Sega released a free Sonic visual novel titled The Murder of Sonic The Hedgehog to Steam on March 31, 2023. While this sounds like an April Fools joke, Sega did, in fact, release the free visual novel. The game tells the story of Amy Rose, a pink character from the Sonic universe who is in love with Sonic, hosting a murder mystery party for her birthday. While The Murder of Sonic The Hedgehog is, remarkably, not an April Fools joke (maybe they play off that in the game), the story reminded me of a classic Sonic April Fools joke from 2002: Electronic Gaming Monthly touting how to make Sonic and Tails playable in Super Smash Brothers Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube.
The best video game April Fools jokes play off something going on at the time they are drafted. I previously covered two examples from 1999 and 2001 here at The New Leaf Journal. The first, from 1999, featured a claim that Yoshi was playable in Pokémon Red and Blue. That joke made sense in the context of the time and place it was published. Rumors and urban legends about the original generation one Pokémon games spread through schoolyards and classrooms in a way that was only possible in the internet context of the day. See my article on the Bill’s secret garden urban legend for an in-depth explanation of the era. The second joke, Electronic Gaming Monthly’s claim that Sega was selling Sega Neptune consoles from a warehouse for $200, was a good joke for a number of reasons. Firstly, there had been rumors about the Sega Neptune, a real abandoned project that would have combined the Sega Genesis and its add-on console, the Sega 32X, into a single console, for many years. Secondly, Sega, which had been one of the big-three players in the video game console market in the 1990s, had just bowed out of the console market permanently with the discontinuation of the Dreamcast, creating an atmosphere of immediate nostalgia for that which was lost.
- Sega of Japan’s Yukawa Dreamcast Commercials
- The Sega Dreamcast Controller Joystick
- Video Game Visuals That Age Well
- Don’t Compare Stadia to the Dreamcast!
Understanding the context of Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 2001 Sega Neptune joke is instructive to understanding its 2002 joke about Sonic and Tails being playable in Super Smash Brothers Melee. For those not in the know, Super Smash Brothers Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube was the second entry in the Super Smash Brothers series. The original concept behind Super Smash Brothers was to create a fighting game bringing characters from different Nintendo franchises and properties together (or perhaps it is more accurate to say in opposition to each other). The later Super Smash Brothers games began to add many characters from outside Nintendo’s first party games, but Melee was still, strictly, an in-house affair.
After Sega exited the console business, it began producing games for other consoles. The idea that there would one day be Sonic games on Nintendo consoles seemed unimaginable in the 90s (at least from the perspective of a kid), but the surreal came to the United States in February 2002 with the re-release of Sonic Adventure 2 on GameCube (it was released in Japan in December 2001). It was in the context of Sonic having crossed over to a Nintendo console that Electronic Gaming Monthly published its April Fools joke about Sonic and Tails being unlockable characters in Super Smash Brothers Melee. The original joke reads as follows:
Play as Sonic or Tails: Sonic Team’s two stars make cameos as warriors in SSBM. Here’s how yo get ’em: Achieve a high score of 20 KOs with any one character in Cruel Melee. Sonic and Tails will then both challenge you (yes, at the same time). Beat ’em and they open as playable characters. Finish Classic mode with either for a special surprise.EGM
You can see the original “article” (courtesy of Video Game Hoaxes Fandom’s article on Sonic and Tails in Super Smash Brothers Melee).
While the joke caught my attention, I knew better than to fall for it. There is extant evidence that some people did (with that being said, I will venture that the majority of EGM readers saw through it when they put two and two together). For those who did fall for it, the Sonic and Tails directions were begin compared to the byzantine instructions provided by Nintendo Power for obtaining Yoshi in Pokémon Red and Blue.
(EGM apparently sent free copies of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, to some otherwise unfortunate people who took their joke seriously. I do not recall having read about that, but you can learn more from this article.)
The joke was good in context. The idea of Mario and Sonic being in the same game, especially in a fighting game given the former Nintendo-Sega, Mario-Sonic rivalry – was neat. As a matter of logic, it was implausible that Sonic and Tails had been lurking on Super Smash Brothers Melee without having been noticed prior to April 2002 (Melee was released in Japan in November 2001 and North America in December). But people could dream. For those who did dream, their dreams would come true with the next installment of Super Smash Brothers, 2008’s Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Nintendo Wii, which featured Sonic in its cast. Thus, while Yoshi never made it into Pokémon (albeit you can set up some Yoshi vs Pikachu fights in Super Smash Brothers) and Sega Neptunes never went on sale, Sonic did, in fact, eventually join Super Smash Brothers.
I had read the 2002 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly when it was released, and thus remembered the Sonic-Melee joke from first-hand experience. But I decided to do a bit of research to see if I could find anything interesting to share – especially in light of the fact that the joke is still sometimes covered on lists of video game magazine April Fools jokes. With the help of the excellent Marginalia Search Engine, I came across a January 8, 2005 forum post from the GHZ forum. User big_smile discussed an Australian magazine interview with Mr. Yuji Naka, the creator of the Sonic franchise. While there is no link to the interview itself, big_smile summarized it as follows:
It seems that Naka-san originally planned for Sonic to appear in Super Smash Brothers Melee, but abandoned the idea due to time constraints. The experience, however, has increased the possibility of Sonic and Mario teaming-up for a future adventure. While highlighting his close relationship with Nintendo, Naka reaffirmed his support for both the Playstation 2 and X-Box, but acknowledged some of the troubles the latter has had in the Japanese markets.big_smile (Jan. 8, 2005)
Very interesting. While I do not have access to the particular interview, I do not have any particular reason to doubt big_smile’s description. Sega was preparing to move out of the console market while Super Smash Brothers Melee was being developed, and in so doing, was most likely already planning to begin making Sonic games on Nintendo consoles. That Mr. Naka would have considered seeing if Sonic could be added to Super Smash Brothers hardly sounds like a stretch. Moreover, the note about Xbox struggling in Japanese markets was, and still is to some extent, true. Later in the thread, user “WhoopA” referenced the Electronic Gaming Monthly article from nearly three years prior:
The April Fools joke that almost wasn’tWhoopA (Jan. 8, 2005)
That there may at one time have been a non-zero possibility of Sonic being included in Super Smash Brothers Melee adds an extra layer to what was already a memorable April Fools joke.
Although there is no shortage of outright lies on the internet, the ubiquity of the internet and the speed with which information spreads across boards makes the sort of classic video game magazine April Fools jokes of the past untenable today. While I have not done a survey, I doubt that there are recent examples of jokes pointing to in-game secrets like the 1999 Pokémon-Yoshi joke (still my favorite in context) and the 2002 Sonic-SSBM joke. In some ways, the 2001 Sega Neptune fire sale joke is a bit closer to the types of common jokes these days, which are based on purported rumors about future events. Take for an example a March 31, 2023 article in Nintendo Life titled Rumor: The Infamous Phillips CD-i Zelda Games Are Being Remastered for Switch. I can say with high confidence that this is not a thing that will ever happen, but it is a solid April Fools joke that touts a rumor (in line with what works on the internet these days) and is fun while also being readily identifiable for what it is.