Most characters in video games from the 8/16 bit era have one or two defining features to their design to make them stand out, to define them. Something that makes you think of that character every time you see it. Mario has his signature hat, Link has his green tunic, and Samus has her Varia suit. For Sonic the Hedgehog, aside for being blue, it’s his shoes.
Since his debut in 1991, Sonic has always worn a pair of bright red and white sneakers with a gold buckle on the side. Even after he was redesigned for his jump to 3D on the Dreamcast in 1998 with Sonic Adventure, he still had those same shoes.
But three years later, Sonic would finally get a new pair of shoes. And the difference with these was that they were already a product you could actually purchase.
In 1997, a company named Artemis Innovations, Inc. introduced a new line of shoes under the brand name “Soap”. These shoes featured a hard plastic concave indent in the sole of the shoe, designed to allow the wearer to grind rails, like you would if you were skating. While the shoes were never that popular, it seems someone at the then San Francisco based Sonic Team must have noticed them.
During development of Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Team introduced a then new ability to Sonic’s skillset: grinding. Sonic could jump on to rails and grind them at high speed, adding a new element to his gameplay and level design.
While I don’t know who approached who, and there are early screenshots showing Sonic with his original shoes, it was clear that Sonic’s new ability and Soap’s line of footwear were a perfect match.
The developers changed Sonic’s footwear from his old, pointed sneakers to a pair of custom colored version of Soap brand shoes, and included billboards in game to advertise the company, alongside advertisements for some of SEGA’s other games (as well as a few fake ones, such as one for the film “CHAOS IN SPACE”).
While a red, white, and yellow version of the shoes were not available commercially, you were still able to purchase those same shoes, finally making it possible to own a pair of the same sneakers as Sonic.
While the shoes have since been discontinued, it was actually pretty cool that at one point you were able to buy the same pair of sneakers as Sonic and grind rails just like he could in the game.
Except slower. And not in space.