A prototype version of the original Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis has been confirmed to be in existence.
The former editor of the official UK Sega magazine, Richard Leadbetter, brought up the rare prerelease version of the 1991 Mega Drive classic during a panel discussion at EGX Rezzed 2018 this weekend as part of a discussion about video game magazines in the 1990s.
While the game’s sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, has had a number of prototypes publicly released over the years – the most famous being the Simon Wai beta – no known prerelease copies of Sonic 1 were believed to still be in existence.
However, Leadbetter confirmed that he personally knows the owner of a cartridge that was used to preview the game during his time as a staff writer at Mean Machines magazine, and that it contains a large amount of content that didn’t make it into the final release of the game (discussion starts at around the 13-minute mark):
Fans of the iconic franchise have had to rely on scans and grainy footage of demos of the game exhibited to the public at the Tokyo Toy Show 1990 and Winter Consumer Electronics Show 1991 to get a glimpse into how Sega’s mascot evolved during the development process of his first outing.
Leadbetter, who is now the technology editor for Digital Foundry and Eurogamer, has provided a glimmer of hope that someday, a prototype version of the seminal title will see the light of day – but don’t get your hopes up too much, as he also stated that there are a number of logistical challenges in attempting to secure the cartridge.
“We did a preview of Sonic 1 in Mean Machines, which actually wasn’t presented to us as little chips; it was a really heavy cart that was obviously flash ROMs in a cart,” he stated. “I know where that cartridge is – it’s got content that wasn’t in the final game – but the guy who’s got it has got some sort of issue with his dad where he can’t get access to his storage.”
Leadbetter’s claims were corroborated by longtime Sega prototype researcher drx, who responded to a follow-up discussion about the preview copy on the Sonic Retro forums. drx stated: “It’s not about money, unfortunately. Believe me, I tried. It’s more a matter of when than how. As [forum user] ehw said, we’ve been on top of this for many years; it’s a sad situation.”
There are known to be a number of differences between preview copies of Sonic 1 and the retail copy that hit the shelves in the summer of 1991, so it would be fascinating if the prototype in question one day sees the light of day.