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Quotation1 Even you can't breathe underwater, so you'll have to get to the surface. But bubbles like that are a way to grab some air while you're down there. Quotation2
Miles "Tails" Prower, Sonic Colors (Wii)

The Air Bubble[1] (気泡 Kihō?) is an object that appears in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. They are large bubbles in underwater environments that can provide the playable characters with extra air to breathe, thus allowing said characters to stay underwater for extended periods of time. Without using Air Bubbles underwater to breathe, the playable character will eventually drown.

Since their introduction, the Air Bubbles have appeared in almost every underwater-themed level in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. While the Air Bubbles' purpose and functions have remained the same in all games, there have been cases in several games where they have aided the player in other ways.

Description

Air Bubbles Sprite

In-game sprite of Air Bubbles.

Akin to their real-life counterparts, the Air Bubbles are large bubbles filled with oxygen. They appear exclusively in underwater-themed levels. Within these levels, Air bubbles can always found in the sections of the levels that are submerged in water; though, they do not appear in all underwater sections. In gameplay, they periodically rise in small clusters from cracks in the submerged floors. However, there have been cases where Air Bubbles have emerged from other sources. Once an Air Bubble has emerged, it starts rising up towards the surface until it reaches it or simply disperses.

When a playable character has to stay underwater for longer periods of time without drowning, the player has to make the playable character make physical contact with an Air Bubble, before said playable character runs out of air. This will make the playable character automatically inhale the Air Bubble and cause it to vanish, thus restoring the playable character's oxygen supply, and extend the time the player can remain underwater. The extended time underwater that Air Bubbles grant the player is limited though, and the playable character will eventually start to run out of air once more. Without using Air Bubbles underwater, the playable character will eventually drown, thus causing the player to lose a life.

While numerous Air Bubbles of all sizes are always released from their point of origin, it is only the biggest of them that the player can use to restore the playable character's oxygen supply, while the smaller ones go unnoticed by the playable character. As such, the player often has to wait until a large enough Air Bubble pops out of the ground to be inhaled.

Air bubbles are not necessarily needed by the player when passing through underwater sections, and a player can in some cases make it through a Zone without using them at all. However, because some underwater pathways in the Zones can be so long that the playable character cannot make it through them without getting at least one fresh supply of oxygen, Air Bubbles are usually necessary for the player's survival underwater.

SMHYDROCITY1-7

Classic Sonic riding an Air Bubble in Sonic Mania.

Although they mainly serve to extend the player's time limit when underwater, there have been cases in several games where the Air Bubbles have served other purposes. Most noticeably, a few games have featured extra large Air Bubbles that can surround the playable character when they touch them. Whilst inside these ridable Air Bubbles, the playable character cannot drown and will float slowly towards the surface automatically. In addition, while riding these Air Bubbles, the player can move to the left or right, as well as changing the speed of the Air Bubbles' ascent by pressing up or down on Controlpadds. These Air Bubble can be popped by Spin Jumping out of them, hitting hazards, or colliding with walls or ceilings.

Countdown sequence

Nightmare fuel right from your childhood

Sonic drowns after the countdown sequence.

In numerous games in the Sonic series, including they early main games for the Sega Genesis, if the player is in an underwater section and does not get an Air Bubble within eighteen seconds, a countdown sequence will start. A small two-note jingle can be heard between five, ten, and fifteen seconds before this happens. When the countdown sequence begins, the game will display a countdown from five to zero on the screen. If the player does not get an Air Bubble or gets back to the surface before the alarm music ends and counter reaches zero, then a second later, the playable character will drown.

The alarm jingle, that signifies that the player is about to drown, is believed to be composed by Yukifumi Makino, the sound programmer of Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)[Note 1] and it has since then been used in many later games through the series. The following audio track presents how the alarm music sounds like in both the 16-bit version of the original Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2:

Length Composer Music Track
0:13
Yukifumi Makino
Drowning

Game appearances

Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)

Air-Bubbles-Sonic-1

Air Bubbles in Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit).

The Air Bubbles made their first appearance in the original Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis. In this game, they only appear in the underwater-orientated Zones, namely Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain Zone Act 3.

Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit)

In the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog, Air Bubbles only appear in Labyrinth Zone. Also, instead of hearing the infamous alarm jingle when about to run out of air, the player hears a beeping sound that increases in frequency the closer Sonic gets to drowning.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit)

Air-Bubbles-Sonic-2

Air Bubbles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

In Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the Air Bubbles make an appearance in the underwater areas of Aquatic Ruin Zone. While Chemical Plant Zone has underwater areas made of Mega Mack, they purposely contain no Air Bubbles.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (8-bit)

Large-Air-Bubble-Sonic-2

Sonic riding an Air Bubble in Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

In the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Air Bubbles appear exclusively in the underwater areas of Aqua Lake Zone. Also, in addition to the regular Air Bubbles, this Zone features extra large ridable Air Bubbles.

When about to run out of air in this game, instead of hearing the infamous alarm jingle, the player hears a beeping sound every time the counter counts down.

Sonic the Hedgehog CD

Boss 3 Bad Future

The Tidal Tempest boss using Air Bubbles to defend itself.

In Sonic the Hedgehog CD, the Air Bubbles appear only in the underwater areas of Tidal Tempest. Also, during the battle with the Tidal Tempest boss, Dr. Robotnik will create a large shield of Air Bubbles around the boss vehicle. The player is required to inhale the Air Bubbles in order to create an opening in the shield so they can hit and defeat Robotnik.

When about to run out of air in this game, instead of hearing the infamous alarm jingle, the player will hear an eerie bubbling sound that plays in the background during the countdown.

Sonic Chaos

Air-Bubbles-Sonic-Chaos

An Air Bubble in Sonic Chaos.

In Sonic Chaos, the only appearance the Air Bubbles make is in the underwater areas of Aqua Planet Zone.

When about to run out of air in this game, instead of hearing the infamous alarm jingle, the player hears a beeping sound as the counter counts down.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Air Bubbles in balloons, who would thought

Tails creating Air Bubbles by popping Balloons in Carnival Night Zone.

In Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (and its lock-on extension Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles), the typical Air Bubbles make an appearance in Hydrocity Zone. In addition, when in Carnival Night Zone Act 2, the player can release Air Bubbles by popping Balloons whilst underwater.

Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble

In Soviet Russia, Air Bubble inhales you!

Sonic riding an Air Bubble in Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble.

In Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble, the Air Bubbles make an appearance in Tidal Plant Zone. Also, in addition to regular Air Bubbles, this Zone features extra large ridable Air Bubbles. To release these bubbles however, the player has to press a nearby pink Switch.

When about to run out of air in this game, instead of hearing the infamous alarm jingle, the player hears a beeping sound every time the counter counts down.

Sonic Blast

AirBubbleBlast

An Air Bubble in Sonic Blast.

In Sonic Blast, the Air Bubbles make an exclusive appearance in the underwater areas of Blue Marine Zone. Also, when fighting the underwater boss of Blue Marine Zone, the player can trick the boss into firing harpoons into the ground in order to release Air Bubbles for the playable character to rely on for air during the boss battle.

When about to run out of air in this game, no special music or sound effect is played during the countdown.

Sonic Adventure

SA1 EmC2Bubble

An Air Bubble in Sonic Adventure.

In Sonic Adventure and its remake Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut, the Air Bubbles only make an appearance in the underwater areas of Emerald Coast despite the game having more than one underwater-themed Action Stage.

Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure

AirBubblePocketAdventure

An Air Bubble in Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure.

In Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure, the only time the Air Bubbles make an appearance in this game is in the underwater sections of Aquatic Relix Zone.

Sonic Shuffle

In Sonic Shuffle, Air Bubbles appear as board Spaces that can be found on the Emerald Coast Board. When a player enters the water, a five-turn counter will be placed on them. By passing over an Air Bubble space, the counter will be reset to five turns. However, if the playable character does not reach an Air Bubble space or reach the surface before the counter reaches zero, they will drown and wash up on the surface, wasting a turn.

Sonic Adventure 2

AirBubbleAdventure2

An Air Bubble in Sonic Adventure 2.

In Sonic Adventure 2 and its remake Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, the Air Bubbles make an appearance in the underwater sections of both Aquatic Mine and Cannon's Core.

Sonic Advance series

Sonic Advance

AirBubbleAdvance

An Air Bubble in Sonic Advance.

In Sonic Advance, the Air Bubbles are only encountered in the underwater sections of Ice Mountain Zone.

Sonic Advance 3

AirBubbleAdvance3

An Air Bubble in Sonic Advance 3.

In Sonic Advance 3, the Air Bubbles' are restricted to the underwater areas in Ocean Base and Twinkle Snow's Acts.

Sonic Rush

In Sonic Rush, the Air Bubbles only appear in the underwater areas found within Water Palace.

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

AirBubblesChronicles

Air Bubbles in Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.

In Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, Air Bubbles appear in the game's last chapter when Sonic and Tails' team enter Prefect Charyb's lair on Nocturne. At that point, Prefect Charyb appears and floods the lair with water, causing Air Bubbles to appear. While moving around the submerged lair, the player's party will gradually lose POW Points (PP). However, the player can refill their PP using Air Bubbles. Once a character's PP reaches zero, that character's HP will then begin depleting until they only have one HP left.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4

Episode I

AirBubbleStH4Ep1

An Air Bubble in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I.

In Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, the Air Bubbles only make an appearance in the underwater sections of Lost Labyrinth Zone Act 3.

Episode II

WPZ4

Air Bubbles in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II.

In Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, the underwater areas in Sylvania Castle Zone and White Park Zone are the only places where the Air Bubbles can be found.

Sonic Colors

SNCP8P-208

An Air Bubble in the Wii version of Sonic Colors.

In Sonic Colors, the Air Bubbles make an appearance in both the Wii and Nintendo DS version of the game. On both versions, they main appear in the underwater sections of Aquarium Park. In the WIi version of the game, the Air Bubbles also appear in the underwater sections of the Game Land.

Sonic Generations

AirBubbleGenerationsConsole

An Air Bubble in the console/PC version of Sonic Generations.

In Sonic Generations, the Air Bubbles appear in both the console/PC and Nintendo 3DS version of the game. On the console/PC version, the Air Bubbles appear in the underwater sections of Chemical Plant and Seaside Hill and their associated Challenge Acts. On the Nintendo 3DS version on the other hand, the Air Bubbles only appear in the underwater sections of Water Palace and its missions.

In Water Palace in the Nintendo 3DS version, the alarm music for drowning is not featured. Instead, the countdown uses submarine radar noises for each number.

Sonic Lost World

AirBubbleLostWorld3DS

An Air Bubble in the Nintendo 3DS version of Sonic Lost World.

In the Nintendo 3DS version of Sonic Lost World, the Air Bubbles can only be found in the underwater sections of Tropical Coast.

Sonic Mania

SMHYDROCITY2-14

An Air Bubble in Sonic Mania.

In Sonic Mania, and its expansion Sonic Mania Plus, the Air Bubbles only appear in the underwater sections of Hydrocity Zone. Also, in addition to the regular Air Bubbles, this Zone's first Act features extra large ridable Air Bubbles that can be pushed around by Fans. To release these bubbles however, the player has to press a nearby Switch while underwater.

When facing the Laundro Mobile, the player can create Air Bubbles to rely on for air during the boss battle by colliding with water mines.

Sonic Forces

AirBubbleForces

An Air Bubble in Sonic Forces.

In Sonic Forces, the Air Bubbles only appear in the sections of Chemical Plant that are submerged in Mega Mack.

In other media

Sonic the Comic

In Fleetway's Sonic the Comic, some stories depict Air Bubbles in flooded Zones and locations. During a trip to the Aquatic Ruin Zone, where he got trapped by debris, Sonic tried to reach some Air Bubbles, but was unable to do so until a Sentinel rescued him from drowning.[2] Later, Grimer invented a trap to catch Sonic within the waters of Labyrinth Zone. There, Sonic was ambushed by new spider Badniks that shot fire, and fell into the water. After fighting a pair of Spikers, he found a vent of Air Bubbles where the trap was located and was engulfed by an impenetrable bubble of ultra-tough plastic. However, he escaped the trap using the flames of the new spider Badniks.[3]

Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog

In the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog television series, Dr. Robotnik and his robot son managed to drop Sonic into the sewer. However, Sonic was later seen inhaling Air Bubbles to survive underwater.[4]

Archie Comics

In the Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog miniseries, Sonic was about to drown after keeping himself from being pulled into an underwater Roboticizer by Jaws. Fortunately, thanks to a distraction provided by Tails and Rotor in the Bathysphere, Sonic was able to get some air from some Air Bubbles they made, and destroyed the Roboticizer.[5]

Sonic X

In the Sonic X comic series published by Archie Comics, while trapped underwater in a virtual Labyrinth Zone, Sonic and Amy used Air Bubbles to breathe underwater while Knuckles and Rouge dealt with the surroundings.[6]

Trivia

  • According to Yuji Naka, the idea for Air Bubbles came from thinking of ways to make the playable character have a weakness, as the developer team implemented it to the Labyrinth Zone.[7]
  • In most of 3D games, the player instantly dies when falling into the water. They can, however, run across the water at a certain speed and at right angles.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Air Bubbles exist within the sprite list of Launch Base Zone Act 2, even though none are ever encountered within this zone, despite there being underwater segments. They can be placed using Debug Mode.

Notes

  1. The drowning theme, along with the Chaos Emerald jingle, is not known to be composed by Masato Nakamura. Any of these two jingles aren't featured in Sonic the Hedgehog 1&2 Soundtrack album, as these jingles can be assumed to be composed by Yukifumi Makino.

References

  1. Sonic Team (4 November 2011). Sonic Generations. PlayStation 3. Sega. Area/Level: Chemical Plant (loading screen). "Omochao: You need air to stay underwater. Use Air Bubbles to catch your breath!"
  2. Sonic the Comic #29, "The Sentinel"
  3. Sonic the Comic #83, "Bubble Trouble"
  4. Askin, Robert (22 October 1993). "Robotnik, Jr.". Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Season 1. Episode 29.
  5. Sonic the Hedgehog #1, "Something Fishy"
  6. Sonic X #11, "No Thanks for the Memories! Part Two"
  7. As for the air bubble idea, we were thinking of ways to make the character more unique, so we thought giving him some sort of weakness would be a good idea, and since there was a water stage, why not have him sink? So what to do when he gets in the water stage, we wondered, and after some deliberation we came up with the air bubbles. - Yuji Naka, Sonic Team Commentary in Sonic Jam Strategy Guide.
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