Being the resident Sonic fan here at Lady Geek Girl & Friends, I feel like it’s my duty to do as much justice to the franchise as I can. Since my last look at Sonic’s escapades was the original trilogy, I’d like to remember the series that brought a lot of millennials into the mix: Sonic Adventure 1 & 2. These two games (and their subsequent remakes) set the foundation for where the gameplay and story of the franchise would go for the next 18 years. The Sonic Adventure games were the proper introduction of the Blue Blur and his friends to the 3D world. Although there were Sonic games that were 3D or had 3D elements before, these two were the first to feel like a proper continuation of the original trilogy.
From a simply aesthetic perspective, the Adventure games continued the tradition of spectacle the originals offered so frequently. When the console wars were going on between the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, there was a fun little marketing gimmick called Blast Processing in the Genesis’s hardware. Long story short, it was able to render gameplay at a high rate of speed, which is pretty much why Sonic is fast, rather than slow ol’ Mario. To show this off, Sonic would run through loop-de-loops, go through corkscrew bridges, and fly from ramps through the sky. These tricks wouldn’t be enough to impress audiences on the Dreamcast’s new hardware, so even more scripted events were added. Starting with the well-known whale chase across a rickety bridge, Sonic dashes along more wild obstacles, runs down multiple buildings, and finds himself using new stage gimmicks. This flair is all accompanied by the characters’ new moves. In addition to their moves from 2D games, they all now have abilities that help combat and movement in an open space, such as Sonic’s now iconic homing attack.
Along with the more intricate set of gameplay mechanics came more complex stories. The stories would never be considered fine literature, but there is a bit more than Dr. Eggman getting the Chaos Emeralds to take over the planet. I mean, that is what he’s doing, but there is more explanation and character building now. In the first outing, Eggman’s goal is to gather the Emeralds to power up the ancient God of Destruction, Chaos. (Like the emeralds!) He creates a new fleet of elite robots to gather them in addition to building a new airship to aid in the search. Other than that, Sonic and friends try to gather them before Eggman. Of course, for the sake of story, they fail in increasingly elaborate ways. During the plot, the characters are aided by Tikal, an echidna spirit from the past. (She acts like Navi from the Zelda games.) In various spots in the story, she will whisk the characters back to the past to explain details about Chaos, and how he came to be. After Chaos is given all the Emeralds, he becomes Perfect Chaos, goes rogue, and destroys Eggman’s airships and the city. Sonic absorbs the positive energy of the Emeralds (don’t worry, this doesn’t make any more sense in context), goes all Super Saiyan, and defeats the creature. Everyone cheers despite the wreckage and we all go home. Adding to the complexity of the story are several viewpoints from six total characters: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy, plus newcomers Big the Cat and E-102, one of Eggman’s robots. Each of these characters has a different gameplay style to match their personality and skills.
These new styles and improved story elements brought much of the recognizable personality traits that we know today to the forefront. While reading game manuals and external media for previous games may have hinted at these ideas, this was the first game that solidified most of the characters. Sonic is cocky and impatient, but cares; Tails is nervous about his abilities and wants to be independent; and Knuckles is gullible, but resourceful and proud of his heritage. Amy really got the most development, in my opinion. Now she is more than just a “girl Sonic” that follows him around. Unfortunately, a lot of her initial motivation still is to find and romance him, but she is also shown to be very capable and determined, as her story segment is about evading a robot and reuniting a bird with its family–turns out, Eggman is still using animals to power his robots. She’s not as fast as the original three, but she makes up for this with her hammer, her only mode of attack, which also grants her a level of acrobatics. She isn’t as passive as she was in Sonic CD, either.
Amy’s addition to the main trio does shows the lack of gender diversity in the franchise: she’s pretty much a Smurfette character in this game as far as playable girls go. There are two female characters in the story, including the previously mentioned Tikal, and this game definitely makes a step towards adding more women to the mix. This trend does continue into the future, luckily. In general, the traits of these characters pretty much follow them into their present day incarnations. Additionally, the characters get their enduring musical motifs here, too. Sonic gets his bro rock, Tails gets pop rock, Knuckles gets hip-hop, and Amy gets pop. I think this is a step in characterization, especially for this franchise, which is so known for amazing tunes.
Every praise I have for the first entry in the Adventure duo counts just the same for Adventure 2. If the first story sounded darker, yet goofier than the original trilogy, the second story dives even deeper into this dichotomy. Adventure 2 is the game responsible for Shadow the Hedgehog and Rouge the Bat. These two characters are a great example because they represent edginess–Shadow has a tragic backstory and is bloodthirsty for revenge, and Rouge is a sexualized agent with grey morality.
Shadow is pretty much the Vegeta to Sonic’s Goku, if you’re familiar with Dragon Ball Z, but Rouge is a little more interesting. As with Amy in Adventure, Rouge’s addition does more to add women to the game. She is the Smurfette of the “bad” team, but she’s one of three girls in the game (who I’ll cover in a bit). Amy has been demoted to non-playable due to gameplay streamlining, but she still affects the plot: she helps free Sonic from jail. The other girl, Maria Robotnik, died in the past and her death is partially the catalyst for the plot; not necessarily the best representation. Speaking of which, Rouge’s inclusion is tricky as well. As I said, she is fairly sexualized, as this was the growing era of “jiggle physics” in video games. Her design includes a lower cut top, which hints towards gaming’s struggle to be seen as more “adult”. While sexuality isn’t necessarily bad, and the later games have enough diversity in styles that hers doesn’t stick out, it certainly seems weird here.
Not only are the existing and new characters representative of the game’s tone, the story straight up just is darker. The stakes are higher now: Eggman releases Shadow from stasis in order to help him find the Emeralds. He wants to use them to re-power an abandoned space colony that features a giant laser cannon. Adventure 2 also features a rival gameplay scheme: Sonic and Shadow race through stages, Tails and Eggman jump into mechs for shooting, and Knuckles and Rouge hunt for shards of the Master Emerald, and each of these pairs battle each other from time to time.
Their adventures culminate in battles aboard the space colony with Sonic sabotaging Eggman firing the laser off. Unfortunately, Eggman’s grandfather (Dr. Gerald Robotnik), who worked on the ship and created Shadow, lost his granddaughter during a military raid and vowed to take his revenge on Earth. (This is also Shadow’s motivation for helping Eggman in the first place.) He set up the ship so that, upon installing all the Emeralds into the colony, a monster called the Biolizard spawns inside it and reprograms the ship to collide with the Earth to destroy it. The heroes and villains, minus Shadow, journey to the center to prevent the colony drop. Upon some convincing from Amy (she shows up as a side character here) Shadow decides to take the Biolizard out. As it turns out, this monster was the prototype of the “Ultimate Lifeform”, a title that Shadow is supposed to live up to. Upon being defeated by Shadow, the Biolizard merges with the colony to bring it to Earth itself. Just like last time, Sonic, now with Shadow this time, absorbs the power of the Chaos Emeralds; they turn into their super forms, and battle the monster to prevent the drop. The battle wears Shadow out and he falls to Earth, presumably to his death. Everyone mourns his death, the team celebrates Earth living another day, and we all go home. The plot is dark and silly and I love it.
These games later got remakes on the Nintendo Gamecube, introducing far more fans to the series. They added more multiplayer elements, shinier graphics, and improved Chao Gardens (side mini-games that have their own followings). These are probably the games most people are familiar with. Either way, the Sonic Adventure duo of games arguably had the biggest impact on the franchise overall. The characters were solidified as who they are even today, their musical motifs became almost meme worthy, and the foundations for their gameplay styles were laid. While the Sonic games have had a rocky history, most fans and even many non-fans can say they at least mildly enjoyed one of these entries. The games are a bit buggy, but the basic gameplay loop is pretty enjoyable when you’re running around. The games are fun and are definitely a memorable part of my childhood. They showed that video game stories based around company mascots (and really, any game characters) could combine light-hearted fun with (admittedly) cheesy levels of edge. While they don’t hold up to today’s levels of technical polish, I still recommend giving them a shot sometime to see why this fanbase is so feverish even until this day.
Hear more from BrothaDom on Character Reveal, the podcast he cohosts with Lady Saika!