Thirty years of ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ with composer Jun Senoue


Iborn in 30 years, Sonic the hedgehog has become a cultural icon, and the music in its games has provided soundtracks for generations of gamers. We found Jun Senoue, Sonicmusic guru since 1993.

Three decades ago this year, a pop culture phenomenon came to life on the Sega Mega Drive. At the time, he seemed an unlikely future flag bearer for the gaming industry – Sonic the hedgehog was a sinister shade of blue, looked nothing like a hedgehog, and moved about twenty times faster than any hedgehog that has ever existed in real life.

Yet the years 1991 Sonic the hedgehog was a good game, using unprecedented speed to take platform gaming to a whole new realm, selling a stunning 24 million units in 30 years (with mobile versions taken into account), while the Sonic the franchise as a whole has moved 140 million units, which puts it at number one among the largest companies in the video game industry.

Universally lovable Sonic, meanwhile, caught the public imagination to such an extent that it spawned an outrageous body of merchandising. Ivo Gerscovich, chef Sonic Brand Officer at Sega US, takes up the salient points: “Those who have really marked me over the years must include the Sonic Spaghetti and Sonic and Knuckles-themed diapers – and who could forget the Sonic the hedgehog curry or the Sonic toaster ? Sonic has starred in his own feature film – with a sequel slated for release in April 2022 – and has made appearances in countless games, including various Olympics-themed games with a former rival. Mario, Minecraft, fall guys and Monster hunter.

Monster Hunter Rise. Credit: Capcom

The incredible jet-heeled blue hedgehog has therefore become a true cultural icon over the past 30 years. But there is another key factor in its enduring popularity: the music that makes the soundtrack of its games. Typically influenced by poppy and 80s or rock in a commercial way, it may not fall into stereotypes NME– player territory, but the music accompanying scenes like Green Hill Zone in the first game and Speed ​​Highway in Sound adventure, with Escape from the City, the theme of Sound adventure 2, have the power to induce almost Pavlovian responses in several generations of players.

Masato Nakamura, from J-Pop group Dreams Come True, set the initial tone as music composer for Sonic the hedgehog 1 and 2 but for 28 years, since 1993 Sonic the hedgehog 3, the music for the series was mainly composed by Jun Senoue. Senoue, dividing his time between San Francisco and Tokyo, proved to be a difficult man to track down, but we managed to get him toast via email.

Nowadays, with the declining returns of streaming services for musicians, compounded right now by the destruction of the live stage by Covid-19, any musician would jump at the chance to make music for video games. . But in 1993, it was an unusual decision. Senoue, 23, had learned to play the guitar on his own at the age of 15, but was also a great player and sent demos to Namco and Sega, who hired him: “I think every guitarist dreams to perform in arenas and be a rock star. But at that point, I knew I just wanted to make music. I had been interested in games since the early 1980s, whether on my home computer or in the arcade. Having said that, the Sonic franchise was without a doubt the first game that sparked my interest in games.

He is lyrical about how his association with Sonic went, “I love music, and the fact that my music has impacted so many millions of people is very special. Since I started playing the original Sonic the hedgehog in the early nineties i always had that respect for who he is, and his contagious spirit still inspires me today. He has such an energized vibe and ready to go anytime. It’s so cool to see what he represents to so many generations throughout his 30 years. Sonic will forever be a big part of my childhood, and I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to compose some of the most impressive songs in the franchise.

Sound adventure 2
Sonic Adventure 2. Credit: SEGA

In 2000 Senoue formed a band called Crush40, with conventional guitar, bass, and vocals. format of keyboards and drums offering a hard rock sound, to broaden the horizons of the music he created for the Sonic games, and it quickly developed a live sequel. Asked to detail his favorites among the songs he composed for Sonic games, it highlights the different types of tracks you are likely to encounter while playing a Sonic game: “I would say ‘I Am… All Of Me’ and ‘What I’m Made Of…’ songs from Crush40. ‘Escape from the city’ (Sound adventure 2) and ‘Believe in me’ (Sound adventure) of my non-Crush40 vocal songs. As for the instrumental tracks, I would say ‘Speed ​​Highway’ (Sound adventure), “Radical highway” (Sound adventure 2) and ‘Seaside Hill’ (Sound heroes). It’s so hard to choose my favorite tracks.

There are also some new features that will delight music aficionados from Sonic games: “I’m currently working on some newly arranged tracks from Sonic songs called Sonic Sessions. They’ll be out on social media, and I’ll be releasing them as an album in February 2022, so watch that out. I can’t wait to perform these songs in front of everyone very soon.

Sonic the hedgehog officially turned 30 on June 23 of this year, and to mark the occasion, Sega celebrated the music of the franchise. Senoue was of course strongly involved: “There was an online concert called the Sonic 30th Anniversary Symphony for his [Sonic’s] anniversary this year and I participated as Crush 40 with my songs. The band was in Japan, singer Johnny was in the US, and the orchestra was in Europe, so it was a very global project and an exciting event.

He was greeted with enthusiasm by Sonic fans, although another 30th anniversary concert, a November 30 DJ set by famous EDM cheese supplier Steve Aoki with a background of Sonic visuals, did not appeal to the fan base, many of whom complained that it barely included music from the Sonic Games.

So how do you go about making music for a game? Senoue recognizes that playing every segment of the game is important, but intuition also seems to play a part in his process: “When I can check the development version of the game, the experience of playing can help me find the right tempo. for music. I can count on the imagination to compose music from sketches and words. At all times, the first impression is very important to me.

It also recognizes the two styles of music for which it is known via the Sonic games: “I grew up listening to 80s synth pop pop music and played a lot of rock songs as cover bands, so both are my background. I love to listen to a wide range of music, from classic rock to metal, from Japanese anime themed songs to smooth jazz. And I basically like to play aggressive rock music.

“That said, video game music is all about the scenes and the experience, whereas with my band, the music is just the music we think we need to play. As for when I’m making music for a game , it depends on the purpose of the game, the themes, the setting, the motivation, the emotion that we are trying to convey to the player. All of this comes into play when writing music for a Game.

Despite his 28-year association with Sonic, Senoue is not a one-trick pony – he has written music for a wide range of games, mainly published by Sega, which encompasses the likes of Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition and Super Monkey Ball: Walk and Roll. What has he been working on recently? “I have been busy with Colorful scene: Hatsune Miku. This is a musical game featuring the voices of Vocaloids and vocal actors. It’s been just over a year since its launch and has grown in popularity here in Japan.

But of course he also worked on the music for Sonic borders, the recently announced game that will be the first to place the blue hedgehog in an open world, and is slated for release at the end of 2022: “This game will broaden our vision Sonic games, and I’m so excited for 2022.

Senoue ends with an elegant tribute to Sonicthe enduring popularity of and its ability to transcend the limits of video games: “Sonic still, to this day, embodies transformation and vitality, so the soundtracks over the years, in my opinion, are so crucial to the past, present and future of Sonic. I think the fact that I can talk to NME, which was a magazine that I remember seeing when I was younger, testifies to what a cultural phenomenon is Sonic is.”

But the last word goes to Ivo Gerscovich, who recognizes the key role music has played in uplifting Sonic to such an elated position in the firmament of pop culture: “Music has always been an important part of what makes the franchise feel like Sonic. Even early on, many people will instantly recognize the music of the original Green Hill Zone as Sonic, even beyond the core. Sonic Fans. It has become iconic. And that has continued over the years with music in the later games. Music adds so much to the overall experience, and delivering a great soundtrack has always been an important part of what goes into creating a Sonic Game. Depending on when in your life you first discovered Sonic, our intention has always been that the music stays with you, as we saw with the Sonic 30th anniversary symphony last June.

The following Sonic Entrance – Sonic borders – should be launched in 2022.


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