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-)

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