What is the value of a character?
One of the first things Sonic fans will talk about when discussing the franchise will be how many characters it has. Over the years many characters have been introduced to Sonic’s world, and through the years many characters have been abandoned by Sega and Sonic Team for a variety of reasons.
Some characters are simply essential to keep around for the sake of a Sonic story, which include Sonic the Hedgehog himself, being the main hero. Other important characters include Miles “Tails” Prower, Sonic’s loyal sidekick, Knuckles the Echidna, a powerful friend, Amy Rose, the lead female protagonist, and Shadow the Hedgehog, the cool anti-hero who more often than not helps Sonic in his own way.
Then you have everyone else, other characters who have briefly been involved in Sonic’s adventures from time to time, some of which have appeared a few times like Rouge the Bat and Espio the Chameleon, others who have appeared less frequently like Cream the Rabbit, Vector the Crocodile and Charmy Bee, and those who have made only one meaningful appearance in the Sonic franchise, such as Chip from Sonic Unleashed, Tikal the Echidna and Big the Cat from Sonic Adventure 1.
Many characters in the Sonic franchise have been made, but few today get the opportunity to hang around in Sonic’s world. Beginning in 1991 Sonic was introduced to the gaming world, then Tails followed close behind in 1992 (Sonic 2), and then Amy Rose first appeared (though not as a playable character) in 1993 (Sonic CD). Knuckles first appeared in 1994 (Sonic 3 & Knuckles).
Having a supporting cast of characters helps define what a game franchise’s world is going to be. A single character (in this case Sonic) can’t carry all the weight of driving the narrative of a game story along with the main antagonist Dr. Eggman. Sonic’s world really isn’t a world without unique characters that inhabit it.
What is the value of a character? That depends on how well the game development team actually develops a character. In this case Sonic Team have gone through many characters, experimenting on whether or not they fit in Sonic’s world. There are many characters who haven’t been used in a long time, such as Mighty the Armadillo, Ray the Flying Squirrel, Marine the Raccoon, and the machinery duo of Heavy and Bomb from Knuckles Chaotix. These characters appear to be the type that Sonic Team has no desire to look into and develop again in the foreseeable future.
Can any character have the potential to be more than what they can be? Yes! The fan community of Sonic the Hedgehog is filled with fans who are known to be creative. Sometimes for better, and other times for worse. It’s the creativity that Sonic fans have, the willingness to see potential in characters and expand on them, that drives the support fans have for certain characters. Whether it’s fan comics, single sketches of artwork, or even fan game projects by indie game devs, the creativity is used by fans to show different sides of Sonic characters, showcasing new twists to them that was previously unseen by other gamers.
When you properly develop a character, it will matter more to a game world. Imagine if a character like Amy Rose received proper character development, a process that sees her become more than just a fanatic of Sonic in a game, that character’s stock goes up in Sonic’s world. One of Amy’s defining roles was in Sonic Adventure 1 when she was playable and she had her own storyline, with her being one of six characters to have a story.
Characters tend to matter more when they’re playable. While this may not be the case in every single game of a franchise, more often than not gamers are more inclined to emotionally invest in what a character is doing in a story if that character is a playable option. The chances of a gamer caring about what a character does goes down if that character is non-playable. There are less chances of a character becoming popular if that character is not actively involved in gameplay.
Gameplay mechanics are important. There’s only so much a playable character can do if his or her play mechanics are not up to par with everything else in a game. When you find the right kind of gameplay mechanics for a character and you know you can properly develop a character through those mechanics, there’s no reason to keep that character non-playable. The original Genesis games, bits and pieces of Sonic Adventure 1, Sonic Advance 3 and Sonic Rush are some examples of games that cater to other characters and their gameplay traits. Mix these examples in with being able to play similar to Sonic himself (spin dashing) and you already have the gameplay blueprint for the other characters.