GameSpite Journal 12: Sonic on Game Gear

You can’t really deny that the Sonic series has seen better days. While the cycle of hope and betrayal has continued with each new Sonic release for well over a decade, many fall victim to it time and time again. That much is easy to understand; the Genesis and Mega Drive games, divisive as even they may be, have spin-dashed their way into our collective nostalgia, and for many that will never truly go away. So while it seems that Sonic’s future never really panned out, what about his past? What would Sonic and his stupid friends have been like on, say, an 8-bit system? What you might not realize is that, in the same way recent years have given us a sub-series of middling-to-competent handheld games, this very same thing was happening during Sonic’s own golden era. Whether you remember them fondly or not at all, Sega’s Game Gear had its own parallel universe for its flagship rodent.

Actually, to say that these games constitute a handheld series isn’t quite right; the first three titles (Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic Chaos) actually had Master System equivalents, and if you were to grab these games on the Nintendo Virtual Console, you’d be playing those versions. The differences between the two versions are generally minor; mostly graphical alterations necessary to accommodate the different screen sizes, and some minor tweaking to the level design. If you grew up in, say, Europe or Brazil, you’ll likely remember these versions over their Game Gear equivalents, as the Master System was much more popular in these locations than in the States. Then again, if you’re a child of North America, you might not have even know the Master System was a thing until you read this paragraph.

These parallel games share many traits with their 16-bit brethren; Sonic 1 in particular shares a few stages and background tunes with its big brother, while rings and Chaos Emeralds are strewn throughout, and even snowboards make it into the mix later in the series. However, each game also tries its hand at some new things. Sonic 2 offers what might be Sonic’s first foray into hang gliding; Chaos makes it a point to let you choose whether to play as Sonic or wind down the difficulty with Tails; and Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble shows that it’s not above introducing more lamentable characters to the Sonic pantheon with Nack the Weasel, whose sole reason for being is to make special stages intolerable.

Regrettably, one thing these 8-bit outings were unable to steal from the main series is the sense of speed; while each game in the series became slightly faster—and by the time they released Triple Trouble, borderline-enjoyable—Sonic suffers from being squat, awkward, and, frankly, just too slow. Further, issues that plague most Sonic games like surprise enemies, bottomless pits, and other difficult-to-avoid impediments to speed are all just as rampant here as they can be in Sonic’s worst console moments.

A final trait that these 8-bit Sonic entries share (aside from confusing and disappointing Sonic fans well before Sega handed Shadow his first firearm) is that their music is fantastic. Particularly memorable is the music from Sonic 1, composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who also composed for the Streets of Rage and Ys series.

At this point, it’s pretty well known that Michael Jackson was in some manner involved in the soundtrack for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 over on the Genesis, but what you might not know is that Janet Jackson’s “Together Again” shares some uncanny melodic tones with the theme to Game Gear’s Sonic the Hedgehog’s Level 2 Bridge Zone theme. Go ahead, YouTube it. Whether intentional or not, it’s interesting to note that the link between the Jackson family and Sonic’s score doesn’t stop at the Genesis level, and lends credence to the theory that this series of games are in fact relics from another universe not at all our own.

Article by Luke Osterritter

GameSpite Journal 12Sonic on Game Gear

14 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Sonic on Game Gear

  1. Wow, the writer of this article seems to still be stuck in 2007. The recent Sonic games (Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, among others) have actually been pretty good and well-received by fans and critics alike. Starting articles off with lines like “the Sonic series has seen better days” has gotten really old.

  2. I received a used Game Gear and a few games as a gift from my parents in the early 90s. One of those games was the first Sonic Game Gear game. I can count on one hand the number of times I made it past the first act.

    The act boss had Robotnik dropping bouncing balls down a tilted path. At the end of the path was a snapping creature poking out. You had to make Sonic miss the balls, which would then hit the creature.

    Sounds easy enough, but the Game Gear’s screen didn’t handle fast motion well, so the balls were more like blurs, and because the path was tilted, it was easy to go down into danger but extremely slow to go upward.

    On top of that, there were no rings in the stage, so one hit meant intsa-death. The one consolation that the makers gave the players was that there was a hidden extra life in the stage that meant you could basically try forever.

    It was my nine-year old self’s personal gaming Sisyphus. Maybe, and probably, I was just a really young, poor gamer at the time, but this section was the death of me.

    I can’t remember if there were continues, but I am 90% sure that I never saw Act 3. It either took me so long to beat, that we had made it to our destination (I always played in the car) or I would run out of lives on Act 2 and have to face the Act 1 boss again.

    Should have asked for a Gameboy, I guess.

  3. @Mike Can you blame anyone for bailing on Sonic a few years ago? It’s not like Luke needed to stay with the series at least until their kids were off to college to give them some semblance of a stable family life. If a series goes to crap for an extended period of time, you have to be pretty crazy to keep investing time and money on a prayer that it might somehow go back to being decent again.

  4. Question: was this article not written by Parish? Somehow it doesn’t seem that way.

    In any case, the analysis is spot on. The games just aren’t very playable today. But back then, me owning a Game Boy (but being a big Genesis/Sonic fan), and my cousin owning a Game Gear, I was always impressed by these games. Mostly because they weren’t pea-green.

    And yes, Sonic as a franchise has fallen off. Just because two solid console games were released more recently doesn’t make up for 15 years of mostly-awful console games and mediocre handheld games. Sega is on the right path (maybe), but there’s no denying that the bulk of Sonic games are crap.

  5. Biggest problem with all Game Gear games is the fact that the actual hardware degrades so fast that you can never rely on having the system last long enough. I have personally gone through 6 Game Gears, what with the cheap capacitors, speakers get weak, screens start to fade, eventually making playing on the machine a frustrating experience.

  6. Article was written by Luke Osterritter. For some stupid reason WordPress didn’t retain that text change.

  7. Why am I not surprised that articles like these always start with something similar to: “Sonic has seen better days…”

    Seriously, thanks to reviewers like this, SEGA is now hell bent on not allowing us to play as Tails or Knuckles anymore with their own fun gameplay mechanics (and no, I don’t mean treasure hunting and mech-shooting). Not to mention they’re the reason why we got a WEREHOG in the first place.

    Game Gear games were fantastic, shame people complain about how boo-hoo-hard they are NOW in an age where games are criticized for being freaking EASY.

  8. Speaking as a Sonic fan, I can still say I agree with a majority of this article (although I do urge the author to give at least Sonic Colors a try; it was pretty great). I am getting tired, though, of basically every Sonic article on the Internet beginning with something along the lines of “Sonic has seen better days.” But at the same time, I cannot think of a better opening statement to a franchise as clumsy as this one. :/

    @Chris: Actually, the game you are describing was the GG version of Sonic 2, not Sonic 1. The Master System version was much more lenient during that boss, since the wider screen resolution of an actual TV means the slope was far less steep and you had more room to maneuver. The GG version of Sonic 1 was actually fairly playable; the problem was that, for some reason, after that game, SEGA handed the reins of Sonic’s handheld titles over to a studio who had far less experience in the industry.

    @shihe: The Sonic Game Gear games are, for the most part, very poorly designed. If they’re hard, they’re hard for the wrong reasons.

  9. If memory serves, it was the stage music from Sonic 1 for Game Gear which became the tune for “Toot Toot Sonic Warrior” in the Japanese opening of Sonic CD.

    One thing I did like in the earlier games was the need to search the stages for the Chaos Emeralds, rather than Special Zones, though it could perhaps have been done better. I’d love to see that come back.

    And, just to throw in, the last batch of Sonic games have been a lot of fun, save for Sonic 4 Ep 2, where the bosses spoil it.

  10. @Chicago Frank. It’s a total pain in the ass but replacing all the capacitors in a Game Gear will have it back to being as good as new and it will last a lot longer. They are all off the shelf parts.

  11. @LBD “Nytetrayn”:

    I’m with you regarding the Chaos Emeralds approach for Sonic 2 for Game Gear, but I have a small correction: the “Green Hills Zone” theme from Sonic 2, not Sonic 1, seems to be the basis for “Toot Toot Sonic Warrior”. Additionally, dang, yes, S2 was rather difficult. Echoing an above commenter, I can count on one hand the number of times I successfully beat the Underground Zone.

  12. The interesting thing about the handheld-Sonics is that these actually have gotten better within the years: Following the downsized (and therefore hardly playable) Master-System-conversions on the Game Gear the Neo-Geo-Pocket-entry, the GBA and DS games turned out pretty well. How sad that noone seems to remember those, when they complain about the post-Genesis era.

  13. It’s from an era when Sega actually cared about game development, their was always something special about Sega when they were a 1st party company and an early part of their 3rd party era.

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