Sega Exec Revives an Old Gaming Rivalry Over Sonic Superstars Sales
The ‘90s are back.
Both Nintendo and Sega released new games starring their most recognizable mascots in October — and one of them says that might have been a bad idea. One month after the launch of Sonic Superstars, Sega admits sales have fallen short and, at least obliquely, blames Sonic’s old rival.
During an investor Q&A as part of the company’s recent financial report, Sega CEO Haruki Satomi was asked about what caused the less-than-stellar performance of Sonic Superstars.
“We believe that the impact of other companies' major titles released at the same time is significant,” Satomi said.
Satomi doesn’t say flat out that Mario is responsible for Sonic Superstars’ woes, but it’s not hard to connect the dots. Sonic Superstars was released on October 17, while Super Mario Bros. Wonder came out on October 20, along with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. While the latest Spidey game almost certainly drew some attention away from Sonic Superstars, it’s Super Mario Bros. Wonder that likely shares more of Sonic’s audience.
Sega hasn’t released sales numbers for Sonic Superstars, but it seems the title didn’t stack up to Super Mario Wonder’s feat of selling 4.3 million copies in two weeks — a record-breaking figure for Nintendo.
It’s also not the first time in recent memory that a Sega executive compared sales of Sonic and Mario games. Earlier this month, Sega Japan released an interview on the company’s hopes for the future of Sonic, which was translated and reported by Noisy Pixel.
“Simply put, I want to surpass Mario,” said Osamu Ohashi, division manager at Sega Japan. “Sonic was a game originally developed to compete with Mario, and we have yet to achieve that. Because we respect Mario, my goal is to catch up to and surpass him.”
It’s already somewhat of a rarity for executives to speak so candidly about their rivalry with another company in a financial report, and the history of Nintendo and Sega makes it all the more interesting. While the platforming feud may be forgotten by all but the most obsessive corners of their respective fandoms now, Sega and Nintendo were bitter rivals in their 2D heyday.
A big part of that was the aggressive tone of ‘90s Sega marketing, which seemed more concerned with convincing people it was the cool alternative to Nintendo than anything else. A 1991 TV commercial paints Sonic as the edgier alternative to “that nice boy Mario.” Maybe the most famous example of the rivalry was a marketing campaign claiming “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” meant to reinforce the Genesis’ cutting-edge 16-bit hardware and console exclusives like Dynamite Duke, which of course haven’t been completely forgotten today.
As the most visible faces of their respective consoles, Mario and Sonic became emblems of what was ultimately a corporate fight for market share. That lasted until 2002, when Sonic Adventure 2 Battle debuted on GameCube, becoming the first Sonic game to launch on a Nintendo console.
That was such a big deal that Sonic and Mario (in the form of costumed mascots) met at Nintendo of America headquarters to commemorate it, according to an article originally on Nintendo’s website that’s now archived by fan site Sonic Stadium. But 21 years after their apparent détente, it seems the rivalry may be back on.
Despite Sonic Superstars’ stumbling launch, Sega isn’t giving up on its latest title.
“In reality, when Sonic IP sells the most is mainly November to December, and more than 90% of this title’s marketing cost will be spent in the Thanksgiving and holiday season from November onwards,” Haruki Satomi said.
While there’s nothing that’s likely to bring Sonic Superstars up to Super Mario Bros. Wonder’s staggering sales figure, it seems Sega isn’t ready to give up the race just yet.