Dr Robotnik has taken over South Island and Sonic the Hedgehog has to defeat him to save the island and its inhabitants. Following a battle aboard Dr Robotnik’s floating Sky Base, Dr Robotnik flees using a teleporter, followed closely by Sonic. The game ends with Robotnik escaping in the egg-o-matic, before being hit by Sonic and the machine bursting into flames. I hope Shakespeare has learnt a lesson from this game.
This review is based on the version of the game released as a special feature in the Sonic Adventure DX game available on the PC, rather than the game released on the Game Gear.
I have always wondered about the attitude of the developers who made the Sonic the Hedgehog games released on the Game Gear. I always remembered the Mega Drive was the more popular console and the Sonic the Hedgehog games seem to be more well-known and fondly remembered. I did not have much experience of using the Game Gear, which I always thought was less popular than the Game Boy. I have wondered if the developers were aware of this and were less concerned about the games released on the Game Gear than the more popular games. I believe this mentality possibly affected the production of the games, as I found that the Sonic the Hedgehog games released on the Game Gear were quite difficult, but used some bizarre ideas.
The story for the game is extremely simple, Sonic has to travel through the mountainous South Island to reach a base at the top of the mountain and defeat Robotnik. Collecting all the hidden Chaos Emeralds allows the player to view an extended ending sequence.
There are six levels in the game. Strangely, the levels are either copies of levels from the Sonic the Hedgehog game available on the Mega Drive (Green Hill, Labyrinth and Scrap Brain) or levels made up for the game (Bridge, Jungle and Sky Base). Each level consists of three parts: a first part, a second part and a part which contains the boss of the level. The levels are also not called zones in this game (unlike other games in the series). For some of the levels, the game also changes between the first and second acts, such as forcing the player to climb upwards or using a moving screen. I felt the levels were interesting to play and the different acts prevented the player repeating the same playing method in each level.
The level designs were also interesting. While the graphic capabilities of the Game Gear were less advanced than the Mega Drive, the game did have some interesting visuals. I found the pixelated graphics added an artistic dimension to the designs and didn’t hinder the gameplay. The backgrounds of the levels were also very detailed and looked good. Most of the levels were brightly coloured and created a cheerful atmosphere.
I also enjoyed the music of the levels. The music did not use a tinny sound (like many games at the time) and had a good quality. I particularly enjoyed the jazzy music of the Jungle level.
The game also uses a different method of obtaining Chaos Emeralds. Instead of completing challenges in Special Stages, the Chaos Emeralds are all hidden in the levels (with one in each level) and the player has to pick them up. At the end of each level part, the player is transported to the Special Stage. This Special Stage consists of the player collecting rings, lives and continues and, because Sonic is mostly rolled in a ball and the environment consists of springboards and bouncy obstacles, the player has little control and these parts of the game seem very energetic. The stage is also timed. The Special Stage also uses bright pink blocks and a background consisting of a dark night sky with vibrant moons and stars, which gives it a dreamlike atmosphere. Collecting all the Chaos Emeralds does not allow Sonic to transform into Super Sonic, instead it just allows the player to view the hidden ending. I am not certain if I liked the collection of Chaos Emeralds in this game. While it is enjoyable to explore the different levels, finding the Chaos Emeralds removes the puzzle element of the Special Stage, also the Special Stages are quite creative in other Sonic games and require the player to complete actions other than running through landscapes and attacking enemies. I was happy to find the developers still managed to use Special Stages in this game though.
The game has a high difficulty. The game is also needlessly difficult, with some aspects affecting the gameplay. Collecting 100 rings grants the player an extra life, it also resets the ring count to 0. Because the ring count also functions as a representation of health, it is possible to collect a large amount of rings, obtain an extra life and immediately kill Sonic after colliding with an enemy. Like other Sonic games, Sonic loses all of his rings when he is harmed. In this game, unlike other games in the series, Sonic’s rings does not spread out for the player to collect, instead all the rings are condensed into one ring, which floats upwards and then downwards before disappearing. Collecting the ring also gives Sonic one ring, rather than allowing the player to return to the previous ring count. The player can only obtain an extra life from a monitor once. If the player finds an extra life power-up, they cannot use the same power-up if they have to repeat the level after Sonic dies. When Sonic is harmed while using a shield power-up, he is not also briefly invincible (like other Sonic games and when he has no shield). This means that if a shielded Sonic is harmed while on spikes (for example), if he falls back and comes into contact with more spikes, he will instantly lose his rings with no input from the player. Sonic also spends more distance skidding in this game, which can cause him to touch harmful enemies.
The Bosses used in the game are also unnecessarily difficult. Like in the other early Sonic games, the Bosses consist of Dr Robotnik using machines, each with a different method of attack, to kill Sonic. In the parts of the levels containing the Boss, there are no rings. This forces the player to battle against a difficult enemy without getting hit, otherwise they would have to replay the Boss. However, hidden in each act with a Boss is an extra life power-up, which makes the game slightly easier. After defeating the Boss, their weapon remains harmful (unlike other games where Sonic appears to be able to walk through the leftover weapon), this is especially irritating in the Jungle level where the Boss leaves behind a metal ball which, if Sonic touches, causes the player to repeat the fight with an already defeated Boss.
A part of the game I like is the map. Between ending part of a level and beginning a new one, the game shows a picture of the island where the story takes place. A path is shown to symbolise the journey Sonic takes for the next part of the level, or the location of the Boss. I actually like this feature, I feel it adds context to the story (rather than other games in the series, which use a series of unrelated zones) and makes Sonic seem like a creature defending his home. The paths also appear to be quite accurate and reflect the levels well (for example, a level which involves climbing is shown to have quite a vertical path in the map).
There are a number of bizarre inclusions in this game. In many of the Sonic games released around the same time as this game, the Sega logo is shown at the beginning of the game after Sonic completes an action (such as running past or rolling past). In this game, the Sega logo appears after Sonic frolics back and forth and lands, raising his finger at the player and a hand at his hip. The shield power up in this game is also quite small. When Sonic obtains a shield power-up a small, flashing circle will appear around his chest (instead of surrounding him), which makes the power-up resemble a fashionable coat. Following the final score count, Sonic is shown in front of a light purple screen in front of stationary gold and dark blue stars while a pink block (shown fixed to the background by blue circles) displays the credits. Sonic, holding a microphone, appears to tap his foot and move his left hand while opening and closing his mouth. I cannot work out if this sequence is intended to show Sonic singing the credits and seems like an unusual scene to add to the game (considering other games just show white credits on a black background).
In conclusion, the game is quite enjoyable. It is simple to play and uses a variety of challenges for the player. It is not too long (considering it has to be played in one go). The level designs are interesting and the music is good. It can be annoying because of the difficulty and certain aspects which make the game harder.