Back in 1992 Sega had a vision: bringing their popular and beloved mascot Sonic the Hedgehog to the arcades in a new game. It would be released right after the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 game for Sega Genesis and the two games' popularity would feed off each other. So, what happened to this game and why have you probably not heard of it before now?

The game was released (contrary to reports of the otherwise) but only in Japan, and even then only in limited quantities. That makes the game the rarest Sonic the Hedgehog game ever. It uses a trackball to control the three characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Mighty the Armadillo (who would one day star in Knuckles Chaotix for the 32X), and Ray the Flying Squirrel. A jump button made your chosen character jump. Up to three players could play at once, making this game ideally suited for multiplayer. The camera angle on the game is 3D isometric in the style of Sonic 3D Blast.

The animation is rich and very well done. Sonic and friends have multiple reactions to several hazards, such as being squashed, shocked, frozen, or blasted. Levels in the game include the usual desert, ice, and techno zones, among others. There are only six very short levels in the game. The goal is simply to run through the level and reach the end. Typically some hazard will chase Sonic, forcing him to keep moving to avoid getting hit.

Sonic has a life meter (a first for him) and when it's depleted he turns into an angel and floats away. You can drop in more coins and continue, but only for a limited time. If you use up all your continues, it's Game Over.

Between levels Dr. Robotnik watches Sonic's progress on his monitor and taunts our hero. All of his text is in Japanese, of course, so I have no idea what he's saying.

In typical arcade fashion, the game is easy to complete by racing through, taking damage, and then dropping in more coins to continue. Sonic's trademark rings are in the game, but they only provide points.

The game has only appeared once in the USA. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 1992 the game won "Best Game of Show". Nevertheless, it was exiled to a limited run and banished to the forgotten pages of popular lore. While it might reappear someday on a future Sonic compliation disc (a Sega 32X version was planned before the system died a horrible death), I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you.

If you poke around long enough you might just stumble across the romset of a prototype of this game. The Modeler emulator and the MAME 0.63 emulator support the game and it's definitely worth a try just to sample a little piece of history.

Some info came from

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