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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
That comes next time.