I played quite a few games over the holiday and new year period – including some pretty good stuff. I jumped back into the much-improved Cyberpunk 2077. I tried out excellent indie Unchained Echoes. There was a lot of Marvel Snap. I was even playing a few games I can’t talk about yet – you’ll read reviews later. And, at our new years bash, Smash, Rock Band, and Point Blank all got broken out. Good times.
But the best gaming thing I experienced this holiday wasn’t even a game – it was a TV show. I’m not talking about having a screener of The Last of Us, either – I’m on about Sonic Prime.
What a good time for Sonic, hey? Two of the best – if not the outright best – gaming movie adaptations of all time. A game that’s actually decent. And now, a successful and high-quality TV show that’s just… fun. What year is it?! 1993?
To be fair, Sonic has a pretty decent history on telly. I regard the Looney Tunes slapstick style 90s cartoon Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog as an all-time great showing for video game characters in another medium. A certain breed of person really liked Sonic the Hedgehog, aka SatAM for its dystopian universe and for giving Sonic a rubbish love interest. Sonic Underground was pretty crap, but then there was a decent anime and more recently Sonic Boom, which was a raucous and joyous kid’s comedy adventure show that’d poke fun and make serious points well despite being attached to a franchise reboot that was led by a truly wretched video game.
But – and I don’t say this lightly – Sonic Prime might very well be the best of them all? For me it’s a close-run thing with Adventures, but the point is it’s really very, very good.
What’s most interesting, in a sense, is that it appears to lift a few elements from several of the past TV outings for these characters – as well as from the game universe.
When rolling around at the speed of sound in this show, Sonic has a frenetic, wild energy that’s usually present in the feel of the games but usually isn’t in the visual adaptations. It’s a different execution, but it reminds me of the over-the-top movement from Adventures. The semi-serious way in which Prime treats its setting is evocative of SatAM. And the sharp but kid-friendly character comedy honed in Boom is still partially retained here, despite being a more serious story.
As a universe-hopping adventure into wildly disparate versions of the Sonic universe (the word ‘Prime’ in the title refers to the ‘Prime universe’ that the characters hail from, which is basically the world of the games), there’s a lot for them to play with here. Seeing Sonic back in a Robotnik-controlled dark future feels like both a deliberate SatAM throwback and fertile ground for fun action scenes and interesting alt-universe versions of Sonic’s friends.
But then the show goes to other places I won’t spoil, each time turning existing characters into twisted new forms, shaped by the circumstances of each universe. It’s a pretty obvious trope – Star Trek has done it a million times – but it’s good stuff, especially for a kids show. It has that quality where, if you’ve got a kid or tween in the right ‘age bracket’ for Sonic, they’ll love it, but if you’re a grown adult with fond memories of Sonic shows, comics, and games when you were a kid, you’ll probably enjoy it too.
There’s a lot I like about Sonic Prime. I think it’s well-written, I adore the way it continually winks to the games be it with little drops of lore or occasional direct use of classic Sonic sound effects – but, really, more than anything, though, I think I most love its characterization of Sonic.
Voiced by series newcomer Deven Mack, Sonic has a swagger and attitude here that I just love. Part of this is down to Mack’s performance, and part of it is down to the writing – but, basically, Sonic is a bit of a dickhead, even if he’s got a heart of gold. He messes things up. He’s naive. To his friends, he’s their lynchpin, but also a total pain in the backside.
It’s a version of this character I’ve long missed – since it most acutely reminds me of the version that was present in the UK-only Sonic the Comic published by Fleetway. Entirely different from the US strips and unashamedly British, STC was a hugely formative thing for me – and it had a really unique characterization of Sonic. But that characterization feels to live on in Sonic Prime – and I’m here for it.
So, at this point, I can’t wait for more episodes. Sonic Prime’s ongoing narrative ends on a strong cliffhanger – and though Netflix is frequently pretty braindead in how it decides to greenlight new shows, we know another 16 episodes are in the can for later release. I can see this show running longer, though.
Sonic is finally on a roll – but it really says something that Sonic Prime might actually be my favorite of all these pretty good Sonic things lately. Except for the Sonic Lego, obviously. That can’t be beaten.