Eggman's Evolving Characterization
In the long history of the Sonic franchise, the nefarious Dr. Eggman has been written by a number of different people, each providing a different spin on the character’s personality. It’s safe to say that - much like Sonic himself - Eggman has grown, evolved, and drastically changed over the course of the series. I’d like to take a look at these portrayals, as well as discuss what the ideal portrayal might be.
Keep in mind, my post is going to deal solely with the games. I already did a topic about the various cartoons, comics, and other media that have portrayed Eggman/Robotnik over the years, but here I’d like to exclusively look at how the video game series has handled the character. With that, let’s begin!
Classic Portrayal (1991-1998)
There’s not as much to go on here, since - aside from a few lines in Sonic 3D Blast - Eggman was mute in the classic games. However, it would be a mistake to write him off as having no personality. Far from it, Eggman’s gestures, animations, and even inventions do a great job of alluding to what sort of person he is. Here’s what I’ve taken from the classic games:
A.) Eggman is egotistical. Even without dialogue, we can see that Eggman loves plastering his face on everything. The Death Egg is probably the most blatant example. This trait has remained more or less consistent throughout the modern games, and has been expanded on as these later games got more story-oriented.
B.) The guy’s a bit zany. He comes at you with colorful wrecking balls, giant mallets, cartoonish bombs, and an army of cute robots that look like toys. When he’s defeated, he gets covered in ash and either runs away scared or shakes his fist in impotent rage. He has the visual mannerisms of a very flamboyant, cartoon bad guy.
C.) He’s still pretty dangerous. That silly mustachioed space station can wipe countries off the map if Eggman so chooses. He pretty much wrecked an entire ecosystem on Little Planet. And let’s not forget, those cute little robots are powered by cute little animals. Eggman has a silly veneer, but can and will hurt others to achieve his dreams of world conquest - most notably you, the player, as he unleashes progressively harder machines for you to fight.
D.) He might have a sense of honor? People can debate the Sonic 2 8-bit scene, but the fact remains that Eggman did swoop in to save his archenemy’s life as he hurled toward a pit of lava. True, he immediately dropped him into a boss arena to fight his robot, but the fact remains that Eggman had an opportunity to be rid of Sonic forever and didn’t allow it to happen. A scant, few-second scene implies so much about Eggman’s weird sense of honor, but it would seem that Eggman preferred to give Sonic a fair chance against his machine than lose his nemesis to a dumb accident.
Wow, this is way more than I expected to write about classic-era Eggman, but I think this foundation is important because - to varying degrees - many of these traits come up in later portrayals of the character. Speaking of, let’s move on the next one…
Sonic Adventure (1998): Maniacal Madman
Good one, Doc.
I’ve always felt SA1 Eggman was decidedly more… unhinged than any other take on the character, as far as the games are concerned. For starters, he spends about half the game shouting at the top of his lungs, wildly waving his arms and laughing maniacally as he announces his plans. Case in point, the first time we see him he’s just standing on a roof shouting into the night at nobody in particular as he breaks into a fit of laughter. But his exterior mannerisms really just scratch the surface…
Let’s talk about this plan. Eggman wants to build Eggman Land, but he really wants it in the spot Station Square is currently occupying, for some reason. Ignoring how out-of-place this seems compared to any scheme before or after this game (Eggman wants to rule over people, not destroy them), Eggman chooses the least efficient method possible for this plan: Releasing an ancient water monster, collecting the Chaos Emeralds to power it up, and banking on its loyalty to flood and subsequently clear out his prospective real-estate. What makes this plan confusing is that the far more immediate “just nuke it” option was his backup. If Eggman could’ve blown Station Square up from the beginning (which was his stated goal), why jump through all the hoops with Chaos? It boggles the mind.
This Eggman is still a lot of fun, and his silly childish side seems played up even more than it was in the classic games. The Egg Carrier in particular gives way to a few subtle hints about his personality (the play room, the pool, etc.), as do his interactions with his minions (simply “firing” the failed E-series and forcing them to wander the world aimlessly without a master).
Eggman always been crazy; He is a mad scientist. I feel that SA1 predominantly focuses on this aspect of Eggman’s character, moreso than any other. That’s what I take away the most from SA1 Eggman: Guy’s totally bonkers, and a complete lovable ham about it.
Sonic Adventure 2 (2001): Cool, calculating, and very human.
Just look at this cocky guy.
Sonic Adventure 2 feels like a direct antithesis to Sonic Adventure. In all seriousness, Eggman in this game feels like a completely different character. He calmly discusses his plans with his new allies Shadow and Rouge, masterminds some surprisingly intricate schemes to power the Eclipse Cannon, effectively uses Amy as leverage to dispose of Sonic, and even out-foxes the fox by bluffing Tails into giving away the fake Emerald. Eggman’s indeed turned into a big-time villain in this game, and even though he wasn’t the final threat, definitely gave Sonic a difficult time here.
It needs to be said, however, that Eggman’s egotism has not diminished in the slightest. It’s not played up as much, but it’s still ever-present in the decor of his pyramid base - with ancient Egyptian iconography given the Eggman treatment. His self-aggrandizing messages as he threatens the world (“I am great, I am smart, I am a genius…”) also show how big-headed he is.
Interestingly, the game that made Eggman so sinister also made him surprisingly sympathetic. He’s fleshed out, as we learn about his childhood adoration of Professor Gerald, and the heartbreaking disappointment he feels upon learning that his hero wanted to destroy the world. Eggman’s even willing to swallow his pride and work with Sonic, going so far as to say - with utmost sincerity - “You’re our last hope. We’re depending on you.” While I’ve complained about forced truces between Sonic and Eggman in some games, this one feels believable, natural, shows that when the chips are down, Eggman will temporarily toss the villain ball for the greater good. Just seeing him in the ending sequence sharing a civil conversation with his enemy was - at the time - breaking new ground that we’d never seen with this character.
To put it into simple terms, SA2 Eggman feels the most like a real person; There are a lot of subtle nuances to his character, and while he’s still a big over-the-top supervillain, there’s a humanness to this portrayal that’s never been matched before or since.
Heroes & Shadow (2003-2005): The Ineffectual Villain
To summarize: In Sonic Heroes, Eggman spends the entire game locked in a prison cell, before graduating to cheerleading Sonic from the sidelines as he takes down his rogue robot Metal Sonic. In Shadow the Hedgehog, Eggman launches a rather fruitless campaign against Black Doom, while still finding the time to meander about with stealing rings for his circus base or trying to convince Shadow to help him take over the world; It doesn’t end well, and he ends up being an essential nonfactor in this game too.
About the only kind thing I can say about this era of Eggman portrayals is that it provided some more hints to his sense of morality; In Shadow the Hedgehog, Eggman is rightly disgusted when he believes Gerald betrayed his own comrades for research, but then seems proud and relieved when he learns that his grandfather was actually planning to save the world from Black Doom’s return. It’s small, but it's something.
Other than that, Eggman’s treated as the franchise’s punching bag in these games. He’s captured, beaten up by the Chaotix, chased away by both the Chaotix (Heroes) and Knuckles (Shadow), and even killed in three non-canon endings as he lies in a helpless heap before an angry Shadow. Keep in mind, I’m not opposed to Eggman going through slapstick violence; Later games have Eggman comically hurt himself all the time, but there’s a difference between Eggman hurting himself as a result of his own hubris and Eggman being beaten and attacked by ostensibly heroic characters when he’s unarmed. The former is humorous, the latter is… uncomfortable.
I consider this era to be the dark age of Eggman, and I make it no secret that I’m not fond of this portrayal at all.
Sonic 2K6 (2006): The Weird One
I won’t even talk about the design. I don’t think that’s the important part: What is important is that, while Eggman does come back to the forefront of active villainy in this game, his personality again undergoes an overhaul. This Eggman eschews almost all of his silly or comical mannerisms, and is almost constantly calm (with the exception of his climactic battle with Sonic). He comes across almost more as a suave Bond villain than the campy supervillain he usually is.
I… enjoy this portrayal, but at the same time, it doesn’t really feel like Eggman. Where SA2 made Eggman more serious but kept his comical foibles, this one simply makes him menacing but lacks that same sense of humanity. Even though he helps out in the ending, you never really get a sense of what makes this guy tick or what defines his personality.
He's cool, but a bit too stiff and toned-down to really call “Dr. Eggman” in my opinion. Still definitely better than the Heroes/Shadow portrayal though.
Unleashed/Colors/Generations/Lost World (2008 - 2013): Modern Eggman
I’d say that Eggman’s portrayal has been relatively consistent ever since Unleashed, so I’m lumping everything from it onward together. I have a lot to say about this, so let’s begin:
A.) This is the hammiest Eggman of them all. He loves being the center of attention, and is constantly making a grandiose spectacle of himself. His speeches are more longwinded and self-aggrandizing than ever, and the writers play up Eggman's ego more than any other aspect of his character.
B.) The inclusion of Orbot and Cubot allows other sides of Eggman’s personality to be explored. Previously, it was just Eggman interacting with the heroes or, at times, his temporary allies like Shadow and Rouge. Orbot and Cubot provide Eggman with a much-needed foil, someone to bounce witticisms and insults off of, but also acting as the closest thing he has to “friends” in this series. Seeing Eggman have an even remotely positive bond with anybody is interesting, despite how irritated he usually gets with them.
C.) This Eggman is snarky. He’s always cracking jokes and making sarcastic remarks, to both his enemies and minions. Again, having Orbot and Cubot to play off of gives the writers room to explore this side of Eggman in ways they couldn’t otherwise.
D.) Eggman seems to have fun doing what he does. This is especially evident in Sonic Colors, where he’s giddily taunting Sonic and making light of the entire situation. Far more than previous portrayals, Eggman takes a very whimsical approach to world domination, seemingly treating the whole thing like a game at times. He definitely gets serious (and angry) when he’s losing, however.
E.) As goofy as he is, he’s surprisingly sneaky and cunning. In Unleashed, he pulls a Dr. Wily on Sonic by pretending to apologize before zapping the super right out of Super Sonic. In Generations, he actually manages to control the giant monster for a change. And in Lost World, when he loses control of his monsters, he orchestrates an immediate on-the-fly backup plan to regain control of his scheme - and succeeds, at least until Sonic destroys his mech. Eggman has been seriously in top form lately, at least as far as staying in control of his plans is concerned.
One minor point of concern I have is that this Eggman also feels a bit less fleshed out and a bit less human than, say, his Adventure 2 portrayal. Modern Eggman is a hoot, and I enjoy every precious second he’s onscreen hamming it up, but I can’t help but want… more. More of his depth, his moral fortitude, his faint hint of a conscience. When it comes to personality, I love modern Eggman and want more of him! But it’d be nice to delve just a bit deeper, I think. Sonic Lost World possibly does a bit more of this; Eggman is a complicated guy, after all.
And I think that’s my ideal Eggman characterization: Take the zany, hammy charm of his modern portrayal, and add just a bit more depth and dimension to flesh him out. To me, that’s Eggman as I’ve always seen him: a competent and dastardly villain who still has a heart and limits to his vileness, who at the same time is comical, over-the-top, and just steals the show whenever he’s on the scene. It’d be all my favorite elements of Eggman at the same time, instead of spread out over various conflicting portrayals, and I'd love it.
Anyway, what about you? How would you like to see Eggman portrayed? One of the above examples, or a combination thereof? Maybe a direction the series hasn’t taken him at all yet? Let your opinions be heard! I’m interested in what you have to say.