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Sonic Forces Reminds Us Sonic the Hedgehog Has Always Tried a Bit Too Hard to Be Cool

STARTING SCREEN | Like any forever-teenager, Sonic tries to fool us into thinking he has everything figured out, but he knows nothing. That's OK, though.

Article by Nadia Oxford, .

Sonic Forces' apocalyptic story tries hard to be dark. Consequently, the game's narration comes across as lovably silly rather than grim, but that's not a surprise. After all, the Sonic the Hedgehog series has been all over the place tone-wise since the series debuted in the '90s. We just have a hard time remembering as much.

It's true Sonic was initially regarded as the totem animal of the '90s because he seemed to be sleek, cool, and brimming with attitude next to dumpy ol' Mario. Sega seized upon the contrast in its commercials with great success.

But even '90s Sonic—even '90s American Sonic, the supposed bastion of everything cool—had trouble finding a pair of shoes that fit him perfectly. When the hedgehog was the newest, hottest game mascot in town, he received two animated series that are as tonally different as bouncy classical music and butt rock.

The first series, "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog," is a non-Euclidean funhouse romp where Sonic and Tails use slapstick violence to thwart Dr Robotnik (Dr Eggman's former Engilsh language moniker), voiced by the late great Long John Baldry. Despite its obvious Tex Avery influence, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog doesn't come close to touching the heels of Looney Tunes' golden age. That's not to say it's not enjoyable; its refusal to take itself seriously is its greatest strength. Even the public service announcements that follow most of the episodes take the piss out of similar messages broadcast by other cartoons of the era. The expertise with which Grounder hacks a dart in the cartoon's anti-smoking PSA still has me convinced the show's writers and animators didn't believe their own message for a second.

When people remember when Sonic was "cool," they're usually referring to the Saturday Sonic cartoon that ran alongside The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Though the weekend cartoon is simply called "Sonic the Hedgehog," fans call it "SatAM" ("Saturday AM") to separate its canon from The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. SatAM is regarded as the darker cartoon of the two, and there isn't much argument there.

That's not to say SatAM doesn't have goofy, childish moments (in the episode Ro-Becca, the French coyote Antoine runs afoul of a goofy robot who's outfitted with a stereotypical "New York Jew" accent), but the cartoon's over-arching plot is about liberating Sonic's home world, Mobius, after Robotnik has conquered it. It's no wonder SatAM (and Archie's tie-in comic, which lasted for decades) helped Sonic come across as more serious than Mario, whose Super Mario World cartoon dealt with inane storylines like Mario helping cave people invent the telephone.

The grim colors and music in the Sonic games' later stages also make it easy to remember why the hedgehog seemed so cool in the '90s. Scrap Brain Zone is still menacing, and there's nothing quite like it in Mario's early games.

But just because we remember Sonic as unfailingly cool in the '90s, it doesn't mean that was always the case. Refer to the contrast between The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and SatAM (which, again, wasn't nearly as serious as people still insist). As easy as it is to smile on Sonic Forces and say "Aww, look, the series is trying to be as cool and dark as it was in the '90s," the truth is the Blue Blur has been trying to nail down a consistent tone of voice since his birth. Heck, the contrast between the Sonic Boom cartoon and Sonic Forces brings back memories of The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog versus SatAM. Jaleel White voiced Sonic in both '90s cartoons (and the dismal Sonic Underground later on). Hearing him play such similar-yet-different roles was a bit jarring, but in the same vein, we have Knuckles' voice actor, Travis Willingham, growling about the evils of war in Sonic Forces one week, then babbling hilarious nonsense in the throes of a concussion the next.

Like the eternal teenager he was crafted to be, Sonic the Hedgehog is aimless. He probably always will be. His forever-youth drives him to say and do stupid things, but I suppose that's what makes him lovable despite everything.

Now, let's talk about his physical relationship with human women. This is another quirk that's far older than the notorious "SonElise" relationship in Sonic '06. See, as far back as Sonic's conception, he was intended to be in a relationship with a busty human woman named "Madonna"—

No, actually, you know what?

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Roses of May from Final Fantasy IX

I'm still working my way through Final Fantasy IX! If you haven't read my latest Final Fantasy IX, I think you ought to do that right now. Juuuust saying.

I'm far enough along that General Beatrix has made a 180 on certain destructive thoughts and opinions she once held dear. Her change of heart is accompanied by Roses of May, a beautifully simple tune that can be played on a single piano. I have a weakness for songs—game songs included—that can be replicated on one instrument. There aren't many songs like that out there, but Roses of May is one of the nicest. It's a sweet but melancholy piece that lays out Beatrix's conflicted interior.

This piece often gets mistranslated to "Loss of Me," which is only a suitable name for a song in a game or anime that tries too hard to be cool. Roses of May isn't like that, of course. I think it's one of the most honest pieces of game music in Final Fantasy IX, if not the whole series.

Mike's Media Minute

Entirely too much is happening this week. Let kick off with the biggest news already this week: Amazon has entered into a deal with the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien to do television series based on The Lord of the Rings, according to reporting by Deadline. The series has a multi-season commitment on Amazon Instant, with a potential spinoff if it goes well.

Amazon is quick to point out that the series will be a prequel, instead of heading back to territory already adapted excellently in Warner Bros' film directed by Peter Jackson. The streaming service is spending in the neighborhood of $200-250 million on the rights. Basically, Amazon wants its own Game of Thrones-style hit, so it's spending the money to get one of the biggest fantasy properties onboard.

It's interesting in that the Tolkien estate is who has been shopping who has been shopping this idea around to networks like Amazon, Netflix, and HBO. That means this was going to happen, it was just a matter of who wanted to pay. It'll also be interesting to see Amazon put on this kind of massive fantasy production on a TV budget. I figure it'll be a short-season prestige series, much like Game of Thrones or The Expanse, prizing bigger, more epic episodes over a normal 22 episode format.

I'm not deep into Tolkien—I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but haven't dived further— but I'm intrigued to see if Amazon can pull it off. At the very least, the smart money is to get the series out by mid to late 2019, with Game of Thrones ending its full run in early 2019.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

The Procedural Generation game jam wrapped up early this morning. The #ProcJam is one with one simple focus in mind: creating things that make other things. You can view all of the currently submitted entries to the broad game jam on itch.io.

I skimmed the entries, to find one in particular that stood out to me. That itty bitty procedurally generated game was Toy Town from developer watawatabou. Toy Town's more of an accompaniment than a fully fledged game itself; it stands as a 3D visualizer for the flat, 2D procedurally generated game Medieval Fantasy City Generator. Watawatabou, the developer behind both, notes that possibly one day Toy Town and Medieval Fantasy City Generator might merge as one. In the meantime, Toy Town serves to show players what Medieval Fantasy City Generator cannot: their city in full 3D. Their fantasy cities fully realized.

You can mess around with Toy Town for yourself on itch.io from your browser. My personal favorite fixture? Winter fog from the default perspective looks nice, and if you zoom out far enough, it's almost like you're back in the flat world of Medieval Fantasy City Generator.

This Week's News and Notes

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Comments 8

  • Avatar for Vonlenska #1 Vonlenska 5 days ago
    "Sonic" and "dark" is just such a weird combination I'll never understand the appeal of. All I want is bright rainbow colors and happy upbeat music and going real fast.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #2 riderkicker 5 days ago
    Started to play a little Street Hoop recently, and it's a shame that the Neo Geo CD soundtracks are not used for the Arcade Archives releases.
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  • Avatar for moochan #3 moochan 5 days ago
    I only really knew about Sonic from going over a friend's place. I never watched the TV shows nor cared about his games. I didn't really have anything against it since I played Sonic 1-3 and S&K over a friends. But after I left I kind of just forgot about it and didn't bother to think about it afterwards. Now that I'm older and watching how ever Sonic game (not including Mania) has the same reaction where people think back to the early 90's of Sonic and wondering what happened.
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  • Avatar for DrCorndog #4 DrCorndog 5 days ago
    American marketing, the TV shows...all that stuff was secondary. Sonic WAS cool in the only place it mattered: the games.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #5 SatelliteOfLove 5 days ago
    Sonic is one of those things you steer way clear of the fanbase of and you'll find less ludocababib discobiscuits in its media empire of.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #6 riderkicker 4 days ago
    As a kid who didn't play video games until Pokemon came out, I kinda knew who Sonic the Hedgehog was, much less Mario except the guy in that Game Boy game my friend had. All I knew was that Sonic was voiced by Jaleel White according to Disney Adventures or some older magazine the Daycare had (I know about the Jurassic Park Genesis cheat codes!) and have only seen reruns of the wacky cartoon but I am (slightly) more familiar with Sonic Underground compared to the SataM show. I don't think Fox Kids aired that show. I would have rose-tinted nostalgia for the blue hedgehog like some fans, but I had a lot more syndicated programming to worry about.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #7 SuperShinobi 4 days ago
    Sonic was cool because those Mega Drive / Genesis games were so good. They had visuals that made the NES seem ancient and even Mario World on the SNES seem a bit plain and pedestrian, and Sonic had unique gameplay that had never been seen in platformers before. I doubt the animated series had much to do with it, not outside the U.S. at least. I've never seen an episode of that series.

    I'm not sure purely as a character either Sonic or Mario is particularly cool, but they've starred in some great video games. Mario especially is a bizarre choice for a mascot character anyway, as the live-action film showed. Sonic is essentially a cute animal mascot character and those are pretty universally popular, although perhaps not "cool" or even intended as such - unless you're very young. The one thing that maybe makes Sonic cool is his speed, as being fast tends to be thought of as cool, whether it's Usain Bolt, Spider-Man or a sports car.
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  • Avatar for Jeremiah-Jones #8 Jeremiah-Jones 4 days ago
    I always enjoyed the darker themed Sonic Cartoon. It was just so appealing to my 8 year old brain. I always wished that that had continued. I was always annoyed that all they put into the PS2 collection was the cover arts of the comics and not the actual issues.

    Jaleel White was always the best sonic IMO. He gave Sonic a level of fun the other actors didn't.
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