Nega's Camera

From Sonic Retro

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Eggman Nega's Camera is the primary plot driver in Sonic Rivals, the only game in which it features. Brought from the future by Eggman Nega, the device provides an in-story rationale for the collectable cards that are picked up over the course of the adventure. The camera, rather than simply taking a photographic image of its subject, actually converts whatever it's used on into a two-dimensional card.

Sonic Rivals never clearly states whether Eggman Nega created the camera himself or stole it from elsewhere. Either way, the device comes from the same time period / alternate dimension as Nega and Silver the Hedgehog inhabit. Silver's whole reason for pursuing Nega into the past is to prevent him from using the camera's power to wreak havoc. The fantastic photographic device first makes its power felt in Sonic's time before Rivals' story actually begins. Knuckles the Echidna, guarding the Master Emerald just like he's supposed to, sees the great gem simply pop out of existence before his very eyes. Unknowably to the Guardian, Eggman Nega photographed (is going to photograph?) the jewel centuries later, on Onyx Island; but because of the Master Emerald's transcendental properties, the effect propagates backwards in time to abstract the Emerald from Angel Island too.

After Nega (and Silver) come to the past themselves, the mad doctor uses his camera to card-ify his own counterpart/ancestor, Dr. Eggman, as well as Tails, Amy, Rouge, and (depending on how literally you interpret the game's card-collection gimmick) a host of other characters and items. After suffering multiple defeats at the hands of Sonic, Knuckles, Shadow, and Silver, Nega decides (in an act of blatant insanity) to turn the planet itself into a card. Mounting the camera in his spaceship, the Egg Destroyer, and supercharging the device by connecting it to the Master Emerald card (as well as those of Rouge and Amy), Nega blasts off to execute his omnicidal plan. The heroes eventually disable the ship, causing Nega to lose control of the camera and get turned into a card himself.

How Nega (or anyone else) escapes from their cards is not explained; but given that Tails, Amy, and the other two-dimensionalised characters were apparently recovered simply by Sonic and friends acquiring their cards, returning to 3D doesn't seem that hard.

Items in the Sonic the Hedgehog Game Series
Collectibles   Ring | Super Ring | Special Ring | Rich Ring | Heal Ring | Red Star Ring | Number Ring | Silver Moon Ring | Sonic Medal | Sun Medal | Moon Medal | Sun Tablet | Moon Tablet | Planet Tablet | Secret Item | Red Orbs | Blue Orbs | Green Orbs | Emblem | Chaos Drives | Special Stage Key | Material | Portal Gear | Memory Token | Vault Key | Red Seed of Power | Blue Seed of Defense | Dream Orb
Power-ups   Shield (Water, Lightning, Fire, Gold, Magnetic) | Invincibility | Power Sneakers | Rocket Shoes | Propeller Shoes | Hyper Heli-Tails | Eggman Mark | Super Ring | Combine Ring | Forcejewel | Power Core | Light Cores | Special Combination
Level Objects   Item Box | Item Panel | Spring | Spring Pole | Crane Lift | Dash Rail | Spikes | Checkpoint | Time Warp Plate | Signpost | Goal Ring | Hidden Treasure Ring | Giant Ring | Dash Ring | Rainbow Ring | Capsule | Crate | Water Barrel | Button | Dark Energy Key | Bumper | Speed Booster | Air bubbles | Chao container
Powerful Items   Chaos Emeralds | Super Emeralds | Master Emerald | Time Stones | Chaos Rings | Precioustone | Sol Emeralds | Jeweled Scepter | World Rings | Excalibur | Phantom Ruby | Reverie | Dream Core
Weapons   Piko Piko Hammer | Chaos Energy Cannon | Caliburn | Wispon
Devices   Remote Robot | Combi Confiner | Mother Computer | Nega's Camera | Arks of the Cosmos | Miles Electric
Other   Chili Dog | Fortune Cards | Speed Down Boots | Chao Egg | Scepter of Darkness | Cacophonic Conch