Monday, January 25, 2010

Sonic's Handheld Adventures - Part 1

It's safe to assume that any Sega fan and just about any gamer knows of Sonic's 16-bit adventures. Sonic 1, Sonic CD, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles followed Sonic from his early South Island scuffles with Eggman through to his final assault on the Death Egg. All in all it was a solid series featuring speedy gameplay, memorable side characters and a surprisingly deep overarching plot (well, deep compared to Mario's exploits).

As famous as the Genesis/Mega Drive series was, not too many fans know of Sonic's 8-bit adventures. One would assume that they were adaptations of the 16-bit series, especially when one considers that the first two Game Gear Sonic titles were Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Well that "one" couldn't be more wrong! Despite sharing titles, the Game Gear Sonic series was as far from the Genesis series as they could get. Join me, Barry the Nomad, as we walk down a less trodden path of memory lane and take a look back on Sonic's Handheld Adventures!

Sonic the Hedgehog was Sonic's first Game Gear appearance. Developed by Ancient, who also created the Mega Drive classic Beyond Oasis, the 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog was a faithful albeit downgraded adaptation of the original 16-bit classic. I say adaptation rather than port as while many zones from the original are absent, there also exist zones unique to the Game Gear. After running through the requisite Green Hill Zone, Sonic continues through Bridge Zone (???) , makes a diversion through Jungle Zone (?!?) revisits Labyrinth Zone, blasts directly to Scrap Brain Zone and then completes his adventure at Sky Base Zone (what is this? Sonic 2?). If you can't tell, those levels completely disregard the 16-bit order. Despite the differences, 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog is a very enjoyable handheld game with peppy music and great visuals for a Game Gear. Were I to rate it, I'd give it a 4/5 on the Game Gear scale.

Remember Sonic the Hedgehog 2? The game in which Tails is kidnapped by Eggman and Sonic must pay a ransom in Emeralds? Oh, thats not the game you remember? You must be thinking about the GOOD Sonic 2 , y'know, the 16-but one. The 8-bit Sonic 2 is a completely different beast. Might as well called it Tails is Missing. Developed by Japansese developer Aspect (not to be confused with Sonic 1's Ancient), 8-bit Sonic 2 does everything wrong that 16-bit Sonic 2 did right. Despite appearing on the cover and in the zone title screens, Tails is MIA as Sonic goes solo to rescue his pal.

Do not believe the act intro screens, Tails is MIA.

The game commits a cardinal sin in starting with an eerie mine level. What happened to the requisite first lush green zone? Oh, that happens in the second zone, Sky High Zone. Then, after a water level, Sonic revisits the first Sonic 1 level in a retooled Green Hills Zone. I guess they added more hills. All in all, Sonic 2 is alright for what it is but fails at what it promises to be. Outside of the title, it is not the well known Sonic 2 and the fact that Tails is not playable gives this game a 1/5. Okay, I'll give it a 2/5 for the music:

Things turned around for Sonic on the Game Gear with Sonic & Tails aka Sonic the Hedgehog Chaos outside of Japan. While Aspect is still the developer, they seem to have learned some lessons since their last game. Like the Japanese title states, both Sonic and Tails are playable. The plot, while weak, is the classic Eggman attacks South Island, the emeralds scatter and Sonic and Tails must find them before Eggman does. The game is filled with new moves, including a standing peelout known as Sonic's strike dash and Tail's inherent ability to fly. Items, such as a pogo spring (as seen on the game's cover) and rocket shoes give Sonic the temporary ability to bounce and fly about. The items are quite fun to utilize and it's surprising that they didn't see further use outside of the Game Gear series. Levels are nicely designed and take full use of the Game Gear color palette. Overall, Sonic Chaos is a great game that proves "more is better" in the Game Gear world. 4/5

Sonic & Tails 2 aka Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble is a "more of the same" sequel to Sonic Chaos, but that's not a bad thing. The plot is similar to the previous game: an explosion sends the emeralds flying across the globe. This time, however, Eggman isn't the only one Sonic must compete with. Knuckles makes his Game Gear debut as an NPC and fan favorite Fang (aka Nack) the Weasel is also after the emeralds. Interestingly, according to the Japanese manual Knuckles is unknown to Sonic, insinuating that the game's events precede Sonic 3 or occur in an alternate handheld timeline. Skills such as Sonic's peelout and Tail's flight return, as do the fun items. New items include screw shoes (they sound dirty, I know) and Sonic's snowboard. Sonic Triple Trouble really does have it all; a slew of enemies, every sort of zone, a variety of power-ups, great music and even a decent comic book adaptation! 5/5

More like Sonic Quadruple Trouble

Despite having the option of ending on a high note or attempting to outdo Sonic Triple Trouble, Aspect chose to release the "big blue booger" ('s words, not mine) that is G Sonic aka Sonic Blast. The less said about Sonic Blast the better. Bearing no resemblance to the Genesis and Saturn's Sonic 3D Blast outside of pre-rendered "3D" sprites, the 8-bit Sonic Blast follows Sonic and Knuckles (in his first playable Game Gear appearance) going after Eggman after Eggman blasts an emerald into five smaller emeralds. It is unknown if these five shards are of the Master Emerald or if they are five pieces of one of the seven Chaos Emeralds. Whatever the answer is, it's stupid. Rather than write any more about Sonic Blast, let's put it where it belongs.
The Sonic Game Gear series was, for the most part, good fun. Sure they couldn't rival the 16-bit originals, but after the fun Sonic 1 and the abysmil Sonic 2, Sonic appeared in two excellent and unique handheld offerings. Other Game Gear adventures include the kart racing spin-offs Sonic Drift 1 & 2, the pinball spin-off Sonic Spinball and Tails' spin-offs Tails' Sky Patrol and Tails Adventure.

Join me for part 2 when we venture into Game Boy territory! Ooooh!

1 comment:

  1. Love Chaos and Triple Trouble. Sonic 1 is good and I thought Sonic 2 was decent, just a little hard. The Drift games are okay, just a bit uninspired. Same goes for Sonic Blast; I really didn't think it was that bad. Tails Adventure is a brilliant spin-off that doesn't get enough recognition and the less said about Tails Sky Patrol the better.