Whilst the development of Sonic The Fighters was a shock to many, the finished product still held one or two more surprises in store for gamers. You see, whilst many expected to see the regular Sonic characters, like Tails, Amy and Dr. Eggman, they weren’t prepared for some of the characters that lined up in the fight for the Chaos Emeralds. What’s more, whilst some of these characters would end up as part of the main cast, others have rarely been seen ever since.
The first of these characters is Espio the Chameleon who is described as an intelligent ninja warrior. Espio is one character that nowadays any fan of the Sonic universe will certainly know. However back in 1996, his sole appearance had come in Knuckles Chaotix for the Sega 32X. A game that whilst well respected, had already been criminally forgotten, thanks to failure of the 32X.
Nevertheless, the purple chameleon was one character who found popularity with Sonic’s core fan base despite appearing in not one, but two of Sonic’s most forgotten titles. Even today fans still consider Espio one of the best characters in the Sonic universe, and he has been seen taking a leading role in a great majority of Sonic’s more recent titles, such as Sonic Heroes. In Sonic the Fighters, Espio makes up the fourth round of the story mode, and in a nice nod to his connection to Knuckles, can be found in Mushroom Hill Zone from Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Espio isn’t the only character you’d have been forgiven for mistaking as a brand new creation though. Whilst many saw the gun slinging Wolf named Fang The Sniper as a surprising new creation, he had actually appeared in quite a few games prior. Created by popular Japanese freelance artist and former SEGA employee TOUMA, Fang’s debut actually came about in the Game Gear title Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble. Wherein he stars alongside Knuckles and Dr. Eggman, as one of three antagonists hunting for the Chaos Emeralds.
Following this Fang would go on to also star in Sonic Drift 2 on the Game Gear, before making up the sixth stage of Sonic the Fighters, where he can be found in the Casino Night Zone. Again, like Espio, Fang was certainly popular, with SEGA planning to have the cowboy play an important role in Sonic’s 3D future. However, whilst SEGA had plans for him to star as a major antagonist in the doomed Saturn game Sonic Shuffle, unfortunately fate would see him largely reduced to cameo appearances.
Whilst Espio and Fang were a surprise for the majority of people playing Sonic the Fighters, they understandably wouldn’t have been a surprise to everyone. Nevertheless, there were a few fighters in the character line-up that would be a surprise to everyone. These were Bark the Polar Bear and Bean the Dynamite, both of which were created by Masahiro Sugiyama, the character designer who inspired the title.
The first to appear is Bark the Polar Bear, who can be found in the Aurora Icefield. Making up the game’s third stage, Bark’s main asset is his immense brute strength, strength that sees him put on an equal power basis to Knuckles. His character also focuses on close range combat and grappling in order to win fights, and can deliver devastating amounts of damage very quickly.
Whilst Bark was very much built in the same makeup as other Sonic characters, the same couldn’t be said for Bean. Bean the Dynamite is described as a madman that has a hyperactive and eccentric personality. He also has an obsession with dynamite and explosives, utilising these alongside his rapid and unpredictable movements in order to fight his opponents.
This certainly makes for a compelling character in the normally family friendly Sonic universe. However, what makes the character even more compelling, is the fact that he’s considered a hero. Nevertheless despite being a hero, he is considered highly dangerous, and fittingly makes up the final stage before the player faces Sonic himself.
Moreover, whilst Bark and Bean have been confined to cameo appearances since Sonic the Fighters, both are very much considered part of the Sonic universe. This is something evidenced through their appearances within the Archie Comics’ Sonic universe. Ultimately, whilst their initial appearances were a complete shock to all, this wouldn’t be the case if the two made a welcome return in future Sonic instalments.
On the face of it, Bean and Bark were certainly the biggest shocks that gamers would find in a game full of surprises. However, Sonic the Fighters’ code had one last hidden secret. That secret was the character known as Honey the Cat, although this wouldn’t become official until the HD re-release in 2012.
Created by Kazunori Oh and Takako Kawaguchi, two of the character model designers for both Sonic the Fighters and the game that inspired it Fighting Vipers, Honey was certainly intended for the game’s initial release. In fact, Honey is directly based off of the character also named Honey within the Japanese release of Fighting Vipers, sharing both clothing and special moves. Nevertheless, the decision was taken late on to scrap her from the Sonic fighting debut.
This wasn’t the end for the character though, as hackers would later rediscover Honey’s code hidden within the game’s first release outside of the arcade, Sonic Gems Collection. Here they discovered that Honey’s character model was originally based on Amy Rose, and that her fighting style involved a series punches and jabs combined with an array finishing kicks. Honey was also found to have enhanced special abilities beyond that of most Sonic characters, including both the ability to glide just like Knuckles, and the power to harness chaos energy in order to enter Hyper Mode.
There was however a number of glitches within this version of the illusive Cat character. Understandable given the incomplete nature of Honey’s development. Nevertheless, finding the illusive forgotten character had piqued the interest of the fans, and as such when preparing the game for it’s HD re-release, SEGA decided to surprise gamers one final time by finishing the character. Not only this but they even gave players a special trophy / achievement for finding Honey.
There isn’t any other way to describe Sonic the Fighters than “unconventional”, with this true of its roots, development, and roster of fighters. It’s also a game filled with surprises, with the game itself being the biggest of them all. Moreover, these surprises keep on coming, even through into the most recent HD re-release for PS3 and Xbox 360.
Sonic the Fighters probably isn’t what anyone expected from Sonic and SEGA in moving the iconic character into the 3D realm, but that’s alright. Instead we got a game that allowed SEGA to be creative with it’s most loved character, whilst also testing the water before launching into other more conventional 3D projects. Sonic may have gone on to critical acclaim in the 3D realm within the 1999 Dreamcast title Sonic Adventure. However, none of this may have been possible without the unconventional and unexpected Sonic the Fighters.