In the 1990s, video game consoles were hugely on the rise. Nintendo found its footing with Super Mario World for the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System). Meanwhile, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis. With markets suddenly interested in purchasing video game consoles, the makers of the machines had a fierce rivalry to come out on top.
When given the topic of rivalry between creators, many people think of the Xbox and PlayStation systems. What those companies – Microsoft and Sony – have now is very similar to what Nintendo and Sega battled out earlier in the life of video game popularity.
Where Microsoft and Sony share titles such as Call of Duty and Minecraft, Sega and Nintendo differed by character. They both featured a small, cartoonish character running along the screen, collecting something of value and avoiding or defeating enemies to get to the end of the map.
The difference? One was a little man named Mario and the other was a hedgehog named Sonic.
Years ago, Sonic and Mario were vicious rivals. Each character’s company would release a new game, system, or feature to outdo the other. However, if you look at the two companies now, they’re far from rivals. Sonic even features in Nintendo games.
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) January 11, 2016
What happened after 1995?
The Sega Dreamcast was released in 1999 after a line of three other failed systems. After two years of constant money loss from this system, Sega announced they would no longer be releasing systems and focus only on software development. The Dreamcast itself is considered to be ahead of its time with online features. Online play didn’t come to other companies until the mid 2000s, so why would this system fail?
The Dreamcast itself was released only months before Sony’s PlayStation 2 where the Dreamcast was designed to outdo the original PlayStation. By the time it was released in September, the PlayStation 2 was only months from release, and those old features were old news.
Sega also relied on Sonic as it’s primary IP to bring in software sales. However, Sonic wasn’t doing great, either. It wouldn’t have a high-selling console game until Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, released in 2007. In 1999, Sonic’s most recent popular game was Sonic The Hedgehog 2 back from 1992. It wasn’t looking like Sonic could save the Dreamcast.
Finally, Sega ceased production of the Dreamcast and chose to focus completely on software. Even today, Sega developers believe there is no future in hardware.
The smartest move Sega made was to focus on third party software. The smartest of Nintendo’s was to accept it.
By doing this, Sega was now free to publish its iconic franchise to successful systems. Additionally, Nintendo now had its own niche in the game market in cartoony, innocent games.
Where Sony and Microsoft fight for the better platform for the 9 year olds screaming (warning for noise and insensitive language in this video) over Call of Duty, Nintendo no longer has its hardware ‘twin’ to fight with. As I’ve made claims of before, Nintendo doesn’t compete for the first person shooters – it competes for casual, lighthearted gamers.
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) November 18, 2015
A partnership between Sega and Nintendo benefits everyone.
The most competitive Sonic and Mario get toward each other these days are gentle, hilarious roasts on Twitter. This is the best case scenario for what Sega faced in 2001.
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) April 26, 2017
Nintendo can profit off Sega’s infamous IP as software on their consoles. In return, Sega has a family-friendly platform to base their games in which they will be welcomed among a cast of other characters. Sony and Microsoft don’t have the iconic names of Mario and Link that can welcome Sonic as another icon.
The gamers benefit, too. Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast could have easily been the last Sonic game, letting down millions of fans of the games. Instead, Sonic was moved to Nintendo systems, which feature similar games that fans of Sega are likely to enjoy as well.
And in the end, Sonic and Mario can still duke it out in Super Smash Bros. if they miss the good old days.