Jeff’s Musings: Sonic the Hedgehog and His Story

Friday, September 27th, 2013

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Sonic Generations

Has it really been just 22 years since Sonic the Hedgehog first appeared? In some ways, it feels like it hasn’t been that long, as most of the early games feel like they haven’t aged. In others, it feels like it’s been longer, with what had been a drought of good Sonic games making it feel like there hasn’t been anything worthwhile in a long time.

But here we are, on the precipice of Sonic’s 14th console game (16th if you count Sonic & Knuckles separately from Sonic 3 and count the two Sonic 4 episodes separately). And hopefully, this will be the continued return to form that we have been seeing with the past few retail releases.

So, with a history that spans so many games, cartoons, comics, and anime—each with distinctive characteristics—where exactly do we start? Quite simply, we have to begin with story.

Sonic the Hedgehog | Green Hill Zone loop

The story of the early Sonic the Hedgehog series was quite simple. Dr. Robotnik plans to take over all of Planet Mobius with his robot army, and Sonic must stop him. It was quick, to the point, and pretty much all that we needed to get us playing, although you could easily make the argument that we just wanted to run fast.

And this was pretty much the same tact that most early Sonic media took. Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, while mostly a jumbled mess artistically, was ultimately a battle between Sonic and Robotnik. And aside from the Chaos Emerald saga (why were there only four emeralds?), it was very episodic, with Robotnik coming up with a scheme, Sonic and Tails foiling it, and Robotnik ending the episode saying, “I hate that hedgehog!”

Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog

Now, before anyone asks, let me just say that I love this series. The whole campy tone of the entire thing was great to see. And it felt a bit like a 20-minute-long Bugs Bunny cartoon, which is always great. Ultimately, this would have been fine for the time as arguably the best video-game-inspired cartoon. However, as we Sonic fans know, this wasn’t the only story told then.

Sonic the Hedgehog, the Saturday morning cartoon colloquially known as Sonic SatAM, was created around the same time as Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. As a matter of fact, they premiered the same year.

Sonic the Hedgehog logo

Unlike the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog series, Sonic SatAM was a darker look at the series with Dr. Robotnik having actually conquered a kingdom on Mobius. Sonic is part of a group of rebels known as the Freedom Fighters, led by Sally Acorn, Princess of the conquered Kingdom of Acorn, and containing a roster of interesting characters that hadn’t been seen in a video game TV series, let alone Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic and Sally

Unfortunately, the series was cut short after 26 episodes (supposedly due to doing poorly in ratings against time slot rival Power Rangers). But the story lived on, thanks to Archie Comic Publications, the long-time comic publisher of the Sonic franchise. As a matter of fact, the Sonic the Hedgehog series of comics are the second-longest currently running franchise published by Archie Comics, starting in June 1992 (the longest being the company’s namesake Archie, which has been going since 1942). And while the arcs may have changed over the 20+ years of the comic, the main story thread remains the same: Sonic and his friends fighting for good and justice.

Sonic the Hedgehog First Issue

All things said, the Sonic the Hedgehog plot was a breath of fresh air for a franchise that wasn’t really known for its plot. While I still do enjoy Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and that campy plot of stopping Robotnik from taking over Mobius, I enjoy Sonic SatAM more because of the thought-out story.

It’s too bad this storyline never materialized in a game. Supposedly, there was a game early in production that dealt with the series that was canned. The closest we got to a Sonic SatAM game was a bonus pinball game in Sonic Spinball where the Freedom Fighters needed to be freed from capsules.

So, what did Sega and Sonic Team use instead for video game plots (aside from the usual generic plotline)? Well, they created a series of plots that deal with Sonic in a different dimension/planet/timeline/what-have-you that I like to call the Sonic X storyline.

Sonic Adventure 2 HD Screen 004

Before anyone comments about that name I gave it, let me just clarify. I understand that Sonic X came well after this storyline started. Heck, you could argue it started way back in Sonic CD with Sonic saving Amy Rose from Metal Sonic. However, I’m using the Sonic X name to call the storyline because the anime was a major centerpiece, containing plot threads that happened in the games at that time as well as having a comic book series (also published by Archie Comics) that contained story from the first two seasons of the anime.

For the record, the Sonic the Hedgehog comic series also incorporated video game plots into the series. However, the series was never defined by the games like Sonic X was.

Sonic X Sonic

Anyways, the Sonic X storyline seems like it tries to marry elements of Adventures of Sonic’s camp and simplicity with the more mature and developed Sonic SatAM. What results is a decent though sometimes mismatched series that is made even worse by the Standards and Practices cuts that 4Kids had to make for the dub.

But, to be honest, it does some good stuff. Sonic is shown as a cool, laid-back character who will fight for not only his friends, but for those in need. Characters have distinct personalities (I don’t like all of them, but they’re mostly okay). When one bad guy is defeated, a bigger, badder evil takes its place. And “Gotta Go Fast” by Norman J. Grossfeld and Russell Velazquez is probably my favorite theme of any Sonic cartoon/anime (although the opening sequence of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog will always be my favorite).

Sonic X Sonic 02

But then there are some things that just don’t seem right in the series. Some are just a problem with the dub, such as how 4Kids handled not just the death of Cosmo, but Tails’ reaction to it all. Some are just filler episodes that seem odd, like when Sonic raced Sam Speed. And then, there are some long-term things that just rubbed me the wrong way, like Eggman really being this pathetic piece of crap.

Sonic X Eggman

And that’s where one of my biggest beefs with the Sonic X universe is. They kept the idea of interesting characters and the darker aspects that were in the Sonic SatAM thread but then mashed it together with a weak and comical bad guy. That doesn’t work. It would be like taking Avatar: The Last Airbender and trying to jam in Drake from The Pebble and the Penguin—attitude, songs, and all—as the Firelord. Whatever stakes you were putting up suddenly fall flat and lose meaning.

Firelord Drake

Firelord Drake. More terrifying in the looks department than anything else.

And then they have Eggman team up with Sonic. Now, I don’t have a problem with that, particularly after he was defeated before that happened. Heck, my favorite show of all-time, Farscape, had the main bad guy team up with the hero after he was soundly defeated and replaced by a bigger, badder force. The problem I had was at the end, after they defeated this bigger baddie. Eggman and Sonic talk about how they’ll battle each other again, like that whole season was just Tom & Jerry: The Movie.

I wonder if I would have this same feeling if I hadn’t watched Sonic SatAM or read the Sonic the Hedgehog comics. Honestly, I’d probably say that this iteration of Robotnik could pass as a good Batman villain. Robotnik was an intimidating figure.

Robotnik

It should be noted that this iteration of Robotnik was the first enemy to get Sonic to act completely serious. In the EndGame story arc of the comic (issues 47–50), Sonic had been accused of killing Princess Sally due to a plot by Robotnik. After clearing his name, Sonic goes after Robotnik one more time. But instead of his loose, wisecracking self, Sonic is completely deadpan serious and only ever calling his enemy by his true given name (in that universe), Julian.

And ultimately, Sonic can’t defeat him. In the EndGame story arc, the two have a fistfight, but Robotnik ends up defeated by his own henchman, Snively. Heck, at the end of the cartoon, Robotnik and Sonic don’t even have a final battle (partly because the show was cancelled before a third season could take place).

Sonic the Hedgehog Robotnik Comics

Overall, comparing the Sonic SatAM cartoon and first 50+ issues of the Sonic the Hedgehog comic to Sonic X and the video game universe, the Sonic the Hedgehog story is superior. The characters are more rounded. The bad guys earn our respect. The story is better thought out. It’s just a better overall product.

And it makes me mad to no end that this iteration has no video games to its credit. Instead, Sega keeps churning out games with characters that have no depth, constantly rehashing tired tropes in case any non-Sonic fan wants to give the game a shot. For once, Sega, stop turning your back on the comic’s universe and give us that Sonic SatAM game.

And again, this is all my opinion. If you agree, disagree, or have any other opinion about the general story of Sonic, let me know. Remember, this article series was created to converse with you, not lecture.

Oh, and that other major issue I had with the Sonic X stuff?

Sonic X Amy Rose

That comes next time.

About Jeff Neuenschwander

Jeff has been a supporter of the website and campaign since the beginning. Joining in for E3 2012, he worked his way up the ranks quickly, making it to the Editing Manager post at the beginning of 2013. Jeff has a wide variety of tastes when it comes to gaming and pretty much likes anything that is quirky, although his favorite genres are Action, Platforming, and RPG. Outside of gaming, Jeff is a musician, being trained as a trombonist for Jazz and Classical music, and holds a degree in Sound Recording.




  • dbclick

    I was always under the impression that both American cartoons were created entirely by two American teams at DiC Entertainment, without input from the Japanese “Sonic Team” staff. The only game that references the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon was the American-developed Sonic Spinball (made by the Sega Technical Insititute – which was disbanded after the failure of Sonic X-Treme and bad corporate politics).

    I always thought they eschewed the Ben Hurst’s Mobius continuity since it didn’t jive with Takashi Iizuka’s vision that came out in full force in Sonic Adventure and Adventure 2 (the timeline Sonic X is based on). I’ll admit, the Hurst continuity was better in terms of story, but Sonic has been moving away from any kind of meaningful story (perhaps for better and worse) in the games since the debacle of the 2006 game.

    • John Ellis

      Yes that is correct, that’s why when the 3D games came out people got confused as they though Sonic lived on Mobius and that Eggman was called Robotnik.

    • dbclick

      Actually, the reason he’s called Robotnik is because that is the localized name they chose for him when they localized Sonic 1 (because Eggman is a weird name in English). They couldn’t keep it that way from Sonic Adventure on because there was a puzzle in Sonic Adventure that relied on hopping on 6 buttons in order to spell E-G-G-M-A-N so they combined the two names and made him Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, with both Sonic and Eggman himself referring to him as Eggman almost exclusively.

      Fun factoid for those who don’t know: Tails’ name in Japanese originally was Miles (and adding on the “Tails” in “Miles ‘Tails’ Prower” in English), but they’ve since adopted Tails almost exclusively as the name they call him even in Japan (kind of the reverse situation of Eggman). There was even a code in Sonic 2 to swap Tails’s name to Miles so they could make the localized version of the game almost identical to the Japanese one (the two versions just started with the other name as default).