It’s December, 1991, and Sonic the Hedgehog was introduced to millions of players around the world with his first game only a few short months ago. Many of the things that will come to define his career have yet to happen – he hasn’t met his best friends, Tails and Knuckles; he hasn’t battled his robotic rival, Metal Sonic; he hasn’t ridden the Tornado biplane or boarded the Death Egg; he hasn’t collected seven Chaos Emeralds and turned into Super Sonic. Heck, he hasn’t even learned to do the Spin Dash.
It’s at this point, before a single proper sequel was made and the series was still finding itself, that Sonic appeared in the Japan-only arcade game/kiddy ride Wakuwaku Sonic Patrol Car. In years to come there would be dozens of Sonic spin-off games, even in the classic era alone, but Patrol Car is one of only a very select few where Sonic acts much more like his original intended purpose – a mascot in the mold of Mario.
Whereas in his other spin-off games, be they pinball, fighting, or racing games, Sonic is always pretty much his same old self, in Patrol Car he takes on an actual role, donning a uniform and becoming a police officer. The tone reminds me of nothing so much as the Shogakukan Sonic manga by Kenji Terada and Sango Norimoto, skewing young with Sonic living in a cute little town and clashing with an Eggman hardly more threatening than the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak.
The following videos demonstrate the cabinet and the gameplay:
Despite how short it is, there’s a number of really cool things about it. Eggman’s voice is spot-on, and hearing yet another conversion of the Green Hill Zone BGM on different hardware is interesting. The Green Hill police station with chequered grass and palm trees is just downright adorable. But what’s also pretty neat is the results screen:
The hastily drawn Sonic and the repeating SEGA background remind me of this image, supposedly from the 1990 Tokyo Toy Show:
Unfortunately, this game has never been dumped, meaning that there’s no way to play it unless you actually go to an arcade that still has it, and chances are that means leaving your country. Two separate attempts (that I’m aware of) to raise funds to buy the machine and preserve it both fizzled out before they even got started, and it’s a real shame. It would be terrible to lose this great piece of Sonic’s history to bit rot or a landfill.
EDIT: The game has since been dumped and emulated.