The year 1991 saw the debut of what would become Sega’s mascot: Sonic the Hedgehog. With his cool, edgy attitude, his series resonated with the zeitgeist of the era and was almost single-handedly responsible for the sale of millions of Genesis/Mega Drive units as well as spawning a fierce rivalry with Nintendo, the other giant in the home console market. Nearing the end of the console’s lifespan, Sega collaborated with an up-and-coming British development team known as Traveller’s Tales to create Sonic 3D Blast in 1996. Although the quality of this game has been heavily debated, it pushed the dying console to its limits with its isometric presentation and pre-rendered graphics, easily becoming a hit just like its 2D, side-scrolling predecessors when it sold over 700,000 copies.
After several failed attempts to squeeze more life out of their dying console, culminating in the ill-fated 32X add-on, Sega had released the Saturn in 1994. Similar to the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, the Sega Saturn was one of the first standalone consoles to make use of optic discs, significantly increasing the amount of storage space developers had to work with. In terms of sales, the Saturn did not reach the same level of popularity as the Genesis/Mega Drive, which is largely attributed to, among other factors, a subpar marketing campaign. Those who did purchase the console doubtlessly wondered why Sonic had such little presence on this new console. Once Sonic 3D Blast was completed, Sega approached Traveller’s Tales about working on a new project. Having coincidentally been working a 3D engine at the time, they accepted the proposal. Their collaboration with Sonic Team resulted in Sonic R, and was released in 1997 for the Sega Saturn, making its way onto PCs a year later.