Sonic Games on Game Gear – Gaming Historian

September 18, 2019

This year, Sonic turns 25 years old. The franchise featuring a speedy blue hedgehog
originally began on the Sega Genesis back in 1991 and has been going ever since. Even despite some… bumps in the road. When Sonic first came out, it was a pretty big deal and was the driving force behind
Sega’s enormous success as a company. It’s no secret that many sales of the Genesis console were driven by people’s desire
to play Sonic the Hedgehog. But today, I wanna focus on Sonic games that were on Sega’s less-popular handheld system: the Game Gear. With Sonic’s enormous success on the Genesis, it made perfect sense to put some
Sonic games on the Game Gear, which was struggling to compete
against Nintendo’s Game Boy. Believe it or not, there were more Sonic games
made for the Game Gear than the Genesis. That’s crazy to think about, but the Game Gear library was somewhat lacking. A few of these titles were even
exclusive to the Game Gear. So let’s dive into all ten titles
released in North America and see if any are worth picking up. I’ll be looking at these in order by release date, so let’s begin. We will, of course, start with the original: Sonic the Hedgehog. Despite sharing a name with the Genesis game, these games are actually pretty different. This version was developed by Ancient, a studio ran by famed chiptune composer, Yuzo Koshiro, who is most well-known for his work
on the Streets of Rage soundtrack. He also did the soundtrack for this game. And it’s amazing. In fact, the music from the second level, “Bridge,” was sampled by Janet Jackson. Seriously. (“BRIDGE” CHIPTUNE PLAYS) (“TOGETHER AGAIN” BY JANET JACKSON)
♪ Everywhere I go /
Every smile I see I know you are there /
Smiling back at me ♪♪ Anyways, while the game does
showcase Sonic’s speed in a few spots, there is much more platforming
and precision jumping involved, probably due to the reduced
power of the Game Gear. In fact, there are no loops at all. One noticeable difference
is that when you are hit, you lose all of your rings
and you can’t recover any. Bummer. All of the levels are different, too, despite sharing names with the Genesis version. Basically, it’s a completely new game. Sonic on the Game Gear runs very smoothly and is a ton of fun. It’s not as good as its 16-bit counterpart, but what Sega and Ancient were able to do here is impressive. Let’s talk about its sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The cover features Sonic and Tails and was actually Tails’ first
appearance in a Sonic game. But surprisingly, you can’t actually play as Tails. The low resolution of the Game Gear
screen really affects this game. This is a problem in a lot of Game Gear games, but it seems to be amped up in Sonic 2. The first Sonic seemed better
designed to deal with this limitation. It’s very difficult to see what is coming up ahead, and results in some extremely frustrating moments. There’s also some new items
Sonic can use, such as a hang glider, but they control terribly! Hidden under all of these annoyances is a good platformer. It controls well, everything runs smooth, the music is nice, and the sprite work is improved. But the low resolution of the Game Gear
really dampers the experience and increases the difficulty. Next up is Sonic Chaos. This is a title that not a lot of people talk about, but trust me when I say it’s one of the
best Sonic games on the Game Gear. Gameplay-wise, it’s your standard 2D Sonic game. But Sonic Chaos improves just about
everything from the previous two titles. You can now play as Tails and because he can temporarily fly, it does make the game a little easier. Sonic is faster than ever and can now perform his spin dash move as well. There’s also some cool new power-ups to use, such as rocket boots that let you
jet around the level really fast. Levels have been designed in a way that the
Game Gear’s resolution isn’t a huge nuisance. The developers also added a lot more loops and springs which lets you go really fast through some stages. My only major complaint is that it’s short and too easy. Still, don’t pass this one up. It’s not hard to find and… it’s cheap. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. This is actually a Japanese
puzzle game called Puyo Puyo, but rebranded for North America and Europe. So, is it a Sonic game? Well, it features the main villain, Dr. Robotnik, so… I’m gonna say yes. The object of the game is to
match up four of the same color… “beans…” and outlast your opponent. Simple, yes, but it works on the Game Gear. This is a solid puzzle game although it does get fairly
difficult in the later stages. There’s also a challenge mode that
gives you various objectives to complete. Honestly, this game doesn’t
need to be a Sonic game. It’s a great puzzle game by itself. But making it one surely drove a few sales. Let’s take a look at another
quirky Sonic game, Sonic Spinball. And boy… it is not very good. Dr. Robotnik has taken over Mt. Mobius and Sonic must pinball his way
up the mountain to defeat him. Now, don’t get me wrong: Sonic Spinball is a decent game on the Genesis because it runs smoothly. But the Game Gear just doesn’t feel
powerful enough to run this game. It’s much slower and the physics feel… off… It’s very difficult to hit Sonic in precise locations. I’d just avoid this one. Moving on. Here’s a Game Gear exclusive title: Sonic Triple Trouble. I remember seeing previews for
this in Electronic Gaming Monthly and being blown away by the fact
that Knuckles was in the game. It was a big deal. Twenty years later and… I’m a little disappointed. Triple Trouble is another 2D side-scrolling Sonic game that doesn’t stack up to the others. Visually, it looks great. After playing all of these Sonic games, it’s cool to see how much better
the graphics became over time. You can play as Sonic or Tails and there’s also a few new
power-ups, like a snowboard. Unfortunately, this title
has some frame rate issues and it’s a little too easy. There’s just nothing particularly
special about this game. Let’s take a look at Sonic Drift 2, another Game Gear exclusive. As you can see by the title, this is the
second game in the Sonic Drift series. However, the first game never
came out in North America. This is a kart racing game with an
emphasis on drifting around turns. This was obviously Sega’s answer
to Nintendo’s Mario Kart. The biggest problem with
this game is the horizon. It’s way too short, making it difficult to see
what is coming up on the track. I was constantly checking the
mini-map at the top of the screen to help me see when a curve was coming up. Once again, I think the Game Gear just
isn’t up to snuff to run a game like this. I think it would have been
pretty good as a Genesis title. Now HERE’S something different! Tails Adventure, a game that features Sonic’s
sidekick as the main star. Tails is relaxing on an island
when a bird army decides to invade. It’s up to Tails to save the day. Tails Adventure plays much differently
than your typical 2D Sonic game. It’s more of a role playing/adventure game. I’d say it’s more similar to Metroid than Sonic. Tails can collect a variety of
different items throughout the game that will help him get
through obstacles in a level. You can equip up to four different items,
such as bombs or a hammer. And you can change your
equipment between levels. The levels themselves are a decent size and there is some backtracking, but you never feel completely lost. One minor annoyance is you never really
know what equipment to bring with you before entering a level. If you realize halfway that
you need a certain item, you’ve gotta backtrack to the
beginning of the level to exit and then change your equipment. There’s also a few frame rate slowdowns, but only when it gets busy on-screen. Besides that, it’s a nice change of pace from your typical Sonic game. And… I really enjoyed it. It’s one of the more expensive
and hard-to-find Game Gear games. But if you wanna save some money,
it is available for download on the Nintendo 3DS for five bucks. Sonic Labyrinth. This is another Game Gear exclusive and it’s sort of a weird 3D platformer. The objective is to travel around
the stage and collect three keys, then proceed to the exit. This game is just wrecked
by awkward controls. While moving on his feet,
Sonic is PAINFULLY slow. The best way to get around is to
spin dash in different directions, but it’s so difficult to be precise and you’ll be bouncing around all over the place. If you’re holding keys and get hit,
they scatter everywhere. I get what they were trying to go for, but the controls just nerf the game. If Sonic moved at a reasonable speed on his feet, I think this would be a decent platformer. I’d skip this one. We end our journey with Sonic Blast. Judging by the cover, you would think this
is a port of Sonic 3D Blast for the Genesis. But it’s actually its own game. This is also the last first-party title
released for the Sega Game Gear, released in November of 1996. Sonic Blast is a 2D side-scroller but it uses pre-rendered graphics, giving it a pretty unique look for a Sonic Game. You can play as Sonic, or–
for the first and only time– as Knuckes. But don’t expect the speed you are used to. Sonic Blast is pretty slow and the character models are large. which is a problem on the Game Gear. Everything just feels…. very sluggish. If you absolutely have to play as Knuckles, this is your only chance
to do so on the Game Gear. Otherwise… nothing special here. Well, there you have it. All of the Sonic games for the Game Gear that were released in North America. There a few solid titles here but you’re probably better off getting
your retro Sonic fix on the Genesis. But, if you just can’t get enough Game Gear, there are two more Sonic games
that only came out in Japan. The original Sonic Drift and Tails’ Skypatrol. One thing to note is that a few of these
games were ported to the Master System. Not all of the came to North America, but the Master System had a pretty loyal
following in Europe and South America. But keep in mind, the Sega Master System is region-free, meaning you can play games from anywhere. These versions of the games are
worth picking up if you can find a copy because the resolution is greatly improved. Out of the ten games we discussed today, I’d say my top three are Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Chaos, and Tails’ Adventure. I think you’ll enjoy these the most. If your Game Gear is busted, you can always pick them up on
the 3DS and Wii Virtual Console. That’s all for this episode of Gaming Historian. Thanks for watching! Funding for Gaming Historian is
provided in part by supporters on Patreon. Thank you.

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