Knuckles the Echidna, is a complex, layered character in Sonic Adventure 2. You see many facets of this individual, not through cutscenes, but through the incredibly cheesy rap songs that play during his stages, we see quite a bit of his character. I will go through all five of his stages, and provide analysis on the lyrics, and how they reflect the downfall of Knuckles.
STAGE #1: WILD CANYON
In Knuckles’ first stage, Wild Canyon, the lyrics reflect a confident figure, no swayed by distractions. The song begins, blaring at the viewer with the lyrics:
This is Knuckles, and I’m back!
I been away for a while, but I’m back to kick some butt at Wild Canyon!
I shall find all the lost pieces of the Master Emerald here.
I’m gonna get those fools.
They wanna play with my Emeralds?!
They playing with the wrong guy!
Knuckles is confident. He lays out his goal, and he accomplishes it in 30 seconds to 10 minutes depending on the hint boxes. It’s imperative that the instrumental to this song is also jazzy. There’s an overlaying saxophone in this track. The nature of the Jazz genre is to be flexible and freeform, reflecting the independent nature of Knuckles. Furthermore, this parallels Knuckles and Rouge. Rouge the Bat has stages that have heavy Jazz influences. Sonic Scholars have debated whether or not Rouge has a positive or negative influence on Knuckles’ mind. I, for one, am in the camp that the image of her is distracting Knuckles. There are multiple pieces of evidence for this.
Firstly, Knuckles’ other stages don’t use jazz in their instrumentals. This shows that Rouge has control over Knuckles, despite his objections otherwise. Secondly, look at this lyric in Wild Canyon:
Wild Canyon fun? I gotta chase a bat, huh,
Yeah, Rouge, she’s sexy and smooth!
A double cross spy-thief, that’s out for my jewels, huh…
I’m feelin’ her in mysterious ways.
“Out for my jewels” is a double entendre, cleverly inserted by Knuckles. Knuckles senses there is some romantic tension between him and Rouge. She attempted to steal the object that keeps the Echidna civilization alive, but Knuckles still feels attraction. This hurts him. He shouldn’t be interested in her. He should hate her, even. She didn’t consider the consequence of her actions. But Knuckles might have understood this. Maybe he understood her ignorance, and he saw an individual who could change. Rouge isn’t stupid, and Knuckles knows this. Perhaps, it isn’t just her physical appearance that attract him, but also her abilities.
This leads into another, odd bar:
When I catch her, I’ma get her with these tools,
There you are, come here little thief!
Think you gon’ fly and get away quick? Uh, uh!
Give up the Emerald or die, I don’t love you!
Knuckles is frustrated with Rouge, understandably. However, why does he need to bring up that he doesn’t love her? This should already be established to the player. This is a tiny glimpse into Knuckles’ layers. He is determined and protective of his race and friends. He shouldn’t even like Rouge…but he uses the word “love.” Love. Onto the next song.
STAGE #2: PUMPKIN HILL
A common theme in Knuckles stages is ghosts. Physical ghosts, hunting Knuckles down. We now begin to see flaws in Knuckles, and his problem-solving abilities:
This probably seems crazy, crazy, a graveyard theory,
A ghost tried to approach me and got leery.
Asked him a question and he vanished in a second,
I’m walkin’ through valleys cryin’ pumpkin in the alley.
Didn’t seem happy but they sure tried to get me,
Had to back ’em up with the fist, metal crack ’em.
Knuckles is facing an unseen force, and his fists were unable to solve the problem. His previous bravado in Wild Canyon is shattered even more. Knuckles is out of his element. He is in a foreign area, and he is unwelcome. He is unable to negotiate with these ghosts, and he attacks what he fears. Knuckles uses violence to hide his insecurities and flaws.
This next set of lyrics is particularly interesting:
Let it get to me? I’m just gonna creep,
Down in Pumpkin Hill I gots to find my lost piece.
Knuckles is trying not to let his fear overcome him. He is displaying a different approach to life. Not one that faces and judges everything at face value, but one that tries to avoid conflict when necessary.
The final set of lyrics are the most interesting to me, because Knuckles no longer raps with flow. He just begins to yell out to the wind. This is what he says:
(Spooky up in here, it’s crazy in here,)
(We still gon’ keep it goin’, I’m Knuckles.)
(Nobody scares me,)
(Whoever want it, bring it!)
(I don’t care, we ‘ka do this.)
(Then come step up to the plate, and meet your match,)
(It ain’t no thang.)
Who is he talking to? Is Knuckles yelling at the ghosts around him? Why does he need to yell? If he is creeping, this contradicts his attitude. Knuckles continues to use force and hide his insecurities. Knuckles is cracking.
STAGE #3: AQUATIC MINE
Knuckles is taken from a haunted environment to an old coal mine. This area too, is infested with ghosts. Right away, this set of lyrics reveals quite a bit about Knuckles’ character. We already know he is brash, and perhaps, not the smartest. But listen to this:
Let’s take a dive, in Aquatic Mine
Once was a coal pit, but now it’s a water ride
Makes you wanna sit back, enjoy the life
And do things you like doing, get to shine
It sure beats fighting with them foes all the time
But I gotta do it, they always stay out of line
Sometimes I wanna just chill and land
But I’m the protector of the Emerald and gems
Knuckles was all an act. He doesn’t want to protect the Master Emerald. To him, this duty is a curse. Something he is obligated and bound to. But he cant say no, because nobody else can protect it. Perhaps, he enjoys searching for the pieces of the Master Emerald. It lets him see more of the world, than only his home. At first, I was questioning why Knuckles was interested in a coal mine. But, upon reflection, he may have never seen one before. This information is completely new to him, and, its important not to judge him for wanting to rest at a mine.
However, Knuckles ceases his desires with this bar:
Hand tracks be trackin’ me to different doorway
In a maze, and I don’t know what to do
Guaranteed though, I’ma find the Emeralds
They don’t call me Knuckles for nothing, I can’t lose
Knuckles cannot lose, and he must stay determined. All of his fears and weaknesses are coming at him, but he needs to go through this mine, and find what is his. His people need him, and he accepts this. To him, he may think protecting the Master emerald is a curse, but to others, he’s a hero.
STAGE #4: DEATH CHAMBER
Knuckles is now within a US government pyramid, that holds a ship that can take them to Dr. Eggman’s space station. I’m really not making this up.
This is a fairly short, lyrical song, which reflects Knuckles’ no-nonsense attitude he has developed. He is not interested in rapping and being stylish. He has a mission now, and he is dedicated to it.
Eggman wants to steal the stones, keep the Emeralds and build a throne
(Death Chamber, Death Chamber, Death Chamber)
Not if I can help at all, I will not let him take it over
Illustrate Knuckles’ resiliency and strength. He takes his time to not only get the Master Emeralds, but also, defeat Eggman. This stage is also filled with ghosts, but it hardly phases Knuckles. He needs to get these keys for, whatever.
STAGE #5: METEOR HERD
This too, is a nearly lyricless song, reflecting Knuckles’ determination. However, one bar got my attention:
What’s this? Can’t fly or climb
I just could float, hope I don’t die
Meteors coming my way, weavin’, gotta go straight
Ain’t a criminal, crime don’t pay
Knuckles floats in space, no longer in control of his gliding. This is his final test. He could every much die here. He is on another planet entirely. Knuckles is risking his life, but he knows it can’t be lost. He needs to get the emeralds. He lost control of everything, but he still succeeds in his mission.
This is the journey of Knuckes. A confident, playful rapper, to a focused, mature Echidna. Gaming has never had a deeper character.