It’s a common practice among nerds to attempt to uncover the “jump the shark” moment in a particular piece of media. As the theory goes, when a franchise has gone downhill in quality over time, you should be able to look back at previous chapters/episodes/editions, and find the exact moment everything started to decline. This expression originates from the show Happy Days, wherein The Fonz jumped his motorcycle over progressively more frightening sea animals, until it all culminated with a shark. And I guess the shark sued the production company for mental duress, and then the writer’s budget ran out, and the show got worse… or… something like that. Personally, I’ve never cottoned to the idea that there even are “jump the shark” moments, as I have faith that everything is connected, and nothing occurs in a vacuum. For a current example, I completely believe that American Politics 2017 is the direct result not of “but her emails” or anything like that, but a healthy combination of fifty years of politics being treated like a football game and a young Donald Trump getting his head slammed into a locker far too many times in high school. Our world, and our entertainment that reflects our world, is just the latest stop on a never-ending highway, and every shark along the way is just as important as every… not-shark? What’s the opposite of a shark? Bees?
But, beliefs aside, there are occasions when I need to admit I’m wrong, and maybe there is an exact moment when everything goes to hell. For the Sonic Franchise, it’s right about here:
Now, I want to be clear about why Shadow the Hedgehog is terrible. First of all, it’s not because he’s a lazy color swap of Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s not a color swap! He clearly has different shoes and he’s got frosted (blazed?) tips on his hair spikes. That makes him a totally original character, so do not steal. And, secondly, I don’t hate Shadow because he theoretically gave rise to the Sonic fandom’s bizarre obsession with slightly recoloring Sonic, calling it something like “Twilight the Hedgehog”, and then filling an entire Deviantart with hastily sketched nonsense depicting Twilight saving Sonic and being the ultimate best hedgehog forever before appearing in some barefoot-based fetish porn. I can’t blame Shadow for all of that, because, let’s face it, that was always going to happen. There are an equal number of ersatz Princess Peaches out there doing… stuff… and you know it. Shadow might be the start of everything wrong with Hedgehog Fandom (what an odd thing to type), but that’s not why he’s the forbearer of bad Sonic times.
No, Shadow’s worst transgressions are the result of his debut game, Sonic Adventure 2.
Sonic Adventure 2 has a loose theme about good and evil. This is appropriate, as SA2 is an unholy abomination created by soldering a good game and bad game together. On one hand, we’ve got probably the best Sonic the Hedgehog 3-D gameplay ever seen. It is not by any means perfect, but, once you master the intricacies of some horrible hitboxes, you really do feel like you’re rolling around at the speed of sound. Clearing a level without stopping and just creating a blue blur of spin dashing, homing dashing, and light speed ring collection feels amazing, and that general rollercoaster feeling hasn’t been matched by any later Sonic games. On the other hand, this is the game that introduced Sonic to rail-grinding, and that has never been fun. Those stupid rails effectively turn great swaths of levels (including the final, real Sonic stage) into minecart challenges, and… no, just no. Basically, every moment a hedgehog is on-screen, it’s guaranteed that you’re either really enjoying it or participating in some manner of hell.
Which brings us to the other fun bit: you’re not guaranteed any hedgehog time from level to level. Sometimes you’re Tails, who has eschewed his normal wannabe Sonic gameplay for something more like the shooting bits of Sonic Adventure. And that’s not bad! The “robo sections” of SA were exciting in their chaos, and nothing much has changed between games, save eliminating the time limits that could make those areas stressful. And Nibbles is back in his SA role of finding emerald shards for the flimsiest of reasons, but that’s just SA’s excuse for more exploratory, less dash-y gameplay. It’s not what one signs up for with a Sonic game, but, for its epoch, it was an entertaining distraction. Though, I suppose, that is the issue, as, in order to play the Sonic game you inexorably wanted (there were two hedgehogs on the cover of this game, it should have to go fast!), you have to clear all the Tails/Nurples nonsense, which means slowing down to their levels. Boo slowdown!
But we still have the bad guy side. Dr. Robotnik is clearly the big bad of the Sonic franchise, so he’s obviously the leader of Team Bad. And, yes, he plays exactly like robo-Tails, so that kind of makes sense. But… aside from an army of generic robots, now we’re out of antagonists for the franchise. Sonic doesn’t even have a Tatanga or Wart, so I guess we need to get a Wario and Waluigi in here. Rogue the Bat was introduced as one part Catwoman and one part… No, she’s pretty much just a furry Catwoman, complete with the shifting alliances and a weird inclination toward being attracted to her oblivious rival. And then we’ve got Shadow, the escaped science experiment and preposterous dark hedgehog.
And Shadow… kind of works.
So he’s a cryogenically frozen hedgehog from two generations back? Sure, okay. I mean, there were already two games’ worth of echidna murals depicting a hedgehog saving the world, so it’s only natural that Grandpappy Robotnik would make his “ultimate life form” a hedgehog. Grease the wheels of prophecy whenever you get a chance, ya know? And he can pull off some magical teleporting abilities with the aid of a Chaos Emerald. That makes sense, too. I mean, Sonic and Knux are confirmed idiots, and Tails is pretty laser focused on machines, so it stands to reason there was more to those silly gems than going super saiyan. And Shadow has a bad attitude? Is that a problem? I mean, Sonic is the original animal with attitude (as far as videogames go, at least), and he’s only lost his edge over the years thanks to a decade of being merchandized by Urkel. Shadow the Edgelord is just a return to established hedgehog roots.
But the reason Shadow really works on an intrinsic level is that he is the core of the game’s plot. He was built by Grandpa Gerald to be the ultimate life form powered by Chaos Emeralds, and, by the end of the game, we’ll find that Gerald built his own Death Star and mecha-dinosaur, and it was all an insidious plot to destroy the world, and who will save us now!? Don’t worry, citizens, Shadow is here, and he’s equipped with the knowledge of the past and the support of Sad Auntie Eggwoman, and everything is going to be okay! Shadow will, at the final hour, sacrifice himself for the good of humanity, and, see? Team Bad Guy was actually Team Pretty Okay Guy all along.
And everyone knew that plot would work, because it’s the exact same plot as the last Sonic Adventure game. Shadow is basically SA’s Tikal, the ancient model swap of Noodles the Echidna that wound up wrapped up in an ancient weapon that threatens to destroy humanity and only focused caring will save us all. Except Tikal was not a hedgehog, so she was a lot more mopey than radical, and she never made it past her debut game (save a cameo or two). Shadow, meanwhile… well… Are there any games post SA2 that haven’t involved Shadow? Was he in Sonic 4? I want to say he at least got a cameo…
And that’s Shadow’s biggest problem: he just won’t go away. Shadow had a perfect little plot in Sonic Adventure 2, and, by the finale, it’s time for him to heroically perish, the end, thanks for coming by, Shadow. But, no, Shadow came back in the very next Sonic game, and he kept coming back after that. He even got his own game! It was confusing! And why did this keep happening? Was it because he was just that popular? The fans demanded it? Is it because it’s so simple to implement the Luigi to Sonic’s Mario? Does Sonic Team just want more gosh darn cussin’? Who can really provide the actual answer? I sure don’t know, but it is clear that Shadow the Hedgehog is here to stay.
And it’s that damn hedgehog that flushed the series. It’s not about him having too much attitude or using a gun or whatever other sins Shadow has committed; it’s about the keepers of Sonic looking at this singular, silly, dead character, and deciding to revive him because he should somehow be essential to the Hedgehog Universe. That makes Shadow the representative of the exact moment this franchise stopped being about blast processing, and more about the greater Chaos Emerald Mythology…. And Sonic got left by the wayside. It took over a decade after Shadow’s debut for Sonic and Sonic Gameplay to take center stage again, but, by that time, the damage was already done. We were cursed to live in a world where the word “werehedgehog” exists, and it all started with Shadow.
Shadow the Hedgehog, you were born the exact moment your species jumped the shark.
FGC #286 Sonic Adventure 2 Battle
- System: Well, “Battle” technically appeared on the Gamecube (and was the first time Sonic starred in a game on a Nintendo home console… I think), but the original Sonic Adventure 2 first appeared on the Dreamcast. It was also then rereleased on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Hedgehogs get around.
- Number of players: There’s a two player “battle mode”, and it’s theoretically more robust on all post-Dreamcast releases. Except… there isn’t much of a difference. You can play as additional characters!… that were all in the original, but had to be unlocked first. And there are new costumes? Who cares.
- Just play the gig, man: This is the best music in the Sonic in the franchise. I’m not kidding. At all. The original games have fun music, but I find myself humming other Genesis tunes a lot more often. And the latter games have ridiculous lyric/guitar songs, but they’ve gotten progressively more… I think “trendy” is the right word. But for Sonic Adventure 2? Oh man, they totally got the sweet spot on something that will be in your head all day and is completely incomprehensible. That’s exactly what I look for in a Dreamcast soundtrack.
- I am an addict: Let me tell you about how I was glued to a Dreamcast VMU for a solid two months thanks to the damn Chao Garden minigame. Actually, no, I’m not going to tell you about that, because I’m pretty sure it ends with my friends flattening that VMU for my own safety.
- Favorite Character: I mentioned it briefly in the article proper, but I really do enjoy the Tails/Eggman sections of the game. And, of the two, I kind of enjoy playing as Eggman more. He’s just so happy about winning for once!
- Did you know? There is also a lame racing game hiding in Sonic Adventure. It is… so terrible.
- Would I play again: Every once in a while, I get a hankering to play City Escape or… whatever stage it is where Shadow is on the bridge. City… Hazard? Something like that. But other than that, I rarely revisit this game, as I generally prefer the good ol’ days of 2-D.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pac-Man for the Gameboy! Yellow Man becomes Gray Man! Please look forward to it!
Should we be seeing this?
In the werehog’s defense the Hog of War bits were usually pretty fun, especially once you unlock more attacks and can turn into a drill and shit. Sonic Unleashed also didn’t take itself as seriously as Original the Character’s Game or The 2006 Disaster; your werehog form’s one part Mr. Fantastic and one part Tasmanian Devil and the primary foes you beat up are neon chameleon men and chunky Eggman’s robots.
That said though, the game sadly does commit some unforgivable crimes with rails (Ugh the New York stand-in stages…) and Quick Time Events and the Classic Sonic bits being incredibly janky and moving the homing attack to another button.
Talking about Unleashed HD, BTW; SD is a visual novel and dumbs down the fighting.
On the subject of Shadow, I always had a feeling they would bring him back, despite how poor a decision that would be. He’s the Vegeta to Sonic’s Goku, and as we’ve seen from too many DeviantArt submissions to count, kids just adore broodier, angstier mirrors to the main protagonist with a tragic backstory.
At least he ain’t Silver. Guy’s nicer than Shadow, but his debut game was so poor it retconned itself out of existence and he still won’t go away.
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Say what you will about shadow, but I think we can all agree his character design would benefit massively if the developers would just let us remove his shoes and maybe even the socks (though maybe that could be saved as a reward for collecting all of the chaos emerald)