Sega had made waves with the release of their Genesis console in 1989, and it gave them a head start on the next generation of home consoles, as Nintendo had not yet released their 16 bit system. However, the Super Nintendo was scheduled for release in 1991, and Sega needed to be prepared for it. While they had had success with their aggressive marketing campaigns in which they attacked the NES regularly, they were going to need to do something more in order to outcompete Nintendo’s new system. One of the glaring differences between Nintendo and Sega as brands was the fact that Nintendo had a very popular and recognizable mascot in Mario, while Sega did not have a mascot of such fame.
For Sega’s Master System, the character Alex Kidd had been their mascot, but because the Master System was not at all popular in the United States, and to go in line with their marketing campaign of being the more mature gaming system, they knew that they needed something new. In 1991, Sega released the game Sonic the Hedgehog, and they used Sonic to show just how fast the processing speed of the Genesis was. They replaced Altered Beast with Sonic the Hedgehog as the pack-in title for the Genesis, which would give consumers even more reason to buy a Genesis instead of the brand new Super Nintendo console.
While Sonic certainly never surpassed Mario when it came to overall popularity, it was a great step in the right direction for Sega. They promoted Sonic as the more hip, adult mascot when compared to Mario, and to this day Sega is still releasing Sonic the Hedgehog games as a third-party developer for consoles and Windows PCs. While not on the level of Mario, Sonic is certainly iconic.