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June 23, 2017

An Episode In Gaming: Sonic Boom (Part 1)

(Gonna try to have a title card soon.)

Part 1 – Part 2Part 3Part 4

Going back to reviewing a TV show adaptation of a video game series – I was planning to keep this for a Sonic Month, but then I realized I’d have too much planned for said month. Two Sonic Wii games, maybe Episode 4 on WiiWare… I got Generations on Steam… Well, I have to make choices.


So… Sonic Boom. This new spin-off line of the Sonic franchise was announced in February 2014. I can’t remember all of it, but I’m certain some reactions were, “they’ve only now started using that stupid pun?” The reveal of the character designs didn’t help matters, in particular the much bulkier Knuckles the Echidna, a design which has been on the receiving end of all the jokes. Even Brawl in the Family joked about it!

For the record, Sonic is saying
"Bad timing, Knuckles..."

I mean, no Sonic game will ever be as
bad as Sonic '06, but there are quite a
few runner-ups.
Granted, Sonic Boom was meant to stay as a spin-off series, meaning it couldn’t affect the continuity of the regular Sonic games – continuity that is, we’ll agree on this, already messy enough. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, Shattered Crystal, and Fire & Ice are their own world, and I will try to treat them as such – despite the few links to the original franchise here and there. SEGA giving the creation of the first two games to the less-experienced Big Red Button studios in California was a point of critique from Sonic purists. Rise of Lyric had a rocky start when it was revealed that review copies were not handed out prior to its release (that’s never a good sign). SEGA even had some early Let’s Plays of the game removed from YouTube, as a poor attempt at hiding the quality of their mascot’s latest adventure. The game was at first a mess of glitches which immediately drew comparisons to Sonic the Hedehog 2006. And man, when your new game in a franchise gets compared to the worst game in that franchise, you know you done fucked up. Big Red Button eventually released a patch, totaling a full gigabyte of changes to the core game, which corrected many of these issues – including a certain glitch that speedrunners had been using to beat the game in a ridiculously short amount of time. This helped increase the fans’ opinion of the game, but only brought it from terrible to mediocre. From utter joke to simply meh.

The 3DS title that followed, Shattered Crystal, was received with a bit more warmth from fans, lacking many of the awful bugs of Rise of Lyric, although the reception was lukewarm at best. Listening to the fans, SEGA delayed the release of Fire & Ice, making sure to take criticisms of the spin-off so far into consideration. Thus the third game came out, also to lukewarm reception. We’ve yet to know if the games will go back to the Boom-verse (as I feel like calling it) following these three entries that were far from stellar. At the moment, a regular-universe Sonic game is in the works for release on the Switch. Sonic Forces actually looks very promising! And we even have a classic 2D adventure, Sonic Mania!

But I’m here to discuss the TV show tie-in. Actually, no; the TV show was planned first, the games were added to the equation later. Doesn’t really matter, in the end. Let’s just focus on the show, shall we? Sonic has had a long history on television. Of course, there’s the anime movie released in 1996, but we have, in order of appearance:
-Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, a silly, Looney Tunes-esque adaptation that never took itself seriously.
Who's having nostalgic flashbacks right now? Sadly,
not me, because I didn't grow up watching this show.
-Sonic The Hedgehog (known as Sonic SatAM by fans), famous for introducing multiple characters who then joined the ranks of the various Sonic comic books as major characters. Princess Sally, Bunnie-Rabbot, Antoine D’Coolette, Rotor the walrus – and for the villains, Snively and a Doctor Robotnik more threatening than ever. This show had a surprisingly serious tone, and is still well-regarded by fans to this day for it. I’ve yet to watch it, but all I ever hear is praise, despite a cancellation before the show had a proper finale, with a cliffhanger as the last scene to boot.
-Sonic Underground, which introduced Sonia and Manic, Sonic’s siblings, and made them into rock stars or something. I’ll admit, this is the iteration I’m the least interested in. Also, something something royalty.
They're all pretty great. Except that human kid. He sucks.
-Sonic X aired much, much later. Following the plot of the games up to that point, and featuring many members of the cast introduced to the Sonicverse since the last animated adaptation, this anime feature probably the best animation in a Sonic show so far. It’s still remembered somewhat fondly today, except for one thing: Chris Thorndyke. Also possibly, some people remember the show for its second arc and Cosmo, Tails’ potential love interest… and I bet the mere mention of her has already made some of you cry.

Example of "slice-of-life": Sonic is late to return a book
to the library to avoid late fees. Spoiler alert: Despite his
speed, he fails.
And now, in 2015, we got the fifth TV series. Sonic Boom, produced by French studio OuiDo!, aimed from the beginning for a goofier tone, although it still had plenty of action… despite following the recent trend of featuring slice-of-life situations. Yeah… I believe we can all name at least one cartoon that went that route, and messed it up royally – especially if it’s a cartoon featuring famous action characters. Am I right, Teen Titans Go? I could have named Powerpuff Girls 2016 as well… Writing Kids Cartoons 101, stay away from adult hot button topics AND don't make episodes that are nothing but attacks on your critics.

Showing Sonic and friends in a relaxed, slice-of-life environment, isn’t what you’d expect. The Blue Blur is often depicted as having a need for running that borders on a pathology, and here he seems to spend most of his time just lazing off and spending time with friends. To be fair, when you’re the fastest thing alive, it’s not like you need a lot of time to deal with threats, so the rest of your days has to be pretty uneventful. Although, just because the show goes the more comical route doesn’t mean that it won’t deliver in adventures. Eggman is still around, causing mischief and chaos and attempting to kill defeat his longtime nemesis. Sometimes he takes out his ire onto the rest of the village. Orbot and Cubot are there, too, so if you enjoyed their interactions from Sonic Unleashed onwards, you’ll be happy to see them here again as supporting characters on Eggman’s side.

Plots usually go one of two ways:
-Sonic or one of his friends encounters a situation, usually one that real-life folks can relate to, and will try to find a solution – in typical comedic fashion, because that's the kind of show that Sonic Boom is;
-Or it’s another attack from Eggman that the characters have to fend off, although it’s not always Eggman behind the villainy.

The Sonic Boom TV series: The only place where you'll ever
see Sonic defeat Eggman... at BINGO.
Sometimes both plotlines combine. Very few episodes don’t feature Eggman at all; and when he does appear, whether he’s the villain or just another supporting character changes depending on the episode. Villains have their own little lives outside of fighting heroes too, you know? On the plus side, this allowed OuiDo! Productions to create their own new villains, although due to the comedic nature of the show, they tend to be underwhelming or weak, but I’ll go back to discussing those sometime later.

Ready to kick ass and eat Meh Burgers. And they
never received their order.

And so we have our main characters: Sonic, Tails, Amy, Knuckles, Sticks and Eggman. I count him in as a main character because, like I said, he’s in almost every episode, and not always as a villain. I believe it would be a good idea to finish this first part by discussing the design and personality changes of each character, before I can move on to explaining the setting and the episode plots in Part 2. Let’s get to this right away.

Speed'as his name, blue's his game! ...Wait.
I got that mixed up.
First is our hero, the Blue Blur himself. The character design team at OuiDo! really tried to update the characters, without making them too different from what we know. Yes, Sonic’s arms are now blue instead of peach, but almost nobody cares. The first major change to the Mobians is, of course, the inclusion of sports tape. Lots and lots of sports tape. Sports tape everywhere. Considering the athletics accomplished by the main case, it makes sense that they’d want a better protection on their hands and feet. Sonic has also gained a few more spikes at the back of his head, with some smaller spikes among the regular ones. On top of that, his design now includes a scarf, because let’s be honest, when you’re running at Mach speeds all the time, the last thing you want is to catch a cold in the throat area because of the winds. He’s also gotten lankier, taller, which fits rather well with his status as the speedy guy of the group.

Personality-wise, he’s still the smartass we know, overly confident in his abilities, able to beat up anything Eggman sends his way and crack jokes while doing so. In the end, not much has changed, though he’s a lot more laid-back outside of doing heroics and seems to be appreciating just lazing around here and there. He’s still cocky, reckless, and slightly egomaniacal (especially about his speed), which can lead to problems when he’s interacting with the townspeople. In normal games canon, he’d just blast through everything without as much as a word.

Of course he's seen piloting his plane. Thankfully we
dn't see him crashing it. Oh wait, we do, a few minutes
into the first episode, no less.
Next up is Tails, Sonic’s friend since pretty much forever. His new design includes gloves that seem tailor-made for work – which makes sense since Tails is still a proud mechanic and inventor in this continuity. On top of that, he now has a belt around his waist and is usually seen carrying a wrench. Have you ever been hit by a wrench? It hurts. A lot. It’s a surprisingly effective blunt weapon. His design now includes goggles, which makes sense since he frequently pilots open-top airplanes – although whether he uses said goggles enough is open to interpretation. So far, there isn’t a single design change that I can’t justify somehow. Though, come to think of it, those goggles look too smalll for his big cartoon eyes. As for his personality, Tails is still loyal to his friends, although by being more than just a supporting character on the TV show, we can see more traits of his. On top of being an inventor, he’s now also the team’s strategist, as well as the provider of gadgets. He can still fly with his tails, don’t ask how that works…

Ah, Brawl in the Family. I never get tired of
referencing you.

That panel never gets old, I swear.

Tails also seems to exhibit nerdy traits, like a sort of social awkwardness outside of his circle of friends. And of course, much like the kid he still is, he tends to be joyful but naïve.

I always wondered why it was called a Piko Piko Hammer.
No, really; that's such a weird name!
What about Amy? She’s seen quite a lot of changes, both in looks and personality. The original Sonic series’ Amy is impulsive, extreme, and madly in love with Sonic, almost to stalker levels. It’s unsettling to say the least – but at least she has access to that endless supply of hammers, so she’s a priceless ally when something has to be smashed. I’ll admit it, her obsessive, stalker-ish tendencies towards Sonic were never that funny to me; stalking just isn’t the sort of thing I find funny. Maybe I read too many stories where that trait of hers became her only defining trait, and it made her annoying. Her defects are greatly toned down in the Sonic Boom show, turning her into the sane woman of the team, sympathetic to everyone, and also quite smart. In general, she’ll be nice, even to villains, but will kick with extra force if she gets betrayed. In this continuity, she tends to hide her crush on Sonic, which is a nice change of pace. She’s also protective, and a bit of a fashionista – although as the show progresses, she reveals herself to be bossy and kind of a control freak.

Unlike Sonic, Amy’s hair quills haven’t changed much. She also lacks the athletic tape on the hands and feet as worn by some of her friends, but makes up for it with a sarashi – this band of cloth around her waist, originally worn by samurai to sustain injury, likely an added measure by Amy to avoid getting hurt when swinging her hammer. Also of note, she still wears a red dress, but one much more different than the one the original Amy wears. And I’m thankful for that, because the original Amy’s dress was open wide at the bottom, making some camera angles show off more than they should. And I’ll live a lot better without seeing surprise panty shots on a character who’s supposed to be twelve years old. That’s just creepy.

How many cartoon characters can you name who can
cause an eruption by just smashing the ground?
On to Knuckles. Oh, the changes on this guy have been mocked since the first time he was revealed. I’ll make something clear, Knuckles in the Sonic franchise was always thought of as the most physically-capable, the strongest, despite being of the same build as everyone else. His new design reflects this reality, giving him more prominent muscles – but pathetic legs, I agree on that too, yeah, yeah, cue the “skipping leg day” joke. Now, the echidna really looks the part of the “strong, brawny guy” of the group. And sports tape, again, because of course. In the games, Knuckles was also known to be quite gullible, frequently falling for Eggman’s plans, and sometimes being too much of a hothead to think things through. Here, he’s… basically a moron, but a kind-hearted moron. Also an improvement over his original game counterpart, who was mostly a loner; the original Knuckles would rather keep watching over the Master Emerald than socialize with people. Also, while not frequently the focus, it seems that this Knuckles has some artistic talent!

"I drew it myself! In 5 seconds!
I call it Impossibly Quick Autoportrait."

She went by too fast on the English theme song, so I
cheated a bit. But that's alright. This one's better tham
any screenshot I could have taken.
Next is the only actual new character of the group, Sticks the jungle badger. Obviously I can’t compare her to her old design, she didn’t appear until Sonic Boom. However, her design highlights many elements about her. For starters, she’s an uneducated badger of the forest, freshly integrated to society, explaining her self-made attire. Even her shoes don’t match. She uses a boomerang as her main weapon, and for some unfathomable reason her hair is shaped like a boomerang. Makes you wonder if some characters fashion themselves after the weapons they get, or if they end up picking said weapons because it reminds them of what they look like already. Sonic purists will repeat that she looks too much like a lesser-known character named Marine the raccoon, and I can see the resemblances (however accidental they may be), but I think we should judge the character as she exists in her continuity, not by comparing her to previous characters who look a lot like her. She’s also still acting like a wild animal sometimes, clearly having issues adapting to society – there’s a few episodes about this plot. Screeching, defending her territory… yeah, she still does that. She’s also a conspiracy theorist nut, which is usually a pet peeve of mine, but they did it mostly correctly here. I’ll discuss this in greater depth later.

It's not Eggman if he isn't surrounded by an army of robots.
Last but not least, Ivo Robotnik, AKA Doctor Eggman. The evil doctor’s design in the regular Sonic series gives him a sort of egg shape for the body, thinner at the shoulder, wider at the waist. His new design for Sonic Boom inverts this, giving him broader shoulders but a thinner waist, making him seem more muscular than just fat. I kinda prefer this body shape for Eggman, actually. It looks a little closer to a real human. I also like the design of his new suit.

This Eggman is definitely friendlier with the main cast than his original
game version. Almost as if villainy is a 9-to-5 job for him, and outside
of "work hours" he doesn't mind hanging out with some of them. 
Personality-wise, Eggman hasn’t seen a lot of change, although his original personality was adapted for the more slice-of-life direction the show takes. He’s still an evil doctor trying to take over the world – but he first needs to seize the unnamed village the show takes place in, and that already proves difficult with Sonic and his team always thwarting his plans. The goofier nature of the show also caused his plans to get sillier from time to time, usually trying to undermine the heroes in some way. It’s not like the villains in a slice-of-life show are always going to attack in grand fashion! When it comes to level of danger, Eggman variates from harmless and comical to brilliant and dangerous – but still comical. It varies from episode to episode, all depending on the needs of the plot or the idea that the script writers had in mind. All in all, this Eggman is generally nicer and friendlier to the heroes, and while he still tries to defeat them from time to time, he had had genuine moments of friendship with them – he’s still their enemy, but in a rivalry kind of sense, it seems. Not that it has ever stopped him from being a threat.

Of course, there’s also Orbot and Cubot, but those… haven’t changed at all. Orbot is still the smarter one, Cubot is still an idiot. And the “smart-and-stupid” routine they have together makes for pretty great comical moments. They often get their own episodes to shine, which helps in developing their characters, probably moreso than the games ever would. I guess that’s all I had to say about them. 

Alright, see you in Part 2 as I start discussing the plot of the show!