For years now, the Sonic fan community has generally had one thing in common: a desire to see long-forgotten characters from the past return to modern Sonic titles. Characters such as Fang the Sniper/Nack the Weasel, Bean the Dynamite, Bark the Polar Bear, Mighty the Armadillo, and Ray the Flying Squirrel have, for too long, been absent from the Sonic franchise and many, such as myself, have been begging for their return for a long time now. In recent years, SEGA have been fanning this desire and almost trolling the fan community; wanted posters featuring Mighty, Ray, Bean, Bark, and Fang were featured prominently in Sonic Generations (Sonic Team, 2011) yet the characters did not actually appear in the title. Even more recently, Bean, Bark, and Fang all appeared as illusions cast by the Heavy Magician in Sonic Mania (PagodaWest Games/Headcannon/SEGA, 2017), which appeared to be the closest we would ever get to seeing them return to Sonic canon.
However, Sonic Mania Plus (ibid, 2018), an expanded and updated version of Sonic Mania, offered a glimmer of hope: for the first time in decades, Mighty and Ray returned to the series as playable characters. Not only that, the two featured prominently in Sonic Mania Adventures (Hesse, 2018), a series of short animated episodes designed to promote the videogame. For me, this was extremely exciting. As a kid, I got the chance to visit SEGA World in London and was lucky enough to be one of the few to actually play SEGASonic The Hedgehog (SEGA AM2/SEGA, 1993); while I don’t recall playing as Mighty or Ray, the fact that this is one of the few Sonic titles to never receive a port of any kind imbues both characters with a sense of mystery and desire. Later, of course, Mighty would make a return in Knuckles’ Chaotix (SEGA, 1995), here as a poorly-veiled substitute for Sonic himself. This is obviously pretty ironic considering that an armadillo was one of the first rejected concepts for the character that would eventually become Sonic and yet, like with SEGASonic The Hedgehog, the fact that Knuckles’ Chaotix has never received a port keeps the character from being openly accessible to modern players. Indeed, when the Chaotix did return for Sonic Heroes (Sonic Team USA, 2003), Mighty was nowhere to be seen and was not acknowledged in any way, despite the fact that he easily could have been incorporated as a victim of kidnapping.
However, over the years, both Mighty and Ray were featured regularly in both Sonic the Comic (StC) in the UK and in Sonic the Hedgehog, the long-running comic book series published by Archie Comics in the US. While Ray did not appear in StC, Mighty debuted in issue 52 in the story “Total Chaotix”; in StC, Mighty is the short-tempered muscle of the group, here cast as the designated guardians of the Special Zone. Mighty, who often came to blows with his team mates, was primarily known for his brute strength rather than his speed and agility, as depicted in Knuckles’ Chaotix. Meanwhile, in Archie’s Sonic comics, Mighty first appeared in their loose adaptation of Knuckles’ Chaotix, published in November 1995. This version of Mighty, while also super strong, was more of a pacifist who was originally born into a family of thieves and was deeply devoted to his younger sister (like most Archie Sonic characters, Mighty was lumbered with an extensive family tree) and his best friend, Ray, whom he treated like a younger brother. Speaking of, Ray debuted in issue 26 of Knuckles the Echidna, featuring in a flashback that served as a loose adaptation of SEGASonic the Hedgehog. Lost in a space between dimensions for years, Ray was finally reunited with his friends and joined the Chaotix as a junior member. Ray, a timid youngster who suffered from a stutter, eventually gained a redesign (alongside Mighty) to better fit in with the post-Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998) designs of the cast and proved to be a tough and resourceful Freedom Fighter. Sonic Mania Adventures, while simplistic in its design and narrative, maintained the strong brotherly bond between Mighty and Ray that was a staple of the Archie comics. In “& Knuckles”, Ray is desperately searching for Mighty, who has gone missing, and the two are reunited in “Mighty and Ray”. Mighty willingly throws himself between Ray and Metal Sonic to defend him and uses his brute strength to hurl a boulder at the robot. When Metal takes Ray hostage, Mighty reluctantly hands over the Chaos Emerald he has in order to spare his friend and the two quickly head out to join Sonic and Tails in regaining their lost jewel. Very quickly, in just one short episode, we very clearly see the friendly bond between the two and their personalities. I’ve always found it interesting that, back when they were building up to the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (SEGA, 1994), SEGA held one of their famous internal competitions to come up with a design for a new character.
This would, of course, eventually become Knuckles the Echidna but they could just as easily have revived Mighty as the guardian of the floating Angel Island. Similarly, although SEGASonic the Hedgehog released some time after Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), it isn’t exactly inconceivable that the result of their internal design for Sonic’s sidekick would have resulted in Ray’s early debut and his replacing of Tails. Therefore, imagine, if you will, a slightly different turn of events. Instead of Yasushi Yamaguchi dreaming up the plucky two-tailed fox, Manabu Kusunoki’s Ray is submitted and approved for Sonic 2. Remember that, in Sonic 2, Tails never carried Sonic and, instead, controlled exactly the same; therefore, all Ray would be required to do would be to jump, roll, Spin Dash, and glide down from the heavens in two-player mode. Therefore, Ray would fit in really well with Sonic 2’s restrictions. In Sonic 3, though, Tails obviously carried Sonic in two-player modes and for the Marble Garden Zone boss. It’s difficult to imagine Ray being capable of this, so that aspect of the videogame would ultimately have been lost, however it’s very easy to see Ray borrowing Tails’ swimming mechanic, Knuckles’ glide to manoeuvre around stages, and possibly some kind of swinging mechanic using his bushy tail. While the absence of full-on flight would have been lost from the Triple Threat’s moveset in subsequent 3D titles, Ray could easily have adopted the 3D gliding of Knuckles and possibly even a spring-loaded jump of sorts
Mighty, meanwhile, is slightly simpler; like Knuckles, he would have bashed through walls and boulders by running or jumping into them and, if possible, incorporated his dropping bash to smash through boulders beneath him. Mighty could also have kept his wall jumping mechanic from Knuckles’ Chaotix, which could have been implemented in ways that compensated for the loss of Tails’ flight, and potentially even have deflected all projectiles when rolled into a ball. In later 3D titles, Mighty could have kept the physical attacks used by Knuckles and, eventually, have evolved into a brawling/hack-and-slash hybrid similar to that seen in the Werehog in Sonic Unleashed (Sonic Team, 2008). Remember that, in both cases, Mighty and Ray would have exactly the same personalities and character traits as Knuckles and Tails, respectively, so much of the characterisation these two have been given in the comics and Sonic Mania Adventures would instead be supplanted with those seen in Tails and Knuckles. Just as it is easy to imagine Tails and Knuckles adopting some of the mechanics now assigned to Sonic (the bounce, the stomp, the wall jumping, some of the other Wisp abilities), so too can I easily see these being adopted by Ray and Mighty. Ultimately, however, this alternative timeline featuring Sonic, Ray, and Mighty as the Triple Threat would have meant the loss of two of the franchise’s more visually striking and engaging characters.
In the end, as sad as I am that Amy Rose didn’t make the cut for Sonic Mania Plus, I am absolutely overjoyed to see Mighty and Ray finally return to the series. Their sprites are absolutely gorgeous in the videogame and their animation in Sonic Mania Adventures is truly heart-warming. Going forward, I would be completely on board for their return in future 2D/2.5D Sonic titles and, better yet, the mainstream 3D videogames and, if we can finally have these little guys back as playable characters, there’s still hope that, one shining day, Fang will finally return as, at the very least, a secondary antagonist.