It’s a discovery 15 years in the making.
The Sonic the Hedgehog fan community is really something quite remarkable (even — or perhaps especially — if you take the deviantART stigma out of the equation), with the wide range of work they do. From hacks to fan games, fan art, fan films, and of course, preservation of early development prototypes. And it’s that last one that’s come to light in the last few days.
Thanks to one Buckaroo, the folks over at the aptly-named Hidden Palace have come across one of the holy grails of preservation: a prototype of the original 1991 Sonic the Hedgehog for SEGA Genesis. This version of the game features numerous differences from the version you can find easily on virtually any platform available to you today.
Green Hill features checkered boulders spread around that are just like the one Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik attacks you with at the end of the zone, while UFOs litter the sky of the Marble Zone. One of my personal favorites, Spring Yard, is virtually unrecognizable in its earlier incarnation as the “Sparkling” Zone. And many others are not even finished yet, with only the lay of the land established, and not a single spring, item box, or ring to be found. The anxiety-inducing Labyrinth Zone? Dry as a bone, requiring debug options to see in its entirety.
You can see Hidden Palace give you the grand tour right here:
As for the quest to discover this long-lost prototype, Hidden Palace tells that story here, and reveals that more will be told in the next issue of Retro Gamer magazine. Not only that, but if you want to own this piece of gaming history, Buckaroo is going to auction it off on eBay in February (just know you’ll be up against Hidden Palace in the running).
The starting bid is unknown, but if you’re like me and know it’ll be too steep for your pockets, then worry not! You can still play it for yourself through a link found here, where Hidden Palace has also documented the many differences between this and the final release version.
With that in mind, sadly, this version of the game doesn’t contain the one removed element we all really want — the “Welcome to Green Hill” sign from the 1990 Tokyo Toy Show beta that was evoked in 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog film, so we can all recreate the scene from the ending credits at our leisure and pleasure. But with this latest find, maybe we’re one huge step closer?