Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating the entire month to celebrating SEGA’s supersonic mascot.
This review has been supported by Chiara Cooper.
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Released: 20 June 2013
Originally Released: 22 September 1995
Original Developer: Aspect
Also Available For: Game Gear, Gamecube, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One
Thanks to SEGA largely ignoring them these days, many people forget that Sonic’s iconic and much-lauded Mega Drive titles were accompanied by a fair few videogames for their 8-bit consoles. The 8-bit versions of Sonic the Hedgehog (Ancient, 1991) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Aspect, 1992) were considerably different from the 16-bit counterparts, featuring entirely different Zones, gameplay gimmicks, and features, and this continued to Sonic’s other 8-bit titles, which tended to be more experimental compared to the mainline games. This is best evident in Sonic’s long-time kid sidekick, Miles “Tails” Prower , getting a few spin-off titles of his own, with this particular game facing criticism upon release for its slower pace and only really finding its fans later in life as retrospective reviews appreciated the role-playing elements of the game, though the back-tracking and inventory management was seen as a downside. Since Tails Adventure was a Game Gear exclusive title back in the day, I didn’t play it until it was featured in Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut (Sonic Team, 2003) and, even then, I never actually sat down and put effort into playing through it until I picked up this Nintendo 3DS port of the game.
Before Tails met Sonic the Hedgehog, the two-tailed fox cub used his various gadgets and inventions to travel across Cocoa Island to liberate it from the Battle Kukku Empire, an evil empire that sought to conquer the world using the legendary Chaos Emeralds.
Tail Adventure (oddly referred to as “Tails Adventures” in-game) is a 2D, sidescrolling action/adventure game that emphasises slow-paced exploration and backtracking, making it more like a “Metroidvania” style game than a high-speed platformer. Players are placed into the role of cute little two-tailed fox Tails, who plods along a number of fairly samey island environments tossing bombs, acquiring new gadgets, and using his twin tails to fly to new areas. Although you don’t have to contend with a time limit when playing, Tails’ flight is restricted by a meter, which drains the longer you fly; rather than tapping A to gain height, this will cancel the flying state so you need to use up on the directional pad (D-pad) to get higher and you can extend your flight meter by finding the six Chaos Emeralds across the game’s stages. The B button sees you make use of your currently equipped item; Tails starts off with a regular bomb, which can be tossed when standing still or dropped when flying, but can carry up to four at once and you can switch between them from the pause screen by pressing left or right on the D-pad. Tails can look up and duck down to scroll the screen vertically, which is useful for spotting enemies just out of sight or spikes, and can even toss bombs while ducking to take out smaller enemies. He will also automatically clamber up small ledges and walls when near to or jumping to them, but his default walking speed is incredibly slow and you’re not able to perform signature Sonic moves like the Spin Dash or Super Sonic Spin Attack without a specific gadget.
As ever, Golden Rings are your life source; however, this time around, you lose a certain number of Rings depending on how you take a hit and they act more like traditional hit points in a role-playing game. You can pick up Rings from defeated enemies or find them either lying around a level or behind destructible walls and they’ll respawn when you leave the area, allowing you to farm them if need be, and Chaos Emeralds will also increase your maximum Ring count. Once you clear a stage (each of which is generally comprised of about three different screens with different paths accessible by your different gadgets and skills and capped off with a boss battle), Tails can navigate across Cocoa Island using a map screen. From here, you can jump back to Tails’ House at any time to swap out your gadgets, review your password (necessary to continue your game when you get a game over), or kit out Tails’ submarine, the Sea Fox. When in the Sea Fox, the game becomes a sidescrolling shoot-‘em-up of sorts as Tails explores new areas underwater, blasting at enemies and blocks with missiles and mines to reach new areas on and around Cocoa Island. Like Tails, the Sea Fox can be equipped with up to four different gadgets but it also comes with a drill appendage to plough through walls, though you’ll need to manually turn the submarine around with the A button, which can be a bit clunky.
The bulk of the game is focused on exploration; at first, you’re somewhat limited to where you can go and will be teased by upgrade pods and areas of each stage that you can’t reach yet. Tails can blow through blocks and walls, push rocks and springs to climb and get higher, and often has to contend with blasts of wind that either hold him down, push him back, or blast him upwards. Many stages are rife with spikes, fireball-spewing lava pits, or in pitch black darkness, requiring careful navigation or new gadgets to get through; others are slightly maze-like and contain multiple exits, with some depositing you back on the map screen rather than advancing you forwards. Each time you get a new item or gadget, it’s worth equipping and experimenting with it to see how it might open new paths to new upgrades or stages in places you’ve already explored, and this is actively encouraged as it’s the only way to complete the game. You’ll be revisiting many areas but especially returning to Lake Rocky as you upgrade the Sea Fox, and a number of stage hazards will slow you down; you’ll have to redirect conveyor belts with your wrench, blow through walls with your bombs or napalm, dodge missile turrets, press switches to lower electrical barriers, and send your little Remote Robot through small gaps to grab items or solve puzzles. Occasionally, you’ll need to perform some tricky platforming, often with enemies hovering right in the way, making your way upwards on drafts of air and watching for ceiling spikes; other times, you’ll be hopping around on rapids and being blasted around under water (with no fear of drowning, thankfully), and returning to Tails’ House again and again if you get halfway through a stage and realise you don’t have the right item equipped (though there is a teleporter than makes this much faster than going back through the whole stage).
Graphics and Sound:
If you’ve played any of the other 8-bit Sonic videogames, Tails Adventure will look and sound very familiar to you; many of the sounds (such as Ring collection and boss hits) are recycled from those games and the music is right in line with the jaunty chip tunes of those often overlooked titles. While the heads-up display is very sparse, even for an 8-bit Sonic title, the game does suffer from noticeable slowdown when there’s a lot happening onscreen. Not only does the game include include the signature “SE-G-AA!” jingle during the opening and a brief opening sequence in which Tails and Flickies are panicked by the Battle Kukku Empire, other cutscenes play when bosses appear or when Tails hops into the Sea Fox. Tails also has a cute idle animation where he digs in the ground or fiddles with his wrench, his flying sprite changes and becomes more dynamic as his meter increases, and he even has a pretty spectacular death animation that sees him sent flying.
There are twelve stages in Tails Adventure, though many are quite similar, with recycled foregrounds and sprite elements being recoloured and shuffled about. There are some interesting visuals considering the limited hardware, however; Volcanic Tunnel is full of flickering fire, and lava pits, and Cavern Island is beset by water rapids. While the second part of Polly Mountain is similar to Volcanic Tunnels except requiring the Night Vision item to cope with the darkness, the first part is very vertical, with a pretty impressive landscape in the background and gusts of wind to contend with. Green Island sees you venturing through hollow trees, Caron Forest has a big waterfall in the background, vines hanging down, and tree trucks as bridges. When in the Sea Fox, you’ll explore underground coral reefs and hop around on rapids above water as you blast at enemies and, after conquering all of the main stages, the Kukku Empire’s Battle Fortress rises from the map and you end up exploring a purely mechanical location that recalls classic Sonic stages like Scrap Brain Zone.
Enemies and Bosses:
The Battle Kukku Empire is made up of heavily-armed birds and robotic enemies not unlike Doctor Eggman’s Badniks; the Battle Kukku Empire’s birds pilot little hover pods and mechanical walkers, firing projectiles or flamethrowers at you, or fly around dropping bombs on you. Smaller ones can be harder to hit and move a lot faster, quickly being spawned in from gates, and the Kukkus will pilot their own submarines and even snipe at you from behind the environment by the end. You’ll also have to contend with robotic bats and mice, but probably the worst enemy in the game is a simple beehive that keeps spawning in bees until you destroy it, which causes the queen to pop out and chase after you, so it’s best you use your Napalm Bomb to quickly dispatch these little buggers.
There are eight bosses to contend with throughout Tails Adventure, with one fought twice and some new upgrades being acquired after defeating them, and the first one you’ll battle with is the Bird Walker amidst the flaming background of Poloy Forest. This is a pretty simple boss that stomps and hops towards you and tries to fry you with its flamethrower; you can toss your bombs at it, or fly over it and drop them, but it’s worth noting that it can also shoot flames from behind. At the end of Cavern Island, another mechanical boss awaits: Mecha Golem (5-gou), which attacks with a swinging arm, causes boulders to rain from the ceiling, and takes a few more hits to destroy as you have to first blast off its cockpit to expose the pilot, and then continue attacking to finish it off. A similar boss is faced at the end of the Volcanic Tunnel; entirely stationary, it sits there firing a whole mess of projectiles at you. Some of these can be destroyed and you can avoid others by flying behind it and attacking the cockpit, but this was actually the most difficult boss in the game for me because of the sheer number of projectiles onscreen and the slowdown they caused. After finally getting the Sea Fox upgraded, you’ll encounter the Kukku Cruiser in Lake Rocky, which is a pretty simple and non-threatening boss battle as you simply avoid the depth charges it drops and unload on it with your Anti-air Missile until it goes down in flames.
The Battle Kukku Empire’s executives are somewhat more memorable boss battles; the first one you face is Battle Kukku XVI (or “Speedy”), a green rooster who initially confronts you on Polly Mountain in what amounts to a race. While you can throw bombs at Speedy and it registers as a hit, you’re actually supposed to avoid him (and the ceiling spikes) as you fly up without the restriction of your regular meter. Speedy will dart down at you like an arrow and can be tricky to avoid but gives up a Chaos Emerald once you reach the top. You’ll fight him properly on the Battle Fortress at the end of the game, however; this time, Speedy travels around the arena and fires a big projectile bolt at you. You need to anticipate where he’s going to appear or come around next and toss a bomb at him before quickly dodging his projectile and being hit by him as he barges past you, which can be tricky. Doctor Fukurokov also awaits on the Battle Fortress, though you don’t battle him directly; instead, he drops you into a mechanical arena full of lasers and spikes but these won’t harm you as you’re directing your Remote Robot through a narrow maze and having it drop a rock on the doc’s head. Finally, after besting Speedy, you’ll fight with the final boss, Great Battle Kukku XV; this large bird grabs and throws you if you get too close and tosses bombs at you. While you can fly over these, and him, to avoid many of his attacks, he becomes much more aggressive as you deal damage, spewing out bombs and walking across the arena to make himself a more difficult target to hit.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
To begin with, Tails is quite limited in his abilities; he can throw a regular bomb and replenish one Ring of his health with each Golden Ring he picks up, but he won’t become more versatile without exploring high and low for Chaos Emeralds to increase his flight meter and maximum Ring count and acquire additional gadgets to progress further and increase his attack repertoire. Tails can acquire new bombs that help him progress in different ways; the Remote Bomb can be rolled through small gaps and remotely triggered to destroy anything blocking your progress, the Large Bomb destroys all onscreen enemies and bigger obstacles, the Napalm Bomb sends a burst of flames out for wide coverage and to get past dense grass, and the Triple Bomb sends a spew of explosions out. You can also acquire Night Vision goggles to light up dark areas, Speed Boots to dramatically increase Tails’ walking and flying speed, a Hammer for a close-range attack, and a Helmet to deflect enemy projectiles.
Tails can use his Wrench to reprogram conveyor belts, teleport back to his house with the Teleport Device to save you backtracking, and lift heavy objects with the Super Glove while the Item Radar helps you find hidden items and the “Raido” lets you change the in-game music, Probably Tails’ most useful item is the Remote Robot, and indestructible little robot that you can direct, hop, and fly through narrow passageways to solve puzzles, and you can also grab Sonic, Fang, and Knuckles items to perform a Spin Attack, increase your chances of finding Rings, and punch enemies, respectively. The Sea Fox can also be upgraded with new weapons, such as mines and Anti-air Missiles to clear enemies or blocks below and above you, respectively, and the Vulcan Gun and Proton Torpedo to shoot down enemies in front of you. You can speed yourself up, gain the ability to jump up rapids by holding A and releasing it at peak charge, destroy all onscreen enemies with the Spark, and use Extra Armour for an invincibility that protects you until you leave the current screen.
There are six Chaos Emeralds and a total of thirty-four gadgets to be found in Tails Adventure. While you’ll naturally come across many of these, especially the ones that are necessary to progress, others are more hidden and optional. When you finish the game, you’ll be told your percentage of items found, but it appears as though you can’t return to your cleared save file as selecting ‘Continue’ simply restarted the game for me. Naturally, this 3DS version of the game allows you to save at any point with its save state feature, but you can also apply borders to the game, including a Game Gear border to recreate the original gaming experience.
Although I never owned a Game Gear growing up, Tails Adventure has been on my list for a long time. I’ve dabbled with it, generally on Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut, but never actually sat and properly played it until now. It’s definitely a curio amongst Sonic’s vast library of videogames and obviously very different from its mainline titles. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though; if you like Metroidvanias then there’s a bit of that flavour here, if maybe a little dumbed down for kids. The game has a very slow, deliberate, whimsical pace, feel, and aesthetic to it that makes it very visually appealing, if not necessarily too challenging or action-packed. It can be tricky and an obstacle to try and figure out what gadgets you need to progress and which stages to revisit and when to get everything you need, and a lot of the environments are a bit bland and repeated, but it was fun discovering new pick-ups and upgrades for Tails and his cool little submarine. I enjoyed how it wasn’t just Dr. Eggman and his Badniks and that the villains were visually interesting and quirky and I’d love to see the Kukku Empire crop up again in a videogame some time. Tails fits this genre of videogame very well so I could totally see this getting a revisit or a new coat of paint similar to Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Nintendo EAD Tokyo, 2014) if SEGA ever actually decided to dust off their sadly forgotten 8-bit titles. With some fun, cartoony sprites, a variety of interesting weapons to and secrets to find, and some wacky boss battles, Tails Adventure more than makes up for it slack of challenge and the limitations of its hardware with its presentation and tight gameplay.
Are you a fan of Tails Adventure? Did you enjoy the emphasis on exploration and item usage as opposed to high-speed adventuring? Which of Tails’s gadgets was your favourite to use? What did you think to the Battle Kukku Empire and their quirky bosses? Did you ever own this on the Game Gear or did you play it in a later compilation or port? Would you like to see the Sonic franchise dabble in other genres using their many characters such as this? Whatever your thoughts on Tails Adventure, leave them below or drop a comment on my social media and be sure to check out my other Sonic content!
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