As Sega's answer to all things Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog was first unleashed as the company's mascot in 1991. His franchise proved to be very popular, selling in excess of 40 million games on a variety of platforms and genres. From the original, self-titled game onward, most installments were traditionally side-scrolling adventures, similar to Super Mario Bros, Bonk's Adventure and all the others. Sega focused their advertising on the games' speed, throwing out hollow buzzwords like "blast processing" to explain how the blue mascot zipped past enemies, through loops and hidden passageways. First released on the classic Sega Genesis console, I remember the Sonic franchise as fun, fast and colorful, with almost limitless replay value---and as shown by the sales figures, I wasn't the only fan.
Truth be told, though, I never owned a Genesis when they were popular (opting for the Super NES in my younger days), but games like Sonic left me wishing for a bigger allowance. Similar to Super Mario Bros. 3 and the like, the Sonic franchise had plenty of imaginative worlds to zip through, tons of secrets to uncover and quite a few twists and turns. Later games introduced supporting characters like "Tails" (a yellow fox with two tails), "Knuckles" (an echidna that doubled as Sonic's friend and competitive rival) and "Shadow" (a fellow hedgehog, but this one was a bad guy). The main baddie, though, was Dr. Ivo Robotnik (AKA Dr. Eggman), a bald, rotund, mustachioed scientist whose evil machines are consistently destroyed by our heroes. Much like Cobra, Dr. Claw, Wile E. Coyote and the Decepticons, though, Robotnik kept going back to the drawing board.
As with most popular franchises, of course, Sonic eventually expanded outside of the video game world. Sega fans should remember not one, but two separate animated incarnations of the character in 1993: one was a darker version that spanned only 26 episodes, while the other was a more lighthearted take that lasted 65 episodes; both only aired new episodes until December of the same year, but the latter was a weekday series. This lighter version was dubbed The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog; premiering roughly two weeks before its darker cousin (both in September), the series included plenty of familiar heroes and villains...and a garish color palette, because it was the early 1990s. What were we wearing?
As with most animated adaptations of video games, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog tied in loosely with the franchise but kept most fans happy. Sonic 2 had made its way to the Genesis less than a year before (with the third installment arriving a few months later), so it was no surprise to see Sonic's new sidekick, Tails, along for the ride. Dr. Robotnik (voiced by English blues singer Long John Baldry!) was on the rampage day after day à la Bowser, attempting to overthrow the home world of Sonic (voiced by Jaleel "Urkel" White!) and Tails (exclamation points!!!) with his vast array of dastardly machines. The series' familiar formula kept things light and comfortable, but also ensured that The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog would get lost in the shuffle.
Both series' short life spans have relegated them to cult status rather than animated classics, but The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog will enjoy new life on DVD thanks to nostalgia enablers Shout Factory (NOTE: the other version was released by Shout back in March). The first 22 episodes are included in this Volume 1 boxed set, which should cleanly divide the entire series in three easily-digested parts. Colorful characters include Momma Robotnik (the good doctor's mother), Coconuts (a robotic monkey demoted to janitor), Breezie (a robette built by Robotnik to trap Sonic, though she has her own feelings), Wes Weasley (con artist extraordinaire) and Da Bears (two bumbling bears who idolize our hero).
While it's obvious that The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog won't ever be mentioned in the same sentence with Disney, Pixar or Studio Ghibli (except for this one), there's enough goofy fun here to entertain any resident of the 16-bit gaming era. Below is the complete list of episodes included in Volume 1, which have been presented in their original broadcast order.
(22 Episodes on 4 single-sided discs)
* - Includes Additional Bonus Features
1. Super Special Sonic Search and Smash Squad
2. Subterranean Sonic
3. Lovesick Sonic
4. Slowwww Going
5. High Stakes Sonic
6. Sonic Breakout
7. Trail of the Missing Tails
8. Close Encounter of the Sonic Kind
9. Momma Robotnik's Birthday
10. Big Daddy
11. Sonic's Song
12. Birth of a Salesman
13. Best Hedgehog
14. The Robotnik Express
15. Too Tall Tails
16. Tails' New Home
17. Over the Hill Hero
18. Blank-Headed Eagle
19. The Mystery of the Hi-Tops
20. So Long, Sucker
21. Sonic Gets Thrashed
22. Pseudo Sonic
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog looks fairly decent for its age and budget. The garish color palette is bold and bright, while image detail is squarely on the soft side. Pixellation and digital combing pose slight problems during certain sequences, but most fans shouldn't be disappointed overall. The plain-wrap Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix isn't exactly overwhelming, but dialogue and sound effects are clear enough. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions have been included here.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the animated menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. Each 23-minute episode has been divided into roughly 5 chapters, while no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. This four-disc release is housed in two clear thinpak cases (holding two DVDs each), which are tucked inside a colorful slipcover. Only a Shout Factory promotional insert is included, though episode listings are printed on the back of each case.
Only a pair of extras has been included here, though it's nice to see the effort. The main attraction is a brief Interview with artist Milton Knight, who designed Dr. Robotnik's character for the animated series. Knight briefly discusses the creative freedom he was given during the series, explains a bit about the storyboarding process and offers tips for aspiring cartoonists. Also included here is a short "How to Draw Sonic" featurette; as far as this type of extra goes, it's right on par. Much like the episodes, both are presented in 1.33:1 and do not include subtitles or Closed Captions.
It's certainly not a milestone in animation, but The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is a lightweight, harmless series that fans of the franchise should enjoy. The first 22 episodes are paired with a decent technical presentation in this four-disc boxed set, while the bonus features are slim but enjoyable. We should expect two more volumes if Shout Factory follows the same release style...and, of course, if it sells well enough. Casual and new viewers may be satisfied with a rental, but nostalgic fans should find The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog worth hunting down. Mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.