Sonic appears in the Labyrinth of the Sky. After reaching the end of the labyrinth, he travels through the Labyrinths of the Sea, the Factory and the Castle. After the Labyrinth of the Castle, Sonic fights and defeats Dr. Robotnik’s final machine.
The game ends with Dr. Robotnik running along a catwalk and dropping a green Chaos Emerald. Sonic, in surprisingly slow pursuit, seizes the Chaos Emerald, turns to an alternative route, curls into a ball and rolls away at a fast speed (smashing a barrier to escape). Sonic then runs down a curving road, decorated with black and white squares, towards an unreachable doorway filled with bright orange light, while the credits are displayed above him.
The meaning of that story may not be clear to everybody.
This is a review of the version of the game available as an extra feature on the Sonic Adventure DX game and not directly played on the Game Gear.
This game seemed to be one of the most unpopular Sonic games ever released, particularly among the games released before 2000 (where the popularity of the Sonic games diminished rapidly). I was not sure exactly why this game was so disliked, but many of the features of this game were different to other Sonic games, with some aspects seeming to contradict the most famous parts of the series. For example, the Sonic games usually used high speed gameplay (with Sonic being described as one of the fastest creatures alive), in this game, however, Sonic moved much more slowly (explained by Sonic wearing “slow-down boots”), which seemed to contradict one of the core elements of the series.
While the story for many older Sonic games were very light, the story for this game, however, seemed to be much less substantial than other games in the series. In many Sonic games, the defeat of Dr Robotnik’s final machine resulted in the retreat of the villain, destruction of his base and some resolution of the story. This game, however, ended slightly mysteriously, with Dr Robotnik escaping along a strange catwalk and Sonic leaving after collecting a Chaos Emerald. It was never really explained why this Chaos Emerald is so significant (as 7 Chaos Emeralds are usually collected as an optional extra in other Sonic games) or shown what happened to Sonic after leaving Dr Robotnik’s base. The ending itself also seemed to be a continuation of the story, rather than a proper ending, as there was no evidence that Sonic had escaped to safety.
The level designs were quite interesting. There were four levels in the game, with each level comprising of three acts of collecting keys and a forth act with the level’s boss. The levels consisted of a series of platforms, decorated with a square pattern. The first level was set high in the sky, with the background decorated with one colour and sparse clouds. The Labyrinth of the Sea level seemed to take place down the side of a wall of rock, with streams of sunlight glimpsed at the top. The Labyrinth of the Factory level was located across a sea from a city and consisted of industrial platforms rising from blackness (which created an interesting contrast in colours). The Labyrinth of the Castle level resembled a spooky castle during full-moon. A different colour scheme was used for each act within the levels, which mostly meant each act either used a calming colour scheme or was decorated with vibrant colours. The most interesting example of this effect was the first level, which gives the impression that the level began during bright morning, before continuing into an orange sunset and then finished during a dark blue evening.
There were no special stages used in this game, unlike other Sonic games. There was, however, a large doorway labelled as “BONUS” in the third act of the Labyrinth of the Sea level. I was not able to enter this room because it was blocked by a force field that I was unable to remove (despite collecting the keys and using the secret command).
These levels also seemed to differ from ideas featured in other Sonic games. The names of the levels in previous games in the series were more descriptive, rather than the vague names of Sky and Sea, and were also usually called zones, not labyrinths. The levels in the older games also consisted of two or three acts (with the boss usually appearing at the end of the final act in the level), rather than the four acts in this game, with a separate act containing the boss.
The graphics for the game were satisfactory. The designs were not limited by graphics and some visuals were a little detailed. Some of the 3D aspects of the designs, however, were not very well implemented. In the Labyrinth of the Castle level, the corners of the castle wall could be seen in the background, but the angles of the walls were not the same as the edge of the platforms, which created a strange effect. Also, the different parts of the level were supposed to be at different heights, however, because the design appears very 2-dimensional, the platforms look as if they are on one level.
The gameplay for this game seemed to be different to other Sonic games. This game was played with an isometric perspective in a 3D environment, with the player navigating a series of platforms to find three keys (a bronze, a silver and a blue key), which were used to deactivate a force field blocking the exit. An additional challenge is that the player is required to obtain all the keys and locate the exit within a set time limit or Sonic loses a life. Collecting keys and defeating enemies caused the player to regain a few seconds of time. If Sonic was hurt, the keys would escape and the player would have to find them again. The boss fights, however, function more traditionally, with rings available so that Sonic can collect them and be protected against enemy attacks. I felt this method of gameplay was innovative and interesting, as it focussed on using a different way of playing the game and caused the player to explore each level more, rather than focus on reaching the end of the level as fast as possible.
The game also rated the player for their performance. After completing the game, a screen displayed the time the player took to complete the game, the overall score, a star rating, a best time and a highest score. This seemed to be a way for the player to evaluate how well they played the game and determine if they could improve their performance. I was not sure if there was any reward for attaining a top score and felt this aspect was slightly pointless.
The Sonic’s movements in this game were also slightly different. Sonic moves slowly in the game and cannot jump (which is attributed to him wearing “slow-down” boots). Sonic could, however, use his spinball attack. In this game, the player presses a button to start spinning and, while the button is kept pressed, the potential speed he will roll across the ground (after the button is released) increases and decreases. The potential speed of the attack was represented by a series of triangles, which increased to three for the fastest speed and then reduces to one for the lowest speed. If the player kept the button pressed when the speed decreases to one, Sonic automatically launched a low speed spinball attack. I felt this negatively affected the game as the lack of a jump attack removed a precise method of attacking enemies, forcing the player to rely on using the spinball attack, which could result in the player accidentally falling into traps after defeating the enemy robots.
This gameplay method is very different to previous Sonic games. The gameplay in this game is slower, more explorative and focussed on finding objects, which is in contrast to the quick run to the end of the level in the other games. This game also focusses on beating a time limit and does not feature the rings, which are used to maintain the character’s health in the older games. The gameplay for this game is similar to Sonic 3D: Flickies Island, which uses the same perspective and features a hunt for lost birds. I have wondered if this game and Sonic 3D: Flickies Island were attempts to use 3D environments in Sonic games.
Weirdly, the power-ups in this game were slightly different. The power-ups were contained inside three triangles, which seemed to move slightly and change colour, that the player destroyed to obtain a power-up. There was no indication of what power-up was contained within the blocks and I suspected that each block contained a random power-up, which changed each time it was destroyed. This feature was different to the monitors used in the other Sonic games to distribute power-ups.
The music for the game was high pitched with metallic notes. I, personally, found the music annoying, mostly because it had a low quality and high pitch. Strangely, each level does not have an unique soundtrack, instead the acts of the level have the same background music (for example, the first act of each level uses the same music).
I have noticed that many of the Sonic games available on the Game Gear present with some strange ideas and unnecessarily difficult aspects. While the game was fairly easy to complete, the third act of the Labyrinth of the Castle level was difficult, which resembled a complicated maze. One of the weird features of the game already mentioned was the power-ups, which resembled moving groups of triangles.
One of the strangest aspects of the game was the title, Sonic Labyrinth. According to Dictionary.com, the most prominent definition of labyrinth was “an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one’s way or to reach the exit”. The majority of this game did not resemble a combination of passages, but instead consisted of a series of connected platforms, which made it unclear what the labyrinth of the title refers to.
One of the few features of the game that actually resembled a labyrinth was the use of doorways in some of the levels, which gave the game a slightly surreal feel. Usually, doorways in games connected two locations, in Sonic Labyrinth, however, entering a doorway led to another location, but re-entering the doorway did not necessarily lead to the first location (sometimes it would lead to a third location, as if it was a different doorway). Also, more than one doorway sometimes led to the same location (as if two doorways lead to one area). The doorway effect was most prominent in the third act of the Labyrinth of the Castle level, which resembled a highly complex maze and was made extremely difficult. While playing the game, it was clear that each level took place in one room, therefore, it seemed that using a doorway was not a way of entering another room, but transporting to another location within the same room. This effect could be interesting, as it added an extra puzzle element to the game, or irritating, as it meant the player continually returned to a certain area and made exploring the level time-consuming.
There were also a number of other strange aspects of the game. Despite Sonic deliberately moving at a slower speed, Sonic’s average speed was displayed at the end of each act (in Km/H) and added to the player’s score. Each act begins with a title screen containing the name of the level and the phrase “GOOD LUCK!!” and ends with a screen congratulating the player on completing the level. It felt strange for a game to encourage the player so much. During the credit sequence at the end of the game, a “secret command” appeared which described a sequence of buttons to be pressed during the title sequence. It seemed a little unusual to present the player with a hidden feature to be completed at the beginning of the game when they have reached the end as there is no incentive to replay the entire game.
In conclusion, the game was fairly enjoyable. The game was very different to play compared to other Sonic games and did not really resemble a labyrinth (I have wondered if it would be more successful if it was called “Sinoc’s Platforms” and it could be judged as an independent game, rather than a weird Sonic game). The story was unexplained. The gameplay was unique, with a focus on exploration and puzzle solving, although the controls did present some problems. The level designs were colourful and used some interesting ideas, while the graphics were satisfactory. The music was cheerful, but could be annoying.