounding the title screen shows more at the bottom, and Sonic's facial expression is different. His spines are also shaded differently, making them appear flatter and more "mohawk"-like. There is also no trademark symbol or copyright notice.

Green Hill Zone

The Most Famous Hedgehog IN THE WORLD (not yet, though).

The demo begins with Sonic standing in what eventually became Green Hill Zone. Unlike in the final game, the background features large mountains and some unusual blue structures, likely buildings based on some early concept art by Naoto Ōhshima.

Magazine blurbs claimed that this demo featured seven layers of parallax scrolling, including palm trees and boulders in the foreground. These foreground objects would not make it to later public appearances of Green Hill.

Note the overall blurriness of this shot - particularly the clouds, suggesting they scrolled from right to left. Scrolling clouds were gone from Green Hill in the original US release of Sonic, only to be added back in for the Japanese version, released shortly afterward.

(Source: EGM August 1990 Issue)
Just strolling through the Green Hill Zone.

Sonic begins walking through Green Hill. Given the position of the background, the stage layout, and the foreground elements present, this seems likely to be shortly after the shot above; oddly, the clouds seem to overlap the trees in this build.

(Source: Bi-Weekly Famicom Tsūshin No. 105 July 20th 1990)
Get the hell away; there's no rings to collect!

As Sonic continues to the right, he gets attacked by a hopping blue enemy creature wearing red gloves. Its design (but not its color scheme) was taken, again, from Ōhshima's concept art, and was never seen again after this demo.

The apparent color of the sky is wildly inconsistent due to the various sources of these screenshots, but it may have been a darker shade of blue compared to GHZ's sky in the final game.

(Source: Megadrive Fan August 1990 Issue)
Too close!

A few frames later. This image, though seemingly inconspicuous, may actually be quite revealing when compared to the previous screenshot.

First, it contains more evidence of right-to-left scrolling clouds - the camera has hardly moved since the previous screenshot, yet the cloud in the upper-left corner has shifted to the left.

Second, this image gives credence to the possibility that the demo was automated, and not player-controlled (see above). It seems to depict the exact same run, by the same player, as the previous screenshot. (The cloud, of all things, confirms this.) Since these two screenshots were published in different magazines (and presumably captured by different journalists), it casts doubt on the likelihood that the TTS '90 build was actually playable.

(Source: Beep! Megadrive August 1990 Issue)
Look out Sonic!

Sonic encounters another hopping blue enemy with red gloves as he climbs the hill, this one standing in place at the time the shot was taken. Based on his movements in this and the next shot, as well as the text accompanying the next shot in the magazine it originally appeared in, it seems Sonic is jumping to avoid the enemy in his path. It seems no unique sprites were assigned for jumping at this point, with Sonic remaining in his walking animation instead.

(Source: Bi-Weekly Famicom Tsūshin No. 105 July 20th 1990)
No wonder they called it "Green Hill Zone".

This seems to be just after the above shot - Sonic has ascended slightly higher into his jump arc and travelled closer to the tree, the enemy has begun jumping upwards towards him, and the cloud has now scrolled slightly further to the left.

(Source: Megadrive Fan August 1990 Issue)
It's not called "Green HILLS Zone" for a reason.

A close-up of Sonic as he begins to descend the hill.

(Source: Megadrive Fan August 1990)
What a cute palm tree graphic on the sign.

As he travels down the hill, Sonic passes a large, flashy sign. Unfortunately, in both existing shots of this segment Sonic is partially obscuring the text on the sign. Assuming the characters at the bottom row are all same-width, it's likely at least three characters are hidden behind his head. However, Yuji Naka confirmed that the hidden characters are R and SE. What can be seen reads as follows:

(Source: Bi-Weekly Famicon Tsūshin No. 105 July 20th 1990)
Somebody made damn sure these letters were big and red enough.

In what is likely the end of the demo, Sonic appears to run beneath large red Japanese text floating in midair, which says デビュー接近 ("debut approaching"). Though it may look like this text was edited in by the magazine, some trees and a cloud can be seen slightly obscuring the first two letters, which suggests that the text was actually part of the demo.

(Source: Beep! Megadrive August 1990 Issue)
And they can stay on screen too, huh.

This shot was cropped from a photograph of SEGA's booth at the June 1990 Tokyo Toy Show, in which the demo can be seen running on-screen in the background. This appears to be a few frames after the last shot, and confirms that the red text was indeed part of the demo itself. The stationary nature of the text may imply that this was the original function of the unused Object 06 found in the existing prototype, which generates a static red object that moves with the HUD.

Sonic? Are you there?

This is another off-screen shot of the demo from a photograph at the Tokyo Toy Show - however, unlike the previous image the screen contents have come out dark and unclear. To aid visibility, this cropped image has been modified to increase its brightness and contrast. It is unknown which area of the stage this shows - two trees can be made out to the right-hand side along with a tall mountain in the background, along with a dark shape which may be a bush. This layout is similar to the area seen in the third and fourth screenshots above, meaning it's possible this could be another image of that same area.

Sprite Changes

The sprites of Sonic shown at the Tokyo Toy Show went through some changes for the final game.

Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease tokyotitlesprite.png Sonic1 titlesprite.png

His title screen sprite shows off a bit more 'tude in the demo, and sticks closer overall to Ōhshima's original concept art.

  • His eyes are positioned differently.
  • His second back spine has different shading.
  • The eyebrow shape and its shadow are different.
Prerelease Final
Sonic1prerelease tokyowalksprite.jpg Sonic1 walksprite.png

His in-game sprites differ a bit more:

  • There's less shading, most noticeable around and on his spikes.
  • His ears are facing forward in the demo. They were changed to face the camera at an angle in the final game.
  • Sonic's eyes are slightly more slanted in the demo.
  • In the demo, the blue bit of fur that goes around Sonic's eye from the side of his head goes further down, reaching his muzzle.