Charming and Open – The Embetteringment of Shadow The Hedgehog

(First things first: forgive the lack of images and stuff. This was done partly on my phone while waiting for a train.)

The always-cool Ian over at Adventure Rules does a thing whereby fun blogpeople get to do a sort of question trade: Charming & Open is a community event in which someone asks a question for Ian to answer in a post, and in return he gets to ask a question of that someone for them to also answer in a post.

Today, if you hadn’t guessed, that someone is me! (No way!)

So what has Ian asked me? Well, he wants to know how I’d redo a bad sequel to make it better. (And to see what I asked him, check out his post here!)

Hmmm. You know, I thought I’d played a lot of games, but I thought about this a long time and I realised that I was having real trouble thinking of a bad sequel. Maybe I’m just too easily pleased; to be honest, I have what I’ve come to realise is the rather handy ability to enjoy most things, or at least find something to enjoy even if it’s not something I’m necessarily super into. It’s useful, since it means I can find almost anything interesting! Right now, though, it means I’m gonna need to apply more brainpower to think of a sequel that I would think of as ‘bad’ and then work out how to goodify it.

Oooh. I’ve got an idea.

Now, I have a weird relationship with some big franchises. I’ve played, for example, Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires – a more strategy-focused spin-off from the fifth main entry in Koei’s ancient-China-hack-and-slash – but almost nothing else in the series, and this is fairly typical of how things tend to happen with me. I’ll have picked up just a couple of instalments four or five games into a series and not really even registered that there’s all that history and prior context, but I’ll just have had a good time anyway. I think this happens as a result of getting into gaming in the sort of mid-2000s, by which time a bunch of franchises are already heavily established; as a kid I just picked up things that looked fun, unaware that they might be part of some bigger thing.

One such orphaned franchisee in my gaming experience is Shadow the Hedgehog. I have never completed a single Sonic game other than this one spin-off focusing on antagonist/ anti-hero/ dark-whatever Shadow, and from what I hear it’s not really all that much like the rest of the series at all. It came out for PS2 in 2005; I guess, based on what I can work out about how old I was when I got a PS2, that I would have played it in 2007 or 2008 – so sort of pre-teen, early-teens. I thought it was pretty flipping fun, actually. Look, guys, I’m a gnarly brooding hedgehog! With guns!

So, yeah, Shadow the Hedgehog is considered less good than most of Sonic because it is radically different, as I understand things. Not many people seem to be big fans of Shadow’s solo outing; it got pretty terrible reviews, with a lot of detractors pointing out that the plot was really dumb, the grittiness just didn’t feel like it made any sense, the controls kind of sucked, and the attempt to mesh existing Sonic conventions with more ‘mature’ elements… well, didn’t really mesh so good. I’m therefore going to have to admit that Shadow is, probably, about as close to a ‘bad sequel’ as I can get.

The question, then, is how do we make it more betterer?

Well, first up, let’s do a complete tonal shift. Shadow‘s attempt to be all dark and mature didn’t fool anyone – except, of course, for someone who had no idea what legitimate, well-done darkness and maturity looks like, namely Young Me. That said, I don’t think there’s any point having a game focused on the nominally-evil foil to goody-goody Sonic if you’re going to play it exactly the same, so here’s my suggestion: Shadow starts out as the same broody angstball, but it’s really just a cover for the fact that he just wants to be friends and stuff; every other character sort of knowingly goes ‘yeah, sure, you’re all dark‘ while basically winking at the camera, while Shadow himself struggles to remain grittacular in the face of smiling friends.

In fact, this does sort of happen in OG Shadow when he interacts with Sonic and other friendly characters, who tend to greet him with a friendly wave and be met with a ‘not you again’ or something like that, which can come across kind of hilarious (though I’m not sure how intentional that is). In this new version, we reimagine Shadow as the goofball that he’s accidentally made out to be quite a lot of the time, but play it up to high heaven. Tonally, we take the entire game and bring it much more in line with the way the rest of the franchise feels: we’re no longer going for GRITTY HEDGEHOG IN GRITTY WORLD and ending up with melodrama and weird forced tonal shifts, but we’re now just doing regular CARTOON HEDGEHOG IN CARTOON WORLD with Shadow as the only one who would just sort of like to be a bit more brooding, but it’s so darn hard to keep up the darkness when everything else is pretty chirpy.

Gameplay-wise, I’m doing away with the awkward free movement. It’s odd: games have 3D movement all the time and it’s fine, but for some reason Sonic doesn’t often seem to get it right. At least from what I’ve seen of other 3D Sonic titles like Sonic BoomSonic 2006 and Shadow, it just never seems to feel quite right or respond correctly. So I’m making Shadow an on-rails gotta-go-fast-em-up: traditional Sonic-style zooming through a level in one direction, perhaps occasionally left or right at a junction. I’m discarding the gunz and carz completely, too, although I’m adding a couple of sections wherein the player controls ally characters like Tails, Victor, or even Eggman (I still want some of the choice-and-multiple-ending elements, which I genuinely think Shadow did quite well even if most of the writing wasn’t the best) – and these sections might involve the use of vehicles. I think, to set Shadow apart from Sonic, I’d probably also have parts of each level in which Shadow would get to do a bit more beating-up of things, but I’m imagining it as a sort of 3D semi-on-rails take on classic side-scrolling platforming to chase down an enemy, rather than actual combat.

As for the story, let’s forget about aliens. Let’s just focus on the fact that Shadow is different from Sonic, although not as much as he might think. We’re not going to worry too much about defining an origin story or introducing any twists about him being an alien or a robot or a clone or whatever; we’ll just have this be a story in which Shadow, to his surprise and bewilderment, is grudgingly forced to step in and basically do Sonic’s job when the Chaos Emeralds are under threat from a new enemy but Sonic’s… I dunno, just off somewhere else. Shadow learns to do things his own way while maybe taking some cues from how Sonic approaches problems and accepting that it’s OK to be different while also learning from others’ points of view.

So yeah, we make it a bit more cheesy and a bit more similar to other things in the franchise, but in doing so we hopefully make it more authentic and possibly even more interesting. It’s hard to relate to something that claims to be part of a franchise but just feels so far removed, so perhaps bringing it more in line will help it to feel more like something that a player can relate to and have fun with.

Oh, but… if we do this, we’re still keeping the original, right? ‘Cos… now I’m thinking about it, I might just wanna go be a hedgehog with guns again for a bit.

Thanks again to Ian for letting me be a part of Charming & Open, and for coming up with what I’m sure will be a very interesting answer to the question I asked of him. I’m sure this won’t be the last time he and I collaborate on something cool! (The man’s a machine when it comes to awesome community things. A lot of people are. There are a lot of machines in the blogging world. I think all my blogging friends are secretly robots. Help.)

2 comments

  1. This is an interesting choice! I’ve never played Shadow myself but I’ve heard of how infamously off-brand the game is, so I can imagine that these changes can only do it a favor. I love the idea of the game making fun of Shadow trying way too hard to be a grimdark protagonist; anytime a title doesn’t take itself too seriously that type of humor resonates well with me.

    Thanks for being a part of the event! We’ll have to do it again sometime!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We certainly will! I enjoyed thinking about the question – and finding it surprisingly difficult even to come up with a bad sequel to improve – so I’ll definitely be game for a sequel to this event!

    Liked by 1 person

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