One of the best parts of the Internet gaming community involves watching fans of a beloved franchise dig into games and discover remnants from the development process. For whatever reason, Sega's 1990s archives of development materials is wide open to the right people and a bunch of unfinished versions of Sonic the Hedgehog titles have escaped to the Internet over the years. Over at Kotaku, Heidi Kemps showcases seven such prototypes that each show us something interesting about the finished product by virtue of not being in it.
One wonders if Sega in the 1990s was just an exceptionally leaky company, because there are quite a few classic Sonic prototypes floating about. Many of them are simply incremental builds of the same game, each one featuring a little tweak to a stage design, maybe a handful of edits to the sprites. But several of the early builds that have been found are far more interesting: featuring cut stages, discarded gameplay elements, placeholder graphics, and wildly different soundtracks. Taken together, they paint a vivid picture of how these games were made: what the developers prioritized, what didn’t work, what needed to get the axe, what could have been.
Some of these prototypes are kind of well-known in certain circles such as the Sonic Crackers demo that would go on to become Knuckles Chaotix for the Sega 32X and the in-progress version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that still includes the Hidden Palace Zone in a playable state. Others are a little more esoteric such as a Sonic CD version dated from December 1992 (which predates the version I mentioned in April that was sent out to magazines). It's an interesting article about what could have been, what eventually happened, and what was never meant to be.