Interplay: Sonic Adventure

Interplay

One of the great things about adaptations, and adaptation studies, is that they both:

“[continue] to expand and become more inclusive […] it is increasingly difficult to determine a cohesive theory that accounts for the division between adaptation and other intertextual modes: allusions, plagiarisms, remakes, sequels, homages, mash-ups, appropriations, and the list goes on” (Dicecco, 2015: 161)

This quote sums up perfectly what makes adaptation studies so interesting; adaptations can be anything and are restricted only by the scope of your imagination and your commitment to researching the links between media.

While researching the theories of Nico Dicecco (and his contemporaries) during my PhD, I chose to focus on the adaptation of videogames into movies, television shows, cartoons, and comic books. This was primarily because it’s a lot easier to talk about media that is adapted into film and there hadn’t really been any serious research into videogame adaptations at that time.

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Sonic has always been a merchandise whore.

I’ve previously talked about how my studies into the Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team/Various, 1991 to present) franchise revealed that Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball (Polygames/SEGA Technical Institute, 1993) heavily influenced multiple Sonic adaptations over the years but there has been another Sonic videogame that has made multiple jumps to other media.

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Today, I’m once again returning to one of my favourite Sonic videogames, Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), Sonic’s first real foray into 3D gameplay and a title that focused on multiple characters and gameplay mechanics, a far deeper narrative than the franchise had experienced in a videogame before, and functioned as both a consolidation of Sonic’s competing iterations and a “soft reboot” for the franchise, due its use of  “slight changes to be made without having to completely scrap the franchise and start over” (Bancroft, 2015).

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I can’t praise this game’s variety enough!

Coming after a long absence from a main series Sonic title (and at a time when SEGA were almost haemorrhaging money thanks to failures like the Mega-CD and SEGA 32X), Sonic Adventure became “the best-selling Dreamcast game of all time, with almost two and a half million copies sold”. (Pétronille and Audureau, 2012: 70). It reinvigorated the Sonic franchise in a way that I think has been forgotten over time; while the game may have had its flaws, it successfully revitalised Sonic and led to a string of successful sequels and follow-ups.

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Sonic Adventure‘s speed-orientated gameplay definitely influenced later Sonic titles.

While these weren’t enough to curb SEGA’s financial woes, the success and impact of Sonic Adventure led to a shift in Sonic’s gameplay, narrative, and aesthetic direction; rather than racing along a 2D plane, players now ran along at break-neck speeds in fully 3D environments that were designed more like rollercoasters. Sonic was now “Taller, slimmer and somehow spikier”, his friendliness replaced with “an anime-style cool” (Jones, et al, 2011: 31), and his narrative was far darker and more mature than his bright, psychedelic 2D titles. Perhaps the most significant impact of Sonic Adventure came through Sonic Team eventually stripping away all other playstyles to focus purely on Sonic’s speed, an aspect that largely led to the development of the Boost-orientated gameplay of modern Sonic titles.

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Surely this can’t be a coincidence?

One thing to note before I delve into the main focus of this article is how the adaptation process appears to have worked both ways with Sonic Adventure. Many elements from Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie (Ikegami, 1996) are recognisable in Sonic Adventure, such as Tails’ workshop on South Island, the appearance of cities and structures that mirror those of our world, and a lot of Doctor Robotnik’s (Edwin Neal) personality and technology. For me, the Sonic OVA is clearly a precursor to Sonic Adventure’s attempt to leave behind Mobius and show him as an adventure-seeking teenager in a world not too dissimilar to our own (though I still pray for the day when his characterisation matches the snarky attitude of his OVA counterpart).

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Archie Comics had included game adaptations for a while now.

Sonic Adventure didn’t just impact Sonic’s videogames, however; by 1999, Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic books had developed into a continuation of the fan favourite Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1995, more commonly referred to as “SatAM”) cartoon, infusing characters and events from the videogames into its narrative. With this in mind (and, possibly, in keeping with SEGA’s desire to create a homogeneous version of Sonic), it was inevitable that Sonic Adventure would feature in these comics before long.

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Emerald energy alters Sonic’s look…and gives his shoes buckles…

Sonic Adventures’ influence began slowly but, in keeping with the increasingly-convoluted narrative of the comics at the time, was complex to the nth degree. First, the Archie team crafted an elaborate story to explain why Sonic now looked like his Sonic Adventure counterpart: ‘Retro Activity’ (Bollers, et al, 1999) not only showed how Sonic transformed from his pudgy, classic look to this edgier aesthetic by racing against a destructive energy beam so fast that he cycled through his various Super forms, but it told this story backwards! If you thought that was bad, though, the lengths they went to to explain Robotnik’s transformation into his Sonic Adventure counterpart, Doctor Eggman, were even worse! So, in ‘Endgame, Part 4: For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (ibid, 1998), Sonic finally destroyed Robotnik forever in a fight to the death involving his latest doomsday weapon, the Ultimate Annihilator.

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Robo-Robotnik soon replaced his organic counterpart as “the Eggman”.

However, it is dramatically revealed in ‘I Am the Eggman!’ (ibid, 1999) that Robotnik has returned…in the form of his fully-robotic, alternate-universe counterpart, Robo-Robotnik. Though seemingly destroyed in that story, the issue ends with Robo-Robotnik downloading his consciousness into a body that is identical to his Sonic Adventure design; “Eggman” (for a long time “The Eggman”) would quickly become a derogatory nickname used to describe Robotnik until the madness was smoothed over by massive continuity changes much later down the line. The Sonic Adventure tie-in officially began with ‘The Discovery: A Sonic Adventure Tie-In’ (ibid), in which Sonic and the Knothole Freedom Fighters first learn about the “hidden city of the ancients”. Robotnik also learns of an ancient beast known as “Perfect Chaos” hidden within not the Master Emerald (…as that was where Mammoth Mogul was imprisoned) but the “Black Emerald”. Unearthing the Black Emerald in the Mysterious Cat Country, Robotnik discovers that it is severely depowered and promptly leads and assault on Floating Island to smash the Master Emerald in order to repower the Black Emerald.

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Two issues in and I’ve already lost the plot!

After being denied the chance to accompany the Freedom Fighters, Amy Rose uses the magical “Ring of Acorns” wish herself into a more mature body in the follow-up story, ‘If Wishes Were Acorns’ (ibid), one that (you guessed it) is identical to her Sonic Adventure appearance. The Freedom Fighters then travel to the hidden city, which is located beneath an island (that is an almost exact replica of the OVA’s South Island) and accessed via a Mystic Ruins mine cart. A back-up story, ‘Swallowing Trouble’ (Penders, et al, 1999), introduces Archie’s readers to Big the Cat; his peaceful existence is disrupted when Froggy (who articulates through thought bubbles) swallows a piece of Chaos, grows a tail, and is promptly kidnapped by E-102γ (also known simply as “Gamma”). In the next issue, ‘City of Dreams’ (Bollers, et al, 1999) shows Sonic and friends exploring the hidden city, which is Station Square from the videogame and populated entirely by humans (who are different from “Overlanders”, the mostly-extinct human-like species that once waged war on Mobius), and sustained by an “artificial environment” (…that includes a sky, apparently).

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Things pick up with this Sonic’s battle against Chaos 0.

While they end the story making good progress in establishing diplomatic relations with the humans, the two back-up stories show Robotnik sending his E-series robots out to find more Master Emerald fragments to empower Chaos and Amy rescuing an injured bird from ZERO. Interestingly, while Archie bent over backwards to explain the characters new look, they simply have Amy’s Piko-Piko Hammer appear out of thin air with no explanation; even she is shocked to see it! Things finally pick up in the next issue’s ‘Night of Chaos!’ (ibid), which recreates (with amazing fidelity) the first encounter and battle between Sonic and Chaos 0. The back-up stories introduce Tikal to the story, as she relates to Knuckles her history (meeting and befriending Chaos and the destruction of her tribe when her father, Pachamac, tried to forcibly take the seven Chaos Emeralds from its shrine), how Robotnik finalised Chaos’ 0 form by infusing it with Froggy, and recreates the beginning of Gamma’s story by showing it pass a training drill and release Amy and her bird friend (here clearly identified as a Flicky) after overcoming its programming and gaining a modicum of sentience.

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The Sonic Super Special flew through the bulk of the game’s story.

Archie followed this up with a 48-page ‘Super Sonic Special’ that rapidly told Sonic Adventure’s familiar story beats: Sonic, Miles “Tails” Prower, and Knuckles battle Chaos 2 and 4 after Robotnik feeds it shards of the Master Emerald; Big, Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles end up on the Egg Carrier; there’s a tussle with Gamma (where Amy spares it from destruction) and they fight Chaos 6, destroying the Egg Carrier in the process.

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Archie recreated Perfect Chaos’ birth in stunning detail.

The adaptation continues in the next regular issue; in here, Knuckles discovers “the Eggman” unconscious in the Mystic Ruins and Chaos, still alive, blasts through the land as a tornado, absorbing the six Super Emeralds, and transforms into Perfect Chaos, flooding Station Square (and attaching itself to the Power Siphon that control’s the city’s environment) exactly as it does in the opening and Super Sonic story of Sonic Adventure.

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Archie just pulled lines directly from the game, for better or worse.

Perfect Chaos destroys the Egg Carrier then, after learning a bit more from Tikal, Sonic uses the Emerald’s to transform into Super Sonic and engage Perfect Chaos. It’s around about at this point that the story stops creating its own dialogue and starts lifting lines directly from Sonic Adventure but, considering the quality of Archie’s writing back then, I would necessarily say that this is a bad thing. The story finally comes to a conclusion in issue 84’s ‘Perfect Chaos’ (Penders, et al, 1999), in which Super Sonic struggles to subdue Perfect Chaos while Knuckles overcomes his fear of water and uses his immense strength to restart the city’s power generator (tapping into his latent Emerald powers for the first time, which would later significantly change his appearance and powers). This, coupled with Super Sonic’s attack, is enough to revert Perfect Chaos back to Chaos 0. At peace once more, Chaos and Tikal return “to the Zone [where they] belong” and the threat is finally ended (…once again glossing over the untold death and destruction in Station Square).

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Archie lore was dense enough before they wedged in Sonic Adventure.

Archie’s Sonic Adventure adaptation is one of the few times they actually crafted a long-running narrative out of a videogame story; normally, they just produced one-shots or sort stories that briefly (and very loosely and awkwardly) spliced the game’s story into their own convoluted narrative. The incorporation of Sonic Adventure’s narrative was especially difficult given that several key elements had to be changed due to them clashing with Archie’s lore; Chaos’ origin and imprisonment, for one, and the weird way they introduced Station Square for another, to say nothing of how the entire Echidna backstory struggled to fit in with the messed up narrative crafted by the notorious Ken Penders. Nevertheless, this was, perhaps, the closest Archie Comics got to a straight-up, beat-by-beat adaptation of a videogame; they made it easier on themselves in the future by generally just adapting the opening portions of a game and leaving a dialogue box that said something like “Play the game to find out the rest” and then vaguely referring to the game’s events in subsequent stories. Here, though, we got lines from the game, locations, notable boss battles, and hit almost every story beat from the game no matter how at odds it was with the world Archie had created for their version of Sonic.

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Sonic was a bit of a jerk in StC.

Over here in the United Kingdom, Fleetway’s Sonic the Comic (1993 to 2002, referred to as “StC”) was a little late to the party with their Sonic Adventure adaptation; like Archie, Fleetway had established their own, separate lore for Sonic and his friends, one that “felt” closer to the videogames but was still distinctly separate from it. Previously, their adaptations of Sonic videogames had tended to be multi-part stories that took the game’s characters and the vague outline of its plot and applied them to their unique narrative and Sonic Adventure was no different.

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Chaos cripples with its fear aura and alters Sonic’s look.

The arc began in issue 175’s ‘The Coming of Chaos!’ (Kitching , et al, 2000), in which Sonic and his friends race out to confront StC’s version of Chaos 0 in Metropolis City Zone. This battle, which is a truncated version of the first boss fight with Chaos 0, showcases that StC’s Chaos exudes an aura that cripples its foes with feelings of utter dread. Headstrong and arrogant as always, Sonic attacks Chaos head-on regardless and manages to fend it off but is left with glowing green eyes and jagged spikes. In the following issue, it is revealed that Robotnik’s assistant, Grimer, unleashed Chaos in the hopes of destroying Sonic and his friends and shaking Robotnik out of the slump he had found himself in after multiple defeats. However, Robotnik reveals that Chaos is truly uncontrollable and that, by setting it free, Grimer has “doomed the entire planet”.

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Defeating Chaos extracts a heavy price.

Meanwhile, Sonic’s tech buddy Porker Lewis arrives; he’s (somehow) discovered that it’s made up of Chaos energy and has whipped up a device to defeat it but Sonic, already weakened from his earlier tussle with the creature, is unable to fight through its fear-inducing aura to complete the process. Luckily, Johnny Lightfoot steps in to lend a hand but, while he succeeds and Chaos is seemingly defeated, he dies in the process! Yep, a kids comic actually killed off a beloved, long-time character and not just any kids comic, a Sonic comic! Up until this point, death had largely been a stranger to StC’s stories; characters were used as batteries for Robotnik’s Badniks or turned to stone, or trapped for all eternity (…for a while), but they had never died before!

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Chaos was an intelligent creature in StC.

StC hammered home that Johnny was actually, really, 100% dead in the following issue, where the guilt and shame of having recklessly led his friends into danger causes Sonic to quit the entire thing. However, Chaos reappears the Floating Island’s Emerald Chamber, now able to talk and state its intentions: it claims ownership of the Chaos Emeralds and desires to absorb their power. Knuckles is left with no choice but the jettison the Emeralds in the following story, ‘Splash-Down!’ (ibid), which causes the Floating Island to crash and sink into the sea. There’s an interesting wrinkle here where Knuckles, despondent at his actions, resigns himself to facing the same fate as his ancestral home and has to be coerced by Amy (and a good knock on the head) to avoid killing himself.

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Robotnik’s new look is a much simpler affair this time around…

Also in this story, rather than going through a whole complicated mess involving robotic counterparts and body swapping, Robotnik simply…puts on a jacket so he resembles his Sonic Adventure design. I find this doubly amusing and ironic considering the lengths StC went to to show Robotnik transforming from his classic design to his Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) look.

Oh, and Sonic just…comes back at the end of the story, ready to jump into the fray once more.

In the next issue’s story, ‘Out of Time!’ (Kitching, et al, 2000), Porker continues to obsess over Sonic’s green eyes and the Chaos energy he apparently absorbed from battling Chaos. This turns out to be a pretty big deal as Sonic is the only one who can see Tikal when she suddenly appears and promptly zaps him 8,000 years into the past.

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Tikal raised new questions about StC-Knuckles…

This (and the subsequent issue) is also where StC loops Sonic Adventure’s lore into their own narrative regarding Knuckles’ past; we learn not only that Knuckles existed in the distant past (a plot thread that wouldn’t be resolved until StC was continued online) but also that the extra-dimensional Drakon Empire (who had previously attempted to invade Mobius) were involved in Chaos’ origin. After defeating a Drakon Prosecutor, revealing the heavily-armoured warriors to be mutated fish in armoured shells, Sonic chats with Tikal’s father, “Pochacamac”, who reveals that the Echidnas stole the seven Chaos Emeralds (and the Master Emerald) from the Drakon Empire after they invaded the Echidna’s sacred Emerald Mines and infused the gems with their patented Chaos energy.

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StC gave Chaos a completely new origin.

During a battle with Drakon Prosecutors in which a stray energy blasts hits the Emeralds and causes their powers to surge out of control, the Drakon Sonic had previously defeated is released from its prison and fuses with the Emeralds to transform into Chaos. Sonic attempts to get revenge for Johnny in the following issue but is transported back to the future in order to weaken Chaos enough for past Knuckles to do…something to imprison Chaos. Sonic returns to the present just as Chaos arrives at Robotnik’s mountaintop fortress, where Robotnik gathered the Chaos Emeralds in order to lure it in…though he does this merely to have a front row seat to the end of not only Sonic and his friends, but the entire world. All hope seems lost in ‘Perfect Chaos!’ (ibid) when Chaos absorbs the power of the Chaos Emeralds and transforms into Perfect Chaos (which actually more closely resembles Chaos 6) until a severely weakened and dying Super Sonic arrives.

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StC‘s Super Sonic was a demonic entity that lived to destroy.

How, I gave Archie flack for how complicated some of their stories were so I guess it’s only fair to deviate here to explain this a bit. In StC, Sonic absorbed a huge amount of Chaos energy a long time ago; this lay dormant in him for years and, whenever under extreme stress or driven to severe rage, he would transform into Super Sonic. StC Super Sonic was an uncontrollable, rage-filled, super-powered demon with maniacal eyes who could shoot energy blasts, fly at incredible speeds, and was all-but-invulnerable. However, Sonic’s friends eventually found a way to separate Super Sonic from him and imprisoned the demon within a time dilation of sorts. Super Sonic did eventually escape but the effort drained his power so much that he eventually lost his memory and became a confused, but harmless, individual.

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Chaos, and Super Sonic, are both defeated, ending both the story and StC.

Sonic’s fears regarding his demonic counterpart are realised in the finale of the Sonic Adventure arc, ‘Point of no Return!’ (ibid), in which Super successfully drains Perfect Chaos of all its energy and regresses it back to a harmless Drakon fish. The Chaos energy returns Super’s memories and powers and he attacks everyone, intending to kill them all, and begins to drain the life energy out of Sonic. However, Super’s friend, Ebony, uses her magical powers to fuse Super and Sonic back into one being again. Grimer quits Robotnik’s employ, disgusted at his lackadaisical attitude to what looked to be the end of the world, and the story ends with Sonic and his friends triumphant. Sadly, the Sonic Adventure arc would be the last time StC ran original Sonic stories in their comics; for a while, the comics had consistently largely of reprints of old stories, even though the writers could have done what Archie did and used the extra pages to tell back-up tales to expand the story rather than rushing through everything in the main Sonic strips.

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StC didn’t really give these guys anything to do in this arc…

Compared to the Archie adaptation, StC’s interpretation of Sonic Adventure is not only rushed but has some pretty weak connections to its source material. The characters never visit any of the locations from the game, Chaos is significantly different (though, in some ways, better; its “fear aura” was a nice inclusion with a lot of potential), Big is reduced to a throwaway, one panel cameo, Gamma doesn’t appear at all, and neither Tails or Amy have anything near the significance of the roles they played in the game. While Knuckles plays a vital part, he’s far more hands-off than in Archie (and the videogame), and Robotnik barely features at all (though this does make sense considering where the character was, mentally, at the time). If Fleetway had been able to use every page of their issues to tell this story, it probably would have landed much better; while I don’t doubt that they still would have sought to slot Sonic Adventure’s canon into their own as best as they could, at least e could have seen a five page back-up story featuring Knuckles, or Big, or anyone. Instead, it’s a very poor effort; StC did a pretty good job of telling stories heavily influenced by the videogames in the past but, by the point, the comic was on its last legs so I guess we were lucky to get anything.

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A similar storyline featured in Sonic Underground.

Chaos would go on to sporadically appear in Archie Comics as it continued on, even when the license switched over to IDW Publishing, but it also notably appeared in Sonic X (2003 to 2006) when the anime did its own six-part adaptation of Sonic Adventure. Before I get into that, though, I just want to briefly mention Sonic Underground (1999), the oft-lambasted follow-up to SatAM that, for all its faults, at least featured Knuckles (Brian Drummond). There’s a couple of points in the series where characters refer to “Chaos” as being the destructor of Mobius and, in ‘New Echidna in Town’ (Boreal, et al, 1999) Chaos Energy transforms Dingo (Peter Wilds) into a mindless beast, Chaos Dingo, who takes on a malleable form. While this link to Sonic Adventure is tenuous at best (made all the more so by Sonic Underground’s dramatic departure from all Sonic lore), it’s still an interesting connection to make.

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Sonic X weaved the game’s story into its lore and mixed it up a bit.

Despite looking fantastic due to its anime aesthetic, Sonic X was a bit of a disappointment when it first started for a variety of reasons: Sonic (Jason Griffith) is largely lethargic, preferring to spend his days taking naps or smelling flowers, and all of his iconic friends are pushed to the side to make way for Chris Thorndyke (Michael Sinterniklaas) and a host of other human characters forced into the show when Sonic and the others are transported from their world to Earth. However, for me at least, things started to pick up near the end of the first season and with the episode ‘Pure Chaos’ (Kamegaki, 2004), which kick-started the Sonic Adventure saga with Froggy swallowing a Chaos Emerald, Dr. Eggman (Mike Pollock) launching the Egg Carrier, and Sonic and Knuckles (Dan Green) battling Chaos 1 and 2. Straight away, Sonic X is ahead of the curve simply by including Big in a role more suited to his videogame story and, like Archie, the series sticks quite close to the source material.

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Sonic X featured almost all of Sonic Adventure‘s bosses.

The adaptation continued in the following episode, ‘A Chaotic Day’ (Kamegaki, 2004), which focuses a bit more on Knuckles’ side of the story, detailing how Chaos broke out of the Master Emerald and his search for its shards, which also brings him into contact with Tikal (Rebecca Honig). Sonic and Tails (Amy Palant) then battle both Chaos 4 at Eggman (in the Egg Hornet) at the Mystic Ruins (in what is a pretty faithful adaptation of the same boss battles from Sonic Adventure) before pursing Eggman to his Egg Carrier. They crash, as in the game, and Amy (Lisa Ortiz) and Cheese the Rabbit (Rebecca Honig) are attacked by ZERO, who kidnaps Amy and the birdie, Lily (Sayaka Aoki). Amy and Gamma’s (Andrew Rannells) stories are the primary focus for the next episode, ‘A Robot Rebels’ (Kamegaki, 2004), in which Gamma kidnaps Froggy right after Chris helps Big to rescue him and he subsequently frees Amy after suffering a bit of a short circuit at the sight of Lily just like in the videogame. Similarly, Amy convinces Sonic to spare Gamma and Knuckles recovers the last piece of the Master Emerald in the following episode, and, though Eggman successfully uses Froggy’s tail and Chaos Emerald to transform Chaos into Chaos 6, Sonic and Knuckles (randomly sporting his Shovel Claws) defeat it. The episode ends with the finale of Tails’ story, in which Eggman launches a missile at Station Square and he must gather his courage and self-sufficiency in order to disarm it (though he doesn’t battle the Egg Walker).

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Gamma’s tear-jerking story is told from start to finish.

‘Revenge of the Robot’ (ibid) primarily wraps up Sonic and Gamma’s stories from the game: Gamma travels through the locations of Sonic Adventure deactivating its robotic brethren and freeing the Flicky’s trapped within (which is considerably easier than in the videogame) and eventually destroys  itself and its older “brother”, E-101β “Kai” (Andrew Rannells) to reunite with its Flicky family.

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Sonic actually battles Dr. Eggman before Perfect Chaos wrecks Station Square.

While Sonic does go on to defeat Eggman and his Egg Viper, Chaos obtains all seven Chaos Emeralds, transforms into Perfect Chaos, and floods Station Square in the final episode of the saga, ‘Flood Fight’ (Kamegaki, 2004). Up until this point, Chris’s involvement (and the involvement of his extended family and friends) was largely painless and unobtrusive. The changes this, however, as the destruction brought upon Station Square has a significant impact on the lives of Sonic’s new human friends and, wouldn’t you know it, it is Chris who supplies with the last Chaos Emerald he needs to transform into Super Sonic. Unlike in the videogame and the Archie Comics adaptation, Super Sonic defeats Perfect Chaos with hardly any issue at all in Sonic X; while Perfect Chaos had never looked bigger or badder, resembling more a water-based version of Biollante, and packs some serious firepower, it is defeated and reverted back in Chaos 0 with very little effort. To be fair, though, Sonic X’s Super Sonic was always far more powerful than his other incarnations, being more of a God-mode than a power-up. Still, Chaos is defeated and returns to the Master Emerald with Tikal, at peace once more. Station Square is left in ruins and, while the anime also glosses over the death and destruction the flood must have caused, subsequent episodes dealt with (or, at least, referenced) the restoration process.

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Sonic X told the entire game’s story, giving everyone their due.

Like the other adaptations of Sonic Adventure discussed here, Sonic X incorporates the game’s narrative into its own unique lore but, in a twist, includes characters like Cream and Rouge the Bat (Kathleen Delaney) who debuted after Sonic Adventure. However, even these videogame characters have smaller roles than Chris and his cohorts; given that Chris was obsessed with following Sonic everywhere and putting himself in danger, this isn’t too surprising but, honestly, their inclusion and involvement is no more or less, better or worse, than those of the Archie and StC extended cast. However, Sonic X’s Sonic Adventure saga is easily the closest, most faithful adaptation of the source material of these three; Archie Comics came close bit their impenetrable lore meant that too many compromises had to be made. Both comic adaptations focused more on Chaos than other bosses and events, but Sonic X includes almost everything from the videogame, giving plenty of time to each of the game’s six characters and adapting their stories with a high degree of fidelity. It even streamlined and improved the story in many ways, such as having characters team up against Chaos’s various forms and improving the appearance of Perfect Chaos.

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Sonic Adventure told a complex, interweaving Sonic story for the first time.

Sonic Adventure has been a rich source of adaptation, second only to Sonic Spinball; aside from the more direct adaptations I’ve talked about here, stages, bosses, and narrative themes from the game cropped up in many subsequent Sonic titles. Unlike Sonic Spinball, I feel like this is probably because of the game’s story; this was the first time Sonic and his friends and enemies had a real voice in the videogames and the first time Sonic Team tried to tell a deep, overarching story. Add to that the influence that Sonic Adventure’s gameplay and aesthetic choices had on Sonic’s canon and future release and it’s not hard to see why. The only thing that hampered each of these adaptations was their attempts to shoe-horn the videogame narrative into their existing lore, rather than using the general story and themes of the game and threading it through in a more natural way. While Archie Comics and StC had good reasons for this, Sonic X had every opportunity right from the beginning of its run to properly prepare and lay the groundwork for its eventual videogame adaptations and, instead, it was happy to waste time focusing on Chris, his idiotic behaviour, and having Sonic be this bland, lethargic goody-too-shoes rather than a snarky, hyperactive adventurer.

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Which of these three Sonic Adventure adaptations was your favourite? How did you find Archie’s writing at the time? Do you remember Sonic the Comic? What were your thoughts on Sonic X and Chris? Drop a line below and stick around for more articles in the future.

Interplay: Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball

Interplay

Among many things, adaptations can be described as being:

“An acknowledged transposition of a recognizable other work or works […] A creative and an interpretive act of appropriation/salvaging [or] An extended intertextual engagement with the adapted work” (Hutcheon, 2006: 80).

The great thing about adaptation is that it can be literally anything; it’s restricted only by the scope of your imagination and your commitment to researching the links between media. When I studied the writing of Linda Hutcheon (and many others like her) as part of my PhD, I chose to focus on the adaptation of videogames into movies, television shows, cartoons, and comic books.

There were two reasons for this: a) Because it’s a lot easier to talk about media adaptations like these and b) Because there hadn’t really been any real, serious research into videogames as adaptations. During my studies, though, I came across a curious statistic: of all the videogames that make up the entirety of the Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team/Various, 1991 to present) franchise, there is one that stands out as having had the most adaptations and it’s probably not one you were expecting…

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Today, we’re talking about Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball (Polygames/SEGA Technical Institute, 1993), a spin-off of the main Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Spinball was the first Sonic title to truly embrace the pinball-like gameplay mechanics of the series popularised by the Spring Yard and Casino Night Zones.

Just controlling Sonic in this spin-off title can be a chore.

Rather than being a fast-paced action/platformer, Sonic Spinball sees Sonic’s running speed scaled back and his bouncing speed boosted up as he trades running through loops for being flicked about inside a giant, pinball-like fortress created by Doctor Ivo Robotnik (now more commonly referred to as Doctor Eggman). Robotnik’s Veg-O-Fortress is made up of four stages, each one containing a number of Chaos Emeralds (unlike most Sonic games, Spinball has multiple Emeralds and they’re all blue). Using the flippers and a variety of gameplay gimmicks, Sonic must retrieve the Emeralds and battle the mad Doctor himself in a number of massive and increasingly difficult boss battles. In the Bonus Stages, Sonic operates an actual pinball and attempts to free his friends from Robotnik’s capsules. Other than that, the game offered little despite having some funky tunes and a charming aesthetic; the controls were clunky (Sonic feels unnaturally heavy and awkward), the stages were large and vibrant but it was often difficult to tell where you needed to go or what you had to do, and there’s very little incentive to play again except to beat your high score. Yet, Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball has been adapted into other media and forms more times than any other Sonic title; right off the bat, the game was ported to the Master System and Game Gear, for one thing, but, more than that, the game formed the basis of plots for Sonic’s cartoons, comic books, and other ancillary media.

Let’s just say there were some…differences between Sonic in the East and the West.

At the time, Sonic was in the middle of his first (and, arguably, most prominent) surge in popularity; bundling Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991) with the Mega Drive saw the console sell over fifteen million units during its American debut (Pétronille and Audureau, 2012: 39) and catapulted SEGA’s speedy mascot to the stratosphere. SEGA immediately followed this up with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) and, just like that, Sonic was everywhere. Not content with a gigantic Sonic balloon in the Macy’s Day parade, SEGA capitalised on Sonic’s popularity; Sonic appeared on every piece of merchandise imaginable and that, of course, included cartoons. Nintendo had seen significant success in this area in the past and, seeking to usurp their rival once more, SEGA turned to DiC Entertainment. The concept was spearheaded by producer Robby London, who recognised Sonic’s charisma and appeal but struggled with the “elusive and impenetrable” story of the videogames (Jones, et al, quoting London, 2011: 29). This isn’t particularly surprising as, while Sonic typically has an extremely simple premise (hedgehog hero destroys robots to save woodland friends), differences between the Japanese and American versions saw dramatically different versions of Sonic presented across the world.

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Spinball included a lot of influences from SatAM.

Regardless, after bringing in Jaleel White to voice the character, DiC produced a pilot episode that was largely comprised of slapstick comedy and was deemed to be unsuitable for ABC’s Saturday morning slot. Undeterred, DiC made the extraordinary decision to instead produce two Sonic cartoons: one for weekdays and one for Saturday morning. This is how we ended up with Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1995, more commonly referred to as “SatAM”) airing simultaneously; one emphasised slapstick comedy and the other was decidedly much darker and serious in tone. For a time, these two cartoons were often closely associated with each other; this was mainly due to the Archie Comics series in the US initially mixing characters and concepts from both shows together rather than picking one as its basis (eventually, however, they settled on SatAM) but this can also be seen in Sonic Spinball. Sonic not only encounters Cluck, Doctor Robotnik’s (Jim Cummings) mechanical pet that briefly appeared in both SatAM and Archie’s comics, in the Toxic Caves, but must also free Princess Sally (Kath Soucie), Bunnie Rabbot (Christine Cavanaugh), Rotor (Mark Ballou), and Antoine Depardieu (Rob Paulsen) during the game’s Bonus Stages.

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I still have no idea how the hell Robotnik did this!

This would be the first and only time SatAM’s characters would appear in a Sonic videogame; given that, unlike Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (Compile/SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), Spinball appeared to be a straight forward spin-off of the main Sonic series, their inclusion only served to further muddy the waters as to the coherency of SEGA’s flagship franchise. To further confuse matters, it was the Adventures depiction of Robotnik (Long John Baldry), rather than SatAM’s, who appeared on the cover art for Spinball’s Game Gear port. Indeed, while Archie eventually restructured its Sonic comics into a continuation of SatAM, it was Adventures’ Robotnik who seeped into other Sonic media and became the default depiction of the dastardly Doctor in storybooks and comics for many years. This was most prominently seen (at least in the UK) in Sonic the Comic (1993 to 2002, referred to as “StC”) where, in issue tweny-two, Doctor Robotnik inexplicably transformed from the rotund antagonist seen in the videogames into “that weed from the rubbish cartoon series” (Fielding, 1995: 32; Kitching, et al, 1994: 1 to 7). While SatAM is often lauded as a significant influence to many for its darker, more adult themes, Adventures is often overlooked for its fidelity to the wacky nature of the videogames due to its childish humour. Of the two, only Adventures incorporated the game’s iconic theme song and more accurately depicted certain gameplay mechanics, such as Special Stages, Golden Rings, and Chaos Emeralds. Yet, don’t let that fool you: Adventures is a full-on acid trip most of the time and, despite pulling some inspiration for the source material, only ever adapted the plot of one videogame: Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball.

Robotnik’s plans often involve an impractical, giant pinball machine.

‘Attack on Pinball Fortress’ (Butterworth, 1993) saw Sonic, Miles “Tails” Prower (Christopher Welch) join forces with Sergeant Doberman (Phil Hayes) and one of Adventures’ more amusing reoccurring characters, Wes Weasely (Michael Donovan), when Robotnik threatens Mobius with a gigantic Stupidity Ray housed within his Pinball Fortress. When the group infiltrates the Pinball Fortress, they are knocked about by giant flippers and into other gigantic recreations of cliché pinball machines before they encounter Boss Scorpion, a massive robotic scorpion that Robotnik uses to try and thwart the heroes. Obviously, this fails and it isn’t long before the robot is devoured by lava and Robotnik’s plot is thwarted. As an adaptation of Sonic Spinball, ‘Attack on Pinball Fortress’ is very bare-bones; it’s almost as if the writer, Bob Forward, was given a few pieces of concept art and nothing more as the episode has next to nothing to do with the videogame beyond the vague concept of a pinball-themed fortress and a giant scorpion. Yet, as basic an adaptation as ‘Attack on Pinball Fortress’ is, it’s got nothing on ‘Game Guy’ (Myrick, 1994), an episode of SatAM that sees Sonic trapped within a pinball-themed game right at the conclusion of the episode, which mostly concerns Sonic and Sally being at odds over the appearance of another Freedom Fighter, Ari (Dorian Harewood). Ari betrays Sonic but, when Robotnik nearly uses his giant pinball table to suck Sonic into the Void, he sacrifices his freedom to not only save Sonic but lead the Freedom Fighters towards other allies. Literally the only thing in ‘Game Guy’ that comes from Sonic Spinball is the giant pinball-themed trap that Robotnik nearly bests Sonic with, but then this was par for the course for SatAM, which was concerned more with environmental messages than adapting plots from the videogames.

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Archie Comics sure loved their puns…

Things begin to look up, however, in ‘The Spin Doctor!’ (Gallagher, et al, 1994), the official Sonic Spinball adaptation featured in issue six of Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Here, Sonic and the Freedom Fighters lead a random assault on Robotnik’s factory, only to be informed (via a hand-written note) that he has moved his base to Mount Mobius. Racing there without hesitation, Sonic finds the Veg-O-Fortress and is immediately attacked by (you guessed it) giant pinball flippers and bounced across lava. Racing up the pinball tracks and into the fortress, Sonic battles both Scorpius and Rexxon in the Toxic Caves, defeating them with ease. Sonic then ends up in the Lava Powerhouse, where Hip and Hop help lead him to a bunch of captive Mobians but giant plants force Sonic into a final Showdown…which consists entirely of Robotnik launching him out of the fortress using a giant spring. ‘The Spin Doctor!’ is little more than a glorified advertisement for Sonic Spinball; there’s just enough of the game’s premise, first stage, and other recognisable elements to inspire young kids to buy and play the game but not much else that directly links to it. Archie had a habit of doing adaptations of this kind; typically, they would produce a story that ended with the instruction to readers to play the videogame to find out the rest, despite the games and the comics being wildly inconsistent and at odds with each other. Other times, like this, they would attempt a very loose adaptation but be more concerned with servicing their own, unique narrative over anything.

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There’s not much to link this to the game….

Elements of this story were relegated to extremely minor roles or cameos; Scorpius, Hip, and Hop (two characters that serve only to launch Sonic into the Lava Powerhouse in the videogame) were amongst them but, while Mount Mobius did show up (and erupt) in the ‘Heart of the Hedgehog’ two-parter (Fingeroth, et al, 2000), the Veg-O-Fortress never appeared again. Finally, there’s ‘Spinball Wizard’ Millar, et al, 1996) from StC. In this story, Tails, disheartened at his lack of fan mail, attempts to drum up some support by cleaning up the Casino Night Zone and ends up being captured in Robotnik’s Spinball Murder Machine which is, wouldn’t you know it, a giant pinball table. Rushing to the rescue, Sonic is bounced around by flippers and seemingly defeated until Tails manages to free himself and use Robotnik’s “Hedgehog-crushing super pinball” (literally just a giant pinball…) to destroy the generator that powers the machine. And…that’s it. I mean, I gave Archie some flack over their adaptation but ‘Spinball Wizard’ is only very, very loosely drawing from Sonic Spinball; you could even argue it’s simply adapting elements of Casino Night Zone into its plot but I’m including it simply for the name of Robotnik’s machine. To be fair, StC was often fast and loose with its adaptations as well; they also favoured their own unique narrative over being slavish recreations of their source material. But we’re not quite done yet because a rollercoaster at Alton Towers was once rebranded as Sonic Spinball between 2010 and 2015. As you might have guessed, the rollercoaster has a pinball theme and, as part of its Sonic rebrand, featured red and blue tracks, songs from the videogames, and even commentary from Roger Craig Smith, Sonic’s current voice actor. So, just what was it about Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball that meant it formed the basis of so many adaptations? It was, even at the time, only ever an average title and far from the rich narrative resource as Sonic the Hedgehog CD (Sonic Team, 1993) or Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Sonic Team/SEGA Technical Institute, 1993) yet these two latter videogames were only given the most basic of lip service and SatAM and didn’t factor into Adventures at all.

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Sonic animation tends to benefit from its source material.

Perhaps it was the simplicity of the concept: Sonic bounces around like a pinball in comics and cartoons anyway, so maybe it’s easier to literally stick him into a giant pinball machine than have him race a robotic version of himself or go head-to-head with Knuckles the Echidna? Other anime and cartoons managed to include these two elements, however, and quite successfully in some cases, so it does remain a source of wonder (if not outright confusion) that Sonic Spinball, of all Sonic games available at the time, should be returned to and adapted so often. A large part of the explanation probably can be traced back to Sonic’s growing popularity at the time; Sonic Team USA had invested a considerable amount of time, effort, and money into rebranding Sonic for his US debut and crafting an entirely unique backstory that was completely different to the one found in Japan (and quite separate from the one in the UK, as well). Sonic Team, SEGA, and DiC seemed to see Sonic Spinball as a natural bridge between the videogames and the cartoons; they were certainly enthusiastic about the tie-in enough to insert their cartoon characters into the videogame and onto the art work (Hazeldine, 2014: 35).

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Others have tried, but no adaptation comes close to Sonic Spinball.

Perhaps there was no need to mine other Sonic titles; Sonic’s popularity didn’t begin to wane until the end of 1996 and, by then, both cartoons had finished producing new episodes, Archie’s comics and StC were content with forging their own narratives, and Sonic was firmly established as a successful and popular videogame icon in the cultural consciousness. Sonic X (2003 to 2006) would later produce surprisingly faithful adaptations of both Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998) and Sonic Adventure 2 (Sonic Team USA, 2001), while also loosely adapting Sonic Battle (Sonic Team, 2004) and appropriating many elements from Sonic Heroes (Sonic Team USA, 2003) and Shadow the Hedgehog (SEGA Studio USA, 2005). These all saw adaptations in Archie’s comics and StC (except for the latter four, at least officially, as StC had ceased publication by that point) but no other Sonic the Hedgehog videogame can boast as many adaptations as Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball, a largely average and arguably insignificant spin-off that nevertheless defined the golden age of Sonic across all forms of media.

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Sonic Spinball even made it to the real world!

What do you think about Sonic Spinball and its adaptations? Can you think of any other videogames that received undue attention in other media? Leave a comment below and join me next time for more interplay.