It’s Sonic the Hedgehog’s 30th anniversary, but I don’t care about that. I mean, yes, the blue blur was the epitome of ’90s cool, and I still hold a fondness in my heart for him. But Shadow the Hedgehog is my true favorite. I love the edgy little dude and genuinely enjoyed his redemption arc told over the course of Sonic Adventure 2 to Sonic 06. But now Shadow is being sidelined and I just want him back.
It’s no secret that Sonic as a franchise develops largely in response to whatever Nintendo is doing with Mario. The early days were characterized by their rivalry, and the hedgehog’s speed was pushed as the thing that made his games different. His attitude was another, turning him into the chili dog-munching dude of his early cartoons. Later, when Mario took platformers to 3D on the N64, Sega soon followed with Sonic Adventure. It was after that, with Sonic Adventure 2, that the Sonic games stopped looking to Mario for inspiration so much. That also happened to be when Shadow came into the picture.
Shadow quickly established himself the Vegeta to Sonic’s Goku, his haughty demeanor and tragic backstory earning him an instant following. It was clear by the end of Sonic Adventure 2 that Shadow was no Wario. He had the best sneakers in all of gaming, cool space-warping powers, and a real chip on his shoulder. Yet he also had an emotional core. He sacrificed himself to defeat the final boss, saving the very world that took his best friend from him. Of course the dialogue and soundtrack presented this all in very dramatic fashion, giving it a sort of anime vibe.
It was that exact over-the-top anime feel that made Shadow’s story work. In a unique move for the franchise, Shadow had a continuous story in later games. Most think of Sonic games as one-offs – you run around, hop on Robotnik, and call it a day. But over several titles, we saw Shadow survive his self-sacrifice, get amnesia, enter a threesome, find out he could be a clone, shoot lots of guns, find out he isn’t a clone but actually part alien, and eventually become a government agent and full-on good guy.
When we last left Shadow, he was working as a special ops agent in 2017’s Sonic Forces. He had a run-in with Infinite, where he crushed the villain and insulted his lacking powers. The utter defeat made Infinite crave power, leading to him becoming all-powerful and almost killing Sonic. We never see Shadow’s reaction to this, however, or a rematch. That’s because this little story was told over an hour-long DLC episode. It’s a far cry from when he was a main character and even got his own game.
The sad truth is that Sonic never made the transition to 3D as successfully as Mario did. Trying to get speed and platforming to work in a 3D space often resulted in bad cameras and wonky physics. It didn’t help that Sega often rushed these games out, leading to the Sonic franchise getting a bad reputation. Since then, Sega seems committed to bringing back the chili dog-slinging Sonic of old, complete with all the ’90s game design, soundtrack, and storytelling that entails. That means no room for Shadow.
This seems doubly true when you consider what Sonic’s biggest recent successes have been. In gaming, the highest-rated Sonic game in 25 years has been Sonic Mania, a return to the cartoony look and side-scrolling of the ’90s. Sonic’s movie proved to be a hit with fans, with the studio seeming to focus on celebrating him as a Genesis classic. A sequel movie is on the way, but we’re bound to see more Jim Carey Robotnik hijinks and none of the anime-style drama that Shadow was born from. This is for the best given the silly tone of the first movie, but it’s also a sign that banking on nostalgic Sonic is Sega’s most profitable move.
So where does that leave Shadow? I fear he may be relegated to Wario status. He makes obligatory appearances in Team Sonic Racing and Mario & Sonic Olympics. You can unlock him in the mobile games. But I want to know how he’s doing. Does he have a romance going on with Rouge the Bat? Will he ever go super again? Did he ever find the computer room? Please Sega, as Sonic turns 30 this year, show Shadow some love too.
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Sergio is the Lead News Editor for TheGamer. But usually he asks people to call him “Serg” because he wants to sound cool like the guy from System of a Down. He began as a convention reporter for FLiP Magazine and Albany Radio’s The Shaw Report to get free badges to Comic-Con. Eventually he realized he liked talking to game developers and discovering weird new indie games. Now he brings that love of weird games to TheGamer, where he tries to talk about them in clickable ways so you grow to love them too. When he’s not stressing over how to do that, he’s a DM, Cleric of Bahamut, cosplay boyfriend, and occasional actor.
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