[This article will contain some spoilers for Sonic Mania, so if you’re waiting for the PC version, see you next week]
You know how some people have these phrases that they use to try and articulate their feelings? Especially when it comes to Sonic games? Well today we’re going to look at one of them; this one:
“I want the villain to be ‘a true threat to Sonic”
Can we just, stop using that phrase? Because it’s completely meaningless. Most of the time when it’s used, we all know what you mean by that – “I want Sonic to nearly die” or some other dark and moody ideology.
Sonic Mania has proved that you can make threats to Sonic without them becoming a Saturday Night Monster or some God-like apocalyptic entity that wants to destroy everything.
Destroying The World Is Not Scary, Everybody Does It
How many Sonic games have we had in which the final boss/villain’s ultimate goal was to destroy the world/the universe/all of existence/all life anywhere? Off the top of my head, the following games either ended up being like that, or started off like that and resulted in the entire rest of the game’s premise being ‘we’ve got to stop them!’
- Sonic Adventure 1
- Sonic Adventure 2
- Sonic Heroes
- Shadow the Hedgehog
- Sonic 06
- Sonic Unleashed
- Sonic Generations (sort of)
Some of the other games are much more debatable, such as Generations… yeah, Eggman could use Time Eater to wipe out everything, but… what would be the point? He wouldn’t be able to rule anything.
Now, lets make a list of all the games which end up with a villain who has a lot of super powers – or basically, became the ‘Saturday Night Monster Movie Villain’.
Yup, it’s pretty much the same list I just posted.
Every single villain in these games essentially ended up becoming either super powerful, or was already super powerful and just decided to destroy everything. They all had the same ultimate goal. The motives may have been slightly different, but they’re all trying to do the same thing.
So… we have had villains for years that all end up just trying to destroy everything, yet people are still using the phrase, ‘I want a a true threat to Sonic!’
…wha? But, we’ve just had the world, the universe, and all dimensions at risk!? How is that not…. I give up.
Think of Sonic Mania’s Plot For Just A Moment
If you take what’s presented in the game, you are effectively given this:
Sonic & Tails detect a mysterious gem on Angel Island, when they attempt to find it, they discover Eggman has beaten them to it and extracted it. During the initial encounter, the gem activates and Sonic is warped to a Green Hill Zone which has been distorted from what he knows – it’s the same but has now been meshed with other zones.
He then heads off to find Eggman to stop him from using the gem for… whatever Eggman will use the gem for. During the adventure, Sonic encounters the Hard Boiled Heavies, an elite Egg-Robo squad with different abilities who try to stop Sonic.
And… that’s it.
There is nothing in Sonic Mania to suggest that anyone is trying to destroy the world, there is nothing to suggest anyone in Sonic Mania is trying to destroy all life. Even in the final few stages, all we see is a giant Egg Mech. And if you manage to find the secret boss… if you fail, Eggman wins and will probably end up ruling the world. But there’s nothing to say that everyone will be destroyed, or that anything apocalyptic will happen.
What Is That Gem Used For?
Here’s a crazy thought – based on what’s in the game, we don’t know what Eggman wants that gem for. We only assume Eggman is going to use the gem to take over the world somehow because… well, that’s what we always assume with regards to Eggman. But for all we know, he might just want a nice piece for his display cabinet.
… I’m serious, show me where in Sonic Mania that we see Eggman explicitly trying to take over the world?
But yeah, we know he probably will use it for world domination because… well… he’s Eggman. But destroy the world? The universe? Extremely unlikely.
So, we have a plot here which is very simple, has nothing on the level of apocalyptic end-of-the-world stakes, yet nobody with any degree of common sense is seriously arguing that this makes the game boring, or that the stakes are not high enough. Actually, go right ahead show me someone who is actually saying that – it’s been a while and I need a good laugh.
Mania Has The Best Villains We’ve Seen For Decades
When Hard Boiled Heavies were first shown, a number of critics were saying ‘they’re just glorified Egg Robos’. Well, now that the game is out we can see that…. yeah, actually they are – and they’re brilliant. They’re so simple, yet are a clear and present danger to Sonic and his friends.
Lets take this guy. Heavy Gunner.
What are his special powers? If you don’t include the jet pack… he has a rocket launcher… and that’s it. Yet, his boss fight is one of the most challenging in the game. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve seen get a Game Over at this guy, and typically most players will finish this fight with 0 rings in their collection.
But all he does is follow you in a helicopter and shoot rockets at you. That’s it! Yet would anyone say this guy isn’t a threat? I’ve seen him decimate people’s runs of the game, I’ve seen others barely make it through due to how challenging he is.
And what about the others?
Again, very minimal, each one only has a handful of powers and abilities. But there’s nothing along the lines of all-powerful ‘Saturday Night Movie Monster’ that will destroy the world.
Why are they so good? Because they’re a genuine threat to Sonic despite only having one or two special powers and abilities. They pop up and potentially ruin your run because they are so well designed. There’s only one that I would say is a bit disappointing compared to the rest, but overall, the boss fights here are pretty good.
Each one has a unique personality too. You have Heavy Gunner who acts like the shock trooper 60’s riot police man, ready to disperse those pesky protesters. There’s the female Heavy Magician who bows before she attacks, as if to say “Welcome to my show! Now die!” Heavy Rider is a wild stunt-woman akin to some of the villains we’ve seen from movies like Mad Max.
They don’t even need to say anything, yet they ooze personality as well as being an actual threat to you. That’s all they needed to be, special one-off nemeses that pop up and pretty much say ‘I’ve got the power to ruin your progress! And you’re going to keep on loving me when I do’
Infinite: The Saturday Night Movie Monster
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you ‘Infinite’.
We don’t know too much about him. However, here is a list of all his super powers and abilities, according to trailer footage and some guess-work based on his theme song.
Even if you are the biggest fan of Sonic Forces, how can you look at this and not think ‘this is getting a little silly’? That list of confirmed powers and abilities? There are eight of them. Eight. That’s only one less than Mr T.
These are things which we’ve seen in trailers, mind you. But if it’s true, that abilities list is right up there with those fan-made villain characters that we all laugh at. It’s so over-the-top it’s unbelievable. It’s not threatening, it’s stupid.
Now have a look at the unconfirmed and theorised stuff. This is based on a few oddities people have spotted in the trailers, and clues from the theme song. It becomes even more stupid… I mean, if we are now having to make spreadsheets to keep track of Infinite’s powers and abilities, at what point is it going to be apparent that this villain is pretty laughable? He’s not scary or a threat; he’s what children do when they try to create a powerful villain – give him all the powers and think that makes for a credible threat.
Compare this to the Hard Boiled Heavies. Each of them have maybe two or three powers at the most. And they’re absolutely a threat – they constantly pop up in the game just to cause havoc and try to stop Sonic. They’re not trying to destroy the world. They’re not trying to destroy all existence. They pop up to fight Sonic and try and defeat him. That’s it.
And that’s fine! At no point when playing Sonic Mania do you ever think, ‘Man…. I wish the Heavies would try to destroy the world’. Nor do you ever think that the whole world or universe is on the line – you never think that, yet the boss fights are no less intense and the villains no less memorable.
They do small stuff, utterly perfectly, to create memorable battles and villains who we will be smiling at for years to come.
True Threats Which Were Great
If I sit down and think of really great villains in gaming – the ones who were a constant reminder of just how much of a threat they were; the ones which you knew you had to stop; who were a major threat to your character – quite often they don’t appear to do very much and their ‘super power/ability’ count is amazingly low.
One villain I tend to think of is Jack from Borderlands 2, some of the enemies from the Metal Gear Solid series and Mr X from Resident Evil 2.
Jack, for around 75% of the game, you never encounter, you never see, but he’s always there. He’s constantly calling you and mocking you, constantly belittling you and everyone you meet. He’s just an arsehole. But my god, it makes you want to kick his ass.
However, on your journey, you see all the crazy stuff he’s done. The towns he’s destroyed, the destruction he’s done, the mutations he’s caused to people and animals. He’s always there, you see that he’s a major threat to the world of Pandora… and when you finally encounter him? ‘He’s just a man’. He’s just an ordinary man who is very smart.
Mr X from Resident Evil 2 – he’s a slow-moving Tyrant who appears throughout the second scenario, moves towards you slowly, and effectively takes out most of your health with one punch. He’s not trying to destroy the world, he’s not trying to destroy all existence, he’s trying to ‘clean up’ and remove evidence from Raccoon City that can implicate Umbrella… that includes you. And all he has are his fists.
Then we have Dr Eggman from Sonic 1 – Sonic 3. He’s just an ordinary man who uses his genius to create robots in a bid to take over the world. You only ever encounter him at the end of Zones as he tries to stop you. He has no special powers or abilities, outside of his mind which allows him to create ever more dangerous traps and machines to try and fight you with.
Yes, he creates a Death Egg… but tell me… do you ever see him trying to destroy the world with it? Or is it to more enslave it? Is it not more of a symbol of his power as opposed to the grunts who will actually enforce it?
A true threat to Sonic? How about one which doesn’t require a spreadsheet to keep track of its powers? How about one which does a small handful of things really well just to ruin Sonic’s day? We don’t need the entire world (or universe) in peril every day to recognise a true threat.
The Hard Boiled Heavies will be joining this list. They each only have a few special abilities or powers, but they all cause absolute chaos to Sonic, they ooze personality and don’t ever say a word.
They are true threats to Sonic and at not one point did anyone check to see if the earth was about to explode.
Disclaimer: The views in this piece may not reflect the views of TSS or other writers on the staff team. The intention of The Spin is to promote debate and discussion of an issue or something that’s happening in the fandom or the world of Sonic.