With Sonic’s 30th Anniversary in tow, we wanted to look back on some of the more memorable and Influential moments (or arcs) in the games’ stories. These aren’t simply surprising or epic situations, but story arcs, notable moments or any kind of cutscene that made a lasting impact on the series’ continuity and character development.
Some ground rules: only one event per game mentioned. A couple of games have some pretty great moments littered throughout their stories, and we can’t just let one or two dominate the list! These are also not strictly listed in any particular order; this is less of a ranking and more of a gallery. Finally, to reiterate, these are moments that either permanently changed things or otherwise had major implications moving forward; if your favorite cutscene didn’t make the list, it’s not because it wasn’t a great or emotional moment, it just wasn’t anything that made an impact.
Needless to say, spoiler warning. So without further ado….
Sonic 2006 Broke Things and then Erased Itself
Yeah, yeah, I know, ’06 bad. But that’s not exactly why this makes the list: the reason you’re seeing this particular moment here is because of the absolute confusion and retconning that went down moving forward. Up until this point in the series, some spin-offs aside, most games fit nicely next to each other on a timeline, and regardless of how complicated things could get (we’ll get to Shadow later) it still followed along easily enough.
Not anymore, though. Where we thought Blaze the Cat was from another dimension (as per Sonic Rush), Sonic 2006 then told us she was actually from the future along with Silver and is sent to another dimension at the end of their story campaign; then we have the whole debacle with Elise having a Chaos Emerald in her possession for ten years despite all seven playing major roles in the series prior. There were some clear contradictions going on here, and it feels like the writers wanted to start the franchise over with a soft reboot without explicitly telling anybody that’s what they were doing.
And then, in the true ending of the game’s story… it says “nevermind” and Elise infamously blows out that candle, completely undoing everything that happened in that game, only now Solaris (as well as Mephiles and Iblis) no longer exist. The problem is that it doesn’t really fix things: they still need to explain why Blaze was from the future and why her getting sent to another dimension at the end of Silver’s story wasn’t undone or if she was ever from the future at all. Then there’s the Emerald that’s somehow both trapped in an ontological, paradoxical loop and is also up for grabs whenever the cast needs it.
Sonic Team just sort of swept this one under the rug, and no satisfying explanation exists aside from “it never happened” because Elise blew out Solaris’ favorite candle. We take for granted how basic and simple Sonic stories have been since Colors; but newer fans have no idea the kind of headaches some of these games caused. Sonic 06’s story was definitely influential, but unfortunately it was for the worst.
Thankfully, this list isn’t just complaining about Sonic 06 being Sonic 06, we’ve got some really awesome moments to talk about, too! Like…
Hostage Situation on the ARK
Sonic Adventure 2 would dominate this list if it weren’t for that one-event-per-game rule wasn’t in place; there’s so many cool moments in this game that you could make an entire countdown article for it alone. For now though, let’s focus on what’s probably the coolest, but also most implicating event in Sonic Adventure 2.
There’s so much going on in this one cutscene. Eggman has Amy and Tails hostage, and Sonic needs to hand over a Chaos Emerald in exchange for their lives. Thing is, that’s a fake Chaos Emerald that Tails put together for the purpose of undoing Eggman’s plans on the ARK. All seems to play in Team Sonic’s favor until Eggman traps Sonic in a capsule, revealing that he knew the emerald was a fake all along; and Tails, who can’t keep his mouth shut, confirms Eggman’ suspicion and he rewards their botched plan with a one-way ticket to the afterlife for Sonic via an exploding capsule.
What follows are two separate moments that deserve a highlight. One, Tails steps up and does something his more modern iteration would never do: stand up against Dr Eggman and mops the floor with his toasted mustache after getting some cathartic revenge for killing Sonic (in one of the most difficult boss fights in the game, might I add). However, Sonic isn’t actually dead, and this leads us to the real reason this moment is on the list:
Sonic uses Chaos Control.
Up until this point in the game, Chaos Control was a bizarre and overpowered technique that belonged to Shadow the Hedgehog, who at this point in the series was less a rival and more of a villain. He had a clear advantage with his ultimate powers, and he proudly flaunted that in Sonic’s face. So here we are, a life or death situation, a fake Chaos Emerald and a hedgehog that never quits: of course Sonic’s going to try and use Chaos Control, may as well, right?
Well it worked, and it afforded him an opportunity to blindside both Eggman and Shadow in the final moments of the Hero Story. But if we dig a little deeper, we find something worth talking about: if Shadow and Sonic can use Chaos Control… (and later in the series, we learn that Silver can, too) …what exactly does that imply about what Sonic and Shadow are? Another linking factor is that Shadow can turn Super just like Sonic as seen in the Last Story, and in the moment it’s a cool setup for a final boss, but it leaves a few questions on the table about how the Chaos Emeralds work and their relationship to Sonic and Shadow.
Makes ya think, right? But if you’re tired of thinking about complex narratives and lore dumps, this one should be straightforward enough for you:
Sonic and Knuckles Team Up
Before we had Shadow’s complex story arcs, wibbly wobbly timey wimey shenanigans in 06 or giant water monsters destroying cities, we were all focused on one thing back in the 90s: beating the yolk out of Dr Eggman and catching up to his mischievous new sidekick, Knuckles the Echidna.
In Sonic 3, the first half of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, that red troublemaker was a snickering doofus that served to cramp your style with traps and roadblocks to keep you from stopping Eggman from relaunching his Death Egg. Always a step ahead, he would always cackle at you and taunt you as he broke bridges under your feet, threw bombs in your face and otherwise impeded your progress at every turn.
It isn’t until the second half, in Sonic & Knuckles, that things get serious. At first Knuckles is as annoying as ever, up until we reach the Hidden Palace Zone and we learn about why he’s so uptight: there’s a giant green Emerald in his domain, and he’s trying to protect it from you. After a (let’s be honest, too easy) boss fight with Knux, it isn’t long until he realizes that he was duped by Dr Eggman as he steals the Master Emerald right in front of him.
Sonic, ever the good boy with a golden heart, makes chase and comes to Knuckles’ aid and soon the two go from being sworn enemies to reluctant allies. Moving forward in the story, Sonic succeeds in retrieving the Master Emerald for Knuckles, and that tenuous partnership would eventually blossom into a lifelong friendship.
You might think something as iconic as Sonic and Tails becoming friends would make this list instead, but booting up the game, you would never know that they weren’t already buddies from the start. Sonic 3 & Knuckles? We see that unfold. The reason this makes the list is because Sonic & Knuckles is the first game to create such an impactful narrative, and it left a strong impression on the series moving forward with how Sonic would make friends in the future.
Think about it. Sonic befriends Blaze the Cat after a short rivalry; Sonic befriends Jet the Hawk after a short rivalry; Sonic befriends Shadow after a short rivalry; Sonic befriends Silver after a short rivalry, you get the picture. But Sonic and Knuckles? That was the first of it’s kind, and it was absolutely a trend-setter that deserves a spot on this list.
The Babylon Rogues are Aliens, Actually
What’s a Sonic Riders game doing on a “most influential” list? Well, see, Sonic Riders’ story is incredibly underlooked and deserves your attention if you’re up for a good, old fashioned adventure with your favorite technicolor animals; but what we need to focus on is the incredible lore dump showcased in the second entry in the series, Sonic Riders Zero Gravity.
Zero Gravity plays out differently from it’s predecessor. Whereas the first game’s story centered around a racing tournament, this one is centered around the mystery of Babylon Garden and the “Ark of the Cosmos”, the weird rings that give players the ability to warp gravity in-game. We learn that they’re actually parts of the Babylon Garden’s engine and when put into overdrive will create black holes.
So… yeah. Babylon Garden, the mysterious floating island in the middle of the desert that housed treasures untold from Jet the Hawk’s ancestors was actually a space ship that crash-landed on Sonic’s planet thousands of years ago.
The Babylon Rogues are descendants of aliens.
While this sounds a bit silly, it’s one of the biggest shocking reveals the series had in while, and it begs us to ponder if it’s not just Jet and his fellow Rogues who are descended from these aliens; could all of these athletic, colorful talking animals have intergalactic origins? Just a thought. It just makes Sonic’s universe feel a bit bigger.
But you know who definitely has alien origins, and a bunch of other big moments, plot-twists and a big lengthy redemption and self-discovery arc?
Shadow’s Big Dang Story Arc
Alright, look. Really, Shadow absolutely deserves a spot on this one. While many like to poke fun at his angsty demeanor and try-hard Hot Topic color scheme, there is absolutely no denying the impact this character’s story has had on the series, because unlike everything else mentioned in this article, Shadow’s origins and development spans across multiple games.
Shadow starts off in Sonic Adventure 2 as the edgier rival with a mysterious past, but as the story progresses, we find that there’s some genuine goodness in his heart.
After his supposed death at the end of SA2, he returns in Sonic Heroes where a new mystery unfolds: there’s a whole army of Shadow androids created by Eggman, and now we’re wondering if the returning Shadow is the original one after all.
And then that leads into Shadow’s own game specifically made to uncover his past… where its revealed that he was actually made from an evil alien’s DNA, and things start getting more and more complicated.
Shadow’s initial reveal would turn into a huge serial that would ironically overshadow the main character. Even after his main story arc resolved at the end of his own game, he still had a more important role than Sonic in Sonic 2006.
Shadow’s character arc is without a doubt one of, if not the most influential story elements ever introduced into the series, and there’s not been anything quite like it since.