Sonic was so popular he inspired copycats from all corners of the gaming world.
The 1990’s was a huge time for video games. The decade saw some of the most fondly remembered and important developers, consoles, and franchises debut, many of which are still hugely influential. One of these was Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic was a huge success for Sega. The game made Sega into a real competitor for industry giant Nintendo, even helping the company overtake the Big N in some parts of the world. Sonic’s success had an unseen effect though; it opened the doors to a whole slew of anthropomorphic – that is non-human entities possessing human traits – video game mascots. Nearly every developer had their own, and soon it wasn’t long before you couldn’t swing a blue hedgehog without hitting a cute, furry protagonist.
In this article, we take a look at some of the best – and worst – of the characters to ride in Sonic’s slipstream.
8. Awesome Possum
Released in 1993 for Sega’s Mega Drive, it turned out Awesome Possum wasn’t all that awesome. Receiving middling review scores at the time of release, the game was basically an educational platformer about caring for the environment. Unfortunately, everything the game tried to do had already been done better and thus Awesome really did not impress anyone. A lawsuit filed against the game for copyright infringement in 1997 all but ensured the game would not be heard from again.
7. Bubsy the Bobcat
Bubsy the Bobcat first appeared in 1993 on the Sega Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, and PC, clearing taking inspiration from Sega’s blue hedgehog. The game saw Bubsy run through levels at high speeds, avoiding enemies and platforming all the way. A rather strange plot involving aliens stealing yarn balls held it all together. At the time the game was received mostly positively, however, in recent times those looking back at the game has been less favorable. Sadly, the most recent entry in the series, Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, released in 2017, did little to counter these criticisms.
6. Rocket Knight Adventures
One of the most original titles on this list, Rocket Knight Adventures was another 1993 release, this time from Konami and exclusively for the Sega Mega Drive and saw players take control of heroic opossum Sparkster. The inclusion of a rocket pack into Sparkster’s arsenal introduced some wonderful gameplay elements to the title. While it had to be powered up and could only be used for a short time, the rocket pack allowed Sparkster to zip around levels, rebound off walls to reach hidden areas and unleash some powerful attacks.
If that weren’t enough, the game would constantly mix things up with some levels moving away from the traditional platforming into horizontal shooting a la Gradius and a boss fight that is essentially a round of Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. While sequels and a semi-reboot have been released since it’s the original game in the series that truly illustrates why Rocket Knight Adventures is such a wonderful title.
One of the few animal mascot characters to not appear on consoles but rather home computers was Superfrog from UK developers Team17. Released initially on the Amiga in 1993 with PC DOS ports the following year, Superfrog brought the speed of Sonic and the platforming of Mario to home computers. Sadly overshadowed by Team17’s own Worms series a year later, there are still a core group of hardcore Superfrog fans who remember its solid gameplay experience. An HD remaster of the game was released in 2013 across all major platforms, including Android and iOS.
4. Earthworm Jim
Earthworm Jim is a character who couldn’t be more 90’s if he tried, and that is not a criticism! Full of attitude, hilarious antics and absolutely beautiful graphics, Earthworm Jim, was released in 1994 across all major platforms and became an instant hit. Developers Shiny Entertainment had players launching cows, battling evil goldfish, bungee jumping against snot monsters and running-and-gunning while trying to rescue the beautiful Queen Whats-her-name. A sequel (which cranked the craziness up to 11) was released the following year along with one of the strangest video game based cartoon series ever. If you’ve never experienced Earthworm Jim, do yourself a favour and check it out!
3. Crash Bandicoot
Crash burst on to the scene in 1996 with his first self-titled game on the Sony PlayStation, one of the first major 3D platforming games. A cross between Sonic and Warner Bros. Taz the Tazmanian Devil, Crash was designed by Naughty Dog with the intention of becoming an unofficial mascot for Sony’s new system. The character’s crazy, zany antics and personality paid off as Crash has starred in six main line games as well as dozens of spin-offs. While the recent compilation of the original three Naughty Dog developed games, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, was released across various consoles the character has become synonymous with the PlayStation brand.
2. Conker the Squirrel
In 2001 the safe, all-ages friendly world of cute animal mascots was ripped asunder by a foul-mouthed, gun trotting squirrel named Conker from developers Rare. However, the Conker that fans know and love began his story in 1997, with his first appearance being in Diddy Kong Racing to help promote his forthcoming N64 solo debut. When critics were shown an early build of what was to be Conker’s solo title, then titled Twelve Tales: Conker 64, they complained that it appeared to be similar to Rare’s previous N64 releases such as Banjo-Kazooie. It was “just another kids platform game.” Rare took this criticism to heart and completely redesigned the game.
The result was 2001’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day which may have looked like a traditional cute mascot game on the surface but was full of drugs, alcohol, swearing and lots and lots of violence. Rare had taken the idea of what a mascot platformer should be and flipped it on its head. While the original N64 release sold poorly due to being released close to the end of the console’s lifespan, a remake entitled Conker: Live & Reloaded released in 2005 for the original X-Box was a much bigger success, both with critics and gamers alike.
1. Freedom Planet
While the animal mascot craze was certainly at its peak in the 90’s there are still many games being released today that have clearly taken inspiration from that period. One such title is Freedom Planet, a game that wears its love for the 90’s era of platformers on its sleeve. Developed originally as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game, creator Stephen DiDuro decided to build the title out into its own, original IP. Successfully funded via Kickstarter, the game debuted on Steam in 2014 and has been released on nearly every platform since.
While the game retains its Sonic influence through its breakneck speed, branching level paths and its own twist on elemental shields, it introduces so much more. Multiple playable characters with their own unique stories and move sets, a wonderful original soundtrack and several different play modes are all on offer. The game earned huge praise from critics and gamers alike upon release, and with a sequel currently in the works, it’s the perfect time to check this love letter to one of the most fondly remembered eras of video game history.