Shadow the Hedgehog: Is Black the New Blue?

Digging into the history of the anti-Sonic

Shadow the Hedgehog: Is Black the New Blue?
Sonic X Shadow Generations. Source: Press Kit.

It’s interesting to look at stuff in retrospect; so many things can change with the passage of time. What was once new and refreshing is now a product of the era, and what was considered bad and underwhelming comes to be seen as underappreciated and ahead of its time. Time can change a lot in regards to what we think of… basically anything; and today’s subject is no exception.

The SEGA Dreamcast is definitely one of those consoles that was taken from us too early. It may have been weak compared to its competitors on the market but looking back people still remember SEGA’s last console in a very positive light. While some of its classics have seen a new light of day thanks to re-releases, others are still stranded there, though the console definitely enjoys a cult status.

But the dream didn’t only birth games; it birthed some irrepressible characters within those games. Characters that would become well-known by people all over the world, be more popular than the namesake of the franchise they belong to, and in some ways represent the best and worst of said franchise. I’m talking about none other than the edgy and dark counterpart of Sonic the Hedgehog; Shadow the Hedgehog.

Shadow is a character that not only has a varied history, but an interesting one. He’s either superior or not holding a candle to the blue blur. People see him as one of the better characters introduced to the franchise, but also the character who caused Sonic’s slump in the 2000s. He may be dark and edgy, but he's also interesting and with a lot of potential. Shadow is, for better or worse, one of the most interesting aspects of the Sonic franchise, and in honor of his upcoming addition to Sonic X Shadow Generations and his big-screen debut in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, I believe we should dive into the history of Shadow the Hedgehog and see if he was more than just a faker.

Sonic Adventure 2 Promotional Screenshot. Source: IGDB.

Shadow's debut

Sonic Adventure 2 was initially released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog, and what better way to celebrate than with an evil version of Sonic sharing the box with our beloved hero? I can only assume evil versions of the main characters started picking up as a trend during that time, as that is what Shadow was. If Sonic was carefree and joyful, Shadow was tragic and serious. One sought to save the world while the other swore to destroy it. 

The concept of the game revolved around the idea of good vs evil with the 6 playable characters split into two campaigns in which control would change between levels. Each character from the good side would mirror a character from the evil side in terms of gameplay. Tails matched Eggman, Knuckles matched Rouge, and Sonic matched Shadow. Being the “evil counterpart” to Sonic was a core reason why Shadow became so popular in this debut game.

Shadow is, for better or worse, one of the most interesting aspects of the Sonic franchise.

We all know what Sonic played like at this point. You run really fast, platform over obstacle courses, collect rings to protect yourself from damage and destroy robots sent after you. Shadow played the exact same way… but his intentions weren’t to save the world. Playing as the “bad character” back then was a new concept and I‘m sure both kids at the time and even some adults found it cool to do the exact same things Sonic did while playing for the other team.

Shadow also had an interesting and mysterious backstory involving tragedy, revenge, and other elements that weren’t common in the series. Many seem to forget that Shadow was more than just an evil Sonic and that his past justified his cold and sheltered personality by what he’d gone through. I’m willing to bet the people who connected to Shadow back in the day weren’t drawn to him because he was just “Sonic but bad”; he was an interesting rival with a gripping story and character arc. His rivalry with Sonic helped, but it wasn’t his main draw.

However, when the credits rolled on Sonic Adventure 2 (SA2), it appeared that Shadow was a one-time character as he died while fulfilling his promise to his friend. The game’s ending still gives me chills while watching it. We saved the world but there was no fanfare or a hint of the next adventure to come. Instead, the characters we accompanied were taking some time to process their journey. Our journey. And with a sad piano piece, Sonic and the players bid ‘Sayonara’ to Shadow… unaware that they would see him again.

The Blue Blur is Sonic X Shadow Generations. Source: Press Kit.

Shadow's return and taking the spotlight

Shadow may have been intended to be a one-off character, but fate had different plans. Maybe it was the “evil version of the hero” trend that was becoming popular, or it could have been his enticing story. Maybe it was the newcomers whose first-ever Sonic game was the GameCube re-release of SA2 connecting with him? Either one or all of the above reasons contributed to Shadow becoming one of the most popular characters in the Sonic series.

With this popularity, SEGA decided to bring Shadow back from the dead in the next mainline Sonic game, Sonic Heroes. While it didn’t have the same dramatic and intense story as SA2, Shadow’s return wasn’t simply brushed aside (for the most part). Shadow suffered from amnesia, so his memory was even more messed up than it was in his debut appearance. And on top of it all, there was a good chance the Shadow we played throughout the game wasn’t even the same one we connected with in SA2, but a robotic copy of him. Since Sonic Heroes didn’t have that big of a focus on a story, both plot points remained unsolved by the end of the game.

Following a weird suggestion by a young fan that Sonic should use a gun, and realizing there were two plot points left unresolved from Sonic Heroes, SEGA decided it was time for Shadow to take center stage with his own game, Shadow the Hedgehog. While it wasn’t the first time one of Sonic’s friends got a game to themselves, Shadow was a different case as his game wasn’t really a spin-off, but a mainline game with a plot canonical to the rest of the series. This one time in which Sonic let one of his “friends” take the lead was quite literally a big deal and the idea was nothing less than ambitious.

Outside of the game's titular character, several elements were added to the experience. Gunplay was introduced, a carryover from that idea I mentioned earlier. In addition to that, Shadow’s unresolved amnesia issue allowed for a morality system to be introduced, letting players decide if Shadow is a hero or a renegade. Sadly, despite some interesting ideas and an interesting lead, Shadow the Hedgehog was released to very mediocre reviews and many see it as the point at which the Sonic franchise started to lose its way.

I’ll try not to let my personal dislike of the game take center stage but with a lazy story, terrible controls, boring levels, frustrating missions that can drag for hours, and a morality system that doesn’t matter since there’s a canonical ending once you unlock every other ending… is it any wonder it got such a bad rep? These issues didn’t only impact the viewpoint of the franchise in general but also damaged Shadow’s image as a character in the public eye. People no longer saw the mysterious, more serious, counterpart to Sonic. Now people saw a poorly aged attempt to be “edgy” which just ended up being more ridiculous than serious.

Sonic X Shadow Generations
Source: Press Kit.

A way lost

The damage was sadly done; as with the now infamous 2006 release of Sonic the Hedgehog (or, "Sonic 06"), the franchise was in a slump which many attribute directly to Shadow's game from the year prior. When people bring up in retrospect that Shadow’s portrayal in Sonic 06 was one of the better things about the game, I also realized the game starring Shadow did damage not only to Sonic… but to its leading character as well. If Shadow was the most popular character in the franchise at some point, then after his starring game he was nothing but a shadow of his past self (couldn’t resist the pun. It had to happen).

Shadow the Hedgehog was no longer cool; he had become a joke in the public eye.

It seemed like SEGA took note of this perception, as Shadow disappeared from the spotlight for a good while. Despite pre-release interviews claiming Shadow was going to be in Sonic Unleashed, he makes no appearance in a game besides a brief mention. Sonic and the Black Knight did feature Sir Lancelot taking the appearance of Sonic’s dark rival, but Shadow himself wasn’t in the game outside of the multiplayer mode. He appeared in Sonic Free Riders, a game most people who played don’t like nor care about its story. Hero and Dark collide again for a boss fight in Sonic Generations, which is still beloved to this day, but Shadow’s reasoning to fight Sonic is almost non-existent and his involvement in that game’s plot is minimal.

People no longer saw the mysterious, more serious, counterpart to Sonic. Now people saw a poorly aged attempt to be “edgy” which just ended up being more ridiculous than serious.

When Sonic Boom was announced as a new continuity in parallel to the main games, Shadow was pushed by the developers to make the jump to the American rebooted timeline. Sadly though it resulted in an out-of-nowhere boss fight which contributed to nothing and didn’t even bother to explain what Shadow even is in that continuity. He worked better in the Sonic Boom TV show which just made him a bully. It worked well in the comedic premises of the show, but even then he was severely under-utilized. In general, though, that seems to be all that Shadow was at that point, a generic bully who thinks he’s better than Sonic and nothing more. SEGA was insistent he’ll remain that way based on notes they would give to the writers, but in my view, that’s just not interesting.

2017 saw increased interest with the announcement that Shadow would be playable once again in a free DLC for Sonic Forces. This was the first time Shadow was playable in a mainline Sonic game in 11 years! But if you know anything about Sonic Forces, you know that underwhelming results were about to be delivered. Shadow was relegated to an extra story which contributed nothing to the overall plot (it actually made it worse, if anything), and his levels weren’t all that exciting. It was nice to play as him again but he was no different than Sonic, so it didn’t feel all that noble. His part in that game’s story was also nothing too exciting despite trailers promising way more.

Shadow in Sonic X Shadow Generations. Source: Press Kit.

Recent comeback and a brighter future?

Sonic the Hedgehog is a franchise that can be described as a roller-coaster in terms of quality. The same analogy can ironically be attributed to Shadow’s character. In recent years the social media team for the franchise conducted Q&As with the characters on X(Formally known as Twitter) in which the voice actors answer questions in the characters’ voices. Weirdly enough these provided a different side to Shadow’s character. While SEGA seems insistent on portraying him as an egotistical and jaded anti-hero, these Q&As revealed he’s donating to charity, enjoys gothic clothing, his favorite anime is “Kill la Kill” and he’s also a Taylor Swift fan! 

You may be thinking it’s just a silly thing from social media that has no actual bearing on the canon, but last year’s The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog is my counterpoint to that claim. In the game, Shadow is seen acting very suspiciously and wouldn’t give any information when asked. Despite the behavior seeming both in-character and suspicious at the same time, we find out later that the reason he was so secretive is because he got Amy concert tickets for her birthday and he didn’t want her to find out as it was meant to be a surprise. Shadow the Hedgehog is a softy, people! Spread the news!

That’s not to say that Shadow’s other traits are gone completely, however, as the Netflix show Sonic Prime still shows us how serious and to the point he could be. Then again, the show handles Shadow’s character very well. He might have that trademark “edge” people associate with him, but it’s justified in the show’s premise and his interactions and sometimes bitterness towards Sonic make sense for his character. He’s also legitimately funny with jokes that fit his no-nonsense attitude.

Now, in 2024, we've just learned that Shadow is getting his own new side-story in the upcoming remaster of Sonic Generations. Not a lot is known, but from what we’ve heard the story will see Shadow time traveling as well and meeting Black Doom again. With Ian Flynn at the helm, I’m sure this is going to be an interesting story, to say the least, and I can’t wait to see more from this extra mode,. And of course, we can’t forget about his upcoming movie appearance at the end of the year! At the time of this writing, no official actor has been cast in the role, but I’m excited regardless to see how his story will be adapted to the big screen.

Shadow has certainly had an interesting history, being both famous and infamous, but it’s nice to see that he’s still around and that people may finally understand again what made him so appealing. Would he continue to show layers in his personality? Is he going to be one-note again? Can Jeff Fowler bring him to the big screen in an honorable way? Time will tell, but as long as Shadow is in a decent place as of now, let’s enjoy the moment and when we reach the end of the year, let’s hope that we can all hail Shadow! 


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