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-)

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