With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, video game movies have turned a corner. After years of being outright awful, they’ve finally reached a tier perhaps best described as “harmlessly fine.” But now that we’ve thankfully reached a level of basic competence, it also weirdly enough gave me a delirious moment of imagining what could come now that we’re there.
Frankly, it wasn’t actually anything that was in Sonic that gave me that moment. Don’t get me wrong, the movie’s fine—it’s not bad, not amazing, it’s...fine! It’s cute. Sonic flosses, multiple times, which my screening audience loved. The Olive Garden marketing seamlessly folded into the script flew over the heads of said screening audience, if only because a) they’re in the UK, where we do not have Olive Garden, and b) they were mostly 5-year-olds.
No, instead it was the studio credits.
Sonic, like all movies, opens with the title credits of its distributing studios and licensees. The circle of stars flies in over the Paramount mountain—replaced by Sonic’s golden rings in a cute little nod—and so on. My eyes glazed over a little, because, well, the movie’s not really started yet so I’m only paying half attention, when Sonic owner Sega’s own little title credit started playing—its debut, given that the Sonic movie is its first attempt to leverage its vast gaming catalogue in the Hollywood realm. It flicked by like those Marvel Studios credits—the ones where pages of classic comic books flip past your eyes—and then Welkin Gunther was on screen, and suddenly, I was wide awake.
For those of you unfamiliar, Welkin Gunther is the protagonist of Valkyria Chronicles, a 2008 tactical roleplaying game published by Sega, set in a fantastical alt-World War II in which you send anime child soldiers to potentially die horrible deaths or maybe become glowing blue magic people. What I’m saying is it’s both great and also a video game I never expected to see footage from plastered wide across a movie screen. I like Sonic games enough, sure, but Valkyria Chronicles? That’s my bullshit (you read the bit where I said it’s anime tactics in faux-World War II, right?). In among this sea of small children and their parents, I was having my mind ripped apart.
I thought, for a brief moment, I had perhaps gotten lightheaded, having skipped breakfast, and had entered a state of delirium. A feeling that only continued when Welkin’s face faded further from view only to be replaced prominently by Kazuma Kiryu, the protagonist of the beloved Sega gangster action/zany Japanese life sim series Yakuza. I’m sure there were other Sega icons in this cavalcade of gaming characters flying by to ultimately form that classic logo of theirs, but my brain, on fire with the absurdity of the “what is Kiryu doing here in the title card for a Sonic movie oh my god I’m having a stroke” energy flowing through it, couldn’t tell. The Sega logo formed, the moment passed, and I was free to mildly enjoy a perfectly fine Sonic movie.
And yet, in the days since, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that gleefully silly opening title, the surprise it evoked, and what it might one day portend—especially now that Sonic is on track to become the most successful video game movie ever, besting even the might of Pokémon. Could there be a Ghibli-esque, watercolor-palleted animated adaptation of Valkyria Chronicles on the big screen someday (the audience would be me and roughly five other people, so, sadly, probably not)? A zany crime caper riffing on the slice-of-life and wild action combo of the Yakuza games? A high fantasy epic based on Panzer Dragoon? An adaptation of Shenmue that’s just the scenes about forklifts and looking for sailors?
Video games feel like a world of untapped potential for turning their worlds, no matter how weird or grandiose, into incredible avenues for cinematic storytelling. For a brief moment, Sega’s bonkers movie credits reminded me of that—after years of hoping that one day one of these damn films might not suck total arse, there might now be a chance to see some of my favourite worlds and characters on the big screen. That was as delightful and fun to me as any of the Sonic movie’s most charming moments.
Maybe Sonic had to floss so that Welkin Gunther could run to the box office. Or, well, drive a tank probably, that’s what he does.