Let's not beat about the bush here. Everything was fine and dandy in the good old 16-bit days when Sonic was blessedly mute, but subsequent games (and some poxy cartoons) soon transformed the royal blue rat into an obnoxious arrogant hipster who spouted nonsensical catch phrases at every opportunity. Miles "Tails" Prower is unfairly reviled as being one of the most annoying sidekicks of all time... and the following glut of new characters provided a veritable cavalcade of one-dimensional lackeys who screeched and hooted banalities even as they caused us no end of aggravation. Don't even get me started on Big The Cat. Froooggy!
However, a singular SEGA star stands out as being more than just a lazy stock character. He's a deep and brooding defender with a troubled past and devastating abilities. I'm talking, of course, about Knuckles The Echidna.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Well, okay, there are three ways.
Fists Of Fury
Let's start with the most obvious of observations before engaging in serious psychoanalysis. Knuckles is badass. As well as being capable of intense speed (used to devastating effect in his original appearance in Sonic 3), he can use his spiked fists to bludgeon his way through Badniks or barriers with effortless abandon. More excitingly, though, Knuckles can glide huge distances by trapping air under his luscious dreadlocks... and climb sheer cliffs the only way he knows how. By punching them.
These nifty abilities translated into completely unique and exciting gameplay mechanics that came to the fore in the Sonic Adventure series. His sections were expansive open-world scavenger hunts that truly opened up the linear series in an exciting new direction that subsequent titles failed to capitalise on.
Put simply, he makes a more interesting protagonist than Sonic ever was. Give him his own game already!
The Master Guardian: Tragedy & Loneliness
Rather than a youthful little do-gooder out to save the world in a mega super extreme way, Knuckles is a grizzled veteran whose life revolves around a singular purpose. He's the ultimate defender of the Master Emerald; consigned to self-imposed exile on the floating Angel Island and abandoned by his father at an early age. His isolation makes him honest, fanatically loyal and ever so slightly gullible- a endearing combination amongst the rest of the juvenile idiots who populate the character roster. Okay, so he frequently fails to prevent his charge from being shattered into pieces... but nobody's perfect.
Sonic Chronicles, BioWare's sadly underrated RPG, took Knuckles' character even further. Haunted by being the last of his kind, our crimson crusader was shocked to discover a rival family of Echidna who reappeared to cause havoc at the present day- forcing him to deal with conflicting emotions of love and loss as he fought against the very kin that he'd spent his entire life dreaming to find. Powerful stuff. Arguably, that's also why we love BioWare.
The Rap: Unlike Sonic, He Doesn't Chuckle
Aww yeah. There's no escaping the rap. Knuckles is generally considered (and hinted at by his creators) to be black... so as well as his signature dreadlocks, he also boasts the best and worst piece of videogame music of all time.
Watch it. Love it. Revel in it. Marty O'Donnell's got nothing on this.