Released: March 2012
Originally Released: November 1994
Original Developer: Aspect
Also Available For: Game Gear, Gamecube, and PlayStation 2
A lot of people forget that, alongside Sonic the Hedgehog’s iconic and much-lauded Mega Drive titles, SEGA also released a fair few Sonic videogames for their 8-bit consoles. The 8-bit versions of Sonic the Hedgehog (Ancient, 1991) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Aspect, 1992) differed considerably from the 16-bit counterparts, featuring entirely different Zones, gameplay gimmicks, and features.
While Sonic 2 had almost nothing in common with it’s bigger, better brother, Sonic the Hedgehog Chaos (ibid, 1993) represented Aspect’s first real attempt at a completely original Sonic title;. Released in Japan as Sonic & Tails, Sonic Chaos was a major step up from the first 8-bit Sonic, featuring a playable version of Miles “Tails” Prower, bigger and better graphics, and many other upgrades that left its 8-bit predecessors in the dust.
After SEGA switched their focus entirely to the Mega Drive, the Master System was abandoned entirely and all subsequent 8-bit Sonic titles were released exclusively on the Game Gear, SEGA’s underrated handheld console. This was also where Sonic & Tails 2, launched outside of Japan as Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble, found its home; while clearly inspired by Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), Sonic & Knuckles (SEGA, 1994), and Sonic the Hedgehog CD (ibid, 1993), Triple Trouble again told a largely original story and represented the pinnacle of Sonic’s foray into 8-bit platforming.
The diabolical Doctor Eggman has accidentally scattered the Chaos Emeralds across the world; he manages to secure one for himself and then trick Sonic’s friendly rival, Knuckles the Echidna, into tracking the remaining Emeralds down. However, Nack the Weasel (known as Fang the Sniper in Japan) is hording the Emeralds inside the Special Stages, resulting in Sonic and Tails having to butt heads with all three in their quest to recover the Chaos Emeralds.
Like its predecessors, Triple Trouble is a sidescrolling, 2D platformer based on speed. Of all the 8-bit Sonic titles, this is easily the biggest and the fastest; players can choose to play as either Sonic or Tails and journey through the game’s six Zones and each plays a little differently.
Both characters can run, jump, and spin as normal and enter a Spindash by pressing down and A; pressing up and A as Sonic allows him to perform the Strike Dash, a version of the Peel-Out, to blast ahead at full speed. Tails, however, flies instead of performing a Strike Dash and, unlike in Sonic Chaos, Tails can actually access the Special Stages and collect the Chaos Emeralds.
Speaking of which, like all 8-bit Sonic titles, Triple Trouble features a unique way of accessing the Special Stages; players must first collect fifty Golden Rings, locate and smash open a Chaos Emerald monitor, then enter the sparkling warp to challenge Nack for a Chaos Emerald. Like Sonic Chaos, each Special Stage offers a different challenge, including bouncing around collecting Rings, piloting the Tornado bi-plane, or navigating a maze.
At the end of each Special Stage, they then battle against Nack, who shows up sporadically throughout Triple Trouble to cause Sonic or Tails headaches, similar to Knuckles in Sonic 3. Despite his cool and unique character design, Nack is more a buffoon and an annoyance than an actual challenge, however.
Triple Trouble’s Zones borrow heavily from other Sonic titles and yet still manage to stay relatively unique; Tidal Plant Zone has more than a passing resemblance to Sonic CD’s Tidal Tempest, for example, and Atomic Destroyer Zone is like a combination of Sonic & Knuckles’ Death Egg Zone and 8-bit Sonic 2’s Scrambled Egg Zone thanks to its abundance of maze-like tubes.
Oddly, Triple Trouble features a large number, and dependence upon, springs; the first Zone, Great Turquoise Zone, is chock full of them (they’re on the trees, the ground, and even the Badniks!) and one of the main things you’ll find yourself doing when playing Triple Trouble is bouncing around on springs and other bouncy hazards, fighting with the stiff controls to get Sonic or Tails back on track.
Being that it’s an 8-bit title, Triple Trouble lacks some of the polish of its 16-bit counterparts but, saying that, its 8-bit predecessors felt a bit easier to handle. Here, Sonic jutters along, refusing to change direction mid-air, and feels sluggish and weighed down, making precise platforming difficult. This is a bit of an issue when trying to explore Zones for those elusive Chaos Emerald monitors and when tackling the Special Stages but, for a simple pick-up-and-play title, isn’t a major handicap, especially as there’s not much in the way of bottomless pits or cheap deaths.
Graphics and Sound:
As mentioned before, Triple Trouble is probably the best looking 8-bit Sonic title. The sprites are large and full of character and the Zones and environments are bright and lively. Of all the 8-bit Sonic titles, this comes the closest to matching its 16-bit counterparts, particularly by evoking the same sense of fun and adventure found in Sonic 3.
What lets the game down, however, is the sound. As it was originally developed for the Game Gear, sounds are muddy and distorted, as though they’re playing underwater. The game’s music is catchy enough and fits perfectly but collecting Rings or smashing Badniks lacks the usual oomph I expect from a Sonic title.
Enemies and Bosses:
Triple Trouble features the usual mechanised enemies we’ve all come to expect from a Sonic title, especially one from his heyday; Badniks range from robotic snails with springs on their shells to exploding penguins. Most are easily destroyed by simply spinning into them but there’s a fair few Badniks here that cannot be destroyed, which prove especially annoying when you run face-first into them and then stutter down to a lower level thanks to the game’s janky knock-back feature.
Like in the 8-bit Sonic 2 and Sonic Chaos, bosses consist, for the most part, of giant Badniks (such as a giant flying turtles and a bomb-spewing, rocket-powered penguin). However, Sonic and Tails also have to battle Knuckles, who fires bombs and rockets from a cute little vehicle, Nack (who bounces around in a funky spring-loaded contraption), Metal Sonic (in a variation of the iconic battle from Sonic CD), and, of course, Doctor Eggman.
Sonic or Tails won’t battle Eggman until the game’s finale, however. This boss battle has three stages but there isn’t much to it; you simply ram his machine until it explodes and transitions to the next phase and, in the final stage (which is eerily reminiscent of the final bosses from the first two 8-bit Sonic titles), you dodge some lightning and smash him as he cycles around a tube.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like all Sonic titles, Sonic and Tails can smash monitors to aid their progress; they can get an extra ten Rings, a speed boost from the Power Sneakers, an invincibility, hit a checkpoint, or gain extra lives as standard but can also access some additional items.
There’s a snowboard that lets Sonic cut through the Robotnik Winter Zone with ease, Propeller Shoes that allow him to navigate underwater, Rocket Shoes to allow him to burn through the sky, and a Pogo Spring because…there aren’t enough springs in the game already. These last two popped up in Sonic Chaos as well but it’s nice to see them return here and it’s a welcome change to the usual shield power-ups.
Sonic doesn’t get all the toys, though, as Tails can jump into the Sea Fox to navigate through Tidal Plant Zone without the need for air bubbles. Since he doesn’t need to Rocket Shoes, he can also grab the Hyper Heli-Tails to increase the duration of his flying ability. Additionally, players won’t lose all of their Rings when hit; instead, they’ll only lose thirty Rings, which makes playing through Triple Trouble much easier compared to the first to 8-bit Sonic titles where Sonic couldn’t even collect the Rings he lost.
There isn’t much else in Triple Trouble; obviously, as with the majority of Sonic titles, the ultimate goal is to collect all of the Chaos Emeralds to receive the game’s best ending but this doesn’t offer any reward other than not being told to “Try again”. There’s no Super Sonic here, no two player mode, and you cannot unlock Knuckles or anything like that. It’s a very simple, one-player experience with the minimum of effort being asked of you.
The Virtual Console version, however, offers a few extra features; you can create a save point (which is quite handy if you need to stop playing but you only get one save), change the aspect ratio of the display, and fiddle about with a few other minor settings but that’s about it. For such an ambitious 8-bit Sonic title, it remains as bare bones as all 8-bit Sonic videogames were back in the day.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble is decent enough, for the most part; Zones are bright, vibrant, and easy to blast through, Sonic has never looked better in 8-bit, and there’s a decent amount of variety and challenge on offer. However, for as much as Triple Trouble outpaces its 8-bit predecessors, it’s still an 8-bit title; the controls are clunky and unresponsive, the knock-back from damage is a pain in the ass, and sound effects are distorted. Similar to the Game Gear version of Sonic 2, the screen is zoomed in quite a bit as well, which means you’re never quite sure what you’re running into. Overall, I enjoyed the game; it was probably the best 8-bit Sonic game of the bunch, but it’s still far from perfect. I loved Nack and how he was worked into the game, even if he was, technically, just a rip off of Knuckles, and it’s a shame that he hasn’t been brought back in a similarly high profile role. Honestly, I’d love to see this game get a proper, Sonic Mania (PagodaWest Games/Headcannon, 2017) style remake (alongside, or as part of, it’s other 8-bit brothers) but it seems like SEGA and Sonic Team and happy to let their 8-bit/handheld Sonic titles fade into obscurity, which is a shame really.
What were your experiences with Triple Trouble? Do you also long for Nack’s return to the franchise? What did you think of Sonic’s other 8-bit outings? Drop a line in the comments to let me know.