NEW YORK – Video game publisher Sega went looking for a new friend for the upcoming version of its popular "Sonic The Hedgehog" game and found a metaphor for its role in the $30 billion games business.
Sonic's new friend Silver fights villains by using mind-powers to throw objects at enemies in the latest game, unlike Sonic, whose trademark spinning and hurling attacks have made the blue, spiky-haired mascot one of the most recognizable game brands in the world.
The company, like Silver, no longer competes directly with video-game hardware makers like Sony (SNE), Microsoft (MSFT) or Nintendo. Sega exited the hardware business about five years ago.
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"We're putting our best properties across all three platforms and letting the battle rage," Scott Steinberg, Sega vice president of marketing, told Reuters in an interview. "Like Silver, we're using the world."
Sega is refreshing its signature character for a new crop of game consoles, which will become available in the current technology cycle with the release of Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii this month.
The once mighty Sega dominated the video game industry in the early 1990s with its top selling Sega Genesis game console.
Sonic was born in 1991 and was designed to be the fastest and most technologically advanced video game character for the launch of Sega's Genesis game system.
Designers imbued the character, who tapped his oversized feet and stared at players if they paused for more than a few seconds, with an attitude that personified the enfant terrible status Sega held at the time.
Some 44 million copies of more than 30 versions of Sonic games have sold globally and few characters are as recognizable to non-gamers.
In 1993, scientists who discovered a new gene dubbed it the "Sonic Hedgehog homolog."
Only Nintendo's Mario Brothers franchise, which has spawned a live-action feature film, is more popular.
The latest game has Sonic embarking on an adventure in Soleanna, a city of water that vaguely resembles the "human world" for the first time, Sega says.
He meets princess Elise, who, of course, gets abducted by Dr. Eggman. Eggman, like a game villain out of central casting, plots to destroy Soleanna.
Violence ensues in the form of Sonic spinning, thrashing, and bouncing his way through richly detailed ancient ruins and waterfalls, according to reviewers.
Players can also spend their time as several other characters including Silver, who has telekinetic powers to move objects and fly, slow down the pace of the game. Silver, according to review site GameSpot, adds greater emphasis on puzzle-solving.
Early previews have been positive.
The latest game was "easily the best-looking Sonic the Hedgehog game we've ever seen," GameSpot wrote after reviewing an early version of the game from May.
"All in all, Sonic appears to be making his way to the next set of platforms in style," according to GameSpot.
Sega plans to release nearly identical versions of "Sonic The Hedgehog" for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this month, with a different version planned for the Wii early next year.