Doctor Robotnik vs. Eggman: the confusion over Sonic the Hedgehog’s true villain

Jim Carrey as Robotnik hovers in his evil plane

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It’s bizarre to think that there’s a main villain in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, and yet no one seems quite sure what to call him.

Yes, the age-old Doctor Robotnik-vs.-Eggman debate has raged since the dawn of time — or at least the early 1990s. And while many have picked sides, it’s important to know that there is a correct answer to this question, especially given the recently-released Sonic the Hedgehog movie. And we’re here to answer it.

I am the Eggman

In 1990, Sega was on the ropes after the messy launch of the Mega Drive. The console would be rebranded as the Sega Genesis in the US, but it needed more than that to take off. It needed a must-have game. Hayao Nakayama, Sega’s president at the time, held an internal contest, seeking character designs for potential heroes in a new franchise. The winner of the contest, as drawn by character designer Naoto Ohshima, was Mr. Needlemouse (who would go on to become Sonic the Hedgehog).

But there was another design by Ohshima that the development team loved. This one featured a round man in a set of polka dot pajamas and a nightcap. He had a massive bushy beard and round, Coke bottle glasses. You can see his original design in this archived 1UP story recapping the contest.

While Mr. Needlemouse was a clear hero, the development team working on what would become Sonic the Hedgehog fell in love with this round man and felt he needed to be included in some way. He would go on to become Sonic’s main antagonist.

Jim Carrey as Robotnik hovers in his evil plane

Image: Paramount Pictures and Sega of America

The dawn of Robotnik

The development team in Japan named the new character Doctor Eggman (a reference to The Beatles song). But when Sonic the Hedgehog was released in the US on June 23, 1991, the instruction manual listed him as Doctor Ivo Robotnik.

So where did Robotnik come from? In 2016, Game Informer spoke with the head of the Sonic team, Takashi Iizuka, to understand the shift.

“When the game was originally developed in Japan, they called the character Eggman,” he told Game Informer. “That was the name of the character, but when the game got localized and ported into the Sonic the Hedgehog that we know in the West, they decided to, without confirming with the development team, change his name to Ivo Robotnik or just Robotnik. That’s kind of when everyone first learned about the character. Of course, this was without consulting the people who made the game. They just kind of went off and did it.”

This led to a problem: When the game was released in Japan on July 26, 1991, the instruction book listed him as Doctor Eggman. So now they had the same character with two different names. Arguably the US version was released first, but internally the Sega team never saw that as the official name.

The names created so much confusion that Sega decided to unify everything in 1999 with Sonic Adventure. In that game, he’s referred to as both Robotnik and Eggman.

Since then, Sega has attempted to establish a canonical name for him. In an official Sega interview from 2008, Yuji Naka, one of the original Sonic creators, tried to back his way into a solution to the problem. “To tell the truth, his name has not changed,” said Naka. “Robotnik is his real name and Eggman is a common name taken after his shape.”

In other words, Eggman is an obnoxious nickname given to him by his haters, but Robotnik is what you’d find on his passport. Sure, it’s a messy retcon considering previous statements but whatever, it works.

What about the movie?

In the newly-released Sonic the Hedgehog movie, Jim Carrey’s red-loving, mustachioed villain is called Dr. Ivo Robotnik. But, during an important moment, James Marsden’s character calls him “Eggman” as an insult. This actually follows closely with what Sega has presented as the canonical answer to the name debate, though bizarrely Jim Carrey’s character is not round in the film, so the slight doesn’t make a ton of sense.

In short: “Dr. Ivo Robotnik” if you’re inviting him to dinner and “Eggman” if you’re kicking him out of your house.

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