10 Weirdly Terrifying Moments in Computer Games (Part 2)

This year, to celebrate Halloween, I have decided to write this post to list some strangely frightening moments in computer games. The list included only moments that were scary in a strange way, such as horror-themed levels in family friendly games, elements of games that seemed more frightening than intended and weird glitches that created a terrifying image. I did not include purposely scary moments, such as horror games.

This list only included moments I, personally, found frightening, so the games mentioned will be ones I have played and the sense of fear will be personal to me. If there are any moments that you have found scary and fit the description for a weirdly terrifying moment, please comment below.

5. The Frantic Factory Boss from Donkey Kong 64

The Kongs explored the anarchic Frantic Factory, fed Scoff the required amount of bananas and opened the portal that would take one of them to the boss. The portal invites Tiny Kong to enter.

The portal leads to a dark, metal room, containing a slightly raised platform, with a large number of blue and white squares on top. One of the squares becomes illuminated by a bright light and Tiny walks over to it. After touching the flashing square, all the squares suddenly rise up to form a collection of towers. A jolt signals that the platforms have reached their full height and Tiny looks around in shock, the bright light below her illuminating her frightened face. Sirens flash and wail next to the exit of a chute, labelled REJECT, while loud banging and rumbling can be heard from within.

A small, brightly coloured box falls from the chute and lands on one of the platforms. It jumps from platform to platform, leaving a shower of sparks in it’s wake. Suddenly, a creature, consisting of a green duck’s head and hands connected by springs, is ejected from the box to scare Tiny, before disappearing back into it’s container.

Donkey Kong 64 was a very colourful and child-friendly game, where even giant spiders had a cartoonlike, innocent look. The Frantic Factory boss, however, had a more disturbing design. He seemed very neglected, with a grim colour, injured eye and rusted springs, which made him look even more disturbing. The fact that he came from the REJECT chute also possibly suggests he underwent some psychological trauma due to this rejection. I also remember this boss was irritating to fight against, mainly because it was very easy for him to knock Tiny off the platforms and into the chasm.

4. Dancing Re-Deads from Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

In Ikana Valley, Link finds the entrance into Ikana Castle. Opening a large door, Link enters a room to find four Re-Deads waiting. Forgetting that he is still wearing the Gibdo Mask, a mask resembling the bandaged face of a Gibdo, he runs forwards, expecting his enemies to attack. Instead of fighting, the Re-Deads (with skin the colour of dry mud, long limbs like rubber, visible ribs and dead eyes) inexplicably start dancing.

Two Re-Deads fold one leg underneath their bodies and twirl in a circle to music no-one can hear, yet in perfect synchronicity with each other. Two of the creatures cover their mouths and fall to the floor, folding their bodies until they become a heap on the ground, in a silent, macabre imitation of ecstasy, before rising to their feet. They repeat these strange movements in an endless loop, seemingly unaware of Link or any of their surroundings.

While there were a few scary moments in this game (particularly in the part of the game set in Ikana Valley), none of them were as strange as the dancing Re-Deads. I did not expect the Re-Deads to act this way and they seemed to be committed to their actions, even while being attacked. There was no explanation for their behaviour or if this was actually supposed to be a weird joke by the developers.

3. Mrs Cutter from Okami

Amaratsu, the goddess resembling a large white wolf, enters the Wind Valley. The area is lush and verdant, with bright sunlight illuminating the green grass covering the valley floor and the steep, rocky valley walls. Amaratsu lightly runs through the peaceful area, enjoying the calm and beauty of her surroundings.

While running through the valley, Amaratsu notices a small path that leads through a narrow passage into a small hollow. As she follows this route, Amaratsu finds that her surroundings have darkened and the light has a purple tinge. She enters the hollow to find it contains a small pool of water, a few trees, a dilapidated house and an elderly woman.

The old woman, dressed in traditional Japanese clothes and carrying a large pack on her back, is pacing around the hollow. When she sees Amaratsu, the pack on her back starts to move violently, as if something alive is contained inside and wants to be released. The woman, now obviously insane, starts to chase and attack Amaratsu, until the heroic dog can escape back to the verdant valley.

Amaratsu later returns to the Mrs Cutter’s house during the night and enters it while she is asleep. Amaratsu reveals the monster hiding within the disturbed woman and defeats it.

This game was very effective at changing the atmosphere from comedic and light-hearted to frightening and threatening (particularly though the use of music). While there were many moments when a horrifying event was mentioned or terrifying monsters appeared, they were not as scary as Mrs Cutter. This was possibly because this character was more human and realistic than the fantastic creatures encountered in the game. The way the atmosphere suddenly darkened in her presence, the captive (which, to me, hinted at cannibalism), the disturbing rumours that the player can discover about her and her obvious insanity all helped create a human monster. In fact, I was actually relieved to find out that she was not a disturbed woman, but was a fantastical beast.

2. The Music from Labyrinth of Time

You are in an old-fashioned hotel, with a corridor stretching out in front of you. You walk forward, your footsteps unheard over the ambient music that seems to be playing. You keep walking, silently passing empty rooms. Suddenly, the sound of heavy footsteps can be heard, cutting through the calming music, as if carrying a sense of dread. You turn, expecting to see a purposeful visitor, but no one is there, the corridor remains the same as if nothing has happened, but the footsteps have stopped and the music continues.

You continue on your journey, believing that you were mistaken about the footsteps, thinking that they were another rhythmic sound or they were the echo of someone else walking far away. You suddenly enter the offices of a private detective during the 1920’s, before reaching a deserted town from the Wild West. As you enter the buildings, your slight confusion at the strange events becomes replaced by apprehension as you hear the mysterious footsteps again. You are aware that you have not met another person while travelling and everywhere you have been looks as if it has been abandoned for some time. You continue on your journey with the feeling that some unseen person is stalking you.

You continue further into the Labyrinth of Time, becoming more aware that the maze itself is completely devoid of life, yet the strange footsteps still periodically haunt your journey.

This effect used to scare me when I was young, to the extent that I would play with the sound muted to avoid listening to the music. While progressing through the game, it became obvious that the setting for the game was devoid of life, but the loud sounds of footsteps could be heard. This caused the feeling that either some unseen person was observing the player for unknown reasons or there was some invisible spirit haunting the labyrinth. This added a frightening atmosphere for the game.

1. The Swimming Beast from Super Mario 64

Mario is exploring the Hazy Maze Cave. Reaching another room with rocky ceiling and walls, he sees a lift in the floor. Standing on the top of the lift, it slowly moves downwards through the roof of a large cave.

As he sinks into the dark cave, he notices that there are few metal structures or manmade objects in the room, unlike the rest of the Hazy Maze Cave that was filled with built areas. He also realises that the walls are much rougher than before, with the floor consisting of a rocky path. The cave forms a tunnel, that follows a gentle downward path and curves round to the left. As Mario runs along the ground, he wonders what happened here to make a seemingly industrious group suddenly abandon the excavation of the cave and disappear, leaving no trace of existence, except for the remains of their metallic constructions.

As Mario follows the path round the bend and down the slope, he sees that it ends in a huge cave filled with a pool of water. An opening in the cave wall allows a shaft of bright sunlight to illuminate the room, showing an island in the centre of the lake. Shining in the light was a golden star, floating in the air above the island.

Feeling excitement that his goal is within reach, Mario dives into the dark water and starts swimming to the island. As he swims through the lake, he sees a large monster swimming round the island, the shafts of sunlight illuminating it’s blue skin. Mario watches as the creature swims towards him, unsure if it is friendly or deadly.

This is another aspect of a game that used to terrify me when I was younger. It may have been because of the low lighting of the area, the unsettling music or the design of the beast (which was less cartoonlike than other creatures in the game and resembled the Loch Ness Monster), which made it a strange and frightening experience among the jolly levels set in the clouds and friendly races against various characters. I am also aware that there were other, more obviously scary parts of this game (such as the ghost’s taunts, the haunted merry-go-round in Big Boo’s Haunt and the abandoned town in Wet Dry World), but this creature caused me to avoid the entire Hazy Maze Cave level.

What parts of games caused frightened you for strange reasons? Please comment below to share your experiences.

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Ten Weirdly Terrifying Moments in Computer Games (Part 1)

This year, to celebrate Halloween, I have decided to write this post to list some strangely frightening moments in computer games. The list only included moments that were scary in a strange way, such as horror-themed levels in family friendly games, elements of games that seemed more frightening than intended and weird glitches that created a terrifying image. I did not include purposely scary moments, such as horror games.

This list only included moments I, personally, found frightening, so the games mentioned will be ones I have played and the sense of fear will be personal to me. If there are any moments that you have found scary and fit the description for a weirdly terrifying moment, please comment below.

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10. Egyptian from Goldeneye

James Bond walks through the Egyptian ruins, holding the golden gun in his hand, ready to fire at his enemy. He enters a long room with columns lining the edge. Walking through the room, he suddenly hears a menacing laugh and sees Baron Samedi (dressed in a ragged jacket and trousers) firing his guns at him. Bond fires a single shot, which instantly kills his attacker. Bond continues to explore the ancient structure, before hearing the same loud laugh as he enters another room. Baron Samedi attacks Bond with submachine gun fire until Bond fires another golden shot that sends Samedi falling to the floor.

Suddenly, the sky darkens, causing shadows to engulf the area and forcing Bond to walk through pitch black ruins to find his enemy. After following a secret passage, Bond reaches a dark room. He hears the terrifying laugh again and sees a barrage of laser projectiles fired at him. Bond shoots and kills Samedi a third time. Bond calmly walks along a corridor in the ruins, feeling confident that his attacker was now dead, but Baron Samedi suddenly appears again, silently running towards Bond from behind with bare feet. He stops and laughs the menacing laugh, as if victorious in battle.

Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 was a very popular game and the Egyptian level was well-known for being a difficult secret level to unlock (as the player needed to complete the entire game on the hardest difficulty). While the rest of the game consisted of the player fighting enemies in levels mostly based on the Goldeneye film, the Egyptian level felt more similar to a horror film than an action game. Baron Samedi being able to return to life following death, the sound of Samedi’s terrifying laugh and the environment darkening towards the end of the level all contribute to the frightening atmosphere, with Baron Samedi continuing to menace Bond after the end of the level adding to the horror theme.

9. Lara Croft’s Haunting Scream from Tomb Raider The Angel of Darkness

Lara Croft sees her goal on a platform across a gap. She lines up her body to face her destination, runs towards the edge of the precipice and makes a powerful jump. Flying through the air, she realises she has misdirected her jump and falls into the abyss. She lets out a high-pitch scream as she falls though the air and then lands in a heap, a sickening crunch signalling her death. As the screen fades to black and the player re-loads their game, the terrified scream is suddenly repeated by the game. When the scream ends, the unsettling noise is repeated continuously until the player can reload the game and resurrect Lara.

I added this event to the list because I was sure it was actually a mistake in the programming, rather than a deliberate attempt to frighten the player. Hearing the scream without the context of seeing Lara falling or while watching a black screen emphases the terror in her voice and the clarity of the sound. It also seemed like a way of making the player guilty for allowing Lara to die.

8. Moon of the Dead from Star Wars Bounty Hunter

Jango Fetts’ screams echo through the stone corridors of the mountain fortress. While tied to a post, a strange device (containing pointed needles that crackle with red electricity) is positioned close to Jango’s face and is used to harm him. The machine lowers and two strange figures, both with glowing red eyes, scaly skin and wearing dark hoods, start inspecting it. Jango uses the break from his agony to regain his breath and reflect on his journey to this place.

Jango landed in a ruined building far away from his current location and travelled through abandoned graveyards, mist-covered swamps, rocky mountain paths and large, stone buildings. He even navigated a series of rocky platforms that led across a deep chasm. Everywhere he went, he faced the Bando Gora (the creatures that were now torturing him). These enemies, almost unseen in the little light that illuminated the moon, appeared out of the darkness, attacking in huge hordes and moving with inhuman movements, despite their human-like bodies. On this graveyard moon, they were everywhere and he had already seen how they can violently kill someone.

The Bando Gora suddenly stop their examination of the machine and look at the entrance to the room. A woman, silhouetted against the green light from the other end of the hallway, laughs menacingly as she examines the captured Jango. Komari Vosa, leader of the Bando Gora, dressed in a skimpy leather dress and leather gloves and a shock of short, white hair, taunts him about the many Mandalonians slaughtered by the Jedi. She straddles Jango as she alternates between interrogating and threatening him with torture, using her unsettling, low voice. Suddenly Zam appears and frees Jango, allowing him to force Komari back down the corridor.

Jango hunts Vosa through the many rooms of the fortress, fighting against the swarms of Bando Gora that inhabit the narrow corridors and dark corners, while hearing the menacing taunts from Vosa.

The Star Wars Bounty Hunter game was slightly odd as it featured a thriller-like story in a Star Wars setting. This meant the player explored a series of diverse locations, such as the seedy criminal underworld of Coruscant, a luxury apartment complex in Coruscant, the high security prison called Oovo IV, a drug factory hidden in a jungle on Malastaire and a mountainous path leading to a gangster’s lair on Tatooine. The final three levels, called Moon of the Dead, more resembled a horror film, than a thriller. The setting is supposed to be a huge graveyard, with the player exploring gothic tombs, weird statues, a deadly swamp, shadowy mountain paths and dark, stone buildings, with parts covered in a fine mist. The enemies in these levels resemble shadowy, hooded figures that seem to bound towards the player and attack in huge numbers. There was even a scene where an old rival of Jango’s was defeated in a battle with the hero and seemed to be eaten by the Bando Gora.

7. The Demons from Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

Link is running through a dungeon. Link opens a heavy door and enters a dark room built with stone. The door closes with a loud, low rumble and Link is alone in the near blackness. Suddenly, Link hears a strange noise which sounds like someone singing. The unseen person is singing the same note in a high-pitch, which makes it sound like they are taunting the hero. The singer appears and, with it’s sharp horns, goat legs and coloured body, resembles a demon. A wide grin, revealing many sharp teeth, adds to the sense that the creature is playing a terrifying game with Link. Link strikes the monster, which kills it instantly, but he is still not safe. The singing grows louder as more and more of the creatures appear, attacking and seemingly mocking the swordsman. Soon, Link is slashing at an overwhelming amount of them as an army appears out of nowhere.

Despite the cartoonlike aesthetic of the game, I always found these enemies creepy. I think it was partly due to their design, which was very similar to a devil, and also due to the way they seem to be taunting the player as they attack them, judging by their wide grins and constant singing. They also seem to suddenly appear in large numbers (making them an irritating enemy to defeat) and keep smiling despite being attacked (as if they know that the player may not survive the onslaught). They do not seem to fit in such a cheerful game, although the ghost ship also provides a spooky sight during the story.

6. The Phantom from Dragon

Bruce Lee is fighting someone, either a sailor at a party, a chef in a kitchen, an actor on the set of a film or anyone else he engages in hand-to-hand combat with. During the fight, his opponent strikes Bruce with a blow that causes him to fly across the air and land on the ground. As Bruce loses consciousness, a line of sacred mirrors appear and the third one cracks, showing that all of the mirrors have now been damaged and Bruce has lost his final life.

The surroundings become bathed in dark blue shadows as Bruce Lee jumps from the side. A figure, dressed in Samurai armour and wielding a bladed weapon, appears to fight Bruce. The only visible parts of the creature’s body are the feet, which are blue and have long, sharp claws. If Bruce is victorious by causing the phantom to leave in a bolt of lightening, he returns to life with the sacred mirrors intact and faces his previous opponent again. If Bruce is defeated by the phantom, he falls to the ground heavily and never regains his life force.

When I was younger, this character used to frighten me so much that I would switch the Mega Drive off as soon as I realised as I had lost three lives, preferring to begin the game from the beginning rather than face the Phantom. I could suggest some reasons why this creature was scary, because they were closely associated with death, the way the environment becomes darker before they appear, their unnatural design and their use of a deadly-looking weapon. They also exhibited strange behaviour. During one fight, the creature just stood and stared at Bruce, until they decided to leave the area in a bolt of lightening.

What do you think should be in the second part of the list? The merry-go-round from Super Mario 64? Mafu Island from Goemon 2? The Metroids?

A Review of Sonic Blast (Game Gear)

1996

The Story

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A large crystal rotates alone in darkness. It’s colour changes constantly, illuminating the blackness with bright light that constantly changes colour. Suddenly, it smashes into pieces and five Chaos Emeralds (coloured green, red, blue, gold and white) are released.

Sonic (or Knuckles) travel to reach the Silver Castle Zone. Inside the Silver Castle Zone, they find Dr Robotnik and defeat him. The game ends with the hero standing on a rocky outcrop, watching as Dr Robotnik’s vehicle (resembling a huge egg with eyes and moustache and coloured red by the setting sun) falls into the sea. Depending on their success, the hero throws and catches a collection of tiny gems as the machine sinks below the waves.

I suppose the player has to guess how the shattering crystal was related to the rest of the story.

The Review

This review was based on a version of the game found online, rather than playing the game on the Game Gear. Many aspects of the game were similar, but I could not comment on aspects directly related to playing the game on the Game Gear (such as using the controls or the performance of the hardware).

The story for the game was slightly more bizarre than other Sonic games released at the same time. Like many of the games in the series, it featured Sonic exploring a number of levels to reach a final battle with Dr Robotnik, with little explanation to his motives or how the different levels were linked. In this game, however, the game began with the crystal (which I believe may be the Master Emerald from other games) shattering to release the Chaos Emeralds. This would have actually hinted at a motivation for Sonic’s mission and a sense of jeopardy as Sonic would need to prevent Dr Robotnik using these powerful objects, but, because of the little explanation of the effect this had on the story, it just seemed like the game began by showing an unrelated event. Showing the hero watching as Dr Robotnik’s machine fell into the sea did provide a satisfactory conclusion to the story.

The level designs for the game were quite interesting. There were five levels in the game: Green Hill Zone, Yellow Desert Zone, Red Volcano Zone, Blue Ocean Zone and Silver Castle Zone. The Green Hill Zone resembled some rolling hills next to dark blue water on a bright morning (which was similar to the first level of many other Sonic games). The first part of the Yellow Desert Zone was a journey through a desert, while the second part was an exploration of an ancient structure. The Red Volcano Zone was set in a volcano, coloured purple, with the player avoiding pools of lava and navigating an area of openings that pulled and pushed Sonic in different directions. The Blue Ocean Zone resembled some underwater ruins, with the player using metallic tubes to explore the structures and having to lower the water level to progress. The Silver Castle Zone was a huge machine, where the player used some floating platforms to give power to some teleporters that they can use to travel through the level. I enjoyed the different designs for the levels and that each level used unique features so the player needed to develop different strategies to progress.

The Special Stages also used an interesting design. The ground was hill-like and the background featured distant mountains and a sky streaked with clouds. Each level used an individual Special Stage, with different colours used in the background.

The gameplay for the game was fairly simple. The player could select a character (Sonic or Knuckles) and explored levels to reach the end. Like many platformers, the player made the character run along the ground and jump to reach platforms. The player also collected rings, which spread out when they were hurt, and, if the player did not collect any rings when they were hit by an attack, they lost a life. One aspect that caused this game to be slightly easier than other Sonic games was that the player did not lose all their rings if Sonic was injured, instead, only a set number of rings were lost. The player attacked enemies by hitting them while Sonic was curled into a ball, either by jumping on them or rolling into them. They only differences between the Sonic and Knuckles characters was that, after pressing the jump button twice, Sonic performed a double jump, while Knuckles glided through the air. Knuckles could also climb walls after gliding into them.

There were some aspects of the gameplay that made the game unnecessarily difficult, which I found to be common among the Sonic games released on the Game Gear. If the player jumped onto a springboard, the springboard would catapult the character through the air at a fast pace. The player, however, could not curl into a ball after leaping onto the springboard, so they could not prevent Sonic becoming injured if he collided with any enemies in their path, leading to them sustaining unavoidable damage.

The game also used Special Stages, which altered the gameplay. The character entered the Special Stages after touching giant rings (with one located in the first and second acts of each zone) and these were used to obtain extra lives (if entered during a zone’s first act) or Chaos Emeralds (the player found it during the zone’s second act). The Special Stages consisted of Sonic running along a gentle slope and collecting rings to obtain the correct amount needed to successfully complete the stage. There were also other items to help or hinder the player’s progress, such as making the character jump high, increase their speed or cause them to walk backwards. If the player is successful, a short animated sequence showed them collecting the reward, otherwise, Dr Robotnik was shown to steal the item. I found the gameplay for the game to be enjoyable, despite some irritating aspects, and I liked the way the Special Stages introduced a new gameplay method.

In the past, I have noticed that many Sonic games available on the game gear exhibited some bizarre elements. The story for this game was slightly strange (as mentioned previously) and the levels seemed to have a weird colour-coded naming system.

The strangest aspect of the game, however, was the bosses that featured in it. The first boss resembled Dr Robotnik’s Egg-O-Matic aircraft and used a boomerang-like weapon to attack the player. The boss for the second level, resembled a mechanical professional cleaner (with arms, legs and a ponytail) standing on a cloud and attacked by flying across the screen, jabbing a stick at the ground. The third level boss required the player to stand on a small, floating platform and avoid a weapon (similar to a mace) fired from a one-legged machine, which seemed to be wearing a large, yellow bowtie. The fourth boss was fought underwater and used an attack that was easy to dodge, however, the player had to periodically cause the boss to fire at the floor to release bubbles of air to prevent Sonic from drowning. The final boss just fired single shots downwards and the player had to run to move a wheel, which caused a platform above them to move and block the attack, which prevented Sonic being hurt. Despite the strange nature of the bosses, they were actually quite enjoyable to fight and presented with some unique challenges.

The music for the game had a little impact on the game. The soundtrack was very high pitched and repetitive, although there some good melodies used. I, personally, did not enjoy the music used in the game.

The graphics for the game were fairly advanced. Rather than using the 2-dimensional graphics found in previous Sonic games, this game used 3-dimensional designs in a side-scrolling game. Parts of the design, such as Sonic, Sonic’s enemies and the background, used 3-D graphics, while the gameplay and the player’s viewpoint was 2D. Unfortunately, possibly due to technical limitations, the enemies and Sonic had a heavily pixelated look, while the background had a very simplistic layered design. Sonic was also a larger size than the opening to the pipes (which created a weird effect when the player entered them), some of the spinning rings overlapped in Special Stages and Sonic, when running into the background, just became noticeably smaller in size. I, personally, felt these effects adversely affected the graphics for the game, despite the 2D aspects looking effective and the bosses using some good, interesting designs. This effect, however, may be caused by the method I played the game and may be non-existent when played using the Game Gear.

In conclusion, the game was quite enjoyable. The story was simple. The gameplay was enjoyable and easy to learn, even though there were some negative aspects. The level designs were interesting and used some good challenges. The bosses were enjoyable to  fight and presented with some interesting ideas. The music had little impact though and the graphics did present with some technical limitations.

A Review of Tails’ Adventures (Game Gear)

1995

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The Story

One peaceful morning, Tails was lying on a tree trunk in the Poloy Forest, sleeping deeply. His orange fur was illuminated by shafts of bright morning light and the sound of Tails’ gentle breathing filled his surroundings. Two small, blue birds flew among the branches of a nearby tree, emphasising the tranquillity of the dark wood. Suddenly, Tails woke and quickly rose to his feet.

A large green and grey airship left a nearby island to fly across the sea to reach Poloy Forest on Tails’ island. The serene forest suddenly burst into flame, with Tails running in a panic among the burning trees. A machine, piloted by a large blue bird and walking on two mechanical legs, appeared nearby, launching balls of fire at the forest for no reason.

Tails explored the different areas of the island. He climbed the exterior of Mount Polly and found a green bird. He pursued the bird up the mountain and, upon reaching the summit, the bird flew away to another island floating in the sea. Tails piloted a submarine underneath the mechanical island and infiltrated a docking bay at the base to enter Coco Island.

Inside Coco Island, Tails met an elderly bird and used a large rock to knock them unconscious, before escaping the island (he is supposed to be a hero). The island then rose into the air, revealing itself to be the Battle Fortress. Tails flew to the Fortress and landed on the top of it. Inside the mechanised island, Tails fought and defeated the green bird and a tall, grinning bird. Tails left the Battle Fortress and returned home, leaving the flying island to fall into the sea and sink below the waves.

The game ended with Tails building a mechanical fox while being hindered by a small bird, his own urge to sleep and his incompetence.

Finally, a game with a beginning, a middle and a weird end.

The Review

This was a review of the game available online and not the version of the game released on the Game Gear. The versions of the game were identical, but the methods of controlling the game varied between the two versions.

There were two games released on the Game Gear which featured Tails (Sonic’s sidekick) as the hero and, interestingly, the two games were very different. This game, Tail’s Adventures, was the more complicated, darkly coloured and in-depth game of the two.

The story for the game was more complex than other games in the Sonic series. There were animated sequences during the game to describe the story and suggest how the player should proceed, which was different to the sequence of levels used as a story in the previous games. The story was still quite simple, unexplained and used no dialogue, which seemed to consist of Tails fighting an army of strange, bird-like creatures that invaded his island for unknown reasons. The more developed story was most likely used because this game was a role-playing game, rather than a simple platform game like other games in the series. I, personally, found the story, while more complex, had little impact because there were few animated sequences in the game and there was little explanation of the events.

The gameplay for the game required skill and was explorative. In the game, Tails could run, jump and briefly fly, although his movements were slower than Sonic in other games in the series. The amount of time Tails could fly was presented as a meter and his stamina increased as the player collected more Chaos Emeralds, which were hidden  throughout the game. In some levels, Tails used a submarine to travel underwater. While using the submarine, one button controlled which direction Tails faced and the player could only move while facing that direction (so he could move up, down, forwards and reverse). The submarine also moved fairly slowly and used it’s own weapons and equipment. One level used the submarine as an aircraft, but the controls were the same.

There were 12 levels, including an area called “Tails’ Home”, which became accessible as the player progressed through the game. The Tails’ Home area served as a base of operations, which allowed the player to select equipment to use, activate a vehicle or display the password. Before entering the levels, the player could select up to 4 items to take into the level, with each item having a use that either allows the player to reach an inaccessible area or alters the gameplay. During the game, the player was also able to obtain a submarine that allowed the player to access underwater levels and this machine used separate equipment. Part of the games’ difficulty was knowing what items to equip when entering a level to proceed through the game.

There were also a number of hidden elements within each level. Some of the levels used different pathways (which only be followed if the correct items were selected) that allowed the player to reach different levels. The items were hidden in blue containers within the levels, so the player needed to collect items to be able to obtain other items. Some of the levels contained a single path that lead to a boss.

Many aspects of the gameplay contrasted with the more familiar Sonic games. The enemies in the game could not be defeated by colliding with them at speed or jumping on top of them, instead the player had to use a weapon to attack them (the default attack was throwing a small, cartoon bomb). Rings were used as a health meter in this game, but functioned differently to the rings found in other Sonic games. In the game, Tails could only accumulate a fixed number of rings (the maximum amount he could carry increased as the player collected Chaos Emeralds) and, if hurt, the player only lost a set amount of rings. This was different to the unlimited rings the player could carry, which all scattered when harmed, in the other Sonic games.

I, personally, enjoyed the gameplay for the game. The gameplay was easy to learn and worked well. I liked the puzzle aspect of the gameplay and using the objects to progress through the game. I also thought the changes to the gameplay for the other Sonic games was appropriate for this type of game. There were, however, some negative aspects of the game, such as Tails only equipping 4 objects and the submarine was difficult to control properly.

Another negative feature of the game was it was also difficult to know where the player needed to go next after Tails completed a level, as the player can obtain an item without being informed which level contains an obstacle that can be overcome by the item. Another example occurred after I completed the first Battle Fortress level, as the animated sequence showed Tails entering his submarine to indicate the next level used that machine, but I did not realise that I could select the Battle Fortress again after equipping a Rocket Booster and Proton Torpedo. As a result, I explored all the levels which used the submarine to find a hidden path to the next level, rather than choosing the appropriate level.

One of the irritating aspects of the game was the little information provided about the objects. This was possibly due to the version of the game I played, but there was no way of knowing what each object did. This resulted in me obtaining an object, entering a level with it equipped, finding an obvious obstacle and using the object on the barrier to see if it helped me progress. I actually had to resort to using a guide available online to find out what each object’s function was (it actually turned out that many of the objects had the same function or were almost useless).

The level designs for the game were fairly interesting, but repetitive. There were 12 levels in the game: Poloy Forest, Volcanic Tunnel, Polly Mountain part 1, Polly Mountain part 2, Caron Forest, Lake Rocky, Cavern Island, Green Island, Lake Crystal, Coco Island and 2 Battle Fortress levels. Each level appears to resemble either a forest (Poloy Forest, Caron Forest and Green Island), a cavern (Volcanic Tunnel, Cavern Island and Polly Mountain part 2), a mountainside (Polly Mountain part 1), a mechanised structure during evening time (Coco Island and Battle Fortress), an aerial assault (Battle Fortress) or an underwater cavern (Lake Rocky). As a result of the limited settings for the levels, each level shared common objects and backgrounds with other levels in the game, with only the level’s colour scheme differentiating it from similar levels.

While the designs for the levels were quite similar, there were some interesting ideas used in the game. I enjoyed the Polly Mountain part 1 level as it resembled a climb up the side of a mountain and it was challenging fighting enemies positioned on higher platforms. Cavern Island seemed to consist of a cave filled with water that the player had to explore by navigating the underwater currents. Lake Crystal was also unique as the player had to follow a river flowing down a mountainside and had to jump to each cliff to progress.

The graphics for the game were satisfactory. The game did use some interesting designs and all the objects were recognisable, although the graphics were a little pixelated. There were no effects in the game. I felt the graphics were better than other games on the Game Gear and were able to create some interesting visuals.

The music for the game was fairly low quality. The music used a lot of high notes and had an artificial sound. The music also quite repetitive, with each soundtrack consisting of repeating a few bars and the same soundtrack was used as background music to multiple levels. The music did, however, manage to convey some interesting atmospheres, such as one that created a feeling of spirited adventure, another formed a sense of jeopardy, another created an atmosphere of fearful danger and a menacing score was used for the enemy’s headquarters. I found that the music had little effect on the game, despite the atmosphere it created, due to it’s repetitive feel.

There were also some definite problems with the game. The game used a password system to allow the player to resume playing from specific points in the game. Passwords could be entered after selecting the Continue option on the main screen, however, the player could not navigate back to the main menu and had to either enter a password or reset the game when this screen appeared. Another problem was that, after entering a level, the only way to leave it was to walk through the entrance or one of the exits of the level, however, if the level contained a boss, the player could only leave the level through the entrance. I can remember exploring a level with a defeated boss to find secrets, but, after fully searching the level to no avail, having to travel to the beginning of the level just so I could leave the area. Also, a small mistake was that the radio item was called a “raido”.

In conclusion, the game was very enjoyable. The gameplay was unusual for a Sonic game, but was enjoyable to play, despite some obvious deficiencies (such as the ease of getting lost and not being told how the items were used). The story had very little impact on the game. The level designs were good, but were repetitive. The graphics were satisfactory. The music was slightly atmospheric, but had little effect on the game due to the repetition of the soundtrack.

A Review of Tails’ Skypatrol (Game Gear)

1995

———————————————–Spoiler Alert———————————————————————

The Story

On a bright day, Tails was flying across a meadow in pursuit of a witch riding a mine cart. The witch accelerated to escape and a trio of enemies (consisting of a rabbit, dog and wolf) riding different flying vehicles appeared to taunt Tails before flying away.

Tails finds the witch in the Darkcastle Area. Tails defeated the witch, causing her to fly out of her mine cart, then Tails used his ring to grab her out of the sky and take her away. The game ends with Tails flying through the night sky.

I have no idea why Tails was chasing the witch or what happened to her after he apprehended her.

The Review

This was a review of the version of the game played on another source, not played on the Game Gear. Many of the features were similar, but this review did not discuss things directly related to using the Game Gear (such as the controls).

There were two games released on the Game Gear which featured Tails as the hero. Of the two, this game was brighter, more cheerful and seemed to be intended for younger players.

The gameplay for the game was quite unique. Throughout the game, Tails was perpetually flying forwards, while the screen continuously moved from left to right. If the player touched the ground, obstacles or any ceilings, it was fatal, forcing Tails to stay airborne and move forwards. The game also presented a meter, which was constantly being reduced and caused Tails to be sent hurtling to the ground if it ran out. Tails also held a single ring below his body, which had various uses in the game.

A large part of the gameplay was based around a ring Tails held beneath his body. Tails’ ring functioned both as a weapon and a way of interacting with the environment. The ring could be launched at enemies to kill them. There were also a number of objects spread across the levels that affected Tails’ motion when the ring came into contact with them, such as balloons that would cause Tails to float upwards, heavy weights that forced Tails to fall downwards, conveyers and bars that propelled Tails in a specific direction and poles that caused Tails to rotate downwards before being launched sideways. Holding down the button used to launch the ring caused the ring to loop around Tails, however, this manoeuvre had absolutely no use.

There were also a number of power-ups in the game. There were crystals (which added to the player’s score), sweets with green stripes (which helped recover time on the flying meter and were placed in piles of 1, 2 or 3), bells (which saved the player’s progress through the level), 1-up signs (which added an extra life) and signs with a star on them (which surrounded Tails with four balls and made him temporarily invincible). Weirdly, these items could only be obtained if they come into contact with Tail’s ring while it is next to his body, except for the bells, which can be activated by the player launching the ring at them.

I have observed that the Sonic games developed for the Game Gear use some very unusual elements and it has already been stated that some aspects of the gameplay were strange, but the weirdest part of the gameplay concerned Tails receiving damage. Tails could only be killed if he came into contact with the ground, obstacles or any ceilings. If the player collided with an enemy or was hit by an attack, Tails stopped flying and slowly fell to the ground, which was fatal if he hit it. If the player pressed a button, Tails moved in a large loop and resumed flying, however, the game seemed to use an unknown method of measuring how much time could elapse before Tails could recover. Sometimes, Tails could immediately resume flying after colliding with an attack, other times, he remained falling for a little while before he could recover.

A boss appeared at the end of each level. Three of the bosses were animals in flying machines, while the final boss was the witch riding a mine cart. The bosses would fly away from Tails and the player had to chase them and attack them using the ring, while avoiding the bosses attacks. The ring could be used a projectile to hit the boss and cause them to briefly pause, or the player could attach the boss to the ring and launch them into an obstacle.

Like many Sonic games released on the Game Gear, I found there were some unnecessarily difficult aspects of this game. There were items within the levels that the player could use to reach new areas, however, these items could also cause Tails to be harmed (for example, the player would need to use a heavy weight to drop vertically down a pit to progress, but Tails could be killed if the player was still attached to the weight when it fell beneath the screen). I found this part of the gameplay induced a feeling of paranoia as it became difficult to trust the objects I was using to progress.
Another highly difficult aspect of the game was avoiding a particular obstacle. During certain parts of the game, small circular objects would suddenly appear to block the player’s path. These objects were instantly fatal if Tails touched them, although they could be destroyed by launching Tails’ ring. The only way I could pass this challenge was to either activate an invincibility power-up to allow me to safely navigate the objects or by already knowing where the blocks would appear so I could quickly fly through the area before they could create a substantial obstacle.
I also wondered if the high difficulty of the game influenced other aspects of the game. As I played the game, I became convinced that the player had an infinite number of continues. Whenever I lost all of Tails’ lives, I would always be able to use a continue to return to the level, no matter how many continues I seemed to use, and it was not stated how many continues remained. There also seemed to be no repercussion to using a continue, other than restarting the previous level from the beginning, as the player’s score seemed to remain intact.

I, personally, felt the gameplay was quite enjoyable. The game used a very unique method of playing the game, which was very different to other games in the series. The use of the ring as a weapon did require the player to develop their aim and it was also particularly enjoyable to use during boss fights. I also enjoyed using the ring to interact with objects as it created a problem solving aspect to the gameplay because the player had to work out how to use the objects to progress. One of the problems I encountered with the gameplay was working out what objects affected Tails if he touched them. For example, in one level, there were archways, but only the top of the archway killed Tails, because he could pass between the vertical parts of the structure. In another level, part of the design included propellers which seemed harmful, until I realised that Tails moved behind them and would not get hurt.

The level designs for the game were cheerful and varied. There were four levels in the game, including a training area. The training area was filled with tall palm trees and used a background consisting of islands located across a sea. The second level was called Railcanyon Area and contained mine carts, which allowed the player to travel along rails in front of bright green fir trees and rocky mountains.  The third level was called Ruinwood Area and seemed to consist of a flight through a dark cave filled with brightly coloured rocks followed by a structure, made of realistic looking bricks and cartoonlike blocks, situated above a wood (which had an interesting moving effect which made it look like Tails was flying over tree tops). The forth level was named Metal Island Area and used a bright blue background (which resembled the sky) and consisted of an assortment of floating, metallic platforms containing flight equipment, such as propellers and rocket boosters. The final level was the Darkcastle area, which was built using large stone bricks and situated across a sea from a city (with brightly lit buildings, neon lights and skyscrapers visible). The final level took place at night.

There were also some strange aspects of the level designs. The bright colours used in the Railcanyon Area level seemed to suggest this level took place during mid-morning, however, the shadows on the mountain rocks made it seem like early evening, which created a strange effect. The foreground for the Ruinwood Area used a shadowing effect which made it seem like a bright day, while the background used a colour scheme which resembled twilight. The Metal Island Area level did not seem to have a bottom, which made it fairly easy as the most prominent way for the character to die was to touch the ground after being hit, instead Tails fell through an endless loop of the environment repeating.

Many of the levels also seemed to use objects from the Sonic 2 game on the Mega Drive. The Training Area resembled a brightly coloured version of the Emerald Hill Zone, the fir trees from the Hilltop Zone appeared in the Railcanyon Area, the floating islands in the Metal Island Area looked like parts of the Wing Fortress Zone and the background for the Darkcastle Area was similar to the background for the Casino Night Zone. Some of the enemies from the Sonic 2 game appeared in this game, including the Whisp and Turtloid badniks.

I, personally, liked the level designs. I found them to be bright and colourful and used some interesting effects. I did feel, however, that the levels all felt similar to play and could have used features to add challenges and alter the gameplay in individual levels.

The graphics for the game seemed low quality. The visuals were quite pixelated, although the level designs did incorporate some animated effects in the background (such as moving clouds). This effect may be caused because the version of the game I played used a larger display than the one used for the original Game Gear.

The music for the game was low quality and repetitive. The music had a high-pitch and consisted of repeating a few bars of music, although it had an upbeat quality. I, personally, found that the music was of a low quality and had very little impact on the game.

A strange aspect of the game concerned the credit sequence. At the end of the game, the credits appeared on screen, however, the names of the people involved in the production of the game seemed to be either one word names (such as “Kazunechan”), obvious nicknames (including “Captain Alice”) or initials (such as “K3”). I have noticed this was a recurring theme in Sonic games available on the Game Gear, but I do not know the reason for it.

In conclusion, I thought the game was fairly enjoyable. The gameplay was enjoyable and interesting, although the levels felt similar to play. The game did has some difficult aspects, which could be more irritating than challenging. The level designs were bright and colourful, although a little childish. The music was of a low quality and was easily ignored.

A Review of Sonic Labyrinth (Game Gear)

1995

—————————————Spoiler Alert———————————————————————

The Story

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.

The Review

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.

A Review of Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball (Game Gear)

1994

————————————————–Spoiler Alert——————————————————————-

The Story

A sudden shaking disturbs the calm ocean. A strange, dark structure slowly rises from the dark blue sea up towards the sky, which has turned into a foreboding scarlet colour. The weird mountain, completely black except for where it is lightened by the setting sun and from a hot glow at it’s base, grows to a huge height.

A small aeroplane, piloted by Tails with Sonic hanging from the bottom (an economy class ticket in his hand), flies over the sea, passing distant mountains. Somewhat nearing the mountain, Sonic jumps off from his place on the aeroplane and into the dark water.

Sonic climbs the mountains through the Toxic Pools, Lava Powerhouse and The Machine before reaching Dr Robotnik in a Final Showdown at the top of the mountain. Sonic fights Dr Robotnik, who uses a flying vehicle to attack Sonic.

Sonic defeats Dr Robotnik. Following the fight, both Sonic and Dr Robotnik’s empty machine fall spinning, through space, to the ground. From a distance, a glowing red shape is seen to fall into the mountain. Explosions suddenly break out around the mountain, which sinks back into the water.

That is how to create a story based on pinball action.

The Review

This is a review of the game available as part of an extra feature in the Sonic Adventure DX game.

The main idea for this game (and the version released on the Mega Drive) was to create a Sonic game based on pinball. Many Sonic games use pinball elements in some levels, either as a mini-game or using flippers to propel Sonic upwards, particularly in levels based on a Casino theme. This game, however, with the vertical level design, use of flippers and rounded edges to send Sonic in different directions, seemed to resemble a digital pinball game.

The story for the game is simple, the game began with an animated sequence showing Sonic reaching the mountain, the player completed each level in turn to reach the Final Boss and then an animated sequence showed the end of the game. Like most early Sonic games, the hero was silent and there was no description of the events at any point of the game. Each level began with a screen showing the player’s progress through the mountain (basically each level was the next floor higher in the mountain), which I liked as it added context to each level.

The gameplay was similar to playing a digital pinball game. For much of the game, Sonic was curled into a ball and launched across the levels. The player could slightly control Sonic’s trajectory through the air and activate the flippers used to propel Sonic. Each of the levels used curved edges (to help Sonic move around the level), features to force Sonic upwards at an accelerated speed and used suspended obstacles to impede his progress. The bottom of each level consisted of a hazard that will kill the player. There were also some parts of the level where Sonic was able to walk.

There were also a small amount of items in each level which aided the player. Small flags were placed in each level, which, when all were collected, sometimes caused a change in the level to help the player (such as draining liquid from a container). There were also small, glowing orbs which, if the player touched them, caused lightening to appear between pairs of flippers located above a fatal hazard, which prevented the player falling in. There were also a few monitors (which were more commonplace in other Sonic games) placed in secret locations, which gave the player extra lives, continues and part of a code.

Each level required the player finding a specified number of Chaos Emeralds hidden in the level. Within each level was a pathway, which allowed the player to reach the boss if all the Chaos Emeralds had been collected. The pathway would lead the player to a separate room to fight the level’s boss. Falling to the bottom of the room caused the player to return to the level and they would have to reach the path to face the boss again (I am not sure, but I believe the boss is still weakened by the player’s attack from before they returned to the level). The bosses would also need to be fought using pinball methods. I found the bosses to be quite enjoyable and it required skill to force Sonic to a specific area where the boss could be harmed.

After completing the boss, Sonic would enter a bonus stage. The bonus stage consisted of a series of connected rooms which ended in a tunnel. All the rooms were oval-shaped (which allowed Sonic to roll along the floor and climb the walls) and contained a series of platforms. Situated on the top of the platforms were large, robotic eggs. Hitting the eggs enough times caused them to open and the player was rewarded (with extra rings, score or lives). Bizarrely, each room seemed to be themed around an ancient civilisation, one room contained animal-headed statues resembling ancient Egyptian sculptures, one had a background consisting of an ancient Japanese pagoda and one seemed to contain columns from ancient Greece. The extra items obtained by destroying the eggs could only be implemented if the player reached the end of the tunnel.

I found the gameplay quite enjoyable. It required skill to use the flippers to progress through the level and it was fun to explore levels using this mechanic. The bosses were particularly fun. It was, however, frustrating to repeatedly attempt to launch Sonic in a specific trajectory, particularly if it needed effort to reach the launching area. Because the levels were vertical and the ease of propelling Sonic into the wrong area, it was also quite frustrating to accidentally reach an unintended location and spend time to return to the area before the mistake was made.

The level designs for the game were quite interesting. The game began in the Toxic Caves, which resembled a cavern with light blue water at the bottom and a background of stones, coloured using muted colours. The second level was Lava Powerhouse. This level consisted of steam-powered machinery and stone background, with bright red and yellow colours featured prominently. The third level was The Machine. This level used a mechanical design and a colour scheme mostly consisting of grey and purple (unlike other levels with a tangible hazard at the bottom, Sonic died after touching nothing). The game ends with the Final Showdown level, which resembled a construction site above lava (with a square pattern background), before Sonic flies upwards through the night sky and fights Dr Robotnik in a mechanical structure. The graphics did seem to be of a lower quality than other Sonic games on the Game Gear, with indistinguishable shapes, fuzzy outlines and box-like designs. I enjoyed the level designs as they felt different to each other and used features unique to each level.

The music for the game was quiet and repetitive. The music was slightly tense, but did not really stand out. I did not think this music was as good as soundtracks used for other Sonic games.

I have observed that the Sonic games released on the Game Gear contain some unnecessarily difficult elements and bizarre features.

A lot of the game’s difficulty seemed to come from the gameplay. The game requires the player to launch Sonic from flippers. I found it very difficult to eject Sonic at the correct angle to reach the desired areas, particularly if the target area was a narrow corridor. It was also difficult to find the Chaos Emeralds in the levels because it was difficult to explore using pinball methods. Another difficulty was preventing Sonic from falling between two flippers into a fatal area, as there was no way to transfer Sonic from one flipper to the other, so the player had to rely on catapulting Sonic to a part of the surroundings which would lead him to the other flipper.

There were also some bizarre aspects of the game. As previously mentioned, the bonus stages had a strange, ancient aesthetic. Weirdly, one of the bonus stages showed consisted of room connected vertically. Upon entering each room, Sonic would sink through water to the bottom and hit a plug, which caused the water to drain and allow Sonic to move. Entering the pipe at the bottom of the room lead to the next room.

There was also a strange, unique feature added to the game. If the player lost all their lives, the game created a mini-game before allowing the player to choose to use a continue to keep playing. Part of the score (accumulated while playing the game) would be highlighted, along with an continually increasing number. The idea of the game was for the player to push a button so the number would stop changing and resemble the highlighted number (eg. if the score was 13400, 400 would be highlighted and the player would need to stop the count near to 400). If the player is successful, they continue the game with the same score, but replenished lives. If they fail the challenge, the player has to use a continue to keep playing. I enjoyed this feature, it gave the player an opportunity to keep playing the game with the accumulated score, even if they lose all of Sonic’s lives.

The ending credits of the game were also slightly eccentric. Following the final animated sequence, a pinball machine appeared on screen and credits were shown across the top of it, which seemed to suggest that the game’s story took place within a pinball machine. The credits ended with the phrase “Thank you for playing Sonic Spinball!!! Now go to sleep”, which seemed to suggest that the developers considered the market for the game was kids playing it clandestinely at night (which gives me the image of a kid hiding in their bed sheets, eagerly completing the game at the dead of night and finally sleeping at the end).

Hidden in each level was a monitor which, when destroyed, causes a banner to appear at the top of the screen and reveal part of a secret code. I destroyed all the secret monitors (which were all located in hidden rooms in one side of each level) and the code was shown to be “08-31-71, SFX Get that???”. I have no idea what this means, I have attempted to play each of the corresponding numbers for the sound effects in the Options menu, but this seems to have no effect on the game.

In conclusion, the game was enjoyable. The story was almost non-existent. The gameplay was unique, enjoyable and required skill, although it presented with some difficulty and frustration. The bosses were enjoyable and used the gameplay well. The level designs were interesting, but the graphics were of a lower quality. The music had little impact on the game and was quite repetitive. The extra features, such as the mini-game and the secret rooms, were enjoyable and added to the game.