A Brief History Lesson
The Sonic franchise has seen its fair share of curious spin-offs: party games like Sonic Shuffle, brawlers like Sonic Battle, edutainment titles like Tails and the Music Maker, and puzzle games like Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Many fans believe the latter to be the first puzzle-based game in the franchise, but there exists an often-forgotten gem that traces its origins to the hedgehog’s first year on the market. That game is called Sonic Eraser, and its existence is a complicated one. Gather around the campfire, everybody; it’s time for a history lesson.
In 1990, Sega began a digital networking service for the Mega Drive called the Sega Net Work System. This subscription-based service allowed Japanese gamers to play a handful of compatible titles against each other online. Much like the Sega Channel, the service also allowed gamers to download and play titles that were exclusively available through this digital distribution. Among these titles were Fatal Labyrinth, Phantasy Star II Text Adventures, and Sonic Eraser. Much to Sega’s dismay, this setup failed to garner any significant momentum in Japan and was eventually discontinued; this caused North American plans for the service to be scrapped and its exclusive titles to fade into obscurity.
All was not lost for Sonic Eraser, however, as Sega would unleash the game upon Japanese players again. In 2003, Sega introduced a broadband-based digital download service called the Sega B-Club. This service allowed gamers to rent Saturn and Mega Drive games for extended periods of time and play them on a PC via emulation. The game was eventually made available on the service, and a whole new generation of Japanese gamers could now discover it.
Unfortunately, this brief renaissance never officially expanded overseas. Unlike many other games on the Net Work System and Sega B-Club, Sonic Eraser saw no international release whatsoever. There were plans for it to be released in Sonic Gems Collection, but since this did not come to pass, the game continued to languish as one of the most obscure titles in the Sonic franchise. In 2004, however, members of Sonic CulT obtained a ROM image of the game which was quickly decrypted and translated. This allowed the game to be accessible (albeit illegally) and playable for many gamers who would otherwise never see it. However, just because you can obtain a game doesn’t mean you should. Is Sonic Eraser actually any good? We’ll answer that question in Part 2 later this week.