Next to the games, perhaps my most favorite Sonic thing of the 1990’s was the cartoon series Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (AoStH). While Saturday morning’s Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic SatAM) had stronger plots and more polished animation, AoStH was just too damn fun to be deemed the lesser cartoon. To me, AoStH was a much better adaptation of the games, and when I say games I mean the only two that were released by that time: Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Every episode featured Sonic and Tails playing cat and mouse with Robotnik and his gang of badniks, just like in the Genesis games. Even better, the show kicked off with an awesome mix of the original Sonic theme song, “Flight of the Bumblebee” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.
While I was satisfied with this amount of video game fan service, every so often an episode would air that would give the video game fans a little bonus. Something that would make us sit up and pay a bit more attention. Sonic might traverse through a zone from Sonic 1 (gasp!) or Robotnik might make reference to a Chaos Emerald (Hey, I know those!). In celebration of Sonic’s 20th, and my favorite 90’s cartoon series, I present five game inspired episodes of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog!
Attack on Pinball Fortress
The only full fledged game adaptation, this episode aired just one month before the release of Sonic Spinball. Before I get into the video game elements of the episode, I should also note that this episode brought together two popular recurring characters: salesman Wes Weasley and army man Sergeant Doberman. So even if kids at the time didn’t know that this was an extended commercial for an upcoming game, this rare occurrence of two side characters returning and teaming up was something special.
The episode kicks off with Robotnik zapping Mobians with a stupidity ray, a raygun that makes those zapped complete idiots. The raygun is being held in Robotnik’s Pinball Fortress, which in and of itself is kind of a stupid plan. Doberman wants the ray to create an army of soldiers dumb enough to follow his every order, Weasley wants it to create a planet of customers dumb enough to buy his junk. Sonic, Tails, Weasley and Doberman break into the fortress only to be thrown about by pinball bumpers and flippers. The four make it to the center of the fortress and encounter Boss Scorpion, a robot inspired by but bearing little resemblance to the Toxic Caves scorpion boss. Sonic takes on Scorpion Boss and knocks it into the lava, proving that cartoon enemies take less hits than in the games. I won’t spoil the ending, but Robotnik fans should enjoy it.
High Stakes Sonic
The popular Casino Night Zone takes center stage in this bizarre episode. The show kicks off with a land shark (literally a walking shark in a zoot suit) harassing a broke shaved sheep. Turns out Robotnik hired the shark to scam the sheep of a small town. The stupid sheep lose their money and their wool, and in turn the cash goes to building a massive Robotnik monument to celebrate Robotnik’s self proclaimed day. Even worse, the sheep in debt are shipped off to work as slaves for Robotnik. It’s actually a brilliant idea and I wish I’d thought of it. In order to drain the pockets of more sheep, and get more slaves, Robotnik puts the shark in change of the Casino Night Zone. The casino is, of course, rigged and Sonic soon enters the scene.
That’s the extent of game references in the episode, the rest plays out in a stadium where Sonic rescues Tails and then the sheep slaves overthrow Robotnik. I’d be a bad Robotnik fan if I didn’t post an image of him in his pharaoh outfit. For the entirety of the episode Robotnik can be seen wearing that, sitting in various disgusting positions. Milton Knight, creator of AoStH‘s Robotnik, wasn’t joking when he said his intent was to make him a sexy fat man.
Believe it or not, in its short run AoStH had two underwater episodes. Thankfully, the one I’m highlighting is the better of the two. The other underwater episode, The Little Merhog, is probably one of the worst episodes of the series. In it, Sonic tries to get busy with a merhog, a female who is half hedgehog and half fish. WHAT?! Submerged Sonic has no merhogs, instead it has good ol’ fashioned mermaids and mermen… and a merking! The episode kicks off with Robotnik in his robo-sub preparing to wage war on the underwater kingdom of Labyrinth (Zone), in an attempt to take their supply of Power Pearls. Perhaps the pearls are the underwater equivalent of power rings?
Most of the episode centers around a merman named Surff who wishes to be with the Princess Bubbles of Labyrinth, unfortunately the king won’t have it. After Robotnik kidnaps Bubbles, Surff seeks Sonic and Tails for help. Sonic agrees to help Surff, of course, and the three battle Robotnik and rescue the princess. The king, pleased with Surff’s efforts, makes him Commander of the Royal Labyrinth Defense Force and Surff and the princess live happily ever after. While video game fans will be disappointed as most of the episode takes place outside Labyrinth Zone, and the kingdom itself doesn’t really resemble the game, it’s a pretty good episode thanks to the hijinks of Scratch and Grounder and Robotnik in his sub commander outfit. Am I reviewing these? Let’s say I give it four power pearls out of five.
Robotnik builds a robotic Sonic that terrorizes Mobius and gives Sonic a bad name! While Pseudo Sonic bears little resemblance to Metal Sonic, I’m pretty sure Sonic CD’s Metal Sonic might have been an inspiration. Unlike Metal Sonic, who has his own artificial intelligence, Pseudo Sonic is controlled by a small rat forced to do so lest Robotnik harms his parents. After committing a series of crimes, reminding me of how Shadow gave Sonic a bad name in Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic and Pseudo end up in Poison Flower Valley. While the rat, named Lawrence, explains why he did what he did, both he and Sonic get a bad case of the itches thanks to the poison flowers. Sonic and Lawrence swell up to Robotnik sizes, giving viewers a hilarious swelled up fat Sonic.
With Sonic out of commission, Tails takes charge and sneaks out inside Pseudo. Just how Tails is able to fit inside such a small space isn’t explained, but Tails does infiltrate Robotnik’s mountain fortress and nearly frees Lawrence’s parents… until Scratch and Grounder mistake him for the real Sonic and drops a cage on Tails inside Pseudo. Tails escapes and finds that swelled up fatty Sonic had followed him. Now usually, when Sonic puts on a disguise to trick the badniks, I can’t believe they are stupid enough to not notice that it is Sonic. However this time, the size of Sonic works in his favor, making his Mobius Air Force general disguise quite convincing. General Sonic tricks Scratch and Grounder to climb aboard a Sonic homing missile, while Tails knocks Robotnik out a window leaving him to hang from the windowsill. Tails moves the unmanned Pseudo Sonic to the window, the missile carrying the badniks launches towards the window with Robotnik and the episode ends in a massive explosion. Overall, Pseudo Sonic is a fun episode. At the time, it was a treat to see a robotic Sonic just like the ones found in the games. Pseudo was so popular, that he featured in issue 9 of the Archie Sonic comics.
In the issue, the story closely follows the cartoon’s plot, however Sonic is incapacitated by poisonous flowers before ever meeting Pseudo Sonic. Pseudo infiltrates the Freedom Fighters secret home and Tails takes on, and defeats, Pseudo Sonic. One hundred and sixty one issues later, in issue 170, Pseudo and a number of other older badniks from the early issues return to do battle with Sonic. It is in this issue that Sonic and Pseudo finally meet and do battle. For fans of the early comics, games and AoStH it’s a fun read and recommended.
Quest for the Chaos Emeralds Arc
Saving the best for last is a great multi-episode arc known to fans as either the Sonic in Time arc or the Quest for the Chaos Emeralds arc. The four episodes that make up the arc are titled Blackbot the Pirate, Hedgehog of the Hound Table, Robotnik’s Pyramid Scheme and Prehistoric Sonic. Throughout the arc, Robotnik goes time traveling to find four Chaos Emeralds that can make him all-powerful. Each episode features a different emerald in a different time period, and each emerald give those who hold it a different power. Think of them as a combination of the video game’s Chaos Emeralds, Time Stones and Wisp powers. Sonic, meanwhile, is in pursuit of Robotnik and the Chaos Emeralds with the assistance of Professor Caninestein’s time traveling inventions. The first of these inventions are time shoes, which allow Sonic to break the time barrier and travel through time when running fast enough. Sounds a lot like Sonic CD’s time traveling mechanic to me!
Aside from the epic plot (well, epic for a weekday cartoon), the animation for these episodes is fantastic. Just compare the first episode Blackbot the Pirate to an episode like High Stakes Sonic and you’ll see the difference. This uptick in quality is thanks to the work of Japanese animation studio TMS Entertainment, whose work can also be seen in Lupin the Third, Inspector Gadget, Tiny Toons and SEGA’s very own Man of the Year short found as a video extra in Sonic Jam. Interesting fun fact: TMS Entertainment has been owned by SEGA Sammy since 2005.
Every Sonic fan should check out these episodes, especially the first and last one of the arc. Blackbot the Pirate is my favorite episode of the series, featuring robotic pirates, time travel, swords, cannons and best of all Robotnik in a pirate costume. The final episode, Prehistoric Sonic, features loads of goodness including multiple copies of Sonic and Tails taking on Robotnik, Robotnik transforming into a Super Robotnik and time traveling skateboards.
For those interested in checking out the series, pick up the three DVD sets released by Shout Factory in the US or the complete series set released abroad. Personally, I like the US release as it includes a lengthy interview with artist and character designer Milton Knight as well as how to draw segments. The complete time travel arc can be found on a stand alone disc for $7 or less and is well worth it for the casual viewer or those who just want the best of the series. Of course you could try YouTube but the quality stinks and its no fun watching cartoons on your computer. Gotta go the ol’ couch, television and bowl of sugar cereal route.
But Wait, There’s More!
While this is the weekly five, I couldn’t end it at the usual number. Here are
four five more episodes inspired by the games. That’s right, it’s a Weekly Ten!
The Pilot Episode – Less of an episode and more of a seven minute concept piece, the pilot of the series can only be found on YouTube. It’s chock full of game references, far more than what was ultimately the series. You can view it in full below, keep your eyes peeled for Green Hill Zone, fish badniks and the robots seen in the game Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine!
Spaceman Sonic – Sonic, Tails, Scratch and Grounder get lost in the Star Light Zone. Unlike the zone from the game, this one is inhabited by a giant purple one-eyed alien with a cold. Perhaps he’s a giant wisp alien?
Subterranean Sonic – Sonic and Tails encounter a cranky mole miner in the Marble Zone.
Trail of the Missing Tails – In this looney episode, Robotnik’s cousin Doctor Warpnik is introduced. Warpnik had been banished to the Warp of Confusion by Robotnik, and Warpnik seeks revenge by attempting to capture Sonic and Tails. The Warp of Confusion bears a striking resemblance to the Special Stages of the first Sonic game. The place features tile patterns, odd floating shapes and fish flying through the sky. Early print materials, such as SEGA’s internal Sonic Bible and an interview in the official Sonic the Hedgehog Yearbook, referred to the Special Stages as Warps of Confusion.
The Mobius 5000 – Reader Shaddix Leto Croft reminded me of another episode that has so many references it deserves a mention. Robotnik is threatening to shut down a Porcupine orphanage unless they pay him 10,000 Mobiums. In order to raise the money, Sonic and Tails decide to enter The Mobius 5000, a vehicular race with the (convenient) grand prize of 10,000 Mobiums. Not wanting the hedgehog to win, Robotnik enters four Race Bots while Scratch and Grounder plan to defeat Sonic before the Race Bots beat them to it.
Sonic and the racers drive through various zones including Chemical Plant, Casino Night (referred to as “Casino Zone”) and even Sonic 2’s Special Stage which acts as a short cut. Tails refers to it as a Special Zone. Present is a half-pipe, rings (gray in color) and they even included the Star Post needed to enter the special stage! Way cool. This would be the only time rings show up in the series.
Spot any more video game references in the early Sonic cartoons, or simply want to share a memory? Hit up the comments section below!Ad: