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)

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