Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon. The Blue Blur turned thirty this year and, to celebrate, I’ve been dedicating every Friday to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.
Air Date: 26 October 1993 to 29 October 1993
UK Distributor: Channel 4
Original Network: ABC
Stars: Jaleel White, Christopher Stephen Welch, Long John Baldry, Phil Hayes, Garry Chalk, and Jim Byrnes
Doctor Robotnik (Baldry) has forced Professor Caninestein (Chalk) to build him a time machine so that he can acquire four magical Chaos Emeralds that would grant their bearer the powers of Invisibility, Invincibility, Immortality, and Life in a bid to become an all-powerful Demi-God. After escaping, Caninestein supplies Sonic (White) with the means to follow Robotnik across time and space to thwart his diabolical plot.
Sonic the Hedgehog blasted onto the videogame scene with his debut, self-titled release in 1991. Thanks to being bundled with the Mega Drive and SEGA’s aggressive marketing campaign, Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991) was a huge success but Sonic’s popularity exploded after the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992). Suddenly, Sonic was everywhere: comic books, t-shirts, in the Macy’s Day Parade and, soon enough, on television in the form of not one but two concurrent cartoons. After seeing the success that DiC Entertainment had with producing cartoons that were effectively little more than half-hour advertisements for Nintendo’s videogames, characters, and franchises, SEGA of America contacted DiC to begin developing an animated series for their own super-sonic mascot. Artist Milton Knight set about redesigning Doctor Eggman (widely known at the time as Doctor Ivo Robotnik) into “Animation’s Sexiest Fat Man!” and Long John Baldry was cast in the role, reimagined as an egotistical, narcissistic blowhard. To help sell their pitch to ABC, DiC also roped in Jaleel White for the title role but ABC deemed their original slapstick pitch unsuitable for a Saturday morning slot. Undeterred, producer Robby London made the decision to develop an entirely separate Sonic cartoon for the prime Saturday morning slot and develop Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog for syndication instead. The result was two vastly different Sonic cartoons, each with a differing tone and animation style and far removed from their source material; Adventures was comprised of sixty-five episodes of over-the-top, meme–worthy, slapstick humour while Sonic the Hedgehog (generally referred to as “SatAM”) was a far darker take on the franchise. Though both cartoons awkwardly collided when Archie Comics began publishing Sonic comic books, the majority of Adventures’ influence was eventually stripped away in favour of those from SatAM and Adventures is generally regarded less favourably than its darker counterpart with the notable exception of the four-part “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” story arc.
While “Black Bot the Pirate” (Butterworth, 1993) forms the first in a four-part saga and is thus a rare example of continuous, sequential storytelling in what was generally a more fast-paced, comedic cartoon, it still contains many of the same elements that made up what can be loosely described as Adventures’ “charm”: an abundance of sight gags, slapstick, cheesy lines, and jokes. Having grown up with the series, I have a certain affection for some of these elements and Robotnik’s long-suffering, clumsy lackeys Scratch (Hayes) and Grounder (Chalk), who make for some of the most annoying and yet amusing characters in the series. Constantly getting into scrapes and bumbling even the simplest of plans, there’s a pretty funny gag right at the start of the episode where Scratch accidentally activates Robotnik’s time machine (which looks more than a little like H.G. Wells’ famous contraption and which Scratch mistakes for a vacuum cleaner) and returns as a roast chicken. It makes no sense but then that’s pretty much par for the course of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Robotnik, easily the most charismatic and appealing part of the cartoon, is unusually focused and determined in this first episode (and the entire saga); having learned of four Chaos Emeralds scattered throughout time and space, he wishes to acquire their individual and collective powers to become “Supreme High Robotnik”, a lofty goal that is far beyond his usual plots to destroy or take over towns, cities, or even the planet. Of course, Robotnik is as much his own worst enemy as Sonic is a hindrance to him; blinded by his egotism and quick temper, he’s quick to throw tantrums, is easily fooled, and makes massively glaring errors in judgement that often lead as much to his downfall as Sonic’s involvement. Long John Baldry really puts his all into portraying Robotnik as a loquacious and comically exaggerated character; in this episode, he is also joined by his pirate counterpart Black Beard (Byrnes), whom Robotnik transforms into a robot dubbed Black Bot. Unlike Scratcher and Grounder, Black Bot is a relatively competent minion as it forces Sonic and Tails off the ship; while Sonic is perfectly capable of swimming and his no fear of water in this cartoon, this does leave him and Tails at the mercy of a gigantic robotic whale.
While this causes a momentary issue for Sonic, who is unable to cut through the whale’s metallic shell, literally nothing is beyond the ability of Adventures-Sonic; he always has a solution for any situation whether by using his incredible speed, a series of elaborate disguises, or literally pulling a solution out of thin air. Jaleel White pretty much defined Sonic’s characterisation for generations of kids and, while I have a lot of respect for his work, as always it’s Sonic’s constant need to spout quips and one-liners that makes his character as aggravating as he is entertaining. No matter the situation or how bad the odds look, Sonic always finds a way to succeed and make fools of Robotnik and his robots; even when Robotnik has a time machine on hand to get the drop on him, Sonic is able to trick Robotnik into trapping him in the treasure chest with the Chaos Emerald and using its powers to best his foes. Even when Robotnik manages to steal back the Chaos Emerald and strand Sonic and Tails in the past, Sonic simply uses some dodgy time-manipulation to get them out of the jam.
Speaking of Tails, as is tradition for most Adventures’ episodes, there’s not really a lot for him to do here except say cringe-worthy stuff, act as a hostage, or provide minimal support for Sonic. He’s the very definition of the kid sidekick, existing mainly for Sonic to have someone to talk and brag to (though, ironically, Sonic is more than capable of simply breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly). “Black Bot the Pirate” is a pretty standard episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog; as is often the case, there’s some enjoyment and humour to be found between the show’s more aggravating clichés and the influence of films such as the Back to the Future trilogy (Zemeckis, 1985 to 1990) and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Herek, 1989) is obvious, making for a quick shorthand to explain the show’s concepts of time travel. The second episode, “Hedgehog of the “Hound” Table” (Butterworth, 1993), begins with Doctor Robotnik, Scratch, and Grounder crash-landing in another time and place and with a recap of Robotnik’s plot to obtain four Chaos Emeralds and become and all-powerful “Supreme High Robotnik”. This is unusual for the series as, generally, episodes were not sequential or consecutive; characters and storylines did reappear and were revisited at times but, as a rule, every episode was a self-contained bit of wacky fun so seeing the cartoon actually attempt a concurrent storyline is a nice breath of fresh air.
Robotnik quickly finds the laboratory of Merlynx the Magician (Unknown) and, in his quest for the Chaos Emerald of Invincibility, obtains Merlynx’s magic wand and, in short order, the Chaos Emerald. However, unlike with the last Chaos Emerald, simply holding the gem isn’t enough to grant the wearer invincibility; instead, one must also become King of the Hound Table because…well, the episode needs to happen, I guess. Back in the present day, Sonic and Tails are still trying to relax on the beach when their good time is again interrupted by Professor Caninestein, who once again supplies Sonic with his time-travelling Atomic Relativity Boots. Immediately arriving at King Arfur’s (ibid) castle, Sonic and Tails meet the king’s daughter, Princess Gwendolyn (ibid), who plead for Sonic’s help in fending off the “Evil Bloated Knight” (spoilers: it’s Robotnik in a suit of armour). Motivated by the egotism he feels at being declared the “Holy Hedgehog”, Sonic, of course, agrees to help as Robotnik’s technology is surprisingly effective at dispatching the Knights of the Hound Table with minimal effort. I say “surprising” as, generally, Robotnik’s credibility is…sketchy at best especially because of the bungling and incompetent nature of his goons. This is emphasised in a short action scene wherein Sonic (with minimal assistance from Tails) humiliates the three in true Adventures slapstick fashion by tying up Robotnik’s moustache, painting a target on a wall, and tricking Grounder into taking out his own team mates.
Robotnik then coerces Merlynx into using his magic to turn Sonic’s feet into solid rock, which robs him of his speed and allows Robotnik to steal Arfur’s crown; this is, apparently, enough to render Robotnik invincible, transforming him into a muscle-bound version of himself and locking Sonic and Tails in the castle dungeon. Being robbed of his speed makes Sonic uncharacteristically despondent…for a time. It’s not the first time he’s fallen into despair at the loss of his abilities in this, or other, cartoons and is an interesting wrinkle in his otherwise flawless character but we only see the briefest of glimpses into this aspect of his personality as he immediately perseveres to appeal to Merlynx to undo his spell. Even when Sonic is robbed of his speed, he is more than a match for Scratch and Grounder; you’d think this would be the perfect opportunity for Tails to actually help Sonic but he doesn’t even carry him to Merlynx’s house or help take out the Badniks when they block their path. After they separate Robotnik from the Chaos Emerald, Tails actually lays claim to it and briefly transforms into his own hulking form…but does nothing with that power beyond childish posturing. Still, at least he isn’t constantly used as a hostage this time around.
You might also think that being rendered invincible pretty much means Robotnik has claimed victory but of course not; not only does Robotnik not kill Sonic and Tails when he has the chance, he quickly falls into boredom with his kingship, and foolishly agrees to answer Sonic’s challenge for a jousting match. Although the Chaos Emerald renders him unbeatable, he wears the damn thing on his head, under his helmet, for some reason so he loses his powers when he is knocked off his horse by a cactus plant Sonic randomly plants on the battlefield. In the end, it is Robotnik’s own bumbling nature that causes his downfall as he is easily goaded into falling for Sonic’s tricks and winds up being packed off to a Roman coliseum. “Hedgehog of the “Hound” Table” is marginally better than the first episode; for one thing, there’s a bit more action and a few more interesting characters in this episode compared to the last one. There’s not a lot to Merlynx, Princess Gwendolyn, and King Arfur beyond being one-dimensional characters in exactly the roles you’d expect (wacky reclusive magician, stuttering, worrisome princess, and wholesome, honourable king, respectively) but they help to make the episode a bit more lively compared to the more barren and lifeless setting of the last episode. However, of all of the episodes that make up the “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” saga, the third episode, “Robotnik’s Pyramid Scheme” (Butterworth, 1993), is the only one I actually watched as a kid. Somehow, I missed the previous two episodes, and the final part of the saga, despite religiously watching and/or taping each episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog every Sunday morning. Still, here in the United Kingdom, the airing of Sonic cartoons was a little in flux; I remember watching Adventures one week and then waking up the next week to find it had inexplicably changed in tone and narrative and was suddenly the far darker SatAM with no explanation as far as I could see.
Again, sequential narratives weren’t really a thing in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog so it’s surprisingly unique to find this episode picking up almost immediately where “Hedgehog of the “Hound” Table” left off with Robotnik, Scratch, and Grounder running for their lives in an ancient coliseum. After a brief encounter with his equally rotten ancestor, Julius Robotnikus, Robotnik helpfully brings any new viewers up to speed before heading to Ancient Mobigypt. This opening serves a few purposes; obviously, first and foremost, it’s to continue the story but it also places a bit more emphasis on the characters meeting their ancestors, something that is of particular importance to this episode’s plot. This is further emphasised back at the beach, where Professor Caninestein reveals that Sonic’s bloodline is being systematically erased from history due to Robotnik’s actions in the past. Rather than being provided with his time travelling Atomic Relativity Boots, Sonic is gifted the Time Warp Boogie Board to travel back in time and keep himself from being erased. Unfortunately, while Sonic and Tails manage to rescue Sonic’s ancestor, Masonic (White), from Robotnik, they inadvertently interrupt the meeting between Masonic and his fated future wife, Penelope (Cathy Weseluck), which causes Sonic to be erased from history.
Yeah, it’s basically the plot of Back to the Future (Zemeckis, 1985); however, thanks to the convenient fact that Tails not only remains in the past but also still remembers someone who never existed, being erased from existence is only a minor inconvenience for Sonic as Tails simply forces Masonic and Penelope to meet, instantly returning Sonic to life. Rather than actually removing the infallible Sonic from the plot and having Tails team up with Masonic in an effort to undo their actions, what should be a major plot point is almost immediately undone and, once again, Tails is rendered to a mere sidekick. Similarly, when the Pharaoh of Mobigypt (Chalk) refuses to give up the location of the Chaos Emerald, Robotnik declares himself Pharaoh and forces Sonic, Tails, and Masonic to spend the next twenty or thirty years building pyramids. Oddly, it’s actually easier for Sonic to repeat the same time-bending trick he pulled in “Black Bot the Pirate” and carve a hieroglyphic message for Professor Caininestein to conjure up a saw to cut through their piddling little chains that it is for him to simply buzz saw through them but I guess that wouldn’t be anywhere near as impressive as having Sonic “Mary Stu” his way out of another hopeless situation.
Still, they’re unable to keep Robotnik from discovering that the Chaos Emerald is hidden deep within the booby-trapped pyramid of Robotnikhotep (Baldry); this is where Scratch and Grounder are at their best as they first squabble over which of them is smart and fast enough to decipher the clues that lead Robotnik to the pyramid and then constantly run afoul of the pyramid’s many traps to keep Robotnik safe from harm. There’s even a surprising nod to the videogames in the pyramid’s final puzzle, which requires a number of Golden Rings to be collected; it’s always nice when the cartoons actually include some of the more obscure gameplay elements of the source material. However, they all wind up in the burial chamber and encounter Robotnikhotep, who is functionally immortal thanks to the Chaos Emerald he wears; after a mummified hedgehog (White) awakens and defeats Robotnikhotep, Robotnik takes the Chaos Emerald from his ancestor and gains immortality. In a surprisingly poignant exchange, Robotnikhotep expresses gratitude for being relieved of not only the curse of immortality but the constant interference of Sonic’s mummified counterpart.
In the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog universe, “immortality” is realised not only as everlasting life but also, apparently, immunity to harm as, once Robotnik has the gem, Sonic’s attacks simply bounce off of him. Although, again, Robotnik has claimed near-unstoppable power, Sonic is easily able to defeat him by being gifted an emerald of his own (whether it’s a Chaos Emerald or not is not made clear but, judging by its blue colouration, it doesn’t appear to be one of the legendary gems) that grants him a “blue energy shield” and the means to take the immortal Robotnik down and secure his future.
“Robotnik’s Pyramid Scheme” is probably the best of the “Chaos Emerald” saga so far thanks to the influences and unashamed homages to Back to the Future; unfortunately, it squanders the potential of a largely Sonic-less plot by undoing his erasure within about two minutes of it occurring. This could have been a good chance to have Tails take a more proactive role and still involve a Sonic-like character in Masonic, having Sonic return to life in far more dramatic fashion for the action-packed conclusion but, instead, it’s just another excuse to show how flawless Sonic is. The final episode, “Prehistoric Sonic” (Butterworth, 1993) begins exactly where the last episode left off, with Robotnik, Scratch, and Grounder escaping back into the timestream to hunt down the final Chaos Emerald. However, Professor Caninestein once again supplies Sonic with a new time machine (a time-travelling skateboard, naturally) so that Sonic and Tails can put a stop to Robotnik’s plot once and for all. Robotnik and his Badniks arrive in prehistoric times, soon followed by Sonic and Tails, with the characters quickly encountering the prehistoric Mobians who are guard the volcano where the Chaos Emerald lies waiting.
Robotnik conjures up a gigantic robotic dinosaur to take care of Sonic and Tails; Sonic is, of course, immediately able to tame the Badnik and turn it against Robotnik’s underlings, however, and when Robotnik attempts to obtain the Chaos Emerald he is stopped by the volcano’s monstrous guardian, Magma the Volcano God. Like Stonekeeper (Ross Marquand), the lava creature demands a sacrifice before anyone can claim the Chaos Emerald, so Robotnik willingly and casually tosses Scratch and Grounder to certain doom in order to get his hands on it. Now imbued with the power of life, Robotnik conjures lava minions of his own to finally capture Sonic and Tails; actually learning from his past mistakes, he even ties Tails’ tails together so there’s no chance of them surviving a plummet into the volcano. But, of course, Sonic is easily able to escape his fate and get them to safety, so Robotnik reunites with his Badniks and flees, victorious, back into the timestream.
Sonic and Tails immediately give chase, heading back to Ancient Mobigypt, but are too late to stop Robotnik from stealing the Chaos Emerald of Immortality from Robotnikhotep. Next, they head back to medieval times and arrive right as Robotnik claims the Chaos Emerald of Invincibility with minimal effort. Now immune to all of Sonic’s attacks, there’s nothing stopping Robotnik from digging up the final Chaos Emerald, the Chaos Emerald of Invisibility, and finally claiming all four as his own as Robotnik brings a treasure chest to life to cover his escape. Returning to the present day, Robotnik makes a suitably dramatic show of placing all four Chaos Emeralds around his neck (…even though he had already three of them around his neck) and transforming into “Supreme High Robotnik, Master of the Universe”, a gargantuan, God-like version of himself who immediately begins destroying a nearby town in a demonstration of his power. With his limitless powers, Robotnik easily throws Sonic and Tails to the beginning of the universe (of course represented by a gigantic stick of dynamite). However, after managing to escape (with trademark ease), they concoct a plan to defeat Supreme High Robotnik: using their time machine, they travel back through time and recruit a small army of their past selves for help.
After the five Tailses render Robotnik visible, the five Sonics are…somehow…able to damage and hurt Robotnik enough to bring him crashing to the ground with a pathetic amount of ease. Toppled, Sonic easily retrieves the Chaos Emeralds, stripping Robotnik of his God-like abilities, and ending his desires for the gems, and veritable omnipotence, once and for all. Honestly, this is quite a disappointing end to the saga as, even with the combined powers of the Chaos Emeralds, Robotnik is defeated way too easily. There was potential here for a veritable army of Sonics to attack Robotnik but, instead, the episode limits itself to just five. Sonic could also have used the Chaos Emeralds to become Super Sonic but the cartoons never seemed able to actually adapt this element into their stories so, instead, the Sonics simply attack Robotnik until he falls to the ground. There’s never a question that Sonic could fail in facing Robotnik’s ultimate form. Even when he’s thrown to the beginning of time it’s little more than a minor inconvenience; being trapped inside of an anthropomorphised treasure chest is more of an obstacle for him as he actually needs Tails’s help to escape because, again, he never thinks to just spin his way free. Other than that, and dropping flour on Supreme High Robotnik, Tails is next to useless in this episode and is simply along for the ride to screech out the obvious or words of panic or encouragement.
It’s rare that Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog actually uses gameplay mechanics from the videogames; although the series contained more references and nods to its source material than SatAM, these were still few and far between thanks to the cartoon’s focus on slapstick humour and largely original, self-contained episodes. As a result, the concept of the Chaos Emeralds is massively different compared to how they are portrayed in the videogames but it makes for a unique spin on the mechanic to have their powers more explicitly defined and associated with different abilities. In a small example of how low the standards were for the cartoon, though, there are a few instances where the characters say “invisible” or “invisibility” instead of “invincible” and “invincibility”. Still, seeing Robotnik obtain the Chaos Emerald of Invincibility and actually attain its power was a nice, if brief, distraction; had he acquired this power and Merlynx’s wand (which the episode establishes that Robotnik, and anyone for that matter, can easily wield), he arguably could have laid claim to complete victory but, of course, that was never going to happen as Sonic had to emerge victorious by the episode’s end. Nevertheless, actually getting a glimpse of the potential of “Supreme High Robotnik” helps to understand the stakes involved and why it’s so important to keep all of the gems out of his hands.
Something I do enjoy about these episodes compared to many episodes of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is how many elements it includes from the videogames; obviously, we have the inclusion of a Chaos Emerald but the traps, obstacles, and danger of the pyramid remind me quite a bit of the hazards encountered in Sonic the Hedgehog (in particular the Marble and Labyrinth Zones). Having the Badniks be forced to collect Golden Rings to enter the burial chamber was also a nice touch and we get the briefest glimpse of the threat “Supreme High Robotnik” could pose if he obtained all four Chaos Emeralds thanks to seeing him actually wielding the power of the Chaos Emerald of Immortality…even if he is, again, defeated with comparative ease. In the end, the “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” saga had so much potential in seeing Robotnik’s dreams of Godhood realised in full form but, instead, the final episode wastes too much of its runtime back in the past and on the acquisition of the Chaos Emerald of Life. For a man of such vaulted intelligence and imagination, Robotnik is surprisingly rubbish at using the powers of the Chaos Emeralds, or his assumed omnipotence, to their full extent, simply conjuring up a few ineffectual goons and growing to gargantuan size. He obtains the Chaos Emerald of Invisibility but remains visible 95% of the time; he has the Chaos Emerald of Invincibility and Immortality but is able to feel pain and be brought to his knees despite being immune to Sonic’s attacks in previous episodes (and even earlier in this episode!), and he has the Chaos Emerald of Life but doesn’t just strip and Sonic and Tails of their lives. Obviously, a lot of these things would render the episode unwatchable but I still think we could have gotten a much better, more interesting saga if Robotnik had dominated Mobius as Supreme High Robotnik and Sonic and Tails had been forced to go to a little more effort to end his threat.
As a four-part saga, the “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” is pretty good when watched sequentially as a kind of mini movie or television special. Had the saga been presented in this manner, it might have benefited from this format and been able to balance its pacing and structure a little better. Instead, each episode is still largely self-contained and concerned more with being just another fun entry in a largely slapstick cartoon series and, as a result, too much of the runtime is spent lingering and on padding rather than seeing Robotnik being all-powerful and actually dominating his nemesis for a change. Unfortunately though, similar plots have been done far better in Sonic the Comic (1993 to 2002) and, while the saga is a cut above the usual madcap nature of the cartoon and has some interesting ideas, it ultimately wastes a lot of the potential of the multi-part format and its plot.
Could Be Better
What did you think to the four-part “Quest for the Chaos Emeralds” and the eventual realisation of “Supreme High Robotnik”? Would you have liked to see more episodes taking a similar multi-part format or revolving around gameplay elements like the Chaos Emeralds or did you prefer the cartoon’s wackier, slapstick tone? Where you surprised to see the Chaos Emeralds playing such a pivotal role in the series or were you, perhaps, annoyed and confused as to why they were depicted so differently? Which character from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog did you like, or hate, the most and what did you think about the cartoon’s tone and aesthetic? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to share your memories of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog in the comments below.