Back Issues [Sonic 3’s Day]: StC & Knuckles

Following a highly anticipated release, bolstered by an extravagant marketing and release schedule, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) not only improved on every aspect of its influential predecessor but also went on to become the second best-selling SEGA Mega Drive game of all time. Expectations were high for the equally-anticipated third entry, a game that ended up being so big that SEGA made the decision to split it into two, birthing perhaps the greatest 2D Sonic adventure in the process.

Story Titles: “Enter Knuckles” (Part 1 and 2), “Power of the Chaos Emeralds“ (Part 1 and 2), and “Robotnik’s Revenge” (Part 1 and 2)
20 August 1994 to 29 October 1994
Writer: Nigel Kitching
Artist: Richard Elson

The Background:
After allowing SEGA to knock Nintendo from the top of the videogame industry, the company almost immediately set about transforming Sonic’s popularity into mainstream success through a slew of ancillary media and merchandise, most notably cartoon sand comic books. About six months after the first of Sonic’s Archie Comics adventures, United Kingdom publisher Fleetway Editions Limited began their own series with “Britain’s Official SEGA Comic”, Sonic the Comic (StC), a fortnightly publication that I collected diligently until its unfortunate end. Heavily influenced by the now defunct Mobius and Doctor Ovi Kintobor storyline that was popular outside of Japan, StC quickly veered away from the source material to portray Sonic the a mean-spirited leader of a gang of Freedom Fighters comprised of both videogame characters and anthropomorphic characters adapted from the videogames. Like the Archie comics, StC included some very loose adaptations of the videogames that were often truncated or heavily altered to fit with its noticeably different lore. Their adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (SEGA Technical Institute. 1993; 1994) was no different, though it was framed as a lengthy ongoing storyline that was built up over holiday specials and multi-part tales. It also stands as one of the most prominent storylines as it introduced Knuckles the Echidna to the comic, a character who would be at the forefront of his own solo series within StC and some of StC’s most important stories.

The Review:
The arc begins with Dr. Robotnik having gone missing; a previous story in one of StC’s summer specials detailed how the dictator’s Death Egg II fell from orbit thanks to the efforts of Sonic the Hedgehog. While the doctor is believed to have perished in the crash, readers of the summer special would be aware that he was discovered by Knuckles, but the wider world, and the Freedom Fighters, don’t know that since, at this point, the Floating Island is considered to be a legend. Indeed, Amy Rose is sceptical when their artificial intelligence, the Kintobor Computer (which is the personality of Dr. Robotnik’s kindlier previous form…it’s a whole other story), suggests that the Death Egg II crashed into the legendary island. Sonic, already irritated at having to investigate the myth, is thus stunned when he and Miles “Tails” Prower find the Floating Island based on Kintobor’s hypothesis. Sonic and Tails land in a loose approximation of the Marble Garden Zone and are instantly attacked by an arrow-spitting totem pole, just one of many hazards and traps littering the mythical island. Thankfully, the sarcastic Sonic is saved from falling to his death by the much-abused Tails, and even demonstrates a secret new ability of his, a forcefield he creates by vibrating the air molecules in front of him at super speed.

Sonic meets his match in Knuckles, but ends the fight by finally capturing Dr. Robotnik!

The presence of a Badnik is all the proof Sonic needs that Dr. Robotnik is on the island, but the egg-shaped tyrant makes a physical appearance at the story’s end and Sonic learns the hard way that his hated enemy as a new ally: Knuckles, guardian of the Floating Island and last of the echidnas, who lays Sonic out with a single punch. Sonic recovers pretty quickly but learns that Dr. Robotnik has duped the isolated echidna into thinking that Sonic and Tails are petty thieves and despots looking to steal his island’s Chaos Emeralds; naïve and trusting that Dr. Robotnik is a kind-hearted soul, Knuckles has pledged to defend his island and its Chaos Emeralds, and a fight ensues. While Sonic has the speed advantage, Knuckles exhibits extraordinary superhuman (superanthro?) strength, walloping Sonic over the head and causing a significant tremor by punching the ground. When Sonic sends Knuckles flying with a whirlwind-like Spin Attack, the echidna surprises him by tunnelling under the dirt and the two battle so fiercely while underground that the landscape cracks apart. Sonic gains the upper hand but, although he’s taken a beating, Knuckles is still more raring for more; however, Sonic manages to outsmart his new rival by thinking of the big picture and has Tails literally capture Dr. Robotnik in a net and fly them away from the island.

Dr. Robotnik reveals his true nature, but his lofty ambitions are immediately undone by Knuckles.

Although Sonic exudes his usual brash arrogance, he admits to himself the Knuckles was tougher than he looked, and his troubles with the misguided echidna are soon revisited when Knuckles burrows into Dr. Robotnik’s cell at Sonic’s space thanks to a homing device the mad scientist implanted at the base of Knuckles’ skull! Dr. Robotnik takes Porker Lewis hostage and demands that Sonic hand over the six Chaos Emeralds in his possession; left with little choice, Sonic reluctantly hands over the gems and tries to appeal to Knuckles, but to no avail, so he and Tails quickly pursue the duo back to the Floating Island to retrieve the jewels. Sonic and Knuckles get back into it, but while Sonic is able to pummel the dreadlocked echidna, he’s at a disadvantage due to Knuckles’ knowledge of the island and all its secrets; Sonic feigns being crushed by two giant stone hands in order to get a better idea of Dr. Robotnik’s endgame, much to Tails’s chagrin, and the two follow their enemies to the Temple of Chaos. These stone runes seem to be acting as a temporary stand-in for the Hidden Palace Zone, and are home to the Floating Island’s six Chaos Emeralds; Knuckles is delighted to have the twelve Chaos Emeralds finally reunited after being split apart untold aeons ago, explaining how there are two sets of Chaos Emeralds in StC lore. However, at this point, the Chaos Emeralds are emerald cut and resemble the 2D sprites from the first two Sonic games rather than the diamond cut design of Sonic 3 and more commonly associated with them, and the Master Emerald is noticeably missing. Instead, the “Control Emerald” is the long-lost Grey Emerald, but Dr. Robotnik utilises a device of his own creation to replicate the Grey Emerald’s power, merge the twelve gems back into six, and then surprise Knuckles by absorbing the Emerald’s energy into himself! Nigh-invincible and grown to gigantic proportions, Dr. Robotnik easily turns Tails to glass and reveals his true nature as a manipulative, malicious dictator with designs of using the Chaos Energy to dominate and destroy everything in his path. However, Knuckles easily turns the tables by revealing not only that he’s not as gullible as Dr. Robotnik thought but also that he’s been in possession of the Grey Emerald all along; he easily saps the Chaos Energy from the would-be God, restoring Tails in the process, and teleports him away from the Floating Island, ending his threat before it can really begin.

Knuckles comes to Sonic’s aid to atone for leading Dr. Robotnik to his secret base.

With the truth revealed to Knuckles, Sonic offers him a place among the Freedom Fighters, but he refuses; not only is Sonic’s war none of his business, but he’s patiently waiting for his people to return from the stars, and the three part was amicably…but far from friends. Although Dr. Robotnik’s dreams of Godhood have been dashed, he poses an even more significant threat than ever as he now knows the location of Sonic’s hidden base and he launches an all-out assault against the Freedom Fighters with a legion of his Badniks and piloting the “Squeeze Tag Machine” (basically the Big Arms from Sonic 3). Tails and Amy have already abandoned the base, but Sonic and Johnny Lightfoot are forced to engage with Dr. Robotnik to buy Porker the time to download Kintobor’s program to the Golden Ring he came from to preserve his personality. The maniacal megalomaniac isn’t messing around this time, though, and the Squeeze Tag Machine proves too tough for even Sonic’s patented Spin Attack, but he’s able to buy them just enough time by burying the machine under a cave-in. While this is going on, Knuckles is working his way across the Floating Island, removing every trace of Dr. Robotnik’s influence; his first target is the Death Egg II, which is under repair at the tyrant’s man-made Launch Base Zone and under the supervision of the doctor’s slimy little assistant, Grimer. Knuckles coerces Grimer into delivering a false message of his death, simply to make a dramatic last-minute save right as Dr. Robotnik is closing in for the kill; with his incredible strength, he smashes open the Squeeze Tag Machine and allows Sonic to deliver the final blow, but there’s still the issue of the doctor’s Badnik army. Knuckles busts them out into the open and the two begrudgingly join forces to fend them  off, trading barbs and making a competition out of the combat. Although they clearly have no love for each other, there’s no denying that Sonic and Knuckles make a formidable team and (with some help from Johnny) and it isn’t long before they’re surrounded by a mess of broken mechanical parts. However, this is enough of a distraction for Dr. Robotnik to make a hasty retreat, and the status quo for Sonic and his friends has forever changed as they’re forced to go on the run, and in disguise, as “Bob Beaky’s Travelling Circus”. As for Knuckles, he commandeers one of Dr. Robotnik’s Egg-O-Matic’s and returns to his island for his first solo run, parting on amicable but strained terms with his newfound rival.

The Summary:
I was super hyped for Knuckles’ big debut in StC; the character had really captured my imagination and fascination at the time and I was eagerly anticipating his first story arc after his brief introductory story. Thankfully, StC definitely delivered in these stories; thanks to the unparalleled art of Richard Elson, Knuckles is at his absolute best here, appearing intimidating and confident and strong and he never comes across as a gullible, sheltered fool. Instead, he’s simply misguided; he has no reason not to trust Dr. Robotnik and is focused only on protecting his island and reuniting the Chaos Emeralds. Sure, it’s a bit weird how his chest fur is imagined as a necklace, but the character brings probably the most physical challenge to Sonic since Metallix. Though outmatched by Sonic’s speed, Knuckles more than holds his own with his superior strength, durability, and unrivalled knowledge of the Floating Island and all its secrets. He also ends up proving himself to be a wily and honourable warrior, deceiving Dr. Robotnik about the Grey Emerald and even helping Sonic out despite having no interest in the troubles of the surface world.

Very few locations and elements from the source material make it into the story.

It’s a shame, then, that the story really doesn’t explore the Floating Island all that much; the only location the story visits from the game is the Marble Garden Zone and the Temple of Chaos (which doesn’t appear in the game) and, as always, simply cherry-picks elements from the games such as Badniks, hazards, and Dr. Robotnik’s battle craft. However, it’s important to note that Knuckles’ story didn’t end here; far from it, in fact. Through his own solo run, and a subsequent story arc, we would see much more of the Floating Island and adaptations of Sandopolis Zone, Carnival Night Zone, and Sky Sanctuary Zone in a loose adaptation of Sonic & Knuckles that served as a conclusion to this arc. Here, though, there’s very little pulled from the source material and more of the story takes place in the Emerald Hill Zone thanks to the amount of time spent in Sonic’s base. Despite this, Knuckles’ big debut did shake things up in StC for quite some time; Sonic and his friends no longer had a hidden base to operate out of, and had gained a tentative ally in the reclusive echidna, who would reluctantly help Sonic out in future stories as well as have both solo adventures and team-based stories with the Chaotix Crew.

Richard Elson’s art, and the fights between Sonic and Knuckles, are the best parts of this story arc.

Overall, this is a fun story that is given a lot of time to breathe across its six issues, and yet is still primarily more focused on adding to the original lore of the comics rather than delivering a faithful adaptation of Sonic 3. I often wonder just how much material, context, and gameplay the writers and artists of these comics were given access to as there’s rarely an attempt to directly represent the events of the videogames, or maybe it was simply just easier to spend the time introducing and familiarising readers to this new, bad-ass character rather than dwell on the specifics. The general thrust of Sonic 3 is (Dr. Robotnik tricks Knuckles, steals the Chaos Emeralds, and has Sonic fight Knuckles while he works to repair his Death Egg) but the lack of representation from the Zones is disappointing. It would’ve been nice, for example, if Sonic and Knuckles had had their rematch in Angel Island Zone rather than crash-landing in Marble Garden Zone, and the paper-thin explanation for Sonic’s new forcefield ability seemed forced to me (I don’t recall this ability ever appearing again in the comics, either). The best part of this story arc are the fights between Sonic and Knuckles, which are wonderfully brought to life by the amazing Richard Elson. Sonic’s biting wit and abusive attitude are a fantastic counterpart to the proud Knuckles, and this arc really expanded the world of StC into new arenas thanks to the mystery and lore surrounding the last guardian and his Floating Island and went a long way to bringing the comic a little more in line with the source material.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Knuckles’ debut story arc from Sonic the Comic? If so, what did you think of it and which of the six parts was your favourite? Did you enjoy the artwork and Sonic’s abrasive attitude? What did you think to the way certain aspects of Sonic 3 were adapted into StC’s lore and would you have preferred a more faithful rendition? Which of Knuckles’ StC stories was your favourite and what did you think to the changes they made to his character and backstory? How are you celebrating the anniversary of Sonic 3’s release today? Please feel free to share your memories of StC and Sonic 3 & Knuckles below by signing up, or on my social media.

Back Issues [Sonic CDay]: The Sonic Terminator

Sonic the Hedgehog CD (Sonic Team, 1993) released on this day back in 1993. produced alongside the blockbuster Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), Sonic CD expanded upon the Blue Blur’s original debut title with lush graphics, a time travel mechanic, gorgeous anime cutscnes, and by introducing players to Metal Sonic (one of Sonic’s most popular and enduring rivals) and Amy Rose. Considered by many to be one of the best of the classic Sonic titles, Sonic CD might not be one of my favourites but it’s still a classic in it’s own right and worth a bit of celebration.

Story Title: “The Sonic Terminator (Part 1 to 5)”
Published: 29 April 1994 to 24 June 1994
Writer: Nigel Kitching
Artist: Richard Elson

The Background:
After Sonic the Hedgehog catapulted to mainstream success and helped SEGA to usurp Nintendo’s position at the top of the videogame industry, SEGA were quick to capitalise on Sonic’s popularity not just with videogames but also a slew of merchandise, including cartoons and comic books. About six months after Archie Comics began publishing a weird amalgamation of the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1996) and Sonic the Hedgehog/SatAM (1993 to 1994) cartoons, United Kingdom publisher Fleetway Editions Limited began publishing “Britain’s Official SEGA Comic”, Sonic the Comic (StC), a fortnightly publication that I collected diligently until its unfortunate end. Though pulling much of its lore from the now defunct Mobius and Doctor Ovi Kintobor storyline that was prevalent outside of Japan, StC was its own beast entirely and quickly veered away from the source material to recast Sonic the a mean-spirited leader of a gang of Freedom Fighters made up of both videogame characters and anthropomorphic characters adapted from the videogames. Like the Archie comics, StC often included a few very loose adaptations of the videogames, though these were often truncated or took the very basic idea of the source material and adapted it to fit with its noticeably different lore. Their adaptation of Sonic CD was no different, renaming Metal Sonic to Metallix and introducing one of the comic’s more dangerous and persistent secondary antagonists.

The Review:
“The Sonic Terminator” begins with the dramatic and violent death of Sonic the Hedgehog! Not to worry, though, this is simply a “practice robot” that was trashed by a blindly fast, electrically-charged figure that is kept in the shadows and only vaguely hinted at. Both Doctor Ivo Robotnik (who, at this point, was directly modelled on the character’s look from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog) and his assistant, Grimer, are pleased as punch with the results of this final test and prepare to send their new creation out to kill the real Sonic. Speaking of whom, Sonic is currently in the Emerald Hill Zone, where Robotnik’s Troopers (basically StC’s version of Swat-Bots in that they are humanoid robots that Sonic is able to smash without holding back as, unlike Badniks, they’re not powered by woodland critters) are arresting an entire village. Despite the concerns of his fellow Freedom Fighters (Porker Lewis, Johnny Lightfoot, Amy Rose, and Miles “Tails” Prower), Sonic rushes in to save the villagers and the entire gang winds up captured as a result, much to Johnny’s chagrin. Sonic, however, retains his steadfast cocky attitude; even when they come face-to-face with Trusk, the captain of the prison ship, and are told that they are being taken directly to Robotnik’s Badnik processing plant at the Veg-O-Fortress, Sonic simply yawns with boredom.

The first two issues are more concerned with a side plot involving the Sky Pirates.

This turns out to be because Sonic has some formidable backup on hand in the form of Captain Plunder and his Sky Pirates, a group of mercenaries and…well, pirates…who Sonic encountered in the Mystic Cave Zone in a previous issue. Thanks to Captain Plunder, Trusk is captured and the prisoners are freed but Porker accidentally lets slip to Filch the Poltergeist where Sonic’s cache of Chaos Emeralds is hidden and the pirates speed off the steal the booty. However, Sonic and the gang are easily able to follow them to North Cave and a fight breaks out; although Sonic is able to incapacitate most of Captain Plunder’s crew using his Super Spin Attack and both Amy and Tails are able to fight them off with their crossbow and a rock, respectively, Captain Plunder gets the upper hand when he takes Tails hostage. This, of course, earns Tails Sonic’s exasperated disdain (not only is StC-Sonic incredibly arrogant, pig-headed, and rude, he also has a tendency to insult his closest friends and constantly degrades Tails with the nickname “Pixel Brain”. It’s actually pretty fantastic to see him be such a snarky asshole all the time) and he is forced to allow Captain Plunder to take the six Chaos Emeralds.

Metallix is immediately established as a fearsome and merciless opponent.

Amusingly, however, rather than the evil energy of the Chaos Emeralds augmenting the Sky Pirates’ disreputable demeanours, they actually have the opposite effect since they absorb evil rather than radiate it and, as a result, Sonic is easily able to retrieve the gems from the now docile (and hippy-like) thieves. This happy ending, however, is mired in the dramatic reveal of StC’s version of Metal Sonic, Metallix, which attacks the Emerald Hill Zone with destructive energy blasts from its stomach laser and demands Sonic’s presence for “extermination”. “Part 3” of the story continues this threat and finally gets around to actually adapting the story of Sonic CD by having Metallix kidnap Amy to lure Sonic the Never Lake; although Sonic is busy playing Marxio Brothers, and despite his grouchy nature, he immediately rushes over to Never Lake and is shocked to find the forest that is usually growing there is gone and that the Miracle Planet has been transformed into a mechanical hellscape. After rescuing Amy from atop a steep column of rock, he snaps at her to cut out the hero worship and tell him what’s been going on. She manages to tell him that Dr. Robotnik has chained the Miracle Planet to Never Lake and transformed it into his newest base before any further exposition is rudely interrupted by Metallix.

Metallix takes Amy to the Miracle Planet and they are trapped there, cut off from greater Mobius.

Over the course of a few action-packed panels, a fight breaks out between Sonic and his unusually loquacious doppelgänger; Metallix tosses boulders at Sonic, all of which he is able to expertly hop over and burrow through, but he is surprised by the robot’s chest laser. The two them battle so fast and so aggressively that neither Amy, nor the reader, are able to make out the action. In the aftermath, Metallix emerges from the dust and smoke as the apparent victor before collapsing into shutdown. Sonic, battered and weary, still finds the energy to insult Amy but, while he appears to have defeated his robotic counterpart, Metallix hits him with a cheap shot and takes Amy to the Miracle Planet as “live bait” and the unimpressed Sonic races off in pursuit. By the time the Freedom Fighters arrive to help, they’re already too late as the Miracle Planet disappears before their eyes, trapping all on its surface in another dimension for an entire month. On the miniature world, Sonic quickly reunites with Amy (much to his dismay) in what appears to be the Bad Future of Metallic Madness. Both characters question how Dr. Robotnik was able to convert the Miracle Planet so quickly, given that the previous month showed no signs of his influence, but their conversation (and the prospect of them being marooned there for a month) is soon interrupted by Metallix. Uncharacteristically, Sonic chooses to flee rather than fight but, as Metallix charges its laser to kill Amy, he comes flying back in with a big Spin Attack after running around the entire planet in a few seconds. Metallix, however, is able to draw additional power from the mechanical surface of the planet; this allows him to erect an electrical shield and charge up a kill shot for his prey after Sonic trips on a loose cable.

Thanks to time travel shenanigans, Metallix is soundly defeated…for now..

Sonic and Amy are saved, however, by the sudden appearance by another Sonic, this one diminutive in stature and holding a grey stone. Sonic #1 is immediately suspicious of the newcomer but Sonic #2 forces him into an energy beam that turns him into a midget as well. Sonic #2 is able to tell Sonic #1 about the grey object he’s holding; it’s the Time Stone, a relic able to transport the holder back into the past and, while Sonic #2 distracts the recovered (and now, from their perspective, gigantic) Metallix, Sonic #1 races off to the past. Arriving in what appears to be Palmtree Panic before Dr. Robotnik polluted the Miracle Planet with his machinery, Sonic’s shock over the sudden disappearance of the Time Stone gives way to his awe at the presence of a massive piece of mechanical hardware. This is StC’s version of the Robot Transporter from the game, which is in the process of transforming and polluting the environment; thanks to having been shrunk, Sonic is easily able to hop inside of the machine and remove its power source, the Time Stone. Having destroyed the machine, Sonic uses the Time Stone to travel back to the present and, in the process, becomes Sonic #2 as he saves his past-self from Metallix, gifts him the Time Stone, and orders him to race off just as he was directed in order to continue the time loop. Although Metallix attacks Sonic with all its power, the environment begins to change around them as his actions in the past catch up to the present; as a result, not only is Dr. Robotnik’s influence erased from the Miracle Planet and Sonic returned to his normal height but Metallix is wiped from existence and the story ends with Sonic facing an entire month alone with Amy.

The Summary:
Now remember, I read Sonic the Comic religiously as a kid; for me, it was one of three influential factors into my fandom for Sonic (the others being the cartoons and, of course, the games themselves) so there is not only a lot of nostalgia there whenever I revisit the comic but quite a bit of bias as I was a big fan of the original stories StC told, its characterisations, and the way they included some elements from the videogames. As a result, I remember enjoying “The Sonic Terminator” as a kid but, as an adaptation of Sonic CD, it’s definitely lacking in many areas. Perhaps the biggest drawback to the story is that it spends two issues messing about with a side plot involving Captain Plunder; at the time, each story in StC was about five pages long so right away the writers have wasted ten pages of story on something that has nothing to do with Sonic CD, though it also appears as though the writers and artists had very little to work with when putting this story together.

Metallix steals the show and comes across as a formidable new villain for Sonic.

Indeed, they must have seen the opening video and maybe a few screenshots and had a rudimentary understanding of the game but there is next to nothing from Sonic CD included beyond the absolute bare minimum. There is only one Time Stone, for example; hardly any locations from the game are used, no enemies or Badniks beyond Metal Sonic appear, and Dr. Robotnik is practically non-existent for the entire story. One benefit of this, however, is that it means Metallix takes centre stage as the primary antagonist. Unlike other interpretations of Metal Sonic, Metallix is very chatty; it taunts Sonic, constantly calculates the odds of success and failure, and comes across as a very threatening and formidable foe not only in its array of attacks and blinding speed but also in its durability. It’s not often in StC that Sonic is unable to trash his robotic foes in one hit and Metallix was certainly the most persistent enemy he has encountered at this point. Even though this story seems to spell the end of the character, Metallix would return with a vengeance later down the line as part of the Brotherhood of Metallix and would be a formidable recurring adversary for Sonic, his friends, and even Dr. Robotnik.

The story’s art is incredible and elevates it despite lacking fidelity to Sonic CD.

What really makes “The Sonic Terminator” shine is the excellent artwork from the always incredible Richard Elson. Elson was to StC what Patrick “Spaz” Spaziante was to the Archie comics and he always delivered on portraying Sonic and the other characters in such a dynamic way. His rendition of Metal Sonic is fantastic and the way he conveys Sonic’s speed is brilliant, allowing for some action-packed panels that really sell the gruelling nature of Sonic’s clash against his doppelgänger. While there isn’t much for the other Freedom Fighters to do, this is at least in keeping with the solo nature of Sonic CD and, while the story isn’t a direct one-to-one adaptation of the source material, StC pretty much never did this when producing the few adaptations they did do over the years. As a result, “The Sonic Terminator” is a great story in the StC canon and perfectly sets Metallix up as a frightening adversary (and therefore a significant story in the large StC lore) but is maybe not so great for those expecting a more literal adaptation of Sonic CD.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read “The Sonic Terminator”, or any issues of Sonic the Comic for that matter? If so, what did you think of the story and the way it introduced its version of Metal Sonic? Were you disappointed by how few elements from Sonic CD were present in the story or were you just happy to see Sonic and Metallix go at it? Which of StC’s original characters was your favourite and what did you think to Sonic’s characterisation? How are you celebrating Sonic CD’s anniversary this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic CD, or Sonic in general, feel free to leave a comment below.

Interplay: Sonic Adventure


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.

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.


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).

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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”.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.


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


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…

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.


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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.