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-)

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