Another month, another (incredibly late) episode of Sonic Talk!
In this episode, we discuss Sonic’s appearance in OK KO!, and how he single-handedly caused the series to end (kidding). We also chat about Tangle and Whisper, a Mighty plush, Sonic #19, Mario and Sonic 2020 Olympics arcade and much, much more! So what are you waiting for? RECENT topics?!! Hah! Like we’d do that!
“Speed returns, in an all new 2D adventure built from the ground up.”
Ten years ago, on September 8th, 2009, mere hours before the 10th anniversary of the Dreamcast, SEGA dropped a teaser trailer for “Project Needlemouse.” Catching the gaming community by surprise, this mysterious project promised to bring Sonic the Hedgehog back to its 2D roots with a new 2D platformer in the style of the Mega Drive games. This project would later be officially titled Sonic the Hedgehog 4, an episodic download game that hoped to please the older Sonic fans who grew up with the classics.
Sonic 4’s two episodes have since been filed away as a mediocre experiment on SEGA’s part, with very little love and fondness in its legacy. The entire Sonic 4 saga left disappointed and bickering fans in its wake, with the general gaming community and even some newer Sonic fans wondering what the fuss was all about. For these people, Sonic 4 delivered point-blank on it’s promise of providing a 2D Sonic game in a style similar to the older games. To the target audience however, Sonic 4 was an insult, and they made sure SEGA knew that.
The story behind SEGA’s Project Needlemouse is an interesting one. The way it was marketed throughout its lifespan and its impact on the Sonic fanbase, and even the gaming community at large, is noteworthy. While the games themselves are generally considered to be mediocre at best, the development and release of Sonic 4 may very well be a watershed moment of the franchise, impacting how SEGA would handle the series and its fanbase moving forward. Making the narrative of Project Needlemouse even more intriguing is how the context of which it was released, sandwiched between other Sonic games doing similar things, would impact audiences’ expectations.
In this special multi-part series, we’ll take you back in time to a world where 2D Sonic only existed on Nintendo handhelds, Classic Sonic was nothing more than a tee-shirt emblem, and the Sonic Twitter as we know it didn’t exist. We’ll see how fan feedback impacted the course of Project Needlemouse, we might get a sense of why many Sonic fans are so judicious about everything SEGA releases starring the blue blur himself, and we’ll better understand why SEGA markets Sonic the way that they do now. This is the Needlemouse Debacle.
The “Retro” Age
Prior to Project Needlemouse’s first teaser, there had already been a ‘retro renaissance’ of sorts in the gaming industry. The New Super Mario Bros series was raking in cash on Nintendo’s Wii console, and Mega Man 9 set the bar for retro throwbacks. Surely, Sonic was also entitled to participate in this trend. It made sense, after all. Sonic’s origins were 2D, the past few 3D releases were received poorly, or at least had a mixed reception between fans and critics, and Sonic Unleashed’s integration of sidescrolling elements could be seen as the harbinger of the franchise’s focus on going back to the basics.
When Project Needlemouse’s teaser trailer dropped with the promise of “an all new 2D adventure built from the ground up,” it was a delightful, if unsurprising, event. It was also a little nerve-wracking for fans. Did SEGA really have the chops to pull it off? There was a sneaking suspicion that they would hand development onto Dimps, who at the time was responsible for a majority of Sonic’s modern 2D outings on handheld consoles. The Advance and Rush series were all developed by Dimps, and while they were generally well-liked, they didn’t exactly nail the “classic” feel, either in controls or level design.
Certainly enough, Dimps was indeed responsible for the bulk of Project Needlemouses’ development, with some oversight from Sonic Team. Meanwhile, SEGA’s marketing team soon began to promote this mysterious project of theirs. Taking advantage of their burgeoning social media presence, they would do anything from trivia contests to concept art teasing to raise awareness that old-school 2D Sonic was coming back. There was even an “elimination round” that featured the names of popular Sonic characters that would be gradually crossed off, until only Sonic’s name remained; this would be a title where only Sonic was playable. Notably absent from this tournament were Tails, Knuckles and Dr Eggman, implying that they could make an appearance.
SEGA Announces a Saga
In February of 2010, Project Needlemouse was unveiled to be Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, and it would be a downloadable, episodic saga for consoles, PC and mobile devices. A short teaser with no more than 3 seconds of footage of Sonic running along a Green Hill Zone inspired level proved to be everything the fanbase needed to form an opinion. This footage would be dissected and scrutinized to hilarious lengths.
Along with the trailer was a press release reiterating how Sonic 4 would be the crucial “first step” of bringing Sonic back to his roots, and that it would be “Sonic 4 as you truly imagined it.” Sonic 4’s public advocate would be Ken Balough, digital brand manager for SEGA at the time. He would interact with the fans on SEGA’s official (and currently defunct) online forums as well as with the press to give details and drop hints on what Sonic 4 would be all about.
Some concerns were raised on the nature of the game being download only, as well as episodic. It seemed to be taking cues from the New Super Mario Bros series in terms of its presentation as a modern game, but it also appeared to look to Mega Man 9 for inspiration in it’s naming convention as well as the decision to be distributed digitally rather than physically. It would certainly not be a conventional release. It was a concern for fans that it be treated with the respect a game called “Sonic the Hedgehog 4” demanded. There was also discussion about the use of Sonic’s modern design rather than his short, stocky “classic” look. At the time, Classic Sonic wasn’t a major pillar in the franchise, yet the debate raged on and petitions were signed to include him in “Modern” Sonic’s stead.
Adding to fans’ concerns was the presence of the “homing attack,” a targeting move that was never present in the original games. Such a seemingly innocuous design choice would prove to be a major point of contention in the ongoing discourse. Although seen as one of Sonic’s signature moves in the 3D games where jumping on an enemy can be difficult at high speeds, it was almost never featured in modern 2D games as it wasn’t seen as a necessary addition. The presence of this move alone would provide enough fuel to the already kindling fire of fear and fury that fans were stoking: would the homing attack dictate the nature of the level design? How would that interact with Sonic’s momentum-based physics? A few of the more seasoned “retro” fans were already convinced the game would be a disappointment from the short teaser alone. Many questions were raised, but weren’t immediately answered by SEGA’s PR.
Then, the “PartnerNET” leak happened.
Of Leaks and Dying Cats
Not too long after Sonic 4’s official reveal, footage of the game in its entirety was leaked. Xbox Live Arcade used PartnerNET, a system used for game developers to test products, and unfortunately it was not a tightly run ship in regards to security. What started off as blurry screenshots effectively turned into footage of the entire game being leaked. This would be the catalyst that changed the course of Project Needlemouses’ life.
Many of the retro fan’s fears were confirmed, and then some: the level design centered around the use of the homing attack as well as featured automated and linear level design with an overabundance of boost pads. It was extremely common to see “Bubble Chains,” where the badnik “Bubbles” would be laid out as stepping stones for Sonic to dash into, especially over bottomless pits. The renowned momentum-based gameplay of classic Sonic was rendered inert with a physics engine that gave Sonic no sense of inertia. Sonic’s “spinball” mechanics were totally inert: he didn’t gain speed while rolling downhill and didn’t bounce off of enemies or item boxes.
The game was so poorly programmed that it was possible for players to stand sideways along curved walls. It was frighteningly reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006’s disregard for the laws of physics, and it was embarrassing to witness a game that bore the title “Sonic the Hedgehog 4” to err in so many ways. It was speculated that this wasn’t even a new engine at all, but the same gameplay engine used in Sonic Rush, which had similar issues.
There were other strange design choices as well. Although the well-loved Jun Senoue would compose the music, the overabundance of synth instruments and muffled drum snare samples gave rise to a plethora of “dying cat” jokes which would be a hallmark bullet point on why the game was not up to standard. The game would boot players out of the campaign to a level select screen after completing a single act to where they would need to select the next one, rather than the expected level-to-level transitions. Sonic’s iconic “blurry feet” were rarely seen, even when at top speed. There were strange “gimmick” acts that utilized unconventional controls or otherwise had weird clear conditions; mainly a score attack pinball level and a level where Sonic is trapped in a mine cart and the stage needed to be tilted to progress.
Finally, the decision to re-use level concepts from Sonic 1 and 2 caused a stir all its own. It was strongly contended that a game billed as a sequel to Sonic 3 & Knuckles ought to follow suit in introducing unique new places to explore. The starting Zone, Splash Hill, was considered harmless enough as a Green Hill callback, but lined up alongside knock-offs of Casino Night, Metropolis, Labyrinth and Death Egg Zones, it started to feel less like inspiration and more like unimaginative copying.
Damage control was put into place, and the game was delayed to the latter half of 2010 to incorporate fan feedback from the leaked footage. Ken Balough reiterated their intention of pleasing the targeted audience of old school fans and continued to state that it would be “Sonic 4 as you truly imagined it” by the game’s release. Unfortunately, despite the fact that this was an early build of the game, this did little to ease the concerns of fans. Debates on the forums and the heckling of Ken Balough would continue onto the game’s release.
Poor Pilot Episode
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I would release to generally positive feedback from major gaming publications on October 7th, 2010. “Sonic is back, baby!” Declared IGN. Most were pleased with its gameplay, highly saturated graphics and chiptune soundtrack (cats and all), but unfortunately the target audience failed to be impressed. While some would argue it was a fair attempt at a modern sidescroller, it was nearly unanimous among critics that they failed to replicate a traditional Sonic experience.
This wasn’t Sonic 4 as you truly imagined it.
The game was very much unchanged from its early leaked development build. The physics weren’t fixed. The automated level design remained unchanged. Players were still booted out of the campaign after every level (unless they pressed a button to opt otherwise). The only major changes would be the removal of the two “gimmick” acts which were replaced with more fully-featured platforming levels, and the implementation of Sonic’s blurry feet animation at running speed. Curiously, those gimmick acts would remain in the mobile version, raising speculation that Project Needlemouse may have started off as a mobile spin-off before turning into Sonic 4 altogether.
Sonic 4’s first episode would compete with Sonic Colors that same year, and it was not uncommon to find comparisons between the two platformers. Despite being targeted to a younger, presumably easy-to-please audience, Sonic Colors would be cited as the main game that allowed the series to finally break the so-called “Sonic Cycle”. It would appear that the first attempt at reviving classic Sonic gameplay was less than successful, but this wouldn’t be the last we would hear of Project Needlemouse.
Stay tuned for The Needlemouse Debacle: Episode II, where we’ll cover SEGA’s attempt to appease the criticism from their target audience, and the impending release of Sonic 4’s second entry.
With all the hype surrounding Super Mario Maker 2 for the Nintendo Switch, there’s no doubt the thought of a Sonic-esque equivalent is on the minds of Sonic fans around the world. Indeed, what if there was a Sonic Maker?
Well, if you haven’t heard, one Sonic fan has gone above and beyond to bring this fantasy to life, and The Sonic Stadium is proud to provide you with an exclusive interview with the brains behind the project known as Sonic Studio!
Today marks 30 years since the SEGA Genesis (known as the SEGA Mega Drive elsewhere, the name was changed in North America due to trademark issues) made its debut!
This name would turn out to be quite fitting, as the SEGA Genesis became the system that would not only make SEGA and many of its franchises household names on the continent, it would also serve as the birth place for the company’s most successful character: a blue hedgehog named Sonic!
While at Comic Con last week, I managed to grab a SDCC exclusive copy of Tangle and Whisper issue number one, The very first IDW spin-off mini series based on comic exclusive Sonic the Hedgehog characters. Written by Ian Flynn with art by Evan Stanley.
Who doesn’t like the constant reminder that Sonic the Hedgehog owns so much of our free time and money? As if our shelves weren’t already stacked high with game cartridges, many companies go out of their way to create a huge array of irresistible merchandise that become objects of desire amongst large parts of the fanbase. Entities such as First 4 Figures have established themselves as one such company that goes the distance and create highly detailed statues of video game and anime characters, Sonic and friends included, in gravity-defying and dynamic poses true to their source material. But as the complexity, scale, and limited nature / scarcity of these pieces of merchandise increase, so does the cost…
Forgive the lateness of our podcast as we recorded this one a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s not chock full of Sonic-ey goodness! In this episode we discuss Jason’s trip to E3, the fan revival of Sonic Runners, Sonic Revolution 2019, Funko Pop Sonic cereal, an unofficial Sonic book that uses fanmade images and much, much more. Because hey, who needs copyrights when you can just slap a bunch of images together, right?
Special Note: We used the cover from the plagiarized Carlton Sonic book for this month’s podcast image. That render on that plagiarized book was created by Deviant Art user FinnAkira, and you can find it here.
Every year in June, Sonic fans and press alike (and the guys at The Sonic Stadium happen to be both!) descend unto the arid, star-studded land of Los Angeles to take on the ‘Video Gaming Superbowl’ that is E3. But, every year, on the Sunday before E3 festivities begin, there’s a whole other party happening in the same city just for Sonic fans. Continue reading Talkin’ Bout a Sonic Revolution: We Visit the 2019 Fan Convention
Ex-SEGA European Product Manager Tony Takoushi has recently created an account on instagram, and has shared an array of incredible images from early 90s Sonic merchandise, to original and development artwork from Sonic the Hedgehog designers.
TSS was given the opportunity at E3 to get a first hands-on look at the Sonic at the Olympic Games – Tokyo 2020 mobile title, set for release to coincide with the event next year, and although this date is still some time away, we were permitted to play a few rounds on an early demo of the game! Continue reading TSS Preview: Sonic at the Olympic Games – Tokyo 2020
While a good chunk of Sega’s booth was dedicated to Mario and Sonic at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, there was a corner showing off some of Sega’s other properties slated for release later this year. Among them was the Sega Genesis Mini, Sega’s answer to the NES and SNES Classic. I sat down in a bean bag (which means my fat rump had a hard time getting back up) and sampled SEGA’s miniaturized console.
The first thing you’ll notice when playing the demo at E3 is that the part of the booth you’re at looks like a living room, complete with a bean bag to sit in. Much like the virtual living room in some of the recent Genesis compilations, there are posters of Genesis games everywhere, along with with old VHS tapes with cheesy labels like “Cartoon collection! Do not erase!!” on them. They really went all-in on the “90’s bedroom” aesthetic.
The nostalgia doesn’t stop with the booth aesthetic, as the mini console itself gets a lot right. Its controller has an ergonomic feel and shape that perfectly replicates the original, and the console itself is a faithful, shrunk-down recreation of SEGA’s 16-bit system. Once you boot the mini console up, you’re treated to a screen filled with about a dozen Genesis titles, with the rest coming into view as you scroll down. I don’t know if I care for this, as it shrinks down the box art and makes each game feel less important. Hopefully, the interface can customized in the final product.
Despite the September release date, the console already feels ready for release, as all 42 games were playable on the show floor. I went with Mega Man: The Wily Wars and Road Rash 2 for this preview. Both played great and judging by Road Rash 2 alone, are identical to their original versions. The emulation is perfect.
Holding start for five seconds brings up a menu where you can make a save state and exit back to the main menu. There’s your usual options such as screen filters and what aspect ratio you want the game in, but one of the most interesting features is the language menu. You can set the game menu to many different languages and the games will play in their original language as well. Going back to aspect ratio, another neat feature is that many of the games feature a more natural 16:9 aspect ratio by zooming in on the game while keeping the UI in place. Sonic 2 was shown off as an example of that. It keeps the sprites from looking stretched, but at the cost of zooming in on the picture a bit.
Overall, with a great controller, cool menu features and pixel perfect emulation, the Sega Genesis Mini is something to get hyped for. It blows the old AtGames Genesis consoles out of the water in every way, and should definitely be worth picking up come September.
In addition to the regular kiosks, SEGA also had a Genesis Mini running on a giant, 5-foot-wide Genesis controller that folks could play Streets of Rage and Sonic 2 on. When I tried to play Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant level, I had to stretch my arms out and punch the A button with my first just to get around. While it was a neat novelty, it wasn’t exactly the most wieldy controller, since I couldn’t even spindash with it.
Still, even on this giant cumbersome monstrosity, I was able to get enough rings to enter the special special. As I began maneuvering Sonic and Tails through the half-pipe, a crowd formed around me. Despite the massive controller, I made it through and even got a small amount of applause! Here’s hoping SEGA’s booth features and equally cool gimmick next E3.
No “what we’ve been playing” this time. We get straight to the Sonic Talk as there’s a lot to discuss. From the Sonic movie delay to terrifying Sonic children’s costumes to new Sonic voice actors to finally, the all new Team Sonic Racing (or Sonic Team Racing as GX keeps saying by accident). Continue reading Sonic Talk 61: Sonic Team Sonic Racing Team Racing Sonic
If you aren’t already feeling ancient at the prospect of Sonic the Hedgehog turning 28 next month, here’s a fact that’ll age you; it’s been 7 years since SEGA Sound Director Jun Senoue led the creation of a Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack (Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2, for those who can’t remember!).
Senoue’s absence has been by no means a sabbatical, having been involved in several other SEGA titles – as well as peripherally with most Sonic games – and regularly performing with a multitude of live acts across four continents. Those who have taken the reigns in the meantime have accomplished some phenomenal feats, particularly Sonic Mania composer Tee Lopes who pulled a rabbit out of a hat with a perfectly blended score of old and new material, while simultaneously tipping the hat to the synonymous tones of the 90s titles. But with the classic itch well-and-truly scratched, many have longed for the return of Senoue and his trademark rock sound, in the context of a modern Sonic game.
As such, the anticipation for MAXIMUM OVERDIRVE, the Team Sonic Racing Original Soundtrack, reached fever pitch. Expectations have flown high based on the calibre of the tracks that had been drip-fed to us via Sonic the Hedgehog’s social media channels over the last few months. Now that the full OST has been released, we can firmly say that it does not disappoint.
It says a lot about Sumo Digital’s developing competence when the team can create a sequel to a much-loved racing spinoff series, nearly seven years after the last entry, on (seemingly) a much tighter budget, and yet still manage to find ways to make the experience appear like a full-priced premium package. Continue reading TSS Review: Team Sonic Racing
We didn’t want to wait until the end of the month to talk about this one. Recorded the day after the trailer’s release, Jason, Alex and Chris discuss their opinions on the Sonic the Hedgehog movie trailer. We may have seen leaked images early, but we weren’t going to pass judgement until we saw the hedgehog in motion. Well we did and…..it’s even worse than we thought. Join us and listen to what we thought of Sonic, James Marsden, Jim Carrey and more.
Sumo Digital has been a close partner of SEGA’s for many years, ever since the Sheffield-based studio worked on a console port of OutRun2 back in 2003. But in recent years, the developer has worked on several racing games featuring Sonic the Hedgehog – Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which were released to critical acclaim.
For the third outing, the company’s new Nottingham studio has taken a brand new direction with the series, focusing on Sonic’s friends and co-operative teamwork. We caught up with Derek Littlewood and Ben Wilson to find out more about the creative process that went into making Team Sonic Racing! Continue reading TSS Interview: Sumo Digital on Team Sonic Racing
We were invited this month to attend SEGA’s Team Sonic Racing Preview Event, hosted deep in the heart of London’s Shoreditch, and get our hands on the game’s latest build! What happened was an action-packed day filled with tournaments, time trials and a LOT of gameplay impressions. So, let’s get right to it!
On this latest episode of Sonic Talk, hosts Jason, Alex and GX talk about all the latest Sonic news, including the library of the SEGA Genesis Mini, the return of Mario & Sonic at the Olympics, the development materials for Sonic 2 released by game artist Tom Payne, and the last few issues of IDW’s Sonic comic. Continue reading Sonic Talk Episode 60: Super Smash Butts
This episode of Sonic Talk is experimenting with a new, slightly different audio-only format. This episode, we discuss some news out of the Sonic panel from SXSW 2019. We also discuss (as this episode’s name implies) the latest leaks from the Sonic movie!
Don’t blink! Don’t think! Just go-go, go-go, g-g-g-g-go-go down to your local video store on May 28 to pick up Sonic X: The complete series on Region 2 SD Blu-Ray! (God, that was corny.)
The good folks at Disctek Media are bringing all 78 english language episodes in one volume. (Sorry Japanese sub fans, you’ll have to stick with Hulu for now.) This includes the extras from the DVD version as well as the original pitch video where the world of Sonic X had a lot less humans.
The Blu-Ray retails for $69.99, but you can pre-order it from rightstufanime right now for $45.47. Check out Brady Hartel’s Twitter for more info. In the meantime, here’s the cover.
On this much shorter episode of Sonic Talk, Jason discusses Apex Legends (that other game with Roger Craig Smith) only for GX to suffer a power outage which results in about half an hour of our discussion being cut off. We still have plenty of Sonic news and a review of the first dozen issues of IDW’s Sonic the Hedgehog. So prepare for 45 minutes of Sonic-y goodness!
When I was a kid, I had a special appreciation for media that didn’t talk down to me and tried to tell a good story with interesting lore and backstory. Knuckles the Echidna, a 32 issue monthly comic series from Archie Comics, did just that. Given Knuckles’ 25th anniversary, I thought it would be nice to revisit the comics in some way. I haven’t read them in some time (due in large part to their lack of easy digital availability) so I will be recounting my memories of the comic’s tone and themes somewhat vaguely and broadly. Hopefully, I will be able to do a deep dive into the comics in the future.
I had been reading Archie’s Sonic comics for a couple of years when the Knuckles the Echidna series got going. Knuckles was a character that got my attention before I was even exposed to his first game thanks to his cool design, his weird abilities, and most importantly his place in the story. Knuckles was that cool guest star character who only popped up occasionally, making his appearances feel special. He could not only could go toe to toe with Sonic himself, but often would, making him Sonic’s “rival,” at a time when that concept was still fresh to my young mind.
To me, Knuckles was the coolest Sonic character. I must’ve not been the only kid who thought that because Knuckles became pretty popular in the comics. His occasional appearances turned into regular back story appearances, which lead to a mini series, which finally led to a monthly ongoing…which was weird as all heck, but also very neat.
As I said before, the Knuckles series didn’t talk down to kids and tackled some subjects that most kids media didn’t put much focus on back then. The world had politics, including three distinct factions: the fanatical technophilic Dark Legion, the fascistic (and later racial minority) dingoes, and of course the citizens of Echidnapolis (who were predominantly echidnas, of course). The series even featured an entire arc devoted to the world’s politics and the tension building up between the factions. The comic also wasn’t afraid to deal with death and romance, going so far as to devote an entire three-issue story arc to Knuckles and Julie-Su’s budding love-life.
The comic also had a lot of backstory and lore. The tension between the Dark Legion and the citizens of Echidnapolis went back hundreds of years, to events involving Knuckles’ ancestors feuding over how technology should be used in echidna society. Before that, there was Enerjak, a power-mad entity created when one of Knuckles’ ancestors absorbed eleven of the island’s twelve chaos emeralds (yes, twelve) in an attempt to return Angel Island (called simply the Floating Island in the comics) to the planet. The series would often dive into this history to give the current day plot line a greater, more epic context, since the conflicts the comic covered often had roots going back centuries.
The comic also had loads of weird, often sci-fi concepts. The Dark Legion, who served as the comic’s primary villain faction, often sported loads of cybernetics to display their devotion to technology. These cybernetics could look kind of gruesome to me as a kid. Then there was the Brotherhood, a clandestine organization made up of Knuckles’ living ancestors, who as it turns out were inexplicably long lived, with the oldest being hundreds of years old at the start of the series (I’m not sure an explanation was ever given for that). The comic opened with the Dark Legion escaping from an alternate dimension known as the Twilight Zone, while the second arc focused on two dimensions holding the separate cities belonging to the echidnas and dingoes collapsing in on each other. Then there was Knuckles himself, who was genetically modified when his father, Locke, irradiated his egg with chaos energy to give him special powers.
So yeah, the comic was cool…and weird. Putting my childhood nostalgia aside, it was also flawed. The writing could feel stiff, and many characters often sounded like they were speaking with the same voice. The comic didn’t always make use of what should have been interesting plot revelations, such as when one member of the Brotherhood turned out to be a former leader of the Dark Legion.
This reveal did not have the emotional pay off one would expect: his son, who held a special hatred for the Legion, turned on him immediately, while the rest of the Brotherhood did not seem to express much emotional grief over their son/grandfather/great-grandfather/etc turning out to be a villain the whole time. We were also denied the satisfaction of a reunion between the Brotherhood and the man the Legionnaire replaced.
As I said before, its been a long time since I last read these comics. I don’t remember how pervasive the issues I mentioned above were, but they are there. As much as I enjoyed them as a kid, I couldn’t help but feel a bit…underwhelmed upon revisiting them.
That said, there’s still plenty about the comic that did age well. The interior art was mostly done by Manny Galan, one of the best artists Sonic comics have ever seen. He nails the look of a the comic’s characters and world perfectly, and his work is still a joy to look at. The comic also employed an interesting concept with its covers: each cover of the comic’s three issue story arcs could be combined together into a single image. These covers were mostly done by Sonic comic legend Patrick Spaziente, often depicting epic scenery and action.
It’s kind of unfortunate these comics are so inaccessible in an age when nearly any comic can be bought online. This does, unfortunately, bring us to one of the reasons why I have difficulties going back to these books even when I do have access to my old copies: the Ken Penders lawsuit.
This is something I’d rather not get into right here, so I will keep it brief: I think every artist should be compensated for reprints of their work, and I wish Archie had worked something out with Penders to make that happen. I hope IDW does what they couldn’t. I also think that, by copywriting the characters he created, Penders effectively destroyed this comic’s legacy. Its characters will never be able to grace any Sonic comic continuity again. They have already faded into complete obscurity and they will never again be able to interact with the game characters they were created to flesh out. I think this is very unfortunate.
Though, in a sense, the Knuckles series being inaccessible does feel right to me. Back when the Knuckles comics were being made, I had difficulties getting ahold of them. My local book store didn’t carry them and the comic book stores that did kept going out of business. So to get them, I’d have to go to a Books-A-Million in Potomac, Virginia, which was an hourlong drive. I didn’t get to go often, but whenever I did and I got to see that Knuckles comic on the rack, it was always special. That reflects my feelings on the comic as a whole: special, memorable, and a series that will always evoke my childhood to me. I do hope inaccessibility does not become this series’ fate. So far as I’m concerned, it at least deserves more than this.
Happy birthday to Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which turns 25 years old today! As Sonic the Hedgehog mania reached fever pitch in February 1994 with playgrounds across the plane buzzing with Sonic 3 hype, with plentiful promotions abound (but the less we talk about that Right Said Fred single, the better!)
To coincide with the launch of the game in the US, branches of the fast food restaurant McDonalds launched their Sonic the Hedgehog Happy Meal promotion, with millions of Sonic the Hedgehog toys ready to be given away from Friday the 4th of February, alongside a sweepstake in which participants could win one of 10,000 copies of Sonic 3.
Another month, another late Sonic Talk podcast! In our “Holiday special”, Jason, Alex, GX and this month’s 4th chair, Cory “Jet” Holmes discuss the latest topics going on in the world of Sonic including Smash Bros Ultimate, Sonic Unleashed on X-Box One, Sonic in “Ralph Breaks the Internet”, but mostly, we dicuss the bizarre design on Sonic in the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie posters. Like movie Sonic, this podcast has long legs. So join in on the fun and listen in!
Before you send me a ton of hate mail, let me explain.
First, we gotta go back to the beginning of cartoon adaptions of video games. It wasn’t always easy to do. In the early days of video games you had a protagonist that you played as, an antagonist but no real story tying them together. If there was one, it was VERY bare bones. With very little to go on so the cartoon creators had to come up with some kind of plot that could play for 13 episodes on a Saturday morning. Look at Pac-Man. How do you make a cartoon based on a series of games where the protagonist is a yellow ball that eats tiny, white dots in a maze while being chased by ghosts? If you’re Hanna Barbera, you rip off one of your own properties (The Flintstones) and make it about a family man who’s trust trying to get through his daily life while being chased by ghost-monsters who are trying to find the power-pellet forest because that’s the only thing they’re weak against. Somehow, that was enough for a few seasons and a Christmas special. That’s just one example. There was all kinds of crazy cartoon adaptions of games. Some faithful to the source material, some not.
Then, in the fall of 1993, DIC came up with two wildly different adaptations of Sonic the Hedgehog that could not be more different in tone. One was “The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog” that aired on weekday mornings. It was a silly, goofy take on the video game franchise. It took inspiration from cartoons such as Ren and Stimpy and Looney Tunes. The other was “Sonic the Hedgehog” otherwise known as “SATAM” by fans because oit played on Saturday mornings. Where Adventures was super goofy, “SATAM” was much darker and took a more serious tone.
Now at this time, there was only two Sonic games and both took place in fantastical lands with only Sonic, Tails and Dr. Robotnik (Knuckles and Amy did premiere in games that year, but that was after the shows had been released). Even the planet they were having their adventures on had no name. Just “zones”. Since like many video game adaptations there was little to go on, DIC (along with Archie comics) made a ton of characters and world-building of their own. Now, I’m not going into what they did with “Adventures” because that’s not important. “SATAM” is what we’re going to focus on. On that show, Dr. Robotnik basically won. He had taken over and polluted the planet to near devastation. The only ones in his way were Sonic, Tails (who was barely used) and the Freedom Fighters. Sally (co-lead character and Sonic’s love interest), Antione (love rival and comic relief), Bunnie (strongman and very encouraging) and Rotor (genius mechanic with the personality of wet toast). The Freedom Fighters were added mainly due to Sonic having a small cast of characters at the time of production.
Sonic fans LOVED this show and for most, it’s still their favorite and why not? Sonic and Sally’s constant struggle to end the grotesque and evil Robotnik’s reign of terror made for delicious drama. This series gave us a ton of Sonally fans (fans who ship Sonic and Sally) and who can blame them? Seeing these characters struggle so hard to defeat this tyrant only to fail or achieve very small victories was heartbreaking. They lost friends. They lost family. The only joy they seemed to have was in their comradery with each other and we loved seeing that relationship grow. For a while, Sally was HUGELY popular with fans. So popular that she was the third hero at the Sega amusement park “Sega World” in Australia, had a puppet musical show with her in it and she even got some of her own merchandise.
But all good things must come to an end and the series only lasted two seasons. From there, it continued on the in pages of Archie comics for nearly 25 years. Originally, Archie went the comical route with the book, but after the success of SATAM, they turned it into pretty much a continuation of the series, only now with game elements added in as well. However, after many adventures in the Archie comics, the series met it’s inevitable end. When the Sonic comics were picked up by IDW comics, it continued off not from Archie with the Freedom Fighters, but a non-cannon continuation of the 2017 game “Sonic Forces”. For those who didn’t play Sonic Forces, the same basic premise applies. Dr.Eggman (formerly Robotnik) won and had taken over the earth and a small band of resistance fighters led by Knuckles (Who’s brilliant idea was that?) fought back to end Eggman’s tyranny. Sound familiar?
But enough of the history lesson. While the IDW comic has introduced two new heroes, Tangle and Whisper, the Freedom Fighters are nowhere to be found. Why? Who knows? Could be they are tangled in some kind of copyright issue, could be Sega would rather focus on the cast that appears in the games rather than a 25 year-old cartoon. Whatever the reason, Sally, Bunnie, Antione and Rotor are gone….for now. But in my personal opinion, that’s fine. Maybe, just maybe it’s time to let them go. Why? Several reasons.
Reason #1: They are characters that only exist outside of the games.
Like I mentioned before, when SATAM premiered, there was only TWO heroes in the games, Sonic and Tails with Amy and Knuckles only premiering in brand new games that year. Nowadays, our heroes include Sonic, Tails, Amy, Knuckles, Big, Cream, Blaze, Vector, Espio, Charmy, Silver, Rouge, Shadow and…did I leave anyone out? These characters exist in the games and the comic needs more focus on them rather than characters who are cartoon and comic exclusive with their only game appearance being a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Sonic Spinball. The comic exists to expand the world of the games. The CURRENT games. With a cast so huge that a lot of nerds bitch about it while hypocritically complaining that Luigi’s evil twin brother isn’t playable in Smash. My main point is that the comic’s are there not only to make a profit, but to help promote the games. Something the Freedom Fighters have never been a part of.
Reason #2: Thanks to shows like Sonic X and Sonic Boom, The SATAM fan base is shrinking.
Remember when I mentioned that the 90’s were full of Sonally fans? This was very true. If you browsed the internet on the Sonic fan base during the late 90’s early 2,000’s it was all about Sonic and Sally. Then Sonic X happened and there became more and more kids who grew up on that cartoon rather than SATAM and gradually a good chunk of Sonic discussion and fan art went from mostly Sonic and Sally to Sonic and Amy and that’s only getting bigger. In fact, I rarely see Sally or the Freedom Fighters in fan art on my Twitter anymore.
If you need any more proof that they are not needed anymore, just look at the reaction when the IDW comic premiered without them. There was no outrage. No controversy. Almost zero. The only thing close was an online article where they were upset about Ian being vague about their return and that’s it. Instead, the internet got flooded with fan art of the newest hero for the Sonic book, Tangle the lemur.
Reason #3: The comic has a new band of Freedom Fighters AKA “The Resistance”
As I said before, the IDW Sonic comic is a non-cannon continuation of the Sonic Forces story line. A story where Sonic has a new band of freedom fighters all based on game-related characters and is pretty much twice as big as the original Freedom Fighters. Knuckles is the leader this time with Amy as the strategist which allows Sonic the freedom to world travel and help build up the resistance to the currently-defeated Eggman and any new villains that may rise in his stead. This includes brand new characters to help freshen up things, making bringing back the original Freedom Fighters a moot point. They’re not needed.
Reason #4: Their stories have been told.
Let’s face it. Archie did just about everything they could with them. Twice, we’ve seen Sonic and Sally’s future where they were king and Queen. We’ve seen Eggman/Robotnik fall, rise, fall again then rise again like a rollercoaster. Antione finally gave up on Sally and eventually married Bunnie. Finally Rotor became more useless than ever after Tails became the mechanical genius. The character evolution was basically in limbo. Even in a reboot, what more can they do with them?
Now, all that said, does this mean they’re gone for good? Who knows? Just because they are not being used in the comics anymore doesn’t neccesarily mean IDW can’t use them in the future. Like I said, could be legal entanglements, could be they just have no current use for them. Maybe rebooting them and introducing them to a new audience would be great, but as I see it, it’s unnecessary.
Would I like to see them back? Sure! Who wouldn’t? But I think there NEEDS to be a reason to bring them back and currently, I just don’t see it. If you want more of the Freedom Fighters, there’s always other methods like fan-fiction or fan comics like Archie Sonic Online. A fan-created continuity of the Archie Sonic comics. Thing is, sometimes it’s good to let things go if it’s outlived it’s purpose rather than let things drag on. Here’s hoping to see more of the Freedom Fighters in the future but if we don’t, well that’s okay too.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not neccesarily those of Sonic Stadium.
Sonic Adventure celebrates it’s 20th anniversary today after hitting screens in Japan way back in 1998.
We take a look back at what made this game one of the most enduring Sonic the Hedgehog titles, and why SA1 was such a trailblazing title in not only the series, but in video game history.
SEGA of the 90’s certainly knew how to pull out all of the stops when it came to generating a buzz around the next Sonic game, and the anticipation of what was in store brought kids and grown-ups alike to fever pitch…and the announcement of Sonic Adventure was no different.
On the 22nd of August 1998, a few thousand lucky punters were invited to attend the first presentation of Sonic Adventure at the Tokyo International Forum – an event that was luckily recorded for posterity (which you can watch below). The first foray into the world of 128-bit high speed action was introduced by Yuji Naka, entering the stage in Rock star fashion by emerging from a balloon to a face-melting guitar riff.
The event also showcased a “Making of Sonic Adventure” semi-documentary presented in a light-hearted manor, in which Sonic Team embarked on a fact-finding trip to central America to visit the Tulum Ruins, the Caribbean Sea, the Tikal Ruins of Guatemala, and Machu Pichu amongst other locations – all of which influenced stages in the game.
Some members of the Team even became ill on their research trip from altitude sickness – talk about dedication to the cause!
Sonic has undergone several redesigns in his 27 ½ year history (we won’t mention the most recent!), but most fans regard the Sonic Adventure iteration of the neon protagonists to be one of the most successful. Characters traded their pot-bellies in for coloured irises and longer limbs, allowing for some incredibly elastic posturing that would become Yuji Uekawa’s instantly recognisable stylisation which remains the norm for modern Sonic artwork to this day. While the classic design of Sonic has since been translated to 3D, the modern Sonic style allowed for a much easier transition to the medium.
Dr Eggman was given a particularly significant redesign, along with both western and eastern franchises aligning on the Japanese name (although Robotnik would be kept as the name for his grandfather in the sequel).
The story mode
Story was not an element that featured heavily in Sonic the Hedgehog games until Sonic Adventure; in fact, one of the initial ideas while the game was on the development bench was to in fact create a Sonic RPG. For Sonic Adventure to include cut scenes and a narrative was a significant change to the game, and novel in that it in itself was derived from the intertwining stories of six different protagonists (one in fact executed in very few other video games at the time).
The seventh and final story in the game, and the true conclusion only accessible once all six main stories were completed, crescendos in the final showdown with Chaos with the player taking the controls of Super Sonic – something undoubtedly cemented as one of the most memorable video game conclusions for many Sonic fans.
Sonic Adventure was also the first Sonic the hedgehog game to include voice acting (besides SEGASonic Arcade) – and while the jury might still be out on the quality of the dialogue, SA1 is definitely one of the most quotable!
Hum the Green Hill Zone theme and just about any video game fan will tell you that its from a Sonic game – indeed, the soundtrack has always been a core component of what makes a Sonic game so, well, Sonical!
While Sonic Adventure is not the first video game to include vocal tracks (Sonic CD was doing that five years before) it is one of the first to have a fully-fledged album-like feel, complete with a swathe of character themes and a main anthem Open Your Heart, performed Crush 40, that is unparalleled in magnitude. The intro FMV undoubtedly still brings goose bumps to many!
The shift to a rock-centric soundtrack, a decision made by first-time Sonic Sound Director Jun Senoue, was a bold move; the music for the original trinity of Sonic games were after all composed by Masato Nakamura of Dreams Come True (and most likely Michael Jackson), resulting in a prolific pop influence. However, the move would prove highly successful and would be followed up with the equally popular Live & Learn in the sequel.
The magic of the soundtrack however derives from a brilliant use of multiple genres – rock, pop, rap, electronic, and jazz to name a few all feature throughout.
The game’s soundtrack has endured long enough that it has been celebrated since with the Sonic Adventure Music Experience, which saw Senoue-san and company re-record and perform key songs from the game and its sequel.
The Dreamcast was the very first games console to provide a connection to the internet as standard, and as such, Sonic Adventure is the very first game in history to include downloadable content! This came in the form of the Sonic Adventure Christmas download, which was only available for the first few days of release (it was no longer available after Christmas day). While this content only included Christmas trees in station square which played played music and gave a seasonal message when interacted with, it was another example of how SEGA and Sonic games were well ahead of the curb.
Happy birthday Sonic Adventure!
What makes Sonic Adventure special to you? Let us know in the comments!
It’s that festive time of year again! As always, we at TSS won’t be able to sleep on Christmas eve as we are too excited thinking about the Sonic the Hedgehog merchandise Santa will be bringing us in his sleigh! We must have been particularly good this year (we’ve only been completing hero missions), as Europe and the UK now has it’s very own dedicated SEGA Shop crammed with new and exclusive merchandise.
We take a sneaky peak at some of the great Sonic gear on offer right now…
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