In the 1990s, the environment became a major theme in many media aimed at children. In the 80’s, Ghostbuster gave us Walter Peck, the unbridled agent of the Environmental Protection Agency who portrays environmentalists in a fairly negative light. However, the direction of pop culture shifted greatly only a few years later. Franchises like Captain Planet, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and even GI Joe are starting to support the virtue of protecting our Earth. First Sonic the Hedgehog video games are a product of that era that were released on Sega Genesis in 1991. The game pits its hedgehog hero against the industrial vision of Dr. Evil Robotnik. There was a clear message in those early games, and in the Sonic medium, but these days, those themes have disappeared.
The earliest Sonic games featured a basic theme of industry vs. environment. While the games are light on the true story, the developer’s Sonic Team was able to convey that theme in a way that even younger players could understand. Dr machine. Robotnik restrains the animals, and destroys them allowing the animals to roam freely again. Themes are extended to levels, too. Areas like sonic 2The Chemical Planet Zone gives players a glimpse of Robotnik’s cold, sterile vision, a stark contrast to places like the Green Hill Zone. In 1993’s sonic CD, each stage of the game features variations set in the past, present, and future. As a result, players can glimpse the negative impact of Robotnik’s plans. The stages in the past were green and bright, but the present and the future make Chemical Plants seem cheerful in comparison. sonic CD it does not contain animals in its robots, but destroys the machines resulting in flowers being planted in their place.
In recent years, that has changed, and the greatest example of this loss can be seen in both Sonic film. While the film has done an excellent job of capturing key elements of the Sonic canon, the environmental message has been completely lost. Dr. Crime Robotnik is now left ambiguous. We know that Jim Carrey’s character wants power and he’s willing to kill Sonic (or whoever) to get it. But the real impact of the doctor’s plan is yet to be felt.
first Sonic the Hedgehog Movies, Dr. Robotnik is introduced as a comical scientist, and much of his appearance in the film centers on building up his conflict with Sonic. That made sense for the original film, but the sequel missed the opportunity to carry the theme of the game. In Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Robotnik’s plan causes great destruction in Green Hills. We saw a lot of forested areas destroyed, but no direct impact was shown on wildlife. Nor do we get a glimpse of the villain’s vision or what his industrial goals will do to the planet.
This reduced concern for the environment can also be seen from the movement carried out by Sega; last year, the company came under heavy criticism from Sonic fans when it announced plans to release Sonic NFT. The company later scrapped those plans, but many fans were disappointed to see environmental icons like Sonic being used to promote something that was proving to be harmful to the planet. The environmental theme is still present in some modern Sonic games, but seems much less common than in the early days.
Unfortunately, Sonic isn’t the only one who has forgotten the importance of the environment. These days, the TMNT is more concerned with stopping Shredder, Captain Planet has disappeared, and Eco-Warriors GI Joe is considered a part of a franchise that should be forgotten. Environmentalism is no longer seen as a universal good for our society. Instead, it became another culture war, despite the fact that global warming is a much bigger problem now than it was in 1991. Sonic has become the hero we need when his cultural impact is greater than ever. When Sonic Origin release in June, newcomers will see how these old games highlight environmental issues. This year Sonic Frontier also offers a chance to see environmental themes come back in vogue, especially with the forests and fields that Sega has featured from the game so far. Hopefully these two matches will produce a positive message that shines once again.
Do you think Sonic’s environmental theme needs a bigger focus? Do you think the films should have portrayed Robotnik’s atrocities better? Let us know in the comments or share your thoughts directly on Twitter at @Marcdachamp to talk about all things gaming!