The success of the live action Sonic the Hedgehog movies has caused a lot of discussion about which characters from the video games they’d like to see appear on the big screen. These conversations led to some fans mentioning that they think Shadow the Hedgehog would make for a great movie villain. That would be a disservice, though, since he’s not truly a villain in the video games, cartoons, or comic books.
Shadow made his debut in Sonic Adventure 2, which is still one of the most popular video games in the franchise. The story of the game had the nefarious Dr. Eggman hunt down the “ultimate weapon” his grandfather created and wrote about in his diary. This ultimate weapon is, of course, Shadow. Shadow is playable in the “Dark Story” for the game. However, this is only because he has lost most of his memory and knows that Eggman is Gerald Robotnik’s grandson. However, after battling against Sonic and his friends throughout the game, he finally remembers his close friend Maria and the promise he made to her, which was to use his powers to help mankind. He follows up with this promise by teaming up with Sonic to save the world. He may have been misunderstood, and he did fight against our heroes, but it was eventually revealed that he’ll fight for what’s right, even if it is just as a promise to his fallen friend.
In Sonic Heroes, he was a member of Team Dark along with Rouge the Bat and E-123 Omega. Rouge was also playable in the Dark Story of Sonic Adventure 2, but was revealed to be a secret agent working with the government to spy on Eggman, which means she’s not quite evil either. Omega was built by Eggman, but seeks revenge against him when he feels his power is being wasted. He may be a machine, but has a big heart as he grows attached to his new friends Rouge and Shadow. That means “Team Dark” is composed of characters who fight along with their friends against a supervillain. They do briefly spar with Sonic and his friends, but this is heavily due to Shadow once again losing his memory at the end of Sonic Adventure 2. Shadow and the rest of his team do end up helping Sonic save the world again, though.
Shadow’s own spin-off game, simply titled Shadow the Hedgehog, plays with the idea of Shadow possibly being either a hero or a villain with the use of choices the player makes. There are several different endings, including one where he teams up with Sonic to prevent an alien takeover of Earth, one where he and Omega declare androids will rule the world, and one where he murders Sonic and declares himself the most powerful hedgehog. However, there is one, true ending that is seen after unlocking each other ending. That canon ending has Shadow defeat the evil alien army and save the world. He also says he’ll leave the past behind and tosses the photo of Maria and Gerald Robotnik aside, showing that he’ll forge his own path going forward.
From then on, Shadow is employed by G.U.N. along with Rouge and Omega. They send them on missions to help protect Earth (which usually means fighting Eggman). He’s by no means a bad guy like many may think. He may have been a bit misunderstood and took some time to realize his true place in the world, but he’s shown several times that he’s willing to save and protect others. He’s even shown that he can be self-sacrificial in the comic book series and in the animated series Sonic X.
Shadow clearly has good intentions, preventing him from being a villain. He is willing to do whatever it takes to reach his goals, though, so he definitely dips into the “antihero” role much more. He and Sonic aren’t even enemies. They’re more like rivals, but Shadow has made it clear that he has a respect for Sonic and that the world needs Sonic and his powers. If anything, Shadow has been willing to team up with Sonic more times than he has fought against him. He would rather leave Sonic alone than to compete against him. He may even consider Sonic, Tails, and the others his friends, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. Both the games and the comics show that he has a soft spot for Amy and that he’s more than willing to ally himself with Team Chatoix and other characters when needed.
He feels more like a really edgy hero more than he does an antihero or Sonic’s rival at times, but it’s pretty clear that the writers who handle him prefer to present him as the franchise’s antihero. Either way, Shadow the Hedgehog is absolutely not a villain.