The Sonic Second: Beyond the Games – Music

Throughout all the ups and downs of the Sonic franchise’s history, one thing has remained largely constant: the quality of the tunes. A few stinkers aside (here’s looking at you, Sonic 4 and Sonic Chronicles), Sonic’s music, from its most funky or badass to its most patently absurd, has rocked the ears of fans for over two decades, inspiring countless covers, remixes, and original compositions.

And that music is not merely constrained to the Sonic games themselves. A surprising amount of music, both extensions of the game music as well as brand new content, has seen official release over the years. And this is what The Sonic Second will take a look – or listen, rather – at this week.

Sonic the Hedgehog Boom

Sonic Boom

Released on Hedgehog Day, 1994, and only available as a special treat for those who had preordered Sonic 3[1], Sonic the Hedgehog Boom illogically contains no music from that game, instead comprising extended tracks from the North American version of Sonic CD and Sonic Spinball, of which the former has the lion’s share (despite the cover art).

This soundtrack comes as a salve for those who – like me – love the Spencer Nilsen compositions from Sonic CD but find some of them criminally short as they appear in the game. Unfortunately not all of the tracks are treated with equal care. Some are great; others are practically ruined by inexplicable changes.

It’s also cool to hear the Sonic Spinball songs rendered differently than the Genesis version.

Sonic the Hedgehog – Remix

Sonic Remix

Sonic the Hedgehog – Remix is another soundtrack for Sonic CD, but the Japanese version this time. Containing only 8 tracks, it’s nonetheless full of great stuff. One of the tracks is titled “Dr. Gigglymen” – how can that not be awesome?

Though presented as an album of remixes, much of the music is so wild and far out that it winds up bearing little resemblance to the versions in the game, providing essentially new Sonic CD styled music. Case in point: the delightfully funky – and nearly incomprehensible – vocal theme “Love You Sonic”.

My favourite track is probably the 7 minute and 21 second tour de force “Techno Power Mix”, a mashup of the seven zone BGM.

Another cool thing is the artwork, the original sketches for which can be found in the bonus artwork gallery of Sonic Generations.

Sonic & Knuckles: Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Sonic & Knuckles - Sonic 3

Also misleadingly named, Sonic & Knuckles: Sonic the Hedgehog 3 contains only music from Sonic & Knuckles, much of it extensively reworked and expanded.

Unfortunately, as neat as it is to hear extra parts to these classic songs, most of the tracks fare little better than crappy MIDI when it comes to instrumentation.

Virtual Sonic

Virtual Sonic

Sporting the fancy subtitle “Enhanced Music Inspired by the Worlds of Sonic”, Virtual Sonic is perhaps the most interesting album on this list. Composer Howard Drossin recalls it in an interview with Gamasutra:

I remember I did the whole thing in a month. People ask me, you know, “Was this song from this level?” I don’t know. Some of it was expanding upon the Sonic theme and the Knuckles theme, but for others I was grasping. I had a month to do an entire soundtrack because it had to be there in the Luxor Hotel, and I remember begging and pleading for more time. It had to be done for the grand opening of the Sega Store. Some of it is based on nothing but my impression of the Sonic world. Given the time that I had to do it, I think some of it is pretty cool.

Almost all of the songs are totally original, bearing no resemblance to anything from the games. Even the track “Sandopolis” is nothing like the zone BGM.

Highlights include “Metal Sonic”, a grinding rock theme with vocals in the style of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, and “Sonic and Knuckles Theme”, which might surprise fans of Sonic Robo Blast 2 if they listen past the 2:00 mark. 🙂

Supersonic

Supersonic

A UK single by “H.W.A featuring Sonic the Hedgehog”, this is a dance track that partially remixes the BGM from Green Hill Zone.

According to the liner notes,

All proceeds that Sega receive from sales of this record will be donated to the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre. The charity helps children with severe learning difficulties communicate through the medium of music.

A sweet gesture, but wouldn’t it have been more effective with a better collection of music?

Super Sonic Dance Attack

Super Sonic Dance Attack

Another dance single, in my opinion somewhat better than the last, this one is derived from Sonic’s main theme from Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 but also contains some melody from Streets of Rage 2 for an odd combination.

A robotic voice intones “I killed Doctor Robotnik” and “I killed the boss” a few times throughout the track, which is somewhat unsettling but at least proves that I was not totally alone in describing the act of defeating Robotnik as “killing the boss” as a kid, though of course he never actually dies.

Wonderman

Wonderman

Wonderman is a single by Right Said Fred, the British act forever infamous for “I’m Too Sexy” (itself sounding a little reminiscent of something out of the Sonic OVA). In what could be considered a lazy and crass move, their song “Wonderman” was musically and lyrically reworked to loosely tie in with the Sonic franchise and was used to promote Sonic 3 in the UK.

It’s hugely cheesy, but I like the song regardless. The music video contains a few Sonic references and footage from Sonic 3, but nothing too special.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic Arcade

And, speaking of cheesy…

Not to be confused with the umpteen other products simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog, this is the album that “They Call Me Sonic” calls home, along with its conspecifics “King of the Ring”, “Sonic & Tails”, “Sonic Electronic”, as well as a handful of forgettable instrumental rave tracks.

Also published by the same company, Arcade Music, were two volumes of Sonic Dance and three volumes of Sonic Mix, European releases that used Sonic imagery but contained pop songs that had nothing to do with the franchise. (The Jive label published eight (!) volumes of the very similar Sonic Dance Power series.) They are notable only for their covers, which depict such unhinged acts as Sonic snowboarding on his own name, Sonic and Knuckles having a spaghetti fight on a rocket, and Knuckles escaping an enormous, luminescent Robotnik while riding a snowmobile.

Sonic Dance Mix 1

Sonic Dance Mix 2

Sonic Dance Mix 3

In short, their contribution to culture is incalculable.

Rad Knuckles
What’s that? I can’t hear you over how fucking rad I am.

^ 1. Sonic the Hedgehog Boom at Sonic Retro.

images from Sonic Retro.

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The Sonic Second: Sonic SatAM Game Pitch Video

Back in 1993, before SatAM had even aired, the developers at the Sega Techinical Institute were already brainstorming ways to bring its world and characters to the Genesis. Sadly, the project was aborted before it had even begun in earnest, and all we have today is the following pitch video, an animated demo made on Amiga computers by Peter Morawiec and John Duggan to demo the game concepts.

The video was donated to the Sonic community by Peter Morawiec, who describes it in this interview with Sega-16:

Shortly after finishing Sonic Spinball, Roger Hector (STI’s boss) took Naka’s team and a number of us down to DiC Animation in Burbank, CA. The studio was about to start production on a Sonic cartoon series for the ABC TV network. It was a funny meeting – the storyboards were super Warner Bros’y, all squash-and-stretch, and full of silly slapstick humor. The Sonic Team guys sat through the spiel all stone-faced, so I don’t think they liked it very much. Roger was interested in having STI create a spin-off game based on the show, so I tried to come up with a gameplay format allowing for more story and adventure than the original Sonic games. I had made a number of these Amiga demos by then, so it didn’t take very long to put together, probably less than a week. John Duggan (STI’s Art Director) created the title screen and helped with the character sprites.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to animate fast-scrolling backgrounds in Brilliance, so the demo came off too slow-paced, though I always intended for it to have some fast-moving sections. From what I heard, Naka gave the design thumbs down, but it was probably the right decision. The cartoon wasn’t even out, so banking on its success would’ve been premature, and too many spin-offs for a fresh new franchise are likely to do more harm than good. I was really excited to get started on Comix Zone which was just green lit, so the design was shelved…

As an avid viewer of SatAM, as well as a fan of the games, I know I would have been absolutely delighted to play this if it had been made. I can’t help but feel that nixing this was a big miscalculation on Sega’s part, especially considering the creativity, attitude, and great animation on display in Comix Zone, STI’s subsequent project. There’s no doubt in my mind that, given the chance, they could have pulled this off, and pulled it off brilliantly.

It may be easy for some to be all “sour grapes” and dismiss this demo as too slow paced or clunky, and claim that it’s all for the best that it was never greenlit. But – as is clearly demonstrated by the Amiga pitch video for Sonic Spinball below – had this game actually made it to the Genesis it would have been dramatically faster and cooler.

Sometimes I wish STI had not only gotten the chance to make this Genesis SatAM game, but that it had been the start of a long line of them extending into the 32-bit era. When playing games like Spyro 2, I occasionally find myself mentally swapping out the characters with SatAM ones and wondering what a western developed Sonic game of that time would have been like had Sega not put the squeeze on their American team. It’s still sad that the messy tale of Sonic X-treme is how it all came to an end.

At the end of the day, though, it’s cool that we even have this video at all. I wonder how long until some enterprising Sonic fan makes an attempt at recreating it? 🙂

***

h/t Sega-16

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