We all know Sonic as our favourite blue hedgehog that, at one point, was Mario’s biggest rival. However, it nearly could have been Sonic the Rabbit.
In an old dug up interview, Sonic’s programmer, Yuji Naka, explained why the original concept of Sonic being a rabbit did not hold on for very long. He explained that a rabbit will likely hurt itself when somersaulting for an attack.
So the character was a rabbit first?
Naka: Yes, but something felt very off about it. And ultimately we decided to give the character a somersault attack. That idea actually came from a notebook I had in high school, scribbled there on the very last page. I figured I would use it when I quit Sega and went independent, but as we were making Sonic it was like, “well, I’ve got no choice, I guess I’ll have to use it now.”
However, if a rabbit does a somersault attack, it’s just going to hurt itself, right? We thought it would be better to have some animal with a hard shell or spines. Two possibilities came up: an armadillo or a hedgehog, but the hedgehog won out because it was faster.
Naka also shed some light on Mario’s influence on Sonic’s speed
Why did you focus on “speed” as your development theme?
Naka: I think Super Mario Bros. is a wonderful game, but if you play it everyday, you always have to start from stage 1-1, right? Once you get good and memorize the levels, you can just hold down the B button and run through the stage. But even then it just takes too long. With Sonic, I wanted to shorten that time if I could. My idea was that you’d progress slowly and carefully through the stages on your first playthroughs as you learned the enemy locations, but after you got used to it, you could really zoom straight through the levels. Unfortunately, everyone who playtested it just went full-speed from the very beginning. (laughs)
The era where Mario and Sonic are bitter rivals are over but it’s lasting influence on Sonic’s design is every present. You can read the full interview on SHMUPlations here.