Sonic’s friends get a bad rap. From Sonic Adventure until quite recently, the biggest complaint thrown at Sonic games was how much time is spent away from the speed-focused gameplay to go fishing, or emerald hunting, or turning into a werewolf. That last one was Sonic’s fault, but most of the time these sequences featured an ever-growing stable of animal friends, each with his or her own half-baked gameplay quirks.
A few years before that era, however, a game came along which made that approach work. In 1995, Sega outsourced a Tails spin-off to Aspect, and the game they made was pretty good. The trick, it turned out, was to ignore Sonic.
Tails Adventures throws out the speed of the main series to focus on what differentiates Tails as a character. As expected, his flight takes center stage, but the game also spotlights his penchant for machines. Each stage hides various gadgets and items Tails needs to progress through the game, chief of which is a little remote-controlled robot which can reach places Tails can’t. The result is a game about exploration and observation, rather than speed and reflexes. You won’t see all of a level the first time through, as whole sections are blocked off until you find the right trinket. The game owes more to adventure titles like Monster World than Sonic, really.
This adventure aspect is both the game’s greatest strength and its biggest flaw. The world is large for a Game Gear game, and exploring it is satisfying. However, this exploration carries with it a copious amount of backtracking. Each level needs to be visited at least twice, and while you usually end up tunneling into a new section, retreading old ground is tedious.
Even worse, though, is that of the dozens of items you can collect, you’re only allowed four at a time. This limitation means little opportunity to use the more frivolous—and fun—items, like Sonic’s spin dash, but also means some guesswork is necessary. The game usually telegraphs what items you will need, but occasionally you find yourself stuck. The worst point is a grueling gauntlet in one of the submarine stages which is made trivially easy with a particular item. I assumed I had hit a cruel difficulty spike until I quit the stage in frustration and stumbled upon the item I needed, in a completely different level, by accident.
There are other problems, such as screen real estate and some unfortunate enemy placement. Despite all those issues, however, Tails Adventures is an enjoyable experience. The level design is at its best when focusing on the synergy between Tails and his items, and the remote robot especially makes treasure hunting a lot of fun. Anyone interested in Game Gear would do well to pick this title up. While it won’t win any awards, it’s easily one of the system’s best games, and shows that a Sonic spin-off can work.
Article by Tyler Lindner
GameSpite Journal 12: Tails Adventures