Monday, June 27, 2011

The Makings of a Hero: The Many Sidekicks of Sonic the Hedgehog

Luigi is famous for being the sidekick to Mario who really didn’t seem to have much reason for being a sidekick at all.  He was just as strong, fast, and talented as his brother, yet he always seemed to take second place.  Luigi’s Mansion, his solo debut game, demonstrated a little of why this was – he wasn’t as brave, apparently.  In Paper Mario he sits back the whole time and just lets you handle it.  Weird.  Today’s instalment of the Subspace Emissary is focused on the number of characters in the Sonic the Hedgehog series who seem to fill the same role, namely Tails and the Chaotix.  Knuckles would count, except he’s awesome and at least in Sonic and Knuckles he is a largely equal character.

Miles “Tails” Prower is an incredible guy.  Tails can fly a plane, he can fight countless robots, and he himself can fly and carry Sonic whilst doing so.  In most games he seems to be able to match Sonic’s speed as well.  With all these skills, how is he not superior to Sonic, whose only claim to fame is a speed which everyone seems to be able to keep up with?  The answer it would seem is simple: he is 6 years old.  I will repeat that.  6.  Years.  Old.  Again, surely this makes Tails the coolest kid ever, and the smartest given his talents as an aviator.  However, the fact that he is so young seems to mean that he always defers to Sonic’s lead in any situation.  He is a born sidekick.  Extremely competent, but just not focused enough.

Possibly the only time they are all assembled in a video game?

The Chaotix are possibly my favourite character group of all time.  The official group comprises of Vector the Crocodile, Charmy the Bee, Espio the Chameleon, and the often forgotten Mighty the Armadillo.  It’s worth mentioning that Mighty, now missed out of most Chaotix appearances, was actually the original concept for Sonic himself, but then they decided speed was cooler than strength, I guess.  They have featured in many comics, certainly, but in the video games they only make a handful of appearances.  There was a Sega Genesis game, Knuckles’ Chaotix, which according to all reports was atrocious, and the first three of them appeared in Sonic Heroes, but that’s about it.

Vector is easily my least favourite member of the Chaotix, and yet he always seems to be the leader.  A lazy, loudmouthed Crocodile, he is constantly listening to music, and whenever he takes the headphones off, everyone in front of him gets blasted by the pure sonic (hah!) force of the music.  Headphones as a weapon though?  Really?  I never really got it.  Anyway, he seems to fail as a leader because he can simply never be motivated to do much.  In Sonic Heroes he seems purely motivated by money, which in some game settings is totally fine, but in the Sonic Universe, it seems to grate with the general ‘do-goodery’ of the rest of the cast.

Charmy is a young bee.  In some canons he is in fact a prince of bees! Oooooh.  His skills include flying, stinging, and sometimes the ability to shrink from his usual small size to the actual size of a bee.  Moderately useful, very hyperactive, and generally a nuisance, Charmy is a fun character to have around, but I can agree that he’s not very interesting to play.  Curiously he is also only 6 years old, just like Tails, and yet has none of the brilliance that Tails displays.

While the first two Chaotix are fairly rubbish, Espio and Mighty are a great pair to behold.  One, a ninja-trained, serious, lightning fast chameleon who can turn invisible and climb up walls; the other, a pleasant armadillo with a tendency to forget just how strong he is.  The two of them form the actually useful core of the team, though Espio is definitely the brains of the outfit.  If Mighty was given more game time, for instance replacing Vector in every game, I think we’d see a much more entertaining character.  As it is, we know relatively little about him, and are forced to focus on Espio as the coolest character out of the lot of them.  He is talented, he is capable, and he is smart.  Why he doesn’t have his own game eludes me.

Looking through these characters, and considering the other members of the Sonic cast, I wonder why some of the others aren’t made more of.  Tails isn’t even playable in many of the games!  Instead, Shadow and Silver have been invented, along with a host of other characters like Blaze the Cat and Rouge the Bat.  Why would Sega do this, when they have a host of characters already in stock?  Shadow and Knuckles remain the only characters to have received their own game, neither of which were very impressive.  The characters I have chosen to review are those who have been ignored for the longest time and have served as the real ‘Luigis’ of the Sonic games.  Tails obviously has too many skills not to be recognized, and the Chaotix, while they have a few faults, have strong heroes in Espio and Mighty.  They could easily have their own games without much problem and should certainly be featured more in the regular games.  It seems to come down to motivation.  Knuckles and Shadow both have the confidence and the focus needed to go off and get something done.  Tails won’t move without Sonic’s say so, and Vector and Charmie can’t be moved without heavy explosives.  Espio would do it if it was interesting which leaves Mighty as the only one who would likely do something just because it was the right thing to do.  I dunno.  It’s a tricky issue, but these characters have been ignored for too long and I don’t like it.  Whining over.

EDIT: It seems there was a Tails game for the Game Gear.  Who knew?  I certainly didn't...

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