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20 years ago today, Sonic the Hedgehog was unleashed onto an unsuspecting world, transforming the gaming landscape in a blur of blue. But while we'll be celebrating that classic original in its own right today, it was almost very different. Unused features buried in retail cartridges, preview screenshots and even instruction manuals all hint at features we never got to play in the very first Sonic game. But thanks to the avid Sonic fan community, we can now see them all! So roll up for the Sonic freak show - you won't believe your eyes.
Disclaimer: It's important to point out that Sega scrapped all of these things for a reason, and so should not be considered a part of the classic Sonic. We're just fascinated to see what almost went into this classic videogame.
Looking back at preview screens of Sonic 1, there are some strange differences. For instance, at the end of each act, Sonic would leap triumphantly into the air:
Above: An old magazine screenshot circa 1991 and the actual sprite as discovered in the final game's code
This was changed to simply running off the screen to the right, unless you jumped in the space to the right of the screen as the auto-run kicked in, in which case you could jump around as much as you liked... though sadly still not with this mega-cute sprite. Perhaps his grin didn't have enough 'attitude'?
Also in pre-release Green Hill Zone, there were going to be giant balls that you could run on like a treadmill. With the animation cycle obviously working well but the balls-as-level-furniture a bit iffy, they were scrapped late-on and the sprite was re-used for the iconic Green Hill boss battle.
Above: The magazine preview image with the ball mid-level, and how it appears in the level 1 boss fight
The instruction manual for Sonic 1 shows a clear picture of a 1-Up icon in the special stage. Simple enough to grasp. However, it only appears outside of the normal play area, meaning you can only get to it by using the debug cheat and moving Sonic through the wall, ending up in a glitchy area that looks like this:
Above: Note the 'Zone 3' icon too. That's not even in the manual and how it would have worked is unknown
Emeralds everywhere! This could be explained by the cartridge using available tiles to display otherwise missing graphics for another unfinished feature. This happens elsewhere too - if you approach the spinner of any act fast enough even in the finished game, it will look corrupted for a brief moment as the game displays the graphic with the wrong tileset. Still, whatever the technical reason for it, the sight of these lost tiles in the actual game is rather eerie.
It also appears that Sonic 2's method of accessing special stages through the restart point lampposts was prototyped in Sonic 1. There's a routine for Sonic disappearing with a white flash as he runs past one, before reappearing again a moment later:
Above: A bit slapdash, pehaps? Looks like the quality control at this point for Sonic was very high indeed
One for the 'WTF' pile. Early images of Marble Zone featured UFOs in the sky. It's like an alien invasion and makes the whole level look much more sinister. But it's not just the odd pre-release screenshot that show it to be true. The commercial for 'Noah's Arcade' in Wayne's World features footage in the background. We're looking at Sonic 1. Only... that's not Sonic 1. Isn't that weird?
Garth - that was a haiku.
Above: The strange UFOs in the Marble Zone. But what's that behind Benjamin? Noah (yes) and Sonic's UFOS