Sonic is one of video gaming’s most enduring characters, so it’s little wonder that there’s been plenty of attention given to his origins over the years.
It’s been commonly accepted that the mascot’s codename during the initial development of his Mega Drive debut was “Mr. Needlemouse” but it would seem that doubt is being cast on this particular piece of trivia by none other than Yuji Naka himself, the lead programmer on that game and former head of Sonic Team, the internal Sega studio responsible for many Sonic outings.
Sega recently held a special exam to test the knowledge of its fans during its 60th anniversary, and Naka failed on one of the questions relating to Sonic. The question asked what the character’s internal codename was before he was called Sonic, and Naka didn’t know the answer (thanks to Google Translate for this translation):
I was frustrated, so I tried again, but I didn’t understand more. I didn’t understand the problem of “Sega’s signature character, Sonic. Choose the name he was given before he went out into the world.” Even though I was the one who made it, I finished taking the Sega common test!
The correct answer, according to Sega, is indeed “Mister Needlemouse”, but Naka claims that this name was never used by either himself or anyone else at Sonic Team.
Yosuke Okunari, a creative producer who works on Sega’s many retro projects, replied to Naka with the suggestion that “Needlemouse” is the English translation of the Japanese compound word for “Hedgehog”, which is scrawled on a piece of concept artwork by Sonic designer Naoto Oshima.
According to Sonic JP News, when you translate the Japanese word for hedgehog in English, it can actually be split into two words: ハリ / hari (needle) and ネズミ / nezumi (mouse) – which is where the confusion appears to have come from.
Together, they combine to form hedgehog (ハリネズミ / harinezumi). In Naka’s eyes, the character’s codename was always “Mr. Hedgehog”, but, as is often the case when translating Japanese to English and back again, the meaning changed when western translators become involved.
Well, I guess I translated “Hedgehog” into English, but Mr. Needle Mouse, which I don’t remember using, feels strange. Well, I got the correct answer.
Thanks to Greatsong for the tip!