Vertical Slice: Anything But Shadow

Vertical Slice: Anything But Shadow

by May 29, 2014

It’s hard to believe it’s been over three months since Sega rocked the Sonic fanbase with its announcement of Sonic Boom. At the time, the hullabaloo surrounding the news seemed never ending, with every man and his dog chiming in to comment on the series reboot. But just when it looked like the rabble had died down, TSSZ go and publish this.

Communicating with an anonymous source, TSSZ head honcho Tristan Oliver reported that everyone’s favourite Sonic recolour, Shadow the Hedgehog, may be added to Sonic Boom‘s character roster. I’m not privy to the origin of that information and can’t comment on its validity, but I sure hope this is one rumour that turns out to be false. Why? Because Shadow the Hedgehog, as we know him, is an embarrassing blight on the Sonic series and has no place in Sonic Boom.

It’s surprising that Shadow has even lasted as long as he has. His introduction to the series in Sonic Adventure 2 was an entirely experimental attempt by Sega to help turn its late 20th century financial troubles around with an edgier vision of Sonic designed to appeal to Western audiences. In fact, Shadow’s death at the end of Sonic Adventure 2, and the game’s vastly different aesthetics to its successor Sonic Heroes, exemplifies Shadow’s disposability in the eyes of Sega.

As is the case today, Sonic Adventure 2 was a huge fan favourite, prompting Sega to seemingly shoehorn the game’s edgy baggage into Sonic Heroes. One unintelligible character arc later and Shadow is given his own cringeworthy title, Shadow the Hedgehog. This blatant attempt by Sega to have their child-friendly series appeal to gun-porn fanatics led to Shadow the Hedgehog receiving an almost universally mediocre critical reception.

A few years later and Sonic fans were treated to the red and black angst-factory once more in the abysmal Sonic 2006. In what is arguably one of the worst videogames of all time, Shadow appears as one of three main characters, however Sonic Team completely failed to further develop his character in any way whatsoever.

This isn’t surprising considering Shadow’s two dimensional personality had already stagnated by the end of Sonic Adventure 2. As mentioned above, this one trick pony of “edgy/ brooding/ mysterious/ misunderstood” was never intended to appear in another Sonic game, let alone be developed upon.

Yet it’s these personality traits – found frequently in numerous works aimed at young adults – that have resonated with Sonic’s increasingly hormonal fanbase. As such, Shadow’s – and to an extent, Rouge’s – presence in the Sonic series has been a major catalyst in the rise of awkwardly romantic and sexual Sonic fan art and fan fiction. Such fan content has since become a frequent target of ridicule by those mocking the Sonic fanbase as a whole.

TSSZ Vertical Slice Shadow the Hedgehog

A quick word between Sonic recolours.

So to summarise, Shadow the Hedgehog is inextricably linked to, and is at least partially responsible for, Sega’s post-Dreamcast woes, has appeared in some of the worst Sonic titles to date, and has instigated the creation of questionable fan made content by outlying Sonic fanatics. So why would Sega even begin to consider Shadow for Sonic Boom – a child-focused, whimsical reboot of the incoherent Sonic “canon”?

In my opinion, the answer to that question has less to do with creativity and more about cold, hard cash. Despite being considered a joke to many, Shadow still sells merchandise, and the wallets of Shadow’s well moneyed, teenage fans are undoubtedly on Sega’s radar. Simply put, Shadow is a money generating asset that Sega has been keen to exploit, and may want to continue exploiting in the future.

Sonic’s past has shown that an edgy doppelgänger in an overly serious storyline for tweens has proved cringe inducing: see Sonic Adventure 2 and Shadow the Hedgehog. On the other hand, Shadow, as an overly arrogant rival in a self aware and well written children’s comedy, could work. Like Mandark of Dexter’s Lab, Shadow’s arrogance could be both his defining characteristic, the reason for his continual undoing, and a source of humour for Sonic, his anthropomorphic chums, and the viewer.

Either way, if Shadow did appear in Sonic Boom, his befuddling origin story would most definitely be scrapped. And I can’t help but feel that the idea of a Maria-less Shadow would send some Sonic fans into a frenzy of petitions, boycotts and empty threats.

Fortunately there’s zero evidence to suggest Shadow will be appearing on our television screens any time soon, and I for one hope it stays that way.

Michael Westgarth is a freelance writer and podcaster. Read Michael’s previous columns via his TSSZ author page and head over to his independent podcast, Chuckle-Bits Radio, for more Sonic fun.