Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sonic Month: Sonic Blast

Sonic Blast
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Aspect
  • Release: Game Gear, November 1996
  • Genre: Action
  • Rarity/Cost: Uncommon (US$10-30)

We're nearing the end of Sonic Month already, so for our final review I fittingly present to you the final Sonic entry for the Game Gear.  With its late 1996 release date, it's not only one of the last games released for the handheld in America (that honour goes to The Lost World: Jurassic Park from the following year), but the American marketers sold it as a vague tie-in with Sonic 3D Blast for the Genesis.  Don't be fooled - the two games have little in common: 3D Blast is a isometric maze game, while Blast for Game Gear is a platformer.  If it helps any, in Japan the latter game is known as G-Sonic - so quite frankly, I think we dodged a bullet here.  Still, both these games use pre-rendered computer-generated graphics, and neither are what you'd call fun.

No, rather than being an adaptation of 3D Blast, Sonic Blast is much closer to Sonic & Knuckles.  As you may have guessed from that analogy, the two playable characters in Sonic Blast are Sonic and Knuckles the Echidna, who became a "friendly nemesis" of Sonic's since his first appearances in Sonic 3 and Triple Trouble.  Like in the games where Sonic and Tails were playable, the two characters have abilities which set them apart.  Sonic now has a double-jump (unlike in Sonic 3/Knuckles, he can use it at any time) while Knuckles can glide as well as climb up walls.  While this praise is by no means exclusive to this game, playing as Knuckles has always been awesome (except when he's scrounging for treasures), with his climbing abilities taking you over obstacles that would stymie Sonic.  In fact, the switches in some levels are specially designed for either Sonic or Knuckles to press.


Environments look dull the way they're rendered.
So what do these uneasy allies have to do together?  Well, in the vaguest of intro cutscenes so far, the Master Emerald broke off into five Chaos Emeralds, and the heroes need to prevent Dr. Robotnik from taking them and their power...  ...Yeah, by this point either the story writers have run out of imagination, or we've seen everything that storytelling in 2D Sonic games can show us. In a quest that's shorter than the other Game Gear platformers, you'll venture over five cliched Zones, many of which are analogous to environs from Sonic & Knuckles (Green Hill = Mushroom Forest, Yellow Desert = Sandopolis, Red Mountain = Lava Reef).  Each of the first and second Acts of each Zone have a Big Ring which you can enter to attempt one of the Special Stages.  In this game, the Special Stages have you running down a slow-moving, pseudo-3D course, collecting enough rings before the end to win the prize.  However, only Special Stages entered in an Act 2 give you Chaos Emeralds, whereas finishing one from an Act 1 will give you a 1-up instead.  Oh, and if you fail to get your ring quota in a Special Stage, there's no way to try that particular one again.  Yeah, you could practice in the Act 1 stages, but what if you can't find one?


Collision detection is poor.
Sonic Blast's visual style uses CGI graphics pre-rendered into 2D sprites, a technique first popularized by Donkey Kong Country on the Super NES.  It's... well, it's an acquired taste, let's just say that, but if you would be inclined to call it ugly, well, you wouldn't be alone.  In theory, I can appreciate this ambitious decision, but it may be the reason that Blast runs slower than the likes of Chaos or Triple Trouble.  Another point against its favour is that the scenery is awash in one hue for each Zone, which may be the curse of trying to do something like this on an 8-bit console.  In a related matter, the collision radius for Sonic and Knuckles is a deal smaller than in any of the other games; you need to be more precise to get rings, or hit item boxes or enemies. As for the music, while I still find the Green Hill Zone (not the same level from Sonic 1) music catchy, everything else is bland and unpronounced.  The Red Mountain Zone, in particular, not only has a faded purple colour scheme, but a sparse, lethargic music track which combine to make an especially dull experience.  This world alone is representative of the game as a whole: an ugly, bland experience which, depending on how generous you're willing to be, doesn't fit in well with the spirit of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Control: 2 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Design: 3 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Graphics: 1 Chaos Emerald out of 5
Audio: 3 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
The Call: 45% (D-)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sonic Month: Sonic Labyrinth

Sonic Labyrinth
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Minato Giken
  • Platform: Game Gear
  • Release: November 1995
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Rarity/Cost: Moderate (US$10-30)
Picture for a moment the Sonic title for Sega Genesis known in America as Sonic 3D Blast.  This was a different animal than the 2D platformers the hedgehog is most famous for.  Yes we still have our main man running around, but in an isometric camera angle to simulate three-dimensional movement, and with the tacked-on goal of finding five "Flickies", the little animals and birds that flew out of enemy robots when Sonic broke them in older games, in each section.  Between the tacked-on fetch quest, the controls which are never as precise as you need them to be, and levels which all but prohibit you from breaking loose in the speed department, this has not been remembered fondly - even by yours truly, even if I was wowed by it when it first came out.  Okay, now imagine that game, but without the ability to run or jump.  Yeah, I just broke you.  Don't bother putting yourself back together just yet, because Sonic Labyrinth for the Game Gear will just rip you a new one.


But wait, you say, what's Sonic doing without his trademark speed?  Our excuse given is that in the backstory, Dr. Robotnik had one of his robot henchmen sneak into Sonic's place while he was sleeping, and replace his regular shoes with a pair of slow-down boots.  Thus, when Sonic puts them on in the morning, he notices that he can't run or jump in them.  What's worse, he can't take them off unless he finds and uses the power of the Chaos Emeralds (of which there are four in this game.  Canon?  What canon?).  But Sonic still has one ace in the hole: his cursed footwear doesn't stop him from doing his standing Spin Dash, which will serve to be his only means of attack and fast travel in the adventure that lies ahead.


You need to find keys to move on.
Sonic Labyrinth takes place in four zones: the Labyrinths of the Sky, Sea, Factory, and Castle, each with four acts.  The three main acts in each zone are mazes wherein three keys are laid about.  Sonic must find all three of these keys in order to get through the goal gate and move on.  Instead of rings, Sonic's survival is based on a timer.  Collecting a key or time power-up adds time, and getting hit by an enemy takes time away (if you have any keys, they'll be dropped and scattered instead).  I have to admit this is a novel concept, and would like to see it implemented as an optional feature in other games where movement is, ya' know, a more pleasurable experience.  The fourth acts each have two parts to them: first you roll down a slope, almost (?) too fast to collect the rings you'll need to survive the upcoming boss.  Fortunately, these bosses fall on the easy side of the difficulty scale; even Robotnik, who serves as the final boss, is literally boring once you get a pattern down.  You get a Chaos Emerald, which do nothing within gameplay, for each boss beaten.

Even though the locations of the keys don't change locations on separate play-throughs, it'll be an unhealthy challenge to find them on your first few runs.  The level designs only impede matters, where some sections look the same but lead to completely different corners of the map.  And then throughout the second half, there are a slew of levels that rely heavily on warp doors or tiles, some taking you to a different place than where you were if you backtrack through one of them.  Of course Sonic's walking speed is way slow, I warned you about that, but when you take away all "justification" the backstory may attempt to apply, you're left with a mechanic that just makes ordinary movement painful.  Of course you still have the Spin Dash, but it's executed differently than in the platformer games.  Instead of mashing Button 1 or 2 to charge it up, you hold one of the buttons, and a meter made of four triangles moves up and down on its own; this determines your speed.  Depending on how much of a hurry you're in, you'll probably just throw level-one dashes all over the place, which just becomes counter-intuitive (for more reasons than you might think - see below).
The Spin Dash mechanic can break your flow of movement.
After coming off of the visual detail-rich Triple Trouble or even Chaos, Labyrinth's visual style is decidedly blah, hardly taking advantage of all those colors the Game Gear is famous for.  The soundtrack is equally uninspiring, except for the pre-boss music used in the fourth acts, which I find energetic and rockin'.  The sound effects, on the other hand, are even worse.  In particular, the sounds of braking and taking off from a slow Spin Dash - both things you'll be doing a lot - are just grating (Enough for me to italicize that word.  Think about it.).  Don't worry; if you're good, you can blast through this game in just over half an hour.  This, my friends, is one of the reasons why handheld games are viewed unfavorably when compared to their contemporary console peers.  But when the console game this is similar to (which, ironically, came out a year later) wasn't that great to start out, well, forget about it.

Positives:
+ Pretty rockin' soundtrack, as always.
Negatives:
- Even if it weren't for the Sonic licence, this is slow gameplay.
- The later levels are confusing to get around.
- Annoying sound effects.


Graphics: 2 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Sound: 3 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Control: 1 Chaos Emerald out of 5
Design: 2 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
The Call: 45% (D-)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sonic Month: Sonic Triple Trouble





Sonic Triple Trouble
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Aspect
  • Release: Game Gear, November 1994
  • Genre: 2D Action
  • Players: 1
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$5-10)

The day I write this review, 23 June 2011, luckily happens to be exactly 20 years after the first appearance of Sonic the Hedgehog, in his self-titled game for Sega Genesis.  (Also, it appears this site hit exactly 1,200 pageviews.)  Now truth be told, I wasn't aware of that since I started writing this the day before.  But since I confirmed that factoid today, it is with great pride that I share with you my review of the franchise's most ambitious and, opinion aside, best entry made for the Game Gear handheld.  Ladies and gentlemen, blow out the candles and make a wish... to play Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble.

As with most other Game Gear Sonic titles, Sonic Triple Trouble (for short) can be seen as a loose adaptation of the stand-alone version of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 for Genesis.  Sonic and Tails are playable characters, while Knuckles the Echidna shows up as a non-playable hench-villain.  Some of the levels from Triple Trouble also evoke others from Sonic 3 (e.g. Great Turquoise = Angel Island, Robotnik Winter = Ice Cap, Tidal Plant = Hydrocity).  As per the backstory, Dr. Robotnik has stolen all the Chaos Emeralds (it's about time!) but lost all but one while testing a superweapon.  This leads to a four-way chase between Sonic and Tails, Robotnik, Knuckles (falsely convinced by Robotnik that Sonic and Tails are the enemy), and Nack the Weasel (a treasure hunter driven only by profit).


There are more "rides" to jet around in.
Triple Trouble appears to be built off the same engine from Sonic Chaos, as Sonic and Tails retain their special abilities, such as the Strike Dash (Sonic) and flight (Tails).  Adding onto the rocket boots from the last game, some levels play host to character-specific rides, such as a jet snowboard for Sonic and the Sea Fox submarine for Tails.  The end-level panel, which in the Game Gear series sometimes gives out random bonuses, also ups the ante.  It might give you lives or points depending on which character you're playing as, or start the next act with 50 rings so you're ready to go for the Special Stage.  I'm not aware that this mechanic has shown up anywhere other than on the Game Gear, which is a shame, so enjoy it where you can.  Interestingly, when you take damage, you don't lose all your rings, but just 30 (or 50 if you hit spikes); not many other games give you this luxury.

As in Chaos, the five Chaos Emeralds must be collected in separate Special Stages.  You access these by collecting 50 rings and breaking open an item box with a Chaos Emerald icon, which are found once in every main act.  This time around, unlike Chaos, Tails can join in on the fun as well as Sonic.  Three of the Special Stages take place in separate, time-limited, platforming stages, which compared to the main game can get as hard as diamond nails.  ...Yeah, I just broke you.  The other two are pseudo-3D challenges where you have to collect rings while flying a biplane.  To top it all off, in most of the Special Stages, Nack the Weasel serves as a mini-boss who, while generally easier than the main bosses, could send you packing without an Emerald to show for your troubles if you lose.

The levels are large
enough for checkpoints.
In Game Gear terms, this must have been an ambitious project for the good people at Aspect.  The acts are longer than in Chaos - no more 30-second speed runs for you! - but still far shorter than the likes of its big brother Sonic 3.  And then there are the graphics...  I'll say this up front: Sonic Triple Trouble hosts the best graphics ever on an 8-bit system.  The level of detail is above and beyond the call of duty for any console of its ilk.  Too bad the frame rate still goes to pieces whenever water's involved.  The music is also on the level of Chaos, if not better, in terms of catchiness and complexity.  Special mention must go out to the BGM from Sunset Park Act 3, which is a remake of another song originally planned for but left out of Chaos (it can still be heard in that game if you run the Sound Test cheat), and is generally regarded by the fandom, myself included, to be awesome.  On the flip side, though, the music for Tidal Plant and the Special Stages is oddly spooky and/or sad.


In the somewhat limited library of the Game Gear, allow me to suggest it as a must-buy for everyone who happens to own the handheld (unless it makes its scheduled appearance on the 3DS Virtual Console).  The difficulty level hits a sweet spot between the harder Sonic 2 and the easier Sonic and Sonic Chaos, Special Stages notwithstanding.  With all the form and function considered, this could very well have passed for a Genesis game.  Now, when I was a younger gamer, I did have more of a taste for the cleaner look of Chaos compared to Triple Trouble in all its detail, but now that I've grown up I can so totally acknowledge the edges Triple Trouble has over the already-good Chaos. Here's hoping you do too.

Control: 5 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Design: 5 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Graphics: 5 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Sound: 5 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sonic Month: Sonic Spinball



Sonic Spinball

  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Polygames / Sega interActive
  • Platforms/Release:
    • Game Gear: September 1994
    • Master System (Europe only): January 1995
  • Genre: Action
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • Game Gear: Very common (US$1-5)
    • Master System: Rare (US$10-30)
You remember Sonic Spinball, right?  This title for the Sega Genesis was essentially a pinball simulator with Sonic as the ball.  (Fans of the Super Mario World cartoon should get a kick out of that idea.)  It was one of the franchise's first games that tapped into the character's extreme-to-the-max edge, if the HUD chatter is anything to go by.  Call it personal, but I've never been too fond of pinball games, such as this, where you're expected to hit specific targets with the ball.  After all, pinball relies more on luck than skill - either that or I'm not that good.  So, imagine that experience, and beat the physics engine to within an inch of its life.  That's what the Game Gear port of Sonic Spinball is like.


Chaos Emeralds control your progress.
As per the backstory, Sonic has invaded Dr. Robotnik's fortress and must progress through its four levels: Toxic Pools (sewer), Lava Powerhouse (power plant), The Machine (laboratory), and Showdown (spaceport). Hard to imagine a spaceport named "Showdown", but that's beside the point and, quite frankly, the least of our troubles. Each 'level' is made up of, to put it simply, a series of interconnected pinball tables. Access to the boss room in each map requires finding the multiple Chaos Emeralds strewn around, the number per level ranging from three to five (And they're all blue. Canon? What canon?). Falling through the gutters into the trap du jour causes Sonic to lose a life, although you can save yourself by triggering force fields between the flippers, which last long enough to almost be a game-breaker. Since Sonic can't get hurt by the traditional methods in his platformer games, bosses can come off as easy - and you'll be thankful for getting such a breather after the stressful navigation you're forced to endure beforehand.  You also get another breather in the form of the platforming bonus stages in between every level... at least they were supposed to be less stressful than the main game, but I'll tell you why not later.


The pinball segments, which comprise 95% or more of the game, use buttons 1 and 2 for the flippers.  Getting Sonic to where you need him to go doesn't rely entirely on luck or traditional pinball wizardry; you have the limited ability to steer Sonic in midair with the D-pad... in theory.  In practice, the midair "controls" are a little floaty and, while better than what you'd expect an after-touch ability in regular pinball to be, don't always get Sonic to hit the target you wanted to.  The real trouble lies in the general ball physics; sometimes Sonic will stick along walls when it seems he should've bounced off them, and on certain rare occasions you can even pass through objects.
On-foot controls are just horrible.
As less-than-passable as the pinball segments are, there are brief periods (albeit more prevalent than in the Genesis version) where Sonic can travel on foot, such as in the aformentioned bonus stages.  In these, you progress through a series of three chambers, unlocking the next one by collecting enough rings.  Item boxes (which you have to hit three times in a row) yield extra points, rings, lives, or continues, but since you start off with five lives and three continues on the hardest setting, you may not always need them.  Good thing, too, because trying to get to them is a feat worthy of a pro acrobat.  Sonic's floaty mid-air controls carry over to on-foot segments, making it nigh-impossible to land on the desired platforms, and the many bumpers littered around the bonus rooms only make matters worse.  Much worse.

In the audio/visual department, Sonic Spinball does little to stand out, for better or worse.  The graphics are par-for-the-course by Game Gear standards, although the smaller size of Sonic's sprite in this game is a blessing in disguise, since it gives you the illusion (?) of seeing farther ahead.  The music is even more boring than the Genesis version's already non-catchy (albeit screechy) score.  Speaking of which, as far as all the Sonic ports on Game Gear go, this one bears the greatest similarity to its big brother.  Not only are all four stages shared between the two, but the map layouts themselves are rather similar, too.  Of course, I can't really give any props to the developers for going the extra mile in that direction, not when the rest of the game is so flawed.  It would be holding-your-hand easy if not for the atrocious physics and frustrating, luck-based navigation methods.  For anyone wishing for pinball action on the go, you would be far, far better served by tracking down the real thing - by which, of course, I mean a real pinball machine.

Positives:
+ A faithful port of the Genesis version.
+ You're given a lot of lives and continues.
Negatives:
- Nigh-broken physics engine.
- It's tough to control Sonic to where you're supposed to.
- The soundtrack is not up to the series' catchy standard.

Control: 1 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Design: 2 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Graphics: 2 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Audio: 2 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
The Call: 30% (F)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sonic Month: Sonic Chaos



Sonic Chaos
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Aspect
  • Platforms/Release:
    • Master System (Europe/Brazil only): October 1993
    • Game Gear: November 1993
    • Wii (DLC): February 2009
  • Genre: Action
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • Game Gear: Very common (US$1-5)
    • Master System: Rare (US$10-30)
    • Wii: N/A (US $5)

Forget that thing they put on Game Gear and named Sonic The Hedgehog 2.  Its sequel, Sonic Chaos, is closer to the Genesis Sonic 2 than the real thing.  As such, it's no suprise that Chaos was one of my favorite Sonic games growing up.  It's the first entry in the Game Gear series to feature Tails the fox as a playable character, and interestingly, the first instance in the entire franchise where you could manually make him fly, a feature absent from his appearance in the 16-bit Sonic 2.  There are more things that invoke that other game for me, but we'll get to that when we get to it.

A short cutscene that runs before the title screen portrays Sonic and Tails running after Dr. Robotnik, who has the red Chaos Emerald in the clutches of his jet-craft.  As per the enclosed instruction book, the theft of this Emerald has shifted the other five (yeah, the GG series uses six total emeralds rather than the traditional seven) to a parallel dimension, and made their home of South Island start to sink into the ocean.  I applaud the decision to give Robotnik a more specific method of taking over the world - of course - but it's not exactly alluded to in the game.  Besides, anyone who's familiar with early Metal Gear knows better than to trust stories from the manual.  However, the method of getting the Chaos Emeralds does tie into the story if you think about it.

Sonic can use Rocket Shoes
and enter Special Stages...
(Game Gear version.)
It all starts out with whom you choose to play as: Sonic or Tails, because unlike in Genesis Sonic 2, this is more than a cosmetic choice.  It's true that both of them have the same basic performance and, in a feature added since Game Gear Sonic 2, can do a Spin Dash while stopped (hold Down, press 1 or 2 repeatedly, release Down).  However, they have separate abilities triggered by pressing Up and 1 or 2.  Sonic can do a Strike Dash (an ability imported from Sonic CD), which is a lot like the Spin Dash, and Tails can fly for a few seconds.  As always, collecting 100 rings will give your character of choice an extra life, but when Sonic does it, he also gets transported to one of the five Special Stages.  Unlike the fancy faux-3D experiences from the Genesis series, the Special Stages here are platforming worlds (likely set in that parallel universe from the backstory - in my 15 years of playing the game, I literally just made that connection while writing this review!) where you must pick up the Chaos Emerald within a one-minute time limit.  On the other hand, with Tails the Chaos Emerald side quest - and any alternate endings - are effectively ignored, so your choice of characters also serves as a difficulty selection.

...But Tails can fly.  (Master System version.)
Coming from its predecessors, the art style in Sonic Chaos takes a turn towards being more detailed and less cartoony.  Aspect's experience gained from making their last Sonic title has given their programmers the experience to let Sonic and Tails run at faster speeds than in the other two games.  The level designs are geared more towards intricate platforming than speed, but the inclusion of rocket shoes (exclusive to Sonic), pogo springs, and warp tubes let you break loose every once in a while.  Curiously, Chaos is also the only Game Gear Sonic title with corkscrews to run through - that must be a harder feat of programming than you might think.  The levels bear a lot of similarity to those from the Genesis Sonic 2 as well (for example, Turqoise Hill = Emerald Hill, Gigapolis = Chemical Plant, and Mecha Green Hill = Oil Ocean).  Sonic Chaos was also released for the Master System in Europe and Brazil only; this is the version available on the Wii Virtual Console shop.  Unlike with the previous two games, differences between the versions are negligible.


For the first time, Sonic Chaos marks a conscious effort to evoke the speed and spirit of the Genesis trilogy, and I have to say they succeeded.  Aspect's experience from their first attempt at a Sonic game have paid off.  While Sonic Chaos is on the easy side, and many of the levels are short enough to finish in under a minute, it runs and plays smoothly.  There is virtually no additional learning curve for those of you who have migrated from the Genesis trilogy, but that's not to say Chaos plagiarizes Sonic 2 or anything.  It's a worthy experience not only for series newcomers, but any other Sonic fan who owns a Game Gear - and yet there's one other Sonic game for said system which is even better... stay tuned!



Control: 5 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Design: 4 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Graphics: 4 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Audio: 5 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sonic Month: Sonic the Hedgehog (Game Gear)



Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Ancient
  • Release:
    • Master System: October 1991
    • Game Gear: December 1991
    • Wii (DLC): August 2008
  • Genre: 2D Action
  • Players: 1
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • Game Gear: Very common (US$1-5)
    • Master System: Moderate (US$5-10)
    • Wii: N/A (US $5)

The funny thing about handheld video games based on, but not direct ports of, console game is that the end result often turns out to be something almost, but not entirely, unlike the source title.  Maybe I should explain better: I was thinking primarily of Super Mario Land for the Game Boy when I said that.  It's a different game from Super Mario Brothers, what with having completely different (and fewer) levels, but some of us treat it as a port of the latter.  This practice was more commonplace - and justified - during the first wave or so of handheld game systems.  The processors for those early handhelds didn't have the power to fully recreate a console-based title, nor did their downsized cartridges pack enough space to hold it all.  Also following this trend is none other than Mario's rival: the first Sonic the Hedgehog game for the Sega Game Gear. 

Although it is separate from its big brother, the developers of the Game Gear Sonic went the extra mile to include a couple of similarities.  One, there are three environments present in both versions: Green Hill Zone, Labyrinth Zone, and Scrap Brain Zone.  Even though the levels are completely different, that's more than can be said of other Game Gear Sonic titles.  Two, this is one of the few Game Gear Sonics that have Shield power-ups, letting Sonic take a hit without losing any rings.  The only other game that used it was Sonic Blast, and that sucked... but we'll get to that issue later.  There are even Special Stages in this game, but you don't get Chaos Emeralds in them this time around (they are found in the main zones themselves, and unlike Sonic 2 may show up in either Act 1 or 2 of each zone).  Rather, the Special Stages in this game are just opportunities for you to stock up on rings, lives, and continues.  There's a time limit on the Special Stages, but with all the bumpers and springs knocking you about, you may occasionally get stuck in a (seemingly) endless loop and want the time limit to take you out of there.
The aptly named... Bridge Zone.
It's a good thing the Game Gear port of Sonic the Hedgehog has that much in common, because it lacks much of the X-factor identified with its big brother; namely, the sense of speed.  There are none of the franchise-famous loops, corkscrews, or speed power-ups to be found.  Really, the most extreme you're going to get is rolling down a ski-slope and launching off with the momentum - although oddly, doing this can sometimes make you go too fast for the camera to keep up.  Even taking this game out of context, some of the original worlds are awfully generic, for example the Jungle Zone and - I'm not kidding about this one - Bridge Zone.  ...Yeah, Sonic Colors this is not.  I must admit that I found the graphics to be rather well-drawn in this game, especially on the Game Gear, where its expanded color palette lets the game easily outclass its rivals on the NES in this regard.  There's even animated rivers and waterfalls, plus transparency effects during underwater segments, although sadly these have a tendency to ruin the frame rate, especially if you have a shield on.

Underwater areas ruin the frame rate.
Like its sequel which I had reviewed previously, Sonic the Hedgehog for Game Gear was developed separately from the Genesis title of the same name.  It was also released on the Master System console, except this time, the latter port was released in North America (in fact, it was the console's last game sold in the region).  The Game Gear version is readily available in cartridge form, and is also included in Sonic Adventure DX (GameCube, 2003) and Sonic Mega Collection Plus (PS2/XBox, 2004).  The Master System version is also available as a downloadable title for Wii, and costs 500 Wii Points (US$5).  Changes between the Game Gear and Master System versions are merely graphical; since the Game Gear's screen resolution is smaller, Sonic's sprites were re-drawn to compensate for the loss of space, whereas his sprites on the Master System port were re-used for both 8-bit versions of the sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

I suppose I could give this tame experience a little benefit of the doubt.  It may not have much of a Sonic feel to it, but if one were to ignore that possibly, this is a perfectly serviceable platformer.  It's also on the easier side of Sonic games, except for the fact that there are no rings to protect you during boss stages, where you'll go down with one hit.  But to be fair, this was among the first games made in the franchise, so the developers may not have known what to aim for just yet.  It would be wrong of us to write this game off as a failure for not adhering to a formula that was unbuilt at the time, but that still doesn't make this game any more of an exciting ride.

Control: 3 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Design: 3 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Graphics: 3 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Audio: 3 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
The Call: 60% (C-)