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Knuckles follows a long-standing tradition of baffling video game adaptations, but I can't figure out if that's a good thing or not

Rougher than the rest of them.

Knuckles, in his TV show and live action film appearance, is in focus over art from him in Sonic & Knuckles and the OVA.
Image credit: VG247

I don't think any of us ever saw it coming, but it seems that video game adaptations are kind of good now. Not perfect, but certainly polished enough where you won't necessarily be embarrassed to say you watched it, or get a strange look when you try to explain what it's about.

Illumination's Mario film was pretty and drew in the big bucks, Sonic's movies are actually quite fun despite that initial hurdle called Ugly Sonic, and most recently everyone's been raving about the Fallout series - even I, a non-Fallout fan, enjoyed it. Gone are the days of the original 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie, no more do we see quite odd castings like with Jean-Claude Van Damme as all-American Guile in the live-action Street Fighter film.

And yet, last week Paramount decided to remind us how bad things can get when it released Knuckles onto the world. Our own Dom described it as a fever dream, for better and for worse, and I think that's definitely an accurate description. More than that though, it feels like an accidental callback to '90s and naughties video game movies that really are quite awful in ways that are a bit difficult to comprehend.

Let's look at the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie for example. Every single choice in that film builds towards a tension headache like none I've ever felt. Yes, I know that the Mario series is technically an isekai, but what do you mean in this version of events the world was split into two different dimensions after being hit by a meteorite, one where dinosaurs survived and evolved into a humanoid race and live in a Mad Max wasteland, the other our own reality? Hang on, there's a dance number set to Was (Not Was)'s Walk the Dinosaur? You can see why the headache develops.

Now, to be clear, despite everything about it, I actually kind of love the Mario Bros. movie, precisely because it's so ridiculous. The absurdity of it all gives it a kind of charm that's hard to capture naturally, something that comes through in the Street Fighter movie too (which I'd like to remind you has one of the coldest lines ever put to the big screen).

Knuckles too is absurd, bafflingly so at points, equally in a way that feels like too many cooks potentially spoiled the broth. That, and it feels like at some point someone said "look, we don't have the budget to animate Knuckles for all six episodes, so how about you make that bumbling cop the main character and we'll throw in a musical number with puppets and a Ben Schwartz cameo?"

Knuckles, in live action, stands atop a stone icon in a slapdash gladitorial arena built into a living room.
Knuckles is just a goofy lil guy. | Image credit: Paramount

I'm not kidding about that musical number, seriously, that's basically the entire fourth episode. It is so mind-bendingly strange as a creative choice, leading my partner and I to constantly look at each other desperately exclaiming "what is happening?" What makes it all the more odd is that it's quite literally Knuckles' backstory! It's all about how he discovered his strength! I don't think it would necessarily be better to show it straight, the actual events aren't all that interesting, but I still couldn't really believe that something like that was delivered in such a manner. It was a bit of a jam, too, which is perhaps the worst/ best part of it all.

Watch on YouTube

On top of all of this, the acting was mostly hammy, the story feels wholly inconsequential, and Knuckles' story arc is literally recited to you (and the echidna himself) right in the show's climactic fight. It's the kind of bad you just don't see much of any more, and I don't know how to feel about it honestly. I have a deep love for things that are genuinely bad, without a shred of irony, The Room is one of my favourite films, so you can call me a contrarian if you like. But I'm happy so who cares!

When it comes to Knuckles, though… I'm not so sure. Right now, I don't think I could rewatch it because I just simply don't understand how it got made, and that's enough to send me into a panic about the state of our creative industry. Still, at least Sonic 3 can't be this bad, right? That's what I'll keep telling myself anyway.

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