Shadow the Hedgehog – Why His Fame Will Never Fade Away

    He is still one of the most important Sonic characters.

    When I went to see Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in theatres (which is the highest-grossing video game movie in the US, until The Super Mario Bros. Movie inevitably claims that record of course), I can distinctly remember the excited reactions from the audience at the mid-credits reveal (spoiler alert if you’re somehow out of the loop). A certain black hedgehog could be seen emerging from a stasis pod and awakening. Of course, this mysterious-looking hedgehog was none other than Shadow. People went nuts (and I did as well). However, it was more than just the appearance of the character that got me excited.

    It would be easy for Paramount to simply make Shadow an evil Sonic clone, but it appears that the filmmakers understand what makes Shadow special. There are hints in the mid-credits scene that point toward him being at least somewhat faithful to his game counterpart. His design is an iconic one for sure, but there’s more to it than that. Shadow’s backstory and development are integral to his character, and it’s why he is still one of the most popular characters in the franchise.

    What Made Shadow the Hedgehog so Iconic?

    Shadow the Hedgehog

    To answer this, we have to take a look back at Shadow’s first appearance in Sonic Adventure 2. As a childhood favorite of mine, I have played it far more times than I can count. This also means I have overanalyzed its story far more than anyone should. On the surface, the story is pretty standard Sonic fare. Eggman hatches a plan that goes awry and a team of anthropomorphic heroes has to save the world. As I briefly mentioned in my Sonic Frontiers review, this is a common plot structure for a Sonic game.

    However, everything else surrounding that plot structure is what makes Sonic Adventure 2‘s story so memorable for many Sonic fans. Underneath the bright, colorful, and exciting exterior of the game lies some pretty heavy subject matter for a mascot platformer from 2001. Government cover-ups, child murder, descent into insanity, and attempted genocide are all things that factor into the story. If you somehow have never had the pleasure of playing Sonic Adventure 2, I can understand if you don’t believe these elements are in the game, but I can assure you they are.

    At the center of all this is Shadow the Hedgehog. I’d argue that he’s more of the game’s main protagonist than Sonic himself. Most of the thematic meat of the story revolves around Shadow’s pain and trauma. Despite being about 50 years old, he’s still basically a confused, sad, and angry child. He was rightfully enraged by the loss of his dearest friend, but his lack of experience and knowledge of the world made his anger easy to manipulate and misdirect. By the end of the game, he is able to mature and process his trauma in a healthy way, even if it seemingly costs him his life.

    Why Is His Story So Noteworthy?

    I am probably not the first to say that the presentation of Adventure 2‘s story hasn’t exactly aged very well. It may be nowhere near as janky as the cutscenes in the first Adventure, but the English script is of questionable quality and the cutscenes still don’t look very pretty. Despite this, Adventure 2‘s story is memorable for subverting expectations of what a mascot platformer’s story could be. As a kid, I played through all the mainline Sonic games in order, and Adventure 2 felt completely different from anything I had experienced before then.

    Sonic Adventure feels like a bridge between the Genesis classics and the 2000s Sonic games. It’s a game I love and it was exciting to me as a child, but Adventure 2 is what truly solidified the weird anime shenanigans that 2000s Sonic is known for. So, how does Shadow the Hedgehog factor into this? I’d say that he serves as the representation of a Sonic era that is both beloved and mocked by many. Shadow’s canon existence originated as an experiment, and that perfectly mirrors the experimental nature of several Sonic games in the 2000s.

    If Sonic is a time capsule of 90s marketing toward kids and teens, then Shadow is a time capsule of the 2000s equivalent. What people consider to be “cool and hip” will constantly change, and market trends will change to suit that. It was pretty popular to give things a gritty makeover in the 2000s and Shadow’s popularity was proof of that. He was so popular that he was able to get his own game. Sure, it may have been subject to ridicule and memes for years to come, but it was evidence that Shadow was an important character to Sega.

    Why Shadow the Hedgehog Remains So Iconic to This Day

    Shadow the Hedgehog

    Shadow the Hedgehog didn’t get as much of a spotlight from Sega throughout the 2010s, but he was still widely discussed. His characterization in more recent Sonic media has been a hot topic among Sonic fans. Many see most modern interpretations of Shadow to be something of a parody of himself or a much more blatant clone of Vegeta from Dragon Ball. It’s almost as if Shadow resigned himself to being the joke that some people saw him as. However, the reason why Shadow got so popular in the first place was that he wasn’t a joke.

    Love him or think he’s ridiculous, Shadow the Hedgehog comes from a place of sincerity. In fact, the writer of Sonic Adventure 2, Shiro Maekawa, has been on record stating that he sometimes feels a stronger bond with Shadow than his own family (source). Shadow’s story and character development between games isn’t something the series has been able to quite recapture ever since. Many other stories have covered characters recovering from past trauma, but Shadow was probably the first experience of such a character for several kids.

    I think Shadow gave many kids a way to examine negative emotions they may have been feeling at the time, and that’s important. He may have helped pave the way for OCs and classic memes such as “Coldsteel The Hedgeheg”, but is that such a bad thing? Shadow is the prime example of a wonderfully weird character in a wonderfully weird franchise. Hopefully the third Sonic movie and Sonic Prime (which we recommend) will bring Shadow back to his glory days in an official capacity. However, I don’t think he’s going to be anywhere near absent from internet discourse for a long time.

    Itch has a strong passion for PC gaming and retro consoles (especially the Dreamcast). From Melty Blood: Actress Again to Forza Horizon, he will play just about anything that catches his eye. Ever since playing Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit as a young child, he has been in love with the medium of video games and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

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