Game Corner [Turtle Tuesday]: TMNT: Tournament Fighters (Xbox Series X)


Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I’ve been spotlighting four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.


GameCorner

Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: 4 September 1993 (Mega Drive / SNES) / February 1994 (NES)
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Mega Drive, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Xbox One, and Xbox Series S

The Background:
There was only one franchise that dominated childhoods back in the late-eighties and early-nineties and that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for Brits like me); beginning life as a violent pastiche of comic book tropes, the TMNT’s popularity exploded into the massively successful cartoon and action figures, live-action movie adaptations, and many videogames. Spearheaded by Konami, the TMNT were equally successful with their arcade beat-‘em-ups and their home console ports, but this was also a time when Capcom had changed the face of both arcades and the competitive fighting scene with the many iterations of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991), which was great success on home consoles and inspired a slew of knock-offs looking to cash in on Capcom’s success. The TMNT were amongst these with this one-on-one tournament fighter, which released in slightly different versions across three platforms at the time; the games took inspiration from the cartoons, movies, and the Archie spin-off comics but, while the 16-bit titles aped the combos and special moves of Street Fighter II, the 8-bit version had more in common with the likes of Yie Ar Kung-Fu (Konami, 1984) due to the NES’s limitations. Of the three, the SNES version was positively received despite being a Street Fighter II knock-off, the Mega Drive version was criticised for its sluggish controls and lacklustre presentation, while the NES version was seen as ambitious but unsurprisingly limited. All three games were lost to the midst of time, available only through emulators or extortionately expensive physical copies until they were included in this Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other games and quality of life features.

The Plot:
The Turtles and their allies take part in a one-on-one tournament against some of their most recognisable and obscure enemies and friends. In the Mega Drive version, the heroes battle across the alien worlds of Dimension X to rescue Splinter from their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, and their evil clones; in the NES version, the Shredder challenges them to defeat his latest plot for world domination; and in the SNES version, the heroes battle on a fighting game show to prove their mettle and earn some cold, hard cash.

Gameplay:
Regardless of which version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters you choose to play, the game is a standard 2D, one-on-one fighting game, with the 16-but versions of the game heavily borrowing their controls, combat, and presentation from Street Fighter II. Each game comes with a different roster of fighters, with ten fighters selectable in the SNES version, eleven available in the Mega Drive version, and seven in the NES version. Each version of the game allows you to customise the gameplay in some way, such as setting the difficulty level of the game (which directly impacts the ending and bosses you face), changing the time limit and amount of rounds to win (with the games defaulting to the standard best of three rounds), setting the speed of the game, setting the amount of credits you have to continue laying upon defeat, and eve setting the strength of your character and your opponent to establish any handicaps. These features don’t carry across to every version of the game, and some are slightly altered (the SNES version represents difficulty on a zero to seven scale, for example, while the NES uses a simple Easy, Normal, and Hard designation), but these options are generally consistent to those seen in Street Fighter II.

Each game sees you pummelling foes with a variety of moves and special attacks.

Combat, however, is a slightly different story and varies somewhat between each version; while the SNES version benefits from the additional buttons and mimics the directional input and button presses of Street Fighter II to pull off special moves, the Mega Drive and NES versions are limited by their control scheme layouts and the general presentation of the game. Indeed, the SNES version is more like Super Street Fighter II Turbo (Capcom, 1994), running much faster at its maximum speed and aping similar button combinations, while the Mega Drive version is far slower and reminds me more of the original, somewhat clunky first release of Street Fighter II. The NES version, as mentioned, is more like Yie Ar Kung-Fu and features little in the way of complex button combinations and special moves due to the limitation of the NES hardware. In the SNES version, you have two different types of punches and kicks; A and X launch a “normal” punch and kick while B and Y throw “fierce” variants. You can press up on the directional pad (D-pad) to jump and launch flying kicks and punches; when up close to an enemy, you’ll grab them and toss them in a unique throw move and you’ll use directional inputs and button presses (down, diagonal down-right, right, X, for example) to pull off each character’s special moves. When not playing in the game’s story mode, you’ll gradually fill up a gauge underneath your life bar; when this is full, you can use another simple button combination to unleash a devastating “Ultimate-Attack” that, unlike your regular attacks, actually damages the opponent through their block (though if they attack you during it you’ll fail and it’ll deplete if you don’t use it in time). Much of this is true of the Mega Drive version, but with some notable differences; there’s no special attack gauge, for starters, and no “fierce” attacks, you simply use X to punch and A to kick, and press Y to pull off a taunt (that seems to have no function). To pull off stronger attacks, you need to press the D-pad towards the opponent and then press X or A; you can still grab and throw your foe but special moves seem a lot harder to pull off (not least because the button inputs are missing from the strategy guide) and the game’s sluggish pace makes combat inconsistent and frustrating. It’s still more complex that the NES version, though; here, X punches and A kicks and that’s about it; you can use directional inputs and button presses to pull off special moves, but they’re extremely basic and the TMNT don’t even fight with their signature weapons in this game! Each game features a stun mechanic like in Street Fighter II, though; deal enough damage in a string of attacks and your opponent will be momentarily dazed and wide open for another combo or throw.

Although it lacks Nintendo’s bonus stages, the Mega Drive version has instant replays…

Some versions of the game do allow you to alter the button layout if you’re not happy with the default, and all three versions allow you to block by holding back on the D-pad (a mechanic I’ve always found awkward in fighting games; I much prefer a dedicated block button) but the SNES version also allows you to flip away from incoming attacks but only the NES version allows you to run towards your opponent by double tapping the D-pad. Each version also comes with a few gameplay options; you can take on the story mode (where you’re limited to playing as the TMNT), with cutscenes and a map screen (in the Mega Drive version) furthering the narrative between each bout, battle against a friend (or against the computer in the NES version), watch or practice the game in the SNES and Mega Drive versions, or take on a standard tournament mode. This also differs greatly between each version, with the SNES version taking the form of a broadcast and game show and featuring pre- and post-match dialogue and even tossing in a bonus stage where you rack up extra points and gold by smashing open safes in a bid to help break up the monotony. Although this is absent from the Mega Drive version, whose tournament simply goes from one fight to the next, every match is followed by an instant replay), bonus stages do appear in the NES version; here you have to smash through walls in the dojo for extra points, and all three will tally up certain criteria (health remaining, time left, whether you took damage or not) when you’re victorious to add to your score and this is the only version of the game to feature a high score table.

Each version offers a pretty tough challenge even on the easiest difficulty.

Each game comes with a natural, steady, and expected difficulty curve that I find is typical of most fighting games but synonymous with Street Fighter II; your ability to succeed will depend on how adept you are at pulling off the awkward special attacks and combos, especially as special attacks and throws deal way more damage than your regular attacks. The enemy AI, even on the easiest settings, is incredibly cheap in all three versions; your opponent will block almost constantly, is consistently able to attack and throw you through your attack animations, and they’re far more aggressive and skilled than I was, meaning I either had to fight hard and fast or be on the defensive. The difficulty and gameplay sliders can help with this, especially in the Mega Drive version, which allows you to reduce the rounds to win to one and set your speed and power to give you an advantage. Since the SNES version is the fastest of the three, combat can move at a breakneck speed, with rounds turning out of your favour in the blink of an eye, and you’ll be immediately at a disadvantage as you need to play on at least difficulty level three to even battle to true final boss and see the game’s best ending. This is even more demanding in the Mega Drive version, where you need to play on level eight to get the true ending; this version is so hampered by its plodding speed that it’s easy to get trapped in an unbreakable combo string and stunned into oblivion by your hyper-aggressive opponents. The NES version can be both paradoxically difficult and easy at the same time; there’s little benefit from picking one fighter over another as they’re all so limited but some, like Hothead, make for bigger targets while others, like Casey Jones, appear to be more agile. Either way, the limitations of the hardware make this a mundane back and forth affair that’s more about who can grab the power-up first rather than requiring any in-depth skill like the SNES version.

Graphics and Sound:  
Obviously, all three games look and sound very different. Of the three, the SNES version is the clear winner in terms of overall presentation; the game features more sound bites, big, bright, and well animated sprites and backgrounds, and the music is clearer and has more kick to it. The emphasis on story and cutscenes means there’s far more opportunities for big, partially animated sprite art here, with April O’Neil reporting on and interviewing characters before and after bouts and every fight in story mode being proceeded by dialogue between the fighters and the TMNT travelling to each location via their signature blimp. The characters in this version are clearly modelled more like the cartoon, with a hint of the live-action influence here and there, and they’re all large and full of attack and reaction frames. Sadly, the same isn’t true of the Mega Drive version; even the title screen and character select screen aren’t as impressive, though the game does include more palette swaps and some different fighters compared to its SNES counterpart. Sprites are smaller, however, duller, and seem to be missing some animation frames; everyone seems far meaner and more surly, as well, making this a very gritty and moody experience that seems to owe more to the original Mirage Comics, but it’s pretty obvious even to a die-hard SEGA fan like me which version has the better overall presentation. Naturally, the NES version is the most inferior in terms of graphics, character, and stage selection; however, while the TMNT don’t sport their signature weapons, they do have their own unique green palettes to separate them and the character designs seem to be drawing more from the first live-action movie than anything else. You won’t find much in the way of animation and variety here but it’s pretty ambitious, really; sprites have some decent details and special attacks, but the game suffers from black bars eating up a lot of the player’s screen.

Presentation varies between the three, with the SNES being the clear superior.

Naturally, the stages you’ll fight in follow very much the same format; the SNES version features a variety of large and detailed environments set largely on Earth, with some even featuring destructible elements to smash your opponents into like in Street Fighter II. Also like in that game, you’ll see background characters and elements and characters cheering and watching the fight, including TMNT staples like Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman in his fly form, and various Foot Soldiers. There’s always something going on in the SNES version, whether it’s a giant octopus, a band performing on stage, or a news report recording the action, and this version also includes better, more detailed and varied story cutscenes and even character bios in its attract mode. Comparatively, the Mega Drive version is an immediate disappointment; cutscenes are smaller and less interesting and the backgrounds, while surreal and often disturbing, are far more muted and feature almost no animation and absolutely no interactable elements. As this version of the game features a planet-hopping narrative, there are some bizarre stages to choose from, from an ice world complete with a submarine to an ocean planet with a sinking ship in the background, to the bleakness of the cosmic abyss, but it’s all so dull and lifeless even when there’s giant cycloptic magma creatures and dinosaurs looming in the background. Again, the NES version is hampered by its hardware and includes only four stages: the sewers, a subway station, the galley of a pirate ship, and the rooftops of New York City. This latter is the most impressive stage, showing the city and the Statue of Liberty at night and in all its 8-bit glory, and is preceded by a rare cutscene to set the stage for the final battle against the Shredder.

Enemies and Bosses:
As with all fighting games, every available character will eventually be your enemy at some point; button codes and the Cowabunga Collection’s enhancements allow you to play as the boss characters in the 16-bit versions of the game and the Mega Drive version even includes and practise mode to help you get to grips with your favourite character. Essentially, however, there’s minimal benefit to picking a certain character in each version of the game; all of them sport special moves that can match each other, with every character sporting projectiles, grabs, and powerful rushing or slamming attacks to deal heavy damage. However, there are some notable exceptions; as mentioned, Hothead is a unique character in the NES version, sporting a chunkier sprite and breathing fire, meaning his hit box is a little larger and the character is a little slower. In the Mega Drive version, Casey Jones can set bombs as traps, while characters like Chrome Dome and Krang can cover distances from a standstill with their extending arms and legs. Even on the easiest setting, the SNES version puts up quite a fight; I struggled against War in the first battle simply because of his ridiculous rolling throw and large swiping claws, and the Shredder proved quite formidable here thanks to his dashing uppercut, his flurry of punches, and his cheap tactics of spamming low kicks. The Rat King also proved a unique foe in this version as he relied more on wrestling moves, snatching you out of the air and grabbing you midway through your attacks to slam you to the ground, and you’ll really get a sense of how good or bad you are when you face off against your character in a mirror match.

You’ll need to challenge the game’s highest difficulties to achieve the best endings.

These are spiced up a bit in the Mega Drive version through the inclusion of evil clones, who sport a purple palette swap and constantly dog your progress throughout the game. The Mega Drive version also includes a unique character, Sisyphus, an alien beetle who spits a blue projectile at you and unleashes a rapid-fire horn attack. He’s not the only unique character, however; Ray Fillet, April O’Neil, and a Triceraton are also included in this version of the game, while Wingnut, Aska, and Armaggon round out the SNES roster, with each one bringing their own strengths and weaknesses. April was a surprisingly decent character to use as she has a very cheap crouching spam attack that’s great four countering the game’s aggressive enemies, but you can never count out the titular turtles, who can send ground sparks, spinning cyclones, and twirling kicks your way at any moment even in the NES version. Krang only appears as a boss in the Mega Drive version of the game; naturally, you battle him in the Technodrome as the penultimate boss and he’s able to extended his arms, slide at you with a kick, and fire missiles high and low from his robot body but his sprite just isn’t large or intimidating enough to evoke a sense of danger. Both 16-bit versions include the same final boss, Karai, who can only be fought on higher difficulty settings; on the SNES, you fight her on top of a speeding train, whereas you battle her in a traditional dojo on the Mega Drive. In both, she’s easily the most formidable fighter, which is accentuated on the SNES thanks to her larger sprite; she’s capable of crossing the screen with a devastating cartwheel kick, tossing out projectiles, diving from high above with flying kicks, and is overall a pretty tough customer thanks to her martial arts kicks and overly aggressive AI. Thanks to its limited roster, the Shredder is your final foe in the NES version of the game; fought on a rooftop like in the movie and original comic, Shredder again has a dashing uppercut, a flaming flurry of punches, and can send a ground shot your way but goes down just as easily as every other enemy in this version of the game.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As Tournament Fighters is styled heavily after Street Fighter II, for the most part, there aren’t any in-game power-ups for you to utilise. The SNES version includes that special gauge outside of the story mode, which is good for a dramatic finish, but this is completely absent from the Mega Drive version. The NES version, however, does feature a power-up; at some point in every battle, Splinter will drop a red ball into the arena, which you can collect by pressing down and X. While the exact button inputs aren’t explained, and it seems incredibly temperamental, you can then launch this ball at your enemy to deal massive (and, usually, decisive) damage and this will be your key to victory in almost every bout. Be warned, though, as your foe is also able to pick up the ball and you’ll lose it if you take too much damage.

Additional Features:
The additional features on offer differ somewhat between each version of Tournament Fighters but there is some overlap; each version includes a story and a tournament mode and allows players to go head-to-head, selecting their character, stage, and handicap modifiers as you’d expect from a one-on-one fighter. Each game includes a variety of endings depending on which character you play as and the difficulty you set the game to, encouraging multiple playthroughs if you can stand to tackle this game again. Of course, the Cowabunga Collection adds even more features to these games; you’ll get a generous 100G Achievement for completing each game, however, you need to beat each one of the higher/highest difficulty level and battle Karai for this to pop. You can also use the Left Bumper to rewind the gameplay and bring up save states and display options with the Right Bumper, which also allows you to look through the strategy guide for tips and move inputs, which is much appreciated. In addition to viewing each game’s box art and manuals, exploring their soundtracks, and switching between the American and Japanese versions, you can enhance each game in various ways: you can choose to play as the 16-bit bosses, access additional stages, increase the game’s speed, and enable extra lives, remove sprite and slowdown from the NES version and allow for Hothead versus Hothead fights if you wish.

The Summary:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters is a tough one for me. I’m really not the best at Street Fighter II and similar knock-off fighters; the button inputs and aggressive opponents always throw me off and playing these games is often more frustrating than fun. The TMNT aesthetic certainly suits the format; all of the character have unique attacks and represent both the cartoons, comics, toys, and movies from the time and anyone who’s ever played Street Fighter II, especially on home consoles, will be immediately familiar with the 16-but versions of the game. For me, the SNES version is the clear winner; not only does it look and sound the best of the three, it plays a lot better and there are far better opportunities for combos and special attacks. The story and tournament modes are also presented in a much more visually impressive way, the stages are livelier and more interesting, and the game is bolstered by the faster combat and fluid gameplay. It pains me to say it being a big SEGA fan, but the Mega Drive version just can’t compete with its SNES counterpart; everything’s smaller, grimier, and so slow and clunky. I actually prefer some of the roster here, having read a lot of the TMNT’s Archie Comics as a kid, but the gameplay and presentation lets these additions down considerably. Naturally, the NES version is the inferior of the three but, even so, it does a decent job with the limitations of its hardware. One-on-one fighters are never a good option on inferior hardware and the TMNT definitely benefitted more from their 8-bit sidescrolling adventures and brawlers, but there’s some ambitious elements here that make it an interesting option, at least, though it’s hard to believe anyone choosing to downgrade or settle for the NES version of the far superior SNES version. Overall, if you’re a fan of one-on-one fighters and Street Fighter II, you could do a lot worse than to give the SNES version of Tournament Fighters a whirl; the other two are worth a quick playthrough for a boost to your gamer score but I can’t see myself picking the Mega Drive or NES version on future playthroughs since the SNES version just leaves both in the dust with its superior options, gameplay, combat, and presentation.

Mega Drive Rating:

NES Rating:

SNES Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Terrible

Pretty Good

What did you think to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters? Which of the three did you own back in the day, or is your favourite to play in this collection? How do you think it compares to other one-on-one fighters, especially Street Fighter II? Which character was your favourite to play as in each version? Were you disappointed by the dip in graphical quality in the Mega Drive version? What did you think to the NES version and how it utilised the system’s limitations? Would you like to see another one-on-one tournament fighter from the TMNT? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? Whatever your thoughts on Tournament Fighters, go ahead and share them in the comments below or leave a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [Sonic 2sday]: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2013; Nintendo 3DS)


After the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic had firmly established himself as the hot new icon on the block and catapulted SEGA to the forefront of the Console Wars. Anticipation was high for a sequel and, in keeping with their aggressive marketing strategies, SEGA dubbed November 24, 1992 as “Sonic 2sday”, a marketing stunt that not only heralded the worldwide release of the bigger, better sequel but changed the way the videogame industry went about releasing games for years to come.


GameCorner

Released: June 2013
Originally Released: 29 October 1992
Developer: SEGA
Original Developer: Aspect
Also Available For: GameCube, Game Gear, Master System, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

The Background:
I went into great detail about just how important a release Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) was for SEGA; hot off an aggressive marketing campaign and the incredible sales of the first game, Sonic 2 saw SEGA’s supersonic mascot catapulted into mainstream popularity and success. Like with the first game, SEGA also commissioned an 8-bit version of the game; unlike its predecessor, Sonic 2’s 8-bit version was developed by Aspect and, unlike its 16-bit counterpart (and despite the game’s title cards), it did not feature Sonic’s new sidekick, Miles “Tails” Prower, as a playable character. Similar to the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog, I first played the 8-bit Sonic 2 on the Master System, before its 16-bit counterpart, and the game was noticeably different from its equivalent. Despite being more difficult on the Game Gear, the 8-bit Sonic 2 scored high upon release and, even years later when it was re-released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console, it was praised for not being a mere clone of its Mega Drive cousin.

The Plot:
Doctor Eggman is back! This time, he’s kidnapped Sonic’s new friend, Tails, and invaded South Island in search of the six Chaos Emeralds once more. Only Sonic has the speed, the skills, and the attitude to bust up Dr. Eggman’s Badniks, find the Chaos Emeralds, and rescue Tails from the egg-shaped madman’s grasp.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, and pretty much every Sonic the Hedgehog videogame, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which you must guide Sonic through seven stages (referred to as “Zones”) with three levels (referred to as “Acts”) each. Unlike in the 16-bit game of the same name, Sonic’s arsenal remains unchanged from the previous title; pressing any button will see him become a whirling ball of spikes and allow him to break open power-up monitors and smash Dr. Eggman’s Badniks with his patented “Super Sonic Spin Attack” and you can also put him into a similar spin by pressing down on the directional pad (D-Pad) when running along or down slopes. Pressing up or down also lets you scroll the screen vertically but, otherwise, that’s it for Sonic. While he doesn’t have the Spin Dash here, Sonic is noticeably much faster than in the last game; the game, overall, runs much smoother than its predecessor and there are numerous quality of life improvements as well. While the heads-up display (HUD) is still limited, with your Golden Rings counter still rolling over to zero after you collect more the ninety-nine Rings and your life counter capped at nine despite you accumulating more lives in the end of Act score screen, you can now recollect a few Rings when you’re hit, which is a hell of a boon over the last game, and there’s far less periods of slowdown unless you’re underwater.

The game’s much bigger and smoother than its predecessor, if still restricted by its hardware.

There are, however, some noticeable omissions that make the game much harder. Gone are the Arrow Monitors and neither Signposts or Starposts are present, meaning that you’ll need to restart the entire Act if you lose a life. There’s also far less benefit to finishing Acts with fifty Rings or more; sometimes you’ll get a Ring or life bonus but there are no Special Stages to play this time around and, while extra life monitors can be found in Zones (usually off the beaten track or hidden behind hidden walls), these bonuses are much less prevalent than in the last game. Finally, while it’s great that the sprites are bigger and much more detailed, screen size is a real issue in the 8-bit Sonic 2; I don’t recall it being as big an issue in the Master System version but the Game Gear version definitely suffers from bottomless pits, spike pits, and other hazards being hidden off screen and, in a first for me, respawning Badniks whenever you leave the screen. Where the 8-bit Sonic 2 excels, though, is in its clear desire to mix things up a bit more. It bares absolutely no resemblance to its 16-bit counterpart and instead features entirely different Zones; while some are familiar, and their gimmicks are similar, the two are like night and day. This is seen right away in the first Zone, Underground Zone, which is a far cry from the bright, colourful levels that generally open Sonic games. This Zone features destructible blocks (which make their 8-bit debut here), ceiling spikes, lava pits, and, of course, the mine cart gimmick that appears again later in the game. Sonic’s options while riding a mine cart are limited to simply jumping from it before he meets a sudden end but your options are even more limited in Scrambled Egg Zone’s fast-paced tubes.

Spike pits are plentiful but the game’s finicky bubble and hang glider are a massive aggravation.

Similar tubes last you around in other Zones but these will require split-second decision making on your part and will often return you to the beginning of the maze, at best, or spit you out onto a spike pit or into the path of a Badnik at worst. You can also skim over the surface of the water in Aqua Lake Zone and explore its underwater ruins, collecting air bubbles to breathe and desperately fighting with the game’s clunky controls as you navigate Sonic through narrow, spike-filled tunnels while trapped in a big bubble. The 8-bit Sonic 2 also features the game’s trademark loop-de-loops, which appear most prominently in Green Hills Zone, a stage that features many uphill slopes and blind jumps over long spike pits. You’ll also roll around on spinning cogs in Gimmick Mountain Zone, bash through Dr. Eggman-branded blocks in Crystal Egg Zone, and generally find that most of the game’s Zones are much bigger and more difficult to navigate as a result. By far the absolute worst Zone in the game is Sky High Zone; at first, it’s a pretty typical sky-based level but, once you get past the collapsing platforms, sneaky spike pits, and figure out which clouds can be run along or bounced off, you’re met with the worst gimmick in this (or any) videogame: the goddamn hang glider! Controlling this damn thing is the hardest thing ever as you must have a lot of speed built up to stay airborne, tap left on the D-Pad in just the right way to gain height, and will fall to the ground (and usually your death) if you press the jump button, hit the ceiling, or hit a wall. All they had to do was have it so that you tapped up to stay afloat but, as it is, the controls are extremely counterintuitive and I have no doubt that many players’ experiences of the 8-bit Sonic 2 ended the moment they were forced to use this damn thing.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor in terms of presentation; apart from the aforementioned differences in screen size, there’s next to no discernible difference between the sprites and Zones of the Master System and Game Gear versions. Sonic’s sprite is thus bigger, more colourful, and much more cartoony; he has a whole new idle pose where he shrugs his shoulders with indifference when left idle and a whole bunch of new animations thanks to the game’s new gimmicks. Sadly, the Badniks don’t really get the same upgrade; you’ll encounter the same handful of enemies in every Zone and most of them are just recycled versions of Motobugs, Crabcrawlers, and Newtrons, with none of them really standing out.

Zones are bigger and more varied but have very sparse backgrounds.

The game’s Zones are quite the mixed bag; on the one hand, I absolutely love how they’re completely different from the 16-bit version and they’re definitely very unique, with some big and detailed foreground elements. On the other hand, the backgrounds are actually less detailed than before, with only Gimmick Mountain Zone really impressing me with its background elements. While Green Hills Zone is somewhat derivative, it distinguishes itself from its predecessor by having more slopes and (unfair) spike pits; Aqua Lake Zone might be similar to Aquatic Ruins Zone and Labyrinth Zone but stands out by allowing you to take the upper path across the water or using the new bubble mechanic; and it was quite the bold strategy to start the game with the dank and dreary Underground Zone but the use of mine carts and lava helps to make it a fun and simple enough opening stage.

Jaunty music, odd-ball Zones, and some fun little cutscenes add to the game’s flavour.

Perhaps the most bonkers Zone is Crystal Egg, which is populated by flying fish Badniks, cacti plants, falling crystal blocks, and a maze of translucent scenery that is a far cry from the mechanical hellscapes of most final Zones. Indeed, Scrambled Egg Zone (which bares more than a few similarities to Hidden Palace Zone from later Sonic titles) arguably would have been a better choice for the final stage, especially as the final boss is fought in an arena that’s more like Scrambled Egg Zone than Crystal Egg Zone. In addition to featuring a short opening cutscene, more detailed title cards (which replace the map of the last game and, oddly, feature Tails accompanying Sonic), and the traditional ending cutscene (including a cute little sprite of Tails), the game’s music is also quite a step up. Still featuring jaunty, catchy chip tunes, Sonic 2’s music is much longer and more layered than in its predecessor and more than makes up for the game’s less impressive sound effects (though the “SE-GA!!” chant at the beginning was a welcome and unexpected addition).

Enemies and Bosses:
As I alluded to above, the 8-bit Sonic 2 kind of drops the ball when it comes to its Badniks; once again, the only time you’ll see Sonic’s woodland friends dancing about is when you free them from the Dr. Eggman-branded flying saucer at the end of Act 3 and you’ll encounter the same handful of baddies in every Zone. There’s only really one new one (the hovering turtles, or “Game-game”, which are a constant pain in the ass) but some returning Badniks have been given an upgrade; Bomb, for example, spews pellets when it explodes and Buton appears as a more fearsome version of Ball Hog but lacks the former’s bomb-throwing ability.

Dodge Dr. Eggman’s bombs to destroy the Antlion and watch for the Goose’s little minions!

Rather than taking on Dr. Eggman in Act 3 of every Zone, you’ll instead have to battle the mad scientist’s six “Master Robots”, which each one appearing as a large, mechanical creature. As before, you’ll have to navigate through a few obstacles to even reach the boss without the aid of any Rings, which can be a pretty tall order when spikes and hazards are much more prominent this time around. Indeed, Dr. Eggman even inexplicably saves you from an unavoidable dip in lava to force you into battling the Antlion Mecha, a mechanical beetle that waits for you at the bottom of a steep slope. To defeat the Antlion Mecha, you have to jump over or avoid the bombs that bounce in from the left side of the screen so that they damage the boss instead of you. This is much easier said than done thanks to the slippery slope and the Game Gear’s reduced screen size; also, Dr. Eggman will rush in to try and ram you near the end so be sure to hop over him. The Goose Mecha requires a lot less strategy; it drops little Mecha Hiyoko around the clouds that you must take out and then bobs around the arena shooting projectiles at you. Simply ram it in the head and avoid getting hit and it’ll go down pretty easily.

Unlike the last game, many Master Robots require a bit more strategy than just head-on attacks.

Strategy rears its head again when you face the Mecha Sea Lion; if you try and attack as you would a normal Badnik, the Mecha Sea Lion simply balances Sonic on its nose and tosses him around. You can only damage it when its blowing up a red balloon; attack this before it can launch it at you and you’ll land a hit but, otherwise, this is a pretty simply battle. Similarly, the hardest thing about tackling the Pig-Boar Mecha is the spikes on its back and the rocks it causes to fall from the sky. Jump over it when it charges and it’ll stun itself, leaving it vulnerable for a quick hit before charging at you again, kind of like a mixture of the Emerald Hill Zone and Mystic Cave Zone bosses. The Pig Mecha can also be quite a pain; not only is it arguably the hardest boss to even reach thanks to you needing to spring your way over vast spike pits but it also can only be damaged when not curled up into a ball and the window of opportunity to strike is quite small. The Pig Mecha will roll, jump, or fly across the arena and screen trying to hit you and then uncurl to taunt you, making it functionally very similar to the fight against Mecha Sonic in the 16-bit game.

Defeat Silver Sonic without the Chaos Emeralds and you’ll never see the good ending.

Speaking of Sonic’s robotic doppelgänger, you’ll encounter Silver Sonic at the end of Scrambled Egg Zone. Despite its sleeker, more futuristic appearance, though, Silver Sonic is far easier to take on; it tries to slap you with an extending arm and will repel your Spin Attack with one of its own but is otherwise very easy to attack when it’s standing out in the open or trying to charge at you with its rocket boots. If you didn’t find the five Chaos Emeralds before this boss, your game will end here but, if you did, Silver Sonic relinquishes the sixth and final Emerald and you get to play Crystal Egg Zone. This culminates in a final battle against Dr. Eggman; this time, he summons spinning energy balls, arena-filling electrical storms, and little thunderbolts to try and kill you but, while this fight is certainly more harrowing than in the last game, it’s actually more about patience and timing. Sonic must hop into the tubes and circle the arena over and over, popping out to land a hit only when the timing is right and the hazards are gone, which can take some time and be a bit frustrating. Once you defeat Dr. Eggman, he’ll flee once more but, rather than delivering a final blow, Sonic is content to be reunited with Tails.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Oddly, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 actually includes less power-ups than its predecessor. You can still find monitors in Zones that will grant you an extra ten Rings or an extra life, but there are no longer shield monitors and I don’t recall seeing any speed-up shoes, either. The invincibility is still present, though, and not only appears far more often but is actually required to reach the Goal Post in some Zones as it’s the only way of safely crossing the spike pits.

Additional Features:
Like the previous game, playing the 8-bit Sonic 2 on the 3DS is highly recommended; the game is much tougher than its predecessor so the save states are massively helpful when trying to hunt down the six Chaos Emeralds. With no Special Stages to play, you once again have to hunt for the gems in Zones, with all of them being found in Act 2 this time around. However, these are much harder to get to than before, requiring you to stay on higher paths when it’s almost impossible to do so, jump through hidden walls that don’t look any different to other parts of the environment, and making pixel-perfect bounces on springs. They’re also far more important than in many Sonic titles as, if you don’t have all five by the time you fight Silver Sonic, you can’t play the final Zone or rescue Tails; indeed, the game’s bad ending heavily implies that Tails dies as a result of your inadequacies! Sadly, you’ll probably see this ending a lot without a guide; the Master System version has a convoluted level select code that used to help me out a lot as a kid but legitimately beating this game with the good ending takes a great deal of skill…and it’s not like you get to play as Tails for your efforts, or at all for that matter.

The Summary:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 contains many quality of life improvements over the original; the game is bigger, with more colourful and detailed sprites, has a more developed soundtrack, more Zones, and runs a lot fast and smoother (especially when underwater). There’s loads of fun new gimmicks introduced here that help the game stand out from its 16-bit counterpart; the two are like night and day, with each Act being a little different from the last and new mechanics at your disposal so that it isn’t just more of the same Sonic action. However, at the same time, there’s noticeably less; no Special Stages, no real incentive to finish Zones with Rings, less power-ups, and the noticeable absence of Sonic’s two-tailed companion. Not only that but the game is far more difficult, almost unreasonably so, and made even trickier by the Game Gear’s lower screen resolution. Tracking down the Chaos Emeralds this time around was an absolute chore rather than being fun and making it so that you have to have them to even play the full game was a bit of a stretch. However, by far the worst thing is that damn hang glider; it basically derails the entire game as it’s almost impossible to control and, while you can finish Sky High Zone (and even acquire its Chaos Emerald) without using them, I can’t help but feel like this mechanic could have been better implemented. Overall, I’d say it’s definitely a worthwhile inclusion to your library but do yourself a favour and get it on a console like this that allows for save states as it makes the game far more enjoyable.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2? How do you think it compares to its predecessor and its Mega Drive counterpart? Which of its unique Zones is your favourite? Were you annoyed that Tails was reduced to a hostage rather than being a playable character? Did you ever manage to get the hang of the hang glider and find all the Chaos Emeralds? How are you celebrating “Sonic 2sday” this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic 2, and Sonic in general, drop a comment below.

Game Corner & Knuckles: Knuckles’ Chaotix (SEGA 32X)


With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), gamers were introduced to Knuckles the Echidna. This mischievous, dreadlocked antagonist was created by Takashi Yuda and his debut was made all the more impressive by virtue of the fact that Sonic 3 was too big to fit on one cartridge, which meant that Knuckles was the first of Sonic’s supporting characters to co-star in a main series videogame when Sonic & Knuckles (ibid) was released on this very day in 1994.


Released: April 1995
Developer: SEGA

The Background:
Following the release of Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, SEGA looked to be unstoppable with their Sonic franchise; the latter title was a huge game for SEGA, backed by an impressive marketing campaign, and the franchise had sold over $1 billion in total revenue by 1994. With the Mega Drive nearing the end of its life cycle, and the videogame industry on the cusp of entering a new generation of 3D gaming, SEGA attempted to prolong the Mega Drive’s lifespan and appeal with a series of expensive add-ons like the Mega-CD and the Mega Drive 32X. Like the Mega-CD, however, the 32X was doomed to failure primarily because SEGA were planning on releasing an entirely new console, the SEGA Saturn, just a few months later and gamers just couldn’t afford the clunky peripheral.

Expensive peripherals like the Mega-CD and 32X contributed to SEGA’s eventual decline.

With the benefit of hindsight, I truly believe that SEGA would have fared much better had they simply continued with the Mega-CD, producing a combination Mega Drive/CD console and releasing all 32X and Saturn games on this platform rather than wasting time, effort, and money on expensive add-ons. Regardless, one title that sticks out to me from the 32X library is Knuckles’ Chaotix; initially designed as Sonic Crackers, the game’s big mechanic was that players controlled two characters simultaneously and were joined by a special, elastic “Combi Ring”. The game, which was Knuckles’ one and only solo title, also saw the return and redesign of obscure Sonic character Mighty the Armadillo and Vector the Crocodile into fully playable characters. However, thanks primarily to the failure of the 32X, the title has largely been doomed to obscurity and SEGA’s continued refusal to port or re-release the game to modern consoles means that the only way to play the game is by using emulators or spending extortionate prices.

The Plot:
Doctor Eggman has discovered the existence of seven Chaos Rings on Carnival Island and, true to form, begun transforming the island and its inhabitants into robotic slaves with the aid of Metal Sonic. When Knuckles arrives to investigate, he finds Espio the Chameleon being held captive in Dr. Eggman’s Combi Confiner and, after freeing the chameleon, joins forces with Espio’s cohorts Mighty, Vector, and Charmy Bee (the titular Chaotix) to put a stop to Dr. Eggman’s schemes using the power of the Combi Ring.

Gameplay:
As is to be expected of a classic Sonic the Hedgehog title, Knuckles’ Chaotix is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer that is heavily geared towards speed but, in a change of pace, actually has far more emphasis on vertical platforming and progression that any of its predecessors. The game takes place in Newtronic High Zone and is comprised of six stages referred to as “Attractions”; each Attraction is made up of five levels (called “Acts”) rather than the usual two or three, and each of these pushes you to run up loops and walls or jump to higher areas in order to reach the end goal. In another change of pace, the game immediately begins with a practice area, in which you play as Knuckles. After scaring away Dr. Eggman, Knuckles rescues Espio from the mad scientist and players can choose to play through a quick tutorial to familiarise themselves with Knuckles’ Chaotix’s new mechanics.

Knuckles and his new friends are inexplicably tethered together for some clunky gameplay.

All of the basic controls of a classic Sonic remain intact and as you’d expect; players can run, jump, and perform a Spin Dash to speed ahead with all but three of the available characters, and you’ll find that each playable character has their own unique qualities. Knuckles, for example, can glide and climb walls as in his previous appearances; Espio spins like a top instead of Spin Dashing and can cling to walls but cannot climb them; Vector is the biggest character and so has a greater chance of hitting Badniks or taking damage but he can also perform a double jump or mid-air dash; Mighty is basically a thinly veiled stand-in for Sonic and can perform a wall jump; and Charmy is the smallest and fastest character and constantly flies about but at the cost of severely reduced visibility. Players can also be impeded by Heavy and Bomb, two Badniks who cannot Spin Dash or climb walls, explode on contact or severely weigh you down, and you’ll have to leave it up to a mixture of fate and luck as to which character you get as your partner as the main Scenario Quest forces you to pick one at random using the “Combi-Catcher”, a mechanical claw game like you see at seaside amusements. Of course, the unique selling point of Knuckles’ Chaotix is the frankly bizarre decision to tether two characters together using the Combi-Ring. This means that there are always two characters on screen at once, and you can choose to play either with a computer-controlled partner or with a human friend. Players can call their partner to them at any time with the A button or hold down B to “hold” their partner in place to activate switches; when they stand in place, you can also build up a head of steam to blast ahead, which is honestly more beneficial than the Spin Dash in this game. This also allows you to grab your partner and fling them at switches, Badniks, bosses, or up to higher areas; however, it can be extremely clunky trying to slingshot your way up to where your partner is, and more often than not you end up hanging in place or ricocheting about like a pinball just trying to progress upwards. Furthermore, calling your partner back costs you Golden Rings, the lifeforce of the series, and you can even drop the Ring counter into negative numbers as a result of this.

You’ll need to master (or bungle) the Combi-Ring and make use of gimmicks to progress ever upwards.

While each character is very visually interesting in their own right and the idea of working together to progress is an interesting one, tethering the characters together is extremely restrictive in practise; the majority of the time, your biggest struggle won’t be with the game’s Badniks or the tedious nature of the gameplay, it’ll be with trying to navigate the environment using this clunky, awkward mechanic and getting frustrated when you finally get where you need to be only to drop down a second later. Indeed, the level of difficulty in Knuckles’ Chaotix is extremely low compared to the games that came before it; the life system and checkpoints are now gone, there are no bottomless pits or bodies of water to worry about falling or drowning in, and you don’t even need to worry too much about being hit without any Rings as you’ll either lose your partner for a short time or be booted out to the main hub world to try again. Like Sonic 3, the game comes with a save system that allows you to have three saved games, though the only way you can replay the game’s Attractions is to play through the Training Mode. This mode also allows you to set your playable character and partner, which is more freedom than the main Scenario Quest offers, but the most tedious aspects of Knuckles’ Chaotix come from how unnecessarily long and annoying some of its gameplay elements are. While the Attractions are a visual eye fest there’s not much to distinguish each Act from the other within a set stage (I swear some of them have exactly the same layouts bar some very minor changes), there’s next to no hazards or Badniks to worry about, and you don’t even really need to worry all that much about the time limit.

Most stages are painfully barren and linear, but there are some instances of variety.

Instead, the game is built around randomness; it’s pot luck that you’ll pick a decent partner (I recommend a Knuckles/Espio team, personally) and as to which Attraction you’ll play. Between each stage, you’re returned to the hub world and must hit a bumper to randomly select your next area, meaning that you’re literally bouncing all over the place and will most likely play the game’s Attractions out of order. This may go a long way to explaining the uniformity and ease of the game’s stages, however, as it wouldn’t be fair to be randomly dropped into a tough stage before you’re ready, but it does make playing through the Scenario Quest quite a long old slog. While the basics of the gameplay are very much familiar to anyone who’s played a Sonic game before, Knuckles’ Chaotix feels very slow and sluggish at times and you won’t really find much here you haven’t seen both. Sure, there’s a few more switches and a bit of variety in the likes of Marina Madness and Amazing Arena (you can hop on a rising/falling ship in the background in the former and must light up each Act to get a successful clear in the latter) but, for the most part, you’re just running up walls, hopping over spiked balls, bouncing off springs and bumpers, and scaling upwards (always upwards) on platforms and elevators. The Acts do eventually appear to become more dangerous as you progress, but by then it’s too little too late and I can’t help but feel that things would have been much better if there had just been three Acts per Attraction and then a final area to play through before battling the final boss.

Graphics and Sound:
If there’s one area where Knuckles’ Chaotix excels, it’s the presentation; the game is undeniably gorgeous to look at, and easily the most vibrant and colourful Sonic title of its era. Each of the playable characters (with the exception of Heavy and Bomb) has an idle animation unique to them (Knuckles twirls his Combi-Ring in boredom, Espio cycles through different colours, Vector jams to his music, Mighty impatiently taps his foot like Sonic, and Charmy looks at you incredulously) and are some of the finest sprite work in the series. It’s such a shame, then, that Charmy is so goddamn small; obviously, he’s a bee and is supposed to be tiny but half the time you can barely see him, which is almost as disappointing as Mighty being a simple sprite swap of Sonic. Still, Espio and Vector look fantastic; each has unique and quirky running and jumping animations, and Knuckles’ sprites have been completely overhauled to make him more detailed and expressive than ever.

Sprites and environments are extremely colourful and detailed, sometimes to a fault.

Sadly, the game is let down by how bland and uninteresting its level design is. Knuckles’ Chaotix is very similar to Sonic the Hedgehog CD (SEGA, 1993) in a lot of ways but primarily in how confusing and clumsy its stages are laid out; when Badniks do appear, it seems completely at random, and the few hazards you come across are so oddly placed that it’s easy to run head-first into them. Stages are also extremely cluttered at times; there’s often too much colour, too much sensory overload, and it makes everything blend together or difficult to look at, which really doesn’t help when you’re trying to figure out where the hell you’re supposed to be going. The game’s Attractions play things extremely safe with the likes of Botanic Base being a lush forest, Speed Slider being an amusement park, and Techno Tower being Dr. Eggman’s industrial blemish on the natural environment, much like the classic Green Hill, Star Light, and Scrap Brain Zones. The aforementioned Marina Madness and Amazing Arena thus stand out even more thanks to the their unique gameplay mechanics and presentation, and the game does get extra points for featuring different colour palettes for each Act to indicate a different time of day (morning, noon, evening, and night), though this really doesn’t help to stave off the recycled nature of each Act.

Sprite manipulation, isometric graphics, and some funky effects hint to the 32X’s potential.

Also like Sonic CD, Knuckles’ Chaotix makes an impact with one of the best of the classic Sonic’s soundtracks; there are so many jaunty, catchy tunes peppered throughout this game that it really helps to take your mind off how empty the stages are and how monotonous the gameplay can be. Since it’s running on 32-bit hardware, the game also features a great deal of isometric 3D graphics; Dr. Eggman shields himself being a polygonal diamond, some lifts and bosses are built out of the same graphics, and you’ll find the bonus and Special Stages also contain a fair bit of this technique (and suffer from jerkiness, slowdown, and perspective issues as a result). There’s also a big emphasis on sprite manipulation; characters can grow or shrink with monitors, and bosses, Badniks, and sprites will fill up or fly into the screen. Unlike Sonic CD, however, the game doesn’t feature any anime cutscenes; in fact, even sprite-based cutscenes are few and far between here, relegated to the opening and before the final boss, and although the bosses are proceeded by a short cutscene, the game prefers to just show a partially animated image of the main cast for the title screen and credits. This is a bit of a shame, really; I wasn’t expecting full blown animated sequences but both Sonic 3 and Sonic CD featured more sprite-based cutscenes than Knuckles’ Chaotix, so the game ends up feel quite rushed and a bit of a step back.

Enemies and Bosses:
Dr. Eggman hasn’t really tried to reinvent the wheel in Knuckles’ Chaotix and is still using his tried-and-tested robotic creations, the Badniks, to hinder your progress. Unlike in the majority of other 2D Sonic titles, destroying Badniks doesn’t free a cute little woodland critter; instead, an uncollectible Dark Ring will drop out and disappear soon after, meaning that the few times Badniks do appear you’re robbed of any sense of satisfaction from destroying them. These Badniks are some of the oddest in the classic series, resembling a mish-mash of insects, tanks, and other creatures and mostly just floating around here and there. The only real standouts for me were Burboom and Blitz; Burboom can catch your partner and hold them captive and Blitz target you with homing missiles that fly across the immediate area to hurt you. While in Amazing Arena, you’ll also have battle a sub-boss, which is a massive mechanical version of Dr. Eggman that stretches its fists at you. The only way to damage it is to toss your partner into the head, which routinely floats back and forth at the top of the screen; although you can simply wait it out and the boss will deactivate, you won’t get the benefit of the Ring Monitors defeating it bestows upon you.

Bosses can be either stupidly simply or needlessly frustrating thanks to the Combi-Ring mechanic.

Since you’ll play the game’s Attractions at random, the main five bosses can be fought in any order, and you’ll probably tackle them at different times each time you play through the game. It’s also worth noting that you must play each Attraction’s entire fifth Act to reach the boss, and if you fail you’ll be kicked back to the hub world and have to play through the whole Act all over again, which can make these battles very tedious. I fought the Botanic Base boss first; in this fight, Dr. Eggman holds your partner in a mechanical claw and shields his craft with electrical currents, meaning you’re left frantically trying to figure out how to bounce around using the bumper and ram into the craft. After that, I took on the Amazing Arena boss, which sees Dr. Eggman spawn in Badniks using a projector screen and protecting himself with a sphere. Simply fend off the Badniks, avoid his mace-like arms, and toss your partner up into him to take him out. I then fought the Marina Madness boss, which sees Dr. Eggman hide behind a polygonal shield and then protect his craft with slivers of it, not unlike the Metropolis Zone boss, forcing you to time your attacks to avoid damage. The Speed Slider boss is one of the trickiest in the game as Dr. Eggman essentially commands a huge, dangerous carousel; the floor constantly moves you towards the spiked cups that rotate around the main machine, so you have to fight against the inertia, avoid the spikes, and ram the blue spherical weak spot of his machine. Contrasting this is the Techno Tower boss, which is easily the game’s simplest boss by far; despite the lasers and the swinging arms of Dr. Eggman’s rotund mech, I was able to batter the red sphere that is its weak spot in no time at all thanks to simply taking advantage of invincibility frames.

Metal Sonic transforms into a massive mechanical monstrosity for the finale.

Once you have defeated all five of the main bosses, you’re returned to the hub world, where Metal Sonic takes over the stage select machine. Just as you need to hit a bumper to select a stage, so to do you have to hit the bumper to try and deal damage to Metal Sonic; if the indicator lands on the X, one of the other numbered panels will be destroyed and the hub world will become more and more damaged. However, if you land on one of the numbered panels, you’ll have to dodge one of four different attacks as Metal Sonic tries to force you into spiked walls, rains missiles down on you, sends buzzsaws across the floor, and tries to hit you with bouncing tentacles. You’ll need to avoid these as you can only take two hits in this boss battle due to the lack of Rings; the first hit will cost you your partner, and you’ll need to wait for him to respawn or you’ll be kicked back to the hub world and have to start over. With Metal Sonic heavily damaged, Dr. Eggman repairs and powers it up with a huge Dark Ring, transforming it into the massive, monstrous “Metal Sonic Kai”. This is a three-stage boss battle in an enclosed, cyberspace-like arena, where you’re afforded ten Rings and must avoid its huge claw arm to strike its chest, then Spin Dash into its remaining arm while it hovers in the background, and then avoid its massive near-screen-filling chest beam to finish it off in a pretty simple, but surprisingly impressive, final battle.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Pretty much all of the classic Sonic power-ups are available to you in Knuckles Chaotix; while there are no Elemental Shields or extra life monitors, you can grab ten Rings, a speed up, a one-hit shield, and an invincibility from the different monitors you can find in each Act. There are some new power-ups here as well, though: you can briefly switch your playable character (or switch your partner to a different one depending on whose face is on the monitor when you smash it) and either grow to plough through the few enemies onscreen or shrink to find your jump and abilities painfully stunted for a short time. Perhaps the most useful item is the Combi-Ring Monitor, which stays with you until you’re hit; then, when you are hit, one large Ring is thrown from you rather than all of them scattering around and collecting that one Ring restores all of your Rings. Another interesting twist is that your partner can also collect and be affected by the monitors, meaning they could be invincible, big, small, or protected by a shield while you are not.

Additional Features:
As you might expect, finishing any Act except the ones containing a boss while holding fifty Rings or more spawns a Big Ring. Entering it takes you (or your partner, if they enter or are thrown into it) to an isometric Special Stage where you continuously lap the environment until you have collected enough Blue Spheres to proceed. Collecting Rings will afford you more time to do this, and you must dodge buzzsaws and spiked balls and the myriad of gaps in the floor in order to reach your goal. While these aren’t necessarily the worst Special Stages I’ve ever played, they can be extremely difficult; it’s very hard to see what’s coming ahead of you or to anticipate which “lane” you need to be in to find a Blue Sphere, and all too easy to slip to failure. On the plus side, there are only six Special Stages; you’ll be awarded one of the six coloured Chaos Rings upon completion and will be treated to a slightly different end credits screen that adds Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower to the cast and avoids Metal Sonic Kai wrecking havoc.

Snag the six Chaos Rings for the good ending, or mess about with the game’s debug mode.

Unfortunately, there are no Super transformations or additional bonuses; however, if you enter a Special Stage after collecting all the Chaos Rings, you’ll simply challenge them again in an even more headache-inducing wireframe mode. If you’re holding twenty Rings or more, you may encounter Big Rings hidden within the Acts; these transport you to a bonus stage that sees you constantly falling and trying to hit blocks for points and Rings. However, your Rings are constantly being drained in this stage, making it more of a hinderance than a benefit. Outside of the regular game, you’ll find a sound select and “colour test” in the main menu; messing around with this allows you to activate a debug mode, have Amy Rose appear in the sound test, activate a stage and character select, and even play as a glitched version of Knuckles. Since the only way you can play Knuckles’ Chaotix is to emulate it, you can obviously also make liberal use of the save state features included in most emulators to make the game a bit less annoying to play through.

The Summary:
Knuckles’ Chaotix is such an oddity to me. The entire game feels like a barely finished proof of concept, with empty environments and clunky mechanics that all needed to be addressed before the game was completed, and yet it’s such a lush and stunningly well-presented package that I find it all the more disappointing how lacklustre the actual gameplay and content are. Rather than trying to emulate the size, scope, and variety of Sonic 3, Knuckles’ Chaotix takes a step backwards for a far more linear and mundane experience and hedges all its bets on the unique Combi-Ring mechanic and the random, amusement park-like structure of the main campaign. Sadly, neither are all that much fun to play; five Acts per stage would be a lot to get through even in a traditionally paced Sonic title but the lack of enemies and variety are a real issue, despite how pretty the game looks. It’s a shame as the character designs are really unique and it could have been a really good continuation of the classic Sonic series, but it’s just lacking in a lot of ways that make it inferior to Sonic 3. The bosses aren’t too bad, especially the final battle, but the Special Stages are extremely disorientating and I can’t imagine the game is very enjoyable in two-player. At the same time, though, I’d love to see this get a remaster or a port to modern consoles with a few quality-of-life fixes, and it boggles my mind that we haven’t seen it re-released in all this time, but I can decisively say that you’re really not missing out on much by skipping over this one.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played Knuckles’ Chaotix? If so, did you play it on the original hardware or, like me, did you discover it through emulation? What did you think to the Combi-Ring mechanic, and which combination of characters was your favourite? Were you a fan of the random aspects of the game and the five-Act structure? Did you ever collect all the Chaos Rings and what did you think to the Special Stages? How are you celebrating Knuckles’ big day today? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Knuckles’ Chaotix down below or drop a comment on my social media, and check back in for more Sonic content a little later in the year.

Back Issues [Sonic CDay]: The Sonic Terminator


Sonic the Hedgehog CD (Sonic Team, 1993) released on this day back in 1993. produced alongside the blockbuster Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), Sonic CD expanded upon the Blue Blur’s original debut title with lush graphics, a time travel mechanic, gorgeous anime cutscnes, and by introducing players to Metal Sonic (one of Sonic’s most popular and enduring rivals) and Amy Rose. Considered by many to be one of the best of the classic Sonic titles, Sonic CD might not be one of my favourites but it’s still a classic in it’s own right and worth a bit of celebration.


Story Title: “The Sonic Terminator (Part 1 to 5)”
Published: 29 April 1994 to 24 June 1994
Writer: Nigel Kitching
Artist: Richard Elson

The Background:
After Sonic the Hedgehog catapulted to mainstream success and helped SEGA to usurp Nintendo’s position at the top of the videogame industry, SEGA were quick to capitalise on Sonic’s popularity not just with videogames but also a slew of merchandise, including cartoons and comic books. About six months after Archie Comics began publishing a weird amalgamation of the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1996) and Sonic the Hedgehog/SatAM (1993 to 1994) cartoons, United Kingdom publisher Fleetway Editions Limited began publishing “Britain’s Official SEGA Comic”, Sonic the Comic (StC), a fortnightly publication that I collected diligently until its unfortunate end.

StC was built upon many different competing interpretations of Sonic’s lore.

Though pulling much of its lore from the now defunct Mobius and Doctor Ovi Kintobor storyline that was prevalent outside of Japan, StC was its own beast entirely and quickly veered away from the source material to recast Sonic the a mean-spirited leader of a gang of Freedom Fighters made up of both videogame characters and anthropomorphic characters adapted from the videogames. Like the Archie comics, StC often included a few very loose adaptations of the videogames, though these were often truncated or took the very basic idea of the source material and adapted it to fit with its noticeably different lore. Their adaptation of Sonic CD was no different, renaming Metal Sonic to Metallix and introducing one of the comic’s more dangerous and persistent secondary antagonists.

The Review:
“The Sonic Terminator” begins with the dramatic and violent death of Sonic the Hedgehog! Not to worry, though, this is simply a “practice robot” that was trashed by a blindly fast, electrically-charged figure that is kept in the shadows and only vaguely hinted at. Both Doctor Ivo Robotnik (who, at this point, was directly modelled on the character’s look from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog) and his assistant, Grimer, are pleased as punch with the results of this final test and prepare to send their new creation out to kill the real Sonic. Speaking of whom, Sonic is currently in the Emerald Hill Zone, where Robotnik’s Troopers (basically StC’s version of Swat-Bots in that they are humanoid robots that Sonic is able to smash without holding back as, unlike Badniks, they’re not powered by woodland critters) are arresting an entire village. Despite the concerns of his fellow Freedom Fighters (Porker Lewis, Johnny Lightfoot, Amy Rose, and Miles “Tails” Prower), Sonic rushes in to save the villagers and the entire gang winds up captured as a result, much to Johnny’s chagrin. Sonic, however, retains his steadfast cocky attitude; even when they come face-to-face with Trusk, the captain of the prison ship, and are told that they are being taken directly to Robotnik’s Badnik processing plant at the Veg-O-Fortress, Sonic simply yawns with boredom.

The first two issues are more concerned with a side plot involving the Sky Pirates.

This turns out to be because Sonic has some formidable backup on hand in the form of Captain Plunder and his Sky Pirates, a group of mercenaries and…well, pirates…who Sonic encountered in the Mystic Cave Zone in a previous issue. Thanks to Captain Plunder, Trusk is captured and the prisoners are freed but Porker accidentally lets slip to Filch the Poltergeist where Sonic’s cache of Chaos Emeralds is hidden and the pirates speed off the steal the booty. However, Sonic and the gang are easily able to follow them to North Cave and a fight breaks out; although Sonic is able to incapacitate most of Captain Plunder’s crew using his Super Spin Attack and both Amy and Tails are able to fight them off with their crossbow and a rock, respectively, Captain Plunder gets the upper hand when he takes Tails hostage. This, of course, earns Tails Sonic’s exasperated disdain (not only is StC-Sonic incredibly arrogant, pig-headed, and rude, he also has a tendency to insult his closest friends and constantly degrades Tails with the nickname “Pixel Brain”. It’s actually pretty fantastic to see him be such a snarky asshole all the time) and he is forced to allow Captain Plunder to take the six Chaos Emeralds.

Metallix is immediately established as a fearsome and merciless opponent.

Amusingly, however, rather than the evil energy of the Chaos Emeralds augmenting the Sky Pirates’ disreputable demeanours, they actually have the opposite effect since they absorb evil rather than radiate it and, as a result, Sonic is easily able to retrieve the gems from the now docile (and hippy-like) thieves. This happy ending, however, is mired in the dramatic reveal of StC’s version of Metal Sonic, Metallix, which attacks the Emerald Hill Zone with destructive energy blasts from its stomach laser and demands Sonic’s presence for “extermination”. “Part 3” of the story continues this threat and finally gets around to actually adapting the story of Sonic CD by having Metallix kidnap Amy to lure Sonic the Never Lake; although Sonic is busy playing Marxio Brothers, and despite his grouchy nature, he immediately rushes over to Never Lake and is shocked to find the forest that is usually growing there is gone and that the Miracle Planet has been transformed into a mechanical hellscape. After rescuing Amy from atop a steep column of rock, he snaps at her to cut out the hero worship and tell him what’s been going on. She manages to tell him that Dr. Robotnik has chained the Miracle Planet to Never Lake and transformed it into his newest base before any further exposition is rudely interrupted by Metallix.

Metallix takes Amy to the Miracle Planet and they are trapped there, cut off from greater Mobius.

Over the course of a few action-packed panels, a fight breaks out between Sonic and his unusually loquacious doppelgänger; Metallix tosses boulders at Sonic, all of which he is able to expertly hop over and burrow through, but he is surprised by the robot’s chest laser. The two them battle so fast and so aggressively that neither Amy, nor the reader, are able to make out the action. In the aftermath, Metallix emerges from the dust and smoke as the apparent victor before collapsing into shutdown. Sonic, battered and weary, still finds the energy to insult Amy but, while he appears to have defeated his robotic counterpart, Metallix hits him with a cheap shot and takes Amy to the Miracle Planet as “live bait” and the unimpressed Sonic races off in pursuit. By the time the Freedom Fighters arrive to help, they’re already too late as the Miracle Planet disappears before their eyes, trapping all on its surface in another dimension for an entire month. On the miniature world, Sonic quickly reunites with Amy (much to his dismay) in what appears to be the Bad Future of Metallic Madness. Both characters question how Dr. Robotnik was able to convert the Miracle Planet so quickly, given that the previous month showed no signs of his influence, but their conversation (and the prospect of them being marooned there for a month) is soon interrupted by Metallix. Uncharacteristically, Sonic chooses to flee rather than fight but, as Metallix charges its laser to kill Amy, he comes flying back in with a big Spin Attack after running around the entire planet in a few seconds. Metallix, however, is able to draw additional power from the mechanical surface of the planet; this allows him to erect an electrical shield and charge up a kill shot for his prey after Sonic trips on a loose cable.

Thanks to time travel shenanigans, Metallix is soundly defeated…for now..

Sonic and Amy are saved, however, by the sudden appearance by another Sonic, this one diminutive in stature and holding a grey stone. Sonic #1 is immediately suspicious of the newcomer but Sonic #2 forces him into an energy beam that turns him into a midget as well. Sonic #2 is able to tell Sonic #1 about the grey object he’s holding; it’s the Time Stone, a relic able to transport the holder back into the past and, while Sonic #2 distracts the recovered (and now, from their perspective, gigantic) Metallix, Sonic #1 races off to the past. Arriving in what appears to be Palmtree Panic before Dr. Robotnik polluted the Miracle Planet with his machinery, Sonic’s shock over the sudden disappearance of the Time Stone gives way to his awe at the presence of a massive piece of mechanical hardware. This is StC’s version of the Robot Transporter from the game, which is in the process of transforming and polluting the environment; thanks to having been shrunk, Sonic is easily able to hop inside of the machine and remove its power source, the Time Stone. Having destroyed the machine, Sonic uses the Time Stone to travel back to the present and, in the process, becomes Sonic #2 as he saves his past-self from Metallix, gifts him the Time Stone, and orders him to race off just as he was directed in order to continue the time loop. Although Metallix attacks Sonic with all its power, the environment begins to change around them as his actions in the past catch up to the present; as a result, not only is Dr. Robotnik’s influence erased from the Miracle Planet and Sonic returned to his normal height but Metallix is wiped from existence and the story ends with Sonic facing an entire month alone with Amy.

The Summary:
Now remember, I read Sonic the Comic religiously as a kid; for me, it was one of three influential factors into my fandom for Sonic (the others being the cartoons and, of course, the games themselves) so there is not only a lot of nostalgia there whenever I revisit the comic but quite a bit of bias as I was a big fan of the original stories StC told, its characterisations, and the way they included some elements from the videogames. As a result, I remember enjoying “The Sonic Terminator” as a kid but, as an adaptation of Sonic CD, it’s definitely lacking in many areas. Perhaps the biggest drawback to the story is that it spends two issues messing about with a side plot involving Captain Plunder; at the time, each story in StC was about five pages long so right away the writers have wasted ten pages of story on something that has nothing to do with Sonic CD, though it also appears as though the writers and artists had very little to work with when putting this story together.

Metallix steals the show and comes across as a formidable new villain for Sonic.

Indeed, they must have seen the opening video and maybe a few screenshots and had a rudimentary understanding of the game but there is next to nothing from Sonic CD included beyond the absolute bare minimum. There is only one Time Stone, for example; hardly any locations from the game are used, no enemies or Badniks beyond Metal Sonic appear, and Dr. Robotnik is practically non-existent for the entire story. One benefit of this, however, is that it means Metallix takes centre stage as the primary antagonist. Unlike other interpretations of Metal Sonic, Metallix is very chatty; it taunts Sonic, constantly calculates the odds of success and failure, and comes across as a very threatening and formidable foe not only in its array of attacks and blinding speed but also in its durability. It’s not often in StC that Sonic is unable to trash his robotic foes in one hit and Metallix was certainly the most persistent enemy he has encountered at this point. Even though this story seems to spell the end of the character, Metallix would return with a vengeance later down the line as part of the Brotherhood of Metallix and would be a formidable recurring adversary for Sonic, his friends, and even Dr. Robotnik.

The story’s art is incredible and elevates it despite lacking fidelity to Sonic CD.

What really makes “The Sonic Terminator” shine is the excellent artwork from the always incredible Richard Elson. Elson was to StC what Patrick “Spaz” Spaziante was to the Archie comics and he always delivered on portraying Sonic and the other characters in such a dynamic way. His rendition of Metal Sonic is fantastic and the way he conveys Sonic’s speed is brilliant, allowing for some action-packed panels that really sell the gruelling nature of Sonic’s clash against his doppelgänger. While there isn’t much for the other Freedom Fighters to do, this is at least in keeping with the solo nature of Sonic CD and, while the story isn’t a direct one-to-one adaptation of the source material, StC pretty much never did this when producing the few adaptations they did do over the years. As a result, “The Sonic Terminator” is a great story in the StC canon and perfectly sets Metallix up as a frightening adversary (and therefore a significant story in the large StC lore) but is maybe not so great for those expecting a more literal adaptation of Sonic CD.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read “The Sonic Terminator”, or any issues of Sonic the Comic for that matter? If so, what did you think of the story and the way it introduced its version of Metal Sonic? Were you disappointed by how few elements from Sonic CD were present in the story or were you just happy to see Sonic and Metallix go at it? Which of StC’s original characters was your favourite and what did you think to Sonic’s characterisation? How are you celebrating Sonic CD’s anniversary this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic CD, or Sonic in general, feel free to leave a comment below.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Colours: Ultimate (Xbox Series X)


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 have been dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 7 September 2021
Originally Released: 11 November 2010
Developer: Blind Squirrel Games
Original Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S (Remaster); Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS (Original Release)

The Background:
Despite what people would have you to believe, Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 2006) was an absolute travesty and one of the lowest points in the franchise. Sonic Team pulled out all the stops to make up for that dismal failure with Sonic Unleashed (ibid, 2008), which was a commercial success thanks to the speed and exhileration offered by Sonic’s gameplay despite the inclusion of the lengthy and maligned “Werehog” stages. Development of a follow-up title began soon after the release of Sonic Unleashed, and producer Takashi Iizuka aimed to not only create an equal balance between speed and platforming but to appeal to a wider, more casual audience by making Sonic the sole playable character. In lieu of Sonic’s extended cast, the developers introduced the “Wisps” to act as temporary power-ups that expanded on Sonic’s moveset, and took inspiration from Disneyland for the game’s amusement park setting. Originally released for the Nintendo Wii and DS, Sonic Colours was well-received for its gorgeous graphics, exciting gameplay, and was considered to be one of the best entries in the franchise despite some criticisms of the game’s difficulty. After years of being exclusive to Nintendo’s machines, Blind Squirrel Games were drafted to produce a remaster of the title for modern consoles to coincide with Sonic’s 30th anniversary, which included a number of graphical and gameplay updates to the original title. Unfortunately, Sonic Colours: Ultimate was mired by numerous reports of bugs and glitches, especially on the Nintendo Switch version, though the charm and fun of the original was still noted to be present.

The Plot:
After Doctor Eggman builds a gigantic interstellar amusement park in orbit seemingly as penance for his evil deeds, Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower investigate and quickly discover that the evil genius has enslaved several worlds and an alien species known as Wisps in order to harness their energy for a mind-control laser that will allow him to take over the world.

Gameplay:
If you’ve played Sonic Unleashed, or most of the main console Sonic games that came after that title, you’ll be instantly familiar with how Sonic Colours: Ultimate looks, feels, and plays. Like its predecessor, the game is a 3D action/platformer that also switches to a 2.5D perspective and has a heavy emphasis on speed, some extremely minor puzzles (mostly just sliding under walls, hopping over pits and steps, activating switches, and kicking away blocks) and a bit of exploration as you’ll need to search about to find optional items for additional unlocks. Unlike Sonic Unleashed, Sonic is the sole playable character here; there aren’t even sections where you get to control the Tornado, and hub worlds have been excised entirely and replaced with a world map, of sorts, where you can select the planets you visit and which level (referred to as “Act”) you want to play on the world. Sonic’s controls remain largely unchanged from before, however; you can still boost ahead by pressing and holding B, though your boost is limited to a meter than can only be filled by collecting Wisps and can no longer be extended or upgraded using experience points. A allows you to jump and holding it will let you jump higher while pressing it in mid-air gives you a very limited double jump. You can also press A during a jump to fire Sonic at enemies, objects, and springs with his iconic Homing Attack, or press X while jumping to perform a stomp to destroy enemies or break through certain blocks.

While you can blast through 3D sections and hop around in 2.5D, control is often taken away from you.

Quite often, Sonic will be placed in an auto-running segment where he has to quick-step to the left and right to dodge walls, hazards, or smack away Motobugs; sadly, this function is limited to the left analogue stick rather than being mapped to the shoulder buttons, which can make avoiding laser beams or obstacles a little tricky. Sonic can also perform a wall jump to reach higher areas, grind on rails, bounce off springs and balloons and other objects to progress, and players can repeatedly tap A after jumping or passing through a rainbow ring to perform tricks and reach new areas. While the 3D sections emphasise boosting and high-speed action, and often take control out of your hands and require you to do little more than quick-step or jump out of the way of hazards, the 2.5D sections focus on platforming; you’ll jump across gaps, to platforms (both stationary and moving), and use wind tunnels to reach higher paths, which typically hold more rewards and are a faster route to the Goal Ring. As in pretty much every Sonic videogame, Gold Rings are your life support; Sonic will be able to take a hit from enemies and obstacles as long as he’s carrying at least one Ring, and he can reacquire them when hit and suck them towards him while boosting. Sonic can pass through checkpoints to respawn if he falls into a death pit or gets hit without any Rings; however, while the life system has technically been done away with, this isn’t strictly true as you can be saved from a fall by grabbing a Tails pick-up, which will see Tails airlift you back to solid ground without having to go back to a checkpoint.

Sonic can grab Wisps to gain temporary power-ups and new forms that allow him to reach new areas.

As mentioned, Sonic is the only character you get to play as; Tails is relegated to a supporting role and only appears in cutscenes or as a new power-up, and you don’t even get to experience a different style of gameplay with a brawling transformation as in the last game. What you get instead are the Wisps, a series of alien lifeforms that you progressively gain access to as you play through the story. When you pick up a Wisp power-up, you can activate it with the Right Bumper and transform Sonic for a brief period of time, which will greatly expand your moveset and options for exploration and attack. The Cyan Wisp allows you to dart through enemies or bounce off surfaces and between jewels as a laser burst, the Orange Wisp turns you into a rocket and blasts you vertically upwards and allows you to float across distances, and the Yellow Wisp turns you into a drill so you can burrow through the dirt or swim through water (though you have to keep topping up the power meter or you’ll risk getting trapped in the dirt and dying). The Green Wisp allows you to hover by holding A and perform a Light Speed Dash across rows of Rings by pressing B, the Blue Wisp briefly turns you into a cube and changes blue rings into solid cubes so you can progress further, the Purple Wisp turns you into a voracious, frenzied monster that eats anything in its path, and the Pink Wisp lets you cling to any surface using spikes and perform Sonic’s signature Spin Dash to blast along at high speeds. New to the game is the Jade Wisp, which turns you into a floating ghost and allows you to teleport across distances, but the Wisp powers are incredibly limited because your power meter is so small and they essentially act as very brief power-ups to mix things up and let you blast through enemies or reach new areas and, for me, are a poor substitute for playing as Tails or Knuckles the Echidna.

Stages are nice and varied, if a bit short, and there’s a slight difficulty curve in the final area.

I played the original Wii release of Sonic Colours, and still own the Nintendo DS version of the game, but it’s been a while since I sat down with it. I don’t remember it being too difficult to play through, though, and the game is littered with hint orbs, tutorials, and warning signs to help hold your hand if you’re struggling. Luckily, you can turn these off at the main menu, which I’d highly recommend, but the game is mainly just a high-speed action adventure that forces you to get through a bit of platforming here and there to get to the next exciting sequence. Gameplay is pretty standard across the board but there are notable things to mix up each of the game’s worlds; there’s pulleys and switches and temporary stairs in Tropical Resort, popcorn to blast through and huge missiles to dodge in Sweet Mountain, and neon pathways to race across in Starlight Carnival. You’ll be quick-stepping across girders on Planet Wisp, punching your way through the gloopy water maze of Aquarium Park by rapidly tapping A and swallowing air bubbles to stay alive, and hopping between high-speed rollercoasters and Homing Attacking asteroids and springs in Asteroid Coaster. You’ll also encounter sections where gravity is reversed or skewed, parts where you need to continuously bounce on a moving spring to cross a death pit, and watch for huge blocks that will force you off the screen and to your death if you stay in their path. Overall, though, the difficulty is noticeably toned down from Sonic Unleashed; Acts are far shorter and designed to be played in fun, short bursts and there are copious checkpoints and Tails power-ups to keep you going.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic Colours was always a very vivid and graphically impressive title, especially for a Wii game, and Sonic Colours: Ultimate is no different. Everything really pops here; the colours, the textures, and the environments are all really vibrant and there’s lots to see in the background and foreground. If anything, the game’s environments are a little too busy at times and it can be a bit disorientating and distracting trying to focus on what you’re doing, where Sonic is, and what can or can’t hurt you in each of the game’s unique areas. Sonic, however, continues to look fantastic; as ever, he comes with some amusing idle animations and it’s fun seeing him transform into his different forms. The switch between 3D and 2.5D continues to be a little clunky when you’re blasting through Acts and I can’t help but feel like things might have been easier if certain Acts were dedicated to each perspective rather than switching between them, but the camera is never an obstacle and platforming sections are never too tricky beyond getting your jump high and timed well enough.

The worlds are varied, vibrant, and full of life but sometimes a little too busy and colourful.

The entire game takes place in Dr. Eggman’s Interstellar Amusement Park, and there’s a definite feeling of being strapped in for a high-speed, high-excitement rollercoaster of an experience. This is literally the case in areas like Asteroid Coaster, where you ride a dragon-themed rollercoaster hopping between seats over the vast cosmic void, and Skylight Carnival, where you race along cyber pathways as huge neon spaceships loom nearby. Tropical Resort is probably the least interesting area of the game, which is somewhat fitting as it’s basically the entrance to the amusement park, and even that is made visually interesting with all the bright signs and rails and little details like potted plants and benches. Planet Wisp is the closest you get to actually having your feet on natural, solid ground and is a fantastic mixture of nature, foliage, and a huge construction site. Sweet Mountain is easily the game’s most bizarre area and is comprised of cakes, sweets, and desserts amidst a missile factory; blasting through popcorn and using rotating sweets to fly above doughnut plants makes this a very surreal but memorable level. There’s also a real scope added to the environments in Aquarium Park, which essentially takes place within a gigantic aquarium and sees you exploring a vast underwater area and locations heavily borrowing from Japanese temples and aesthetics.

While the lack of hub worlds is disappointing, the graphics and presentation are top-notch.

The game’s final area, Terminal Velocity, is simply a race down the huge connecting tube that keeps Dr. Eggman’s amusement part anchored to the planet, and conjures up memories of the final areas in Sonic and Shadow the Hedgehog’s stories in Sonic Adventure 2 (Sonic Team USA, 2001), and you’ll find a number of pretty basic, almost textureless obstacles courses waiting for you in Game Land. Unfortunately, the game does take a bit of a step backwards as hub worlds are gone entirely, replaced by a world map where you select which planet/location to visit and then pick an Act to play, meaning that the game’s focus is far less on story and exploration outside of the in-Act collectibles. Cutscenes are really well done, however, maintaining the same charming cartoony aesthetic from Sonic Unleashed and featuring some fun, if cringy, jokes and one-liners from Sonic and banter between him and Tails, and Dr. Eggman. Sonic Colours saw Roger Craig Smith take over the role of Sonic, and he’s a far better and more enjoyable voice than Jason Griffith, who I could never stand in the role. Mike Pollock continues to shine as the blustering Dr. Eggman, who’s now joined by Orbot and Cubot for some bungling shenanigans, and the game’s soundtrack is catchy and enjoyable enough. Sonic Colours: Ultimate allows players to select different language options for the dialogue and subtitles, and even switch between the original and the remixed soundtrack, but there’s some jaunty tunes on offer here from Cash Cash and composer Tomoya Ohtani to keep the energy levels high when blasting through enemies.

Enemies and Bosses:
In his quest to free the Wisps from Dr. Eggman, Sonic comes up against many familiar robotic enemies courtesy of the rotund mad scientist; these include Badniks like Motobug, Spiny, Jawz, and Buzzer, and Dr. Eggman’s more military focused creations, like the Egg Pawns and Spinners. Destroying these robots will free the Wisps trapped within, powering up your boost meter and allowing you to plough through them without worry, and you can easily cross chasms and progress further by chaining Homing Attacks of groups of enemies. Probably the most persistent and annoying enemies are Dr. Eggman’s chaser robots, the Aero-Chaser and the Big Chaser. These flying robots will hover in front or behind you, firing lasers and taking swipes at you as you desperately side-step out of the way, and can be a real hassle where you’re also fending off Motobugs or racing towards the camera at high speed with limited visibility. You’ll also face a sub-boss in Asteroid Coaster in the form of a gigantic robotic eye within a shifting gravitational field and protected by some spiked balls; you’ll need to hop between the spiked balls when the gravity field expands outwards to ram into it three times and put Dr. Eggman’s production facility out of commission.

Although the six bosses are fun, it’s a bit disappointing that they’re recycled and reskinned.

Dr. Eggman has ensnared six worlds to build his amusement park; six worlds means six bosses to face as you play through the story but don’t get too excited as it’s really three bosses that you simply battle twice, with the difficulty increased for the second bout. The first boss you’ll battle is Rotatatron, a massive Ferris wheel-type robot that has you dodging its huge claws, hopping between platforms, and ramming its big ol’ face while avoiding its buzz saws. This boss returns again on Planet Wisp, albeit reskinned as the Refreshinator and now protected by spinning circles and laser beams, but you can make these bosses (and all the game’s bosses) even easier to bring down by grabbing the Wisps found in the boss arena and dealing additional damage with their power-ups. Captain Jelly awaits you in Sweet Mountain, requiring you to Homing Attack across some cannonballs on the deck of his airship and hit a switch to force him out into the open. You then need to watch for his little minions and attack him when he stops to taunt you after hopping about, and Admiral Jelly is very much the same scenario except this battle takes place underwater and sees you luring homing missiles to the switch and chasing after the boss using the Drill Wisp. You’ll also have to contend with Frigate Orcan and Frigate Skullian, which are boss battles that take place on an endless running path and see you dodging bullets, spiked balls, asteroids, and lasers to chase each ship down and rapidly Homing Attack different parts of it to deal damage.

Go head-to-head in tough races against Metal Sonic and end Dr. Eggman’s plot by using the Wisp’s full power.

Collect enough Red Star Rings and you’ll unlock a new feature to this version of the game as Metal Sonic challenges you to a “Rival Rush”, which is basically a race through one Act of each area; while this sounds exhilarating and fun, it’s actually one of the hardest parts of the game as Metal Sonic is ridiculously quick, easily catches up and overtakes you, and you have to finish the race in one perfect run to succeed. Once you’ve destroyed all of Dr. Eggman’s bosses, however, you’ll finally face the egg-shaped madman himself in his Nega-Wisp Armour. This battle is also on an endless running path and sees you dodging various attacks themed after the game’s Wisp power-ups; you’ll need to side-step past cubes, jump over spikes, and avoid ricocheting lasers, amongst other attacks, while desperately grabbing Rings, then deliver a series of Homing Attacks to damage Dr. Eggman’s craft. You can also hit him with a boost attack and, after dealing enough damage, Wisps will be released and Dr. Eggman’s attacks will become more aggressive, faster, harder to dodge, and he’ll even combine Wisp attacks to really make things frantic and frustrating. Once you’ve freed all the Wisps, though, you can press RB and perform a Homing Attack to finish Dr. Eggman off with with the “Final Colour Blaster”; then it’s simply a case of racing to safety as the umbilical cord breaks away around you and you’ll have saved the Wisps and defeated Dr. Eggman once more.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike the vast majority of Sonic videogames, there are none of the traditional power-ups on offer here; you can collect Rings either one at a time or in increments of ten, but there are no shields, speed-ups, or invincibility power-ups to find during the game. Instead, you need to collect Wisps to fill your boost meter or provide a temporary power-up that lets you burrow through the ground, blast across surfaces, or zip through enemies in a blast of vivid colour. Each of these is timed and lasts only as long as your meter and, often, you’ll need to collect subsequent Wisp capsules to solve puzzles, reveal collectibles, or progress further but, other times, the Wisps will not respawn and you’ll be left with only one shot to bounce between jewels. Although you don’t earn or collect extra lives, you can collect the new Tails power-up to save yourself from a fall, which is essentially the same thing, but this is merely to save you a bit of time as it avoids you having to restart from a checkpoint.

Additional Features:
There are forty-six Achievements to earn in Sonic Colours: Ultimate, with the majority of them being awarded for completing each of the game’s worlds. You’ll also pop some G for defeating a certain number of enemies in certain ways, achieving an S-rank, destroying the score tally at the end of each Act, and playing/waiting through the game’s obnoxiously long end credits. Achievements can also be earned for defeating bosses in two hits instead of three using the Wisps or getting an S-rank against them, collecting every Red Star Ring, and for getting S-ranks on every single Act in the game for 100% completion.

Take on additional challenges, find the Red Star Rings, become Super Sonic, and customise Sonic’s gear!

Five Red Star Rings are hidden in each Act; the game helpfully keeps track of how many you’ve collected and in which order, which makes searching them out a little easier, and collecting them unlocks additional challenges in Game Land. Game Land sees you take control of a recoloured Sonic robot and completing short tasks that basically amount to platforming and gameplay challenges; there are no lives or time limits here, so it’s a good way to kill some time, and you can even play against a friend in this mode. You’ll need all 180 Red Star Rings to unlock every Act in this mode, however, and to collect the seven Chaos Emeralds to play as Super Sonic. You can challenge yourself further by taking on the Egg Shuttle, which forces you to play every single Act of the game on a handful of lives, and you can also collect Park Tokens in each Act or from besting Metal Sonic to purchase skins that change Sonic’s gloves, shoes, aura, boost effect, and your gamer icon. Unfortunately, this is an extremely limited mode and doesn’t allow you to apply other skins to Sonic, but you can acquire components to have him resemble his Hollywood counterpart, so that’s something.

The Summary:
I remember really enjoying Sonic Colours when I first played it on the Wii; sure, I haven’t revisited it since finishing it years ago, but that’s more due to my dislike of the Wii than of the game. When it was announced to be coming to modern consoles at last, I was more than happy to get my hands on it again, bad press and bugs be damned. Personally, I consider Sonic Colours to be one of the most fun entries in Sonic’s modern era for its focus on action and it’s a blast to play in short bursts, with a difficulty curve that’s perfectly manageable until you hit Terminal Velocity (and that’s just because I struggled with timing my quick-steps). I never encountered any graphical or gameplay glitches on my playthrough, and the only negative I had about the presentation was some lag in the menus and the lack of any kind of additional cutscenes when encountering Metal Sonic. As enjoyable as the game is, though, it is a bit of a step back; using world maps and menus in place of hub worlds is a bit of a disappointment and, while the Wisp power-ups are great, it annoys me how prominent they are here and have become since as an excuse to not include a playable Tails or Knuckles. It also can’t be denied that the game is a bit too easy at times; I enjoy how every other Act is basically like a little challenge for you, but it’s laborious having to collect every single Red Star Ring, the lack of skins or in-depth customisation is a missed opportunity, and the recycling of the game’s few bosses is really disappointing. Still, it’s a super fun time for the few hours it’ll take you to blast through it and absolutely gorgeous to look at and listen to; Sonic Colours: Ultimate shows the potential a big, triple-A Sonic game has but could have benefitted from just a few more tweaks and additional modes and such to make the package all the sweeter.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What do you think to Sonic Colours: Ultimate? How do you think it compares to the original Wii version and what did you think to the new features included? Did you enjoy the focus on short, action-packed gameplay or did you feel the game was a bit too simplified? What did you think to the Wisps and which of these power-ups was your favourite? Would you have liked to see other characters included to play or race against? Which of the game’s stages or bosses was your favourite and why? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Sonic Colours: Ultimate down below, or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content later in the year!

Game Corner [Sonic’s Anniversary]: Sonic the Hedgehog (2013; Nintendo 3DS)


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 an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 13 June 2013
Originally Released: 25 October 1991
Developer: SEGA
Original Developer: Ancient
Also Available For: GameCube, Game Gear, Master System, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

The Background:
I did a deep dive into Sonic’s complex and deliberate history in my review of his incredibly popular debut title for the Mega Drive; however, in October of the same year of Sonic’s 16-bit debut, SEGA also released an 8-bit version of the influential Mario-beater. The Master System version of Sonic was my introduction to the character as it came built-into my Master System II console; originally developed by Ancient specifically for the Game Gear, the Yuzo Koshiiro-lead team were also commissioned to make a version for its bigger brother. Since it was impossible to port the 16-bit game, Ancient started from scratch to craft a similar but fundamentally altered version of its 16-bit counterpart. Reviews were positive and, when the game was subsequently re-released onto the 3DS Virtual Console, it was again positively received and has been considered one of the best titles on SEGA’s 8-bit systems.

The Plot:
South Island is under siege! The maniacal Doctor Eggman (widely known as “Robotnik” during this time) has captured the island’s animals and polluted the landscape in his search for the six legendary Chaos Emeralds and only one super-fast, super-cool hedgehog can stop him!

Gameplay:
Just like the 16-bit version, Sonic the Hedgehog is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players are placed into the red-and-white trainers of the titular blue hedgehog. Sonic is tasked with racing and navigating through six stages (known as “Zones”), with three levels (called “Acts”) each and, in each Zone’s third Act, Sonic will encounter Dr. Eggman and have to battle him to free a bunch of woodland critters from captivity.

The game’s much more focused on platforming rather than speed and runs noticeably slower at times.

Sonic’s repertoire is exactly the same as in the game’s 16-bit cousin; moving Sonic in a direction for long enough will see him break from a walk, to a trot, to a super-fast run that turns his legs into a blur of motion. By pressing any button, Sonic will jump and become a ball of whirling blue spikes; this “Super Sonic Spin Attack” is your sole form of attack and can also be performed by pressing down on the directional-pad (D-Pad) while running to smash into Badniks. Pressing up and down on the D-Pad while standing still will allow you to vertically scroll the screen and pressing down when on a steep slope and jumping at the very end will see Sonic fly through the air and travel far across the Act at times. Otherwise, that’s it; there’s no Spin Dash or anything like that. Consequently, the game remains a much slower experience than the advertising would have you believe. Thanks to the limitations of the 8-bit hardware, this version of Sonic is missing the iconic loop-de-loops that helped Sonic gain speed in the 16-bit version and replaces them (here and there) with the aforementioned ramps and a far more vertically-orientated approach. This means that the game is, at its core, a pure platformer and you’ll be jumping over (many) spiked and bottomless pits, hopping to platforms (moving, stationary, and temporary), and making your way up and across to reach the Goal Sign.

You might not be able to collect lost Rings but extra lives are easy to find and stock up on.

While Sonic can still collect Golden Rings to protect himself from harm and death, he is again hampered by the system’s limitations. When hit, Sonic will appear to lose only one Ring but will actually drop all of his Rings and cannot pick them up again, which can easily lead to you getting killed on the very next hit. There are additional limitations on the heads-up display (HUD): if you collect over ninety-nine Rings, you’ll earn an extra life but also reset the Ring counter. Your life display is also capped at nine during gameplay but you can collect extra lives and they do show up on the score tally screen. Speaking of which, yes, you do accumulate points by smashing Badniks and finishing Acts quickly but you only see this score at the end of an Act. You are also still racing against a time limit but the game’s Acts are, for the most part, much shorter than in the 16-bit version so it’s not really much of a factor. Additionally, rather than including Signposts as checkpoints, 8-bit Sonic uses Arrow Monitors, which are worth hunting down if things are getting tough and, even better, your shield will carry across between Acts this time around.

In addition to three new Zones, the game also has its own gimmicks to keep you on your toes.

As far as gameplay goes, though, 8-bit Sonic certainly mixes things up in many ways that separate it from 16-bit Sonic. Acts have different mechanics in them, such as warning signs before death pits, weight-based springboards, rapids, rolling logs to run on, and teleporters. It also includes three game-exclusive Zones: Bridge, Jungle, and Sky Base. Bridge focuses on horizontal platforming across an instant-death body of water and has you running across collapsing bridges while Jungle is focused more on vertical platforming. Both Zones include an autoscrolling section in Act 2, with Bridge Zone forcing you to the right and Jungle Zone forcing you up, which can be a pain as once the screen scrolls up to meet you, falling down will result in instant death. You once again have to find your way through Labyrinth Zone, now much more of a chore to play as it’s not only a fittingly maze-like Zone but the game noticeably slows right down whenever Sonic is in water or too much is happening onscreen. Scrap Brain, while similar to the 16-bit game, is also made noticeably different by the presence of a confusing teleporter loop in the second Act that sees you hitting switches to open certain doors, dodging numerous hazards, and going through the right tunnels and teleporters to reach the end. By the time you reach the game’s final Zone, Sky Base, the difficulty noticeably ramps up a bit; Act 1 is alive with hazards thanks to an impressive thunderstorm raging in the background and sending electrical currents running across the screen and the presence of numerous cannons. Act 2 takes place up in the sky with you suspended over a perpetual death pit and forcing you to hop across propeller platforms and dodge even bigger cannons all without the benefit of your precious Rings.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, Sonic the Hedgehog remains one of the most impressive titles on SEGA’s 8-bit systems. Since the 3DS version is a port of the Game Gear version, it’s not quite the same as I remember it; Sonic’s sprite is noticeably different compared to the Master System one and actually resembles Greg Martin’s artwork thanks to his frowning eye. When left idle, he still taps his foot impatiently and pulls off some amusing expressions when killed, skidding, or gobbling air bubbles in Labyrinth Zone, though obviously the game’s zones aren’t going to be as vibrant and detailed as in the 16-bit version. Indeed, you’ll notice right away that the backgrounds are quite sparse and lack the same depth and level of detail as on the Mega Drive but there’s still quite a lot going on in each Zone; flowers blossom and dance in Green Hill Zone, water rushes by beneath Bridge Zone, and waterfalls and vines are all over the place in Jungle Zone.

Zones are certainly shorter and more sparse but the game is surprisingly colourful and lively.

Labyrinth Zone also still has a lot of detail on the foreground elements and you still need to swallow air bubbles to breathe (though the iconic drowning music has been replaced by a simple ticking countdown); while Scrap Brain Zone remains a mechanical Hell, Sky Base is probably the most visually impressive Zone in the game thanks to its dark, foreboding first Act and the impressive scale of the second Act. One of the best additions to the game is the presence of a map before each Act; this shows your progression through South Island, displays the name of the Zone you’re about to play, and even shows Dr. Eggman hovering in to attack you, the level of pollution in the air, and Dr. Eggman’s Sky Base looming overhead. The game even has a much more elaborate introduction before the title screen and the music is even more impressive; again, largely different from the 16-bit version with the exception of the opening jingle and Green Hill Zone, the game is full of jaunty, catchy little chip tunes, with Bridge Zone, the game’s incredible Scrap Brain Zone track, and Sky Base Zone’s tracks being notable standouts for me. When you finish the game, you’ll also be treated to a large, partially-animated sprite of Sonic with a microphone while one of my favourite ending medleys plays over the credits.

Enemies and Bosses:
Even though 8-bit Sonic includes some new Zones, the Badniks remain exactly the same as in the 16-bit version; you’ll still bop on Motobugs, get blasted at by Buzz Bombers, surprised by Newtrons, and nipped at by Chompers. Some Badniks, like Bat Brain and Roller, are missing, however, and you won’t be seeing any fluffy little creatures hopping to freedom when you smash the ‘bots with your Spin Attack. Your main hazards will be the high abundance of spike pits, spike traps, and bottomless pits; spears will also try to skewer you in Labyrinth Zone, flame jets and electrical hazards try to fry you in Scrap Brain Zone, and platforms will constantly collapse beneath your feet.

Dr. Eggman attacks from overheard or underneath in his early appearances but is easy to send packing.

As in the 16-bit version, Sonic will battle Dr. Eggman in Act 3 of each Zone. Unlike in that game, Act 3 contains no Rings, some platforming hazards to navigate through, and a single extra life monitor hidden within it to help you out. Every boss in the game is also completely different from those seen in the Mega Drive version; in Green Hill Zone, Dr. Eggman simply flies overhead a few times (accompanied by a jaunty little boss theme), lowers slowly to the ground, and tries to ram into you but, thanks to the smaller screen size of the Game Gear, it’s pathetically easy to do him in as he flies overheard on the first pass. In Bridge Zone, Dr. Eggman switches to a submersible craft and pops up randomly between bridges to fire three shots at you; this actually differs from the Master System version, which sees you battling Dr. Eggman between two grassy platforms, and can be difficult as it’s very easy to fall through Dr. Eggman on his invincibility frames and lose a life. In Jungle Zone, Dr. Eggman again hovers overheard but this time you’re limited to a curved vine platform and he drops a rolling bomb at you but, just like in Green Hill Zone, it’s way too easy to just mess him up on his first pass.

While he flees from you in Scrap Brain, Dr. Eggman puts up a decent fight in Labyrinth and Sky Base Zone.

Things appear to get more troublesome in Labyrinth Zone; unlike in the 16-bit version, you actually do fight Dr. Eggman here but it’s underwater and in a small arena with a bottomless pit to worry about. While there’s helpfully (if strangely) no danger of you drowning in this battle, you do have to watch out for Dr. Eggman’s rockets and projectiles but, while it can be tricky to jump over the pit thanks to how slow the game runs underwater, this isn’t that much of a chore to get through. In Scrap Brain Zone, you won’t actually fight Dr. Eggman; instead, you have to solve a tricky puzzle and then chase him to his teleporter and you’ll go one-on-one with him in the next Zone in a battle far more grandiose than on the Mega Drive. In Sky Base Act 3, Dr. Eggman hides within a glass tube and hops on a switch, which sends jets of flame randomly up from the floor or a ball of death to fly at you. Thankfully, it’s pretty simple to hop over both of these and bash into him. After he flees, a short cutscene pays that shows Sonic delivering the final blow via teleporter, defeating Dr. Eggman at last.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Sonic the Hedgehog includes all of the same power-ups as its Mega Drive cousin. You’ll find a number of monitors scattered throughout each Zone that will award you with ten extra Rings, a protective shield, or mark your progress so you can respawn later in the Zone if you die. Interestingly, the game features far more extra life monitors than it does speed-up shoes or invincibility monitors; indeed, I only encountered maybe two of these in my playthrough, to the point where I thought they weren’t even in the game.

Additional Features:
The 3DS version of 8-bit Sonic is one of the best ways to play the game thanks to not only being a portable title like the original Game Gear version, but also the inclusion of save states. While you can only create one save slot, this does make it dramatically easier to keep track of your progress and help you hunt down the game’s six Chaos Emeralds.

Bounce around Special Stages all you want but you’ll need to hunt through Zones for Chaos Emeralds.

One of the things I always loved about 8-bit Sonic was its approach to Chaos Emeralds; if you finish an Act with fifty Rings or more, you’ll get to play a Special Stage. In this game, these are timed bonus stages full of bumpers and springs (basically functioning as the game’s version of Spring Yard Zone) and Rings. Here, you can bounce all over the place to stock up on lives or break Continue Monitors to gain an extra continue but you won’t find Chaos Emeralds in these stages. Instead, Chaos Emeralds are hidden within the game’s Zones. Finding them is sometimes pretty simple, such as just taking a certain path while underground in Green Hill or running on a log at the bottom of Jungle Zone, but can also be sneakily hidden behind death traps. To reach the Emerald in Bridge Zone, for example, you have to jump from a falling section of a bridge before you fall to your death and Scrap Brain’s Chaos Emerald is reached by falling down a specific pit that looks just like any other bottomless pit. Nabbing them all rewards you with a hefty score bonus and the game’s true ending, which sees South Island freed of Dr. Eggman’s influence.

The Summary:
Even though I grew up playing the Master System version of this game, which is graphically slightly superior, I still have an immense amount of nostalgia and fondness for the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog. The game is bright, fun, and endlessly charming and packs quite a lot in for an 8-bit title; one of the things I still really enjoy about it is that it’s not just a scaled down version of the 16-bit game. Instead, 8-bit Sonic features new Zones, new gimmicks, and changes up the way the game is played; having you hunt for Chaos Emeralds in the game’s Acts is a great way to tie into the game’s larger focus on platforming and exploration and I always kind of saw this and the 16-bit version as two parts of a greater whole that complimented each other beautifully. Colourful and featuring some extremely catchy tunes, 8-bit Sonic is both easier and slightly harder than its more popular counterpart; there are some glitches here and there (Sonic’s collision detection is a bit wonky and I found myself bounced into oblivion in the Special Stages more than once), there seems to be far more unfair death pits and traps, and the game runs much slower, especially when there’s a lot happening onscreen. Still, these issues are minor and, in many ways (again, most likely because of nostalgia) I actually prefer this game to the 16-bit version but, in my wholly biased opinion, it’s definitely at least on par with Sonic’s bigger, better Mega Drive outing.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think about Sonic’s 8-bit debut? How do you think it compares to the 16-bit version and Sonic’s other 8-bit outings? Did your Master System come with Sonic built-in or did you buy it separately? What did you think to the Chaos Emeralds being hidden in the game’s Zones rather than in Special Stages? Did you own the original Game Gear version and what did you think to this 3DS port? How are you celebrating Sonic’s birthday this year? Whatever you think, feel free to share your thoughts and memories regarding Sonic below or on my social media.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Unleashed (Xbox 360)


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 an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 18 November 2008
Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 (via PlayStation Network/Now), Xbox Series S/X, XboxOne (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
These days, people would have you to believe that Sonic the Hedgehog (ibid, 2006) is an under-rated classic and worthy of your time and attention. Don’t listen to them. Play it if you must but make no mistake about it, take it from a life-long Sonic fan: Sonic ’06 is an absolutely dreadful experience. Great cutscenes and music, yes, but the gameplay (the core of any videogame) is diabolically bad and there’s a reason that the game was not only received terribly and is almost universally seen as one of the lowest points in the franchise…it’s because it’s a travesty of a videogame. Following that game’s dismal release and reception, Sonic Team scrambled to make good on their next mainline Sonic title, which started out as a semi-continuation of the Sonic Adventure games (ibid/Sonic Team USA, 1999 to 2002) but soon took on a life of its own and began the annoying trend of having Sonic be the only playable character. Sonic Unleashed saw the development of many new lighting, graphical, and gameplay mechanics for the series, chief amongst them the “Hedgehog Engine”, which allowed Sonic to boost ahead at breakneck speeds without losing graphical fidelity, while also incorporating 2.5D  perspectives to hearken back to the series’ roots. The game was somewhat controversial for also including brawling combat in the form of the “Werehog” in stages that were criticised for their length and tedium. Regardless, Sonic Unleashed was just the shot in the arm the franchise desperately needed after Sonic ’06; the game was a commercial success and critics lauded the speed and exhilaration offered by Sonic’s gameplay.

The Plot:
Sonic is unsuccessful in his attempt to thwart Doctor Eggman’s latest scheme and the mad scientist fires a giant laser cannon at the planet, blasting chunks of the surface to the atmosphere and awakening the ancient beast “Dark Gaia”. Though outpouring of evil energy causes Sonic to transform into the animalistic Werehog at night, he resolves to travel across the world, accompanied by an amnesic sprite nicknamed Chip and his old friends Miles “Tails” Prower and Amy Rose, to restore the power of the seven legendary Chaos Emeralds and undo the damage caused to the planet.

Gameplay:
Sonic Unleashed is a 3D action/platformer that switches to both a 2.5D perspective and a third-person brawler during your progression through the main story. Very similar to Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), Sonic navigates a variety of hub worlds across the globe, talking with non-playable characters (NPCs) and performing a number of challenges and side quests in his quest to activate the seven Gaia temples (and the Chaos Emeralds) to restore the splintered planet.

Sonic boosts, grinds, and blasts his way through stages at breakneck speeds!

Players are put into the high-speed shoes of Sonic the Hedgehog; Sonic can jump with A (which you can tap for a hop and hold for a higher jump) and attack enemies either with his regular jump or by pressing X when in the air to perform his patented Homing Attack. An aiming reticule directs you towards the nearest target and you can chain together successive Homing Attacks to hit springs or cross gaps over bottomless pits to progress. Sonic can also crawl and slide (and perform a sweep kick) with a press of the B button; this doesn’t come up often but it’s essential for getting you through small spaces when running at high speeds. This is the big gameplay mechanic for Sonic in Sonic Unleashed; similar to the God-awful “Mach Speed” sections of Sonic ’06, pressing and holding X while running will send Sonic boosting ahead at breakneck speeds. When boosting, you can charge right through enemies without fear and will also suck up any nearby Golden Rings, which are essential for maintaining your boost as they power the mechanic. While this can cause you to fly right off the edge of stages later in the game and can cause the game to spaz out on occasion when Sonic’s speed increases, you can perform quick-steps with the Left- and Right Bumper to dart through narrow alleyways and such, and perform quick turns to stay on course on tight curves. Overall, the boost mechanic is exhilarating fun and it’s brilliant to fly through stages at full speed, crashing through enemies and bouncing and grinding your way towards the Goal Ring.

Fight, swing, and platform your way through slower, trickier stages as the Werehog.

Of course, you can also play as the much slower “Werehog” in the game’s night-time stages; Sonic Unleashed has a rudimentary day and night mechanic where, by attacking hourglasses in the hub worlds, passing time on the main map screen, or as dictated by the story, day will turn to night, transforming Sonic into this monstrous little brawler. Clearly taking inspirations from popular hack-and-slash titles, Sonic Team made the Werehog distinct by having him attack with his elongated limbs and perform grapples to take down his opponents. While the controls remain mostly the same, there are some differences: you can now perform a double jump with A and the X and Y buttons allow you to pull off different strikes and combos. Holding the Right Trigger allows you to dash on all fours (and can extend your jump) while LB puts up one of a limited number of shields to protect you from attacks. Pressing B lets you grab onto objects and ledges to save yourself from falls, grab objects to throw at enemies, or grapple enemies to pull of quick-time events (QTEs) to deliver massive damage. As the Werehog attacks enemies or smashes barrels and such, you’ll build up your “Unleash Meter”. Once it’s full, or hits the minimum marker, you can press RB to “unleash” the Werehog’s true power, which will dramatically enhance his strikes and speed to help you clear out groups of enemies or larger foes. The Werehog’s stages are far longer than Sonic’s and also involve a bit of puzzle solving (usually mashing B to pull switches or open doors or bringing gems to special alters to progress further) and some very tricky platforming. This involves a combination of jumping to and from platforms, grabbing to poles, and balancing on narrow beams, all of which can be extremely difficult as the game’s camera often makes it hard to judge the distance between your targets, button inputs can be a bit slow and clunky, and a lot of the platforms you’ll be grabbing and jumping to will either be moving, collapsing, slippery, or damaging in some way, which can lead to a lot of annoying deaths.

Perform QTE tricks and defeat enemies with style to get EXP and a sweet S rank.

As is the standard for Sonic titles, Sonic is protected from damage by Golden Rings. This time around, when Sonic is hurt, he won’t lose all of his Rings and, when playing as the Werehog, you have a more traditional health bar that is replenish by the Rings. Collecting one-hundred Rings awards you with an extra life, which you will also find scattered here and there around stages (usually right before a dangerous area), and you pass through checkpoints to allow you to continue from later in the stage should you die. Deaths can be quite frequent as Sonic gets a bit slippery at times and it’s pretty easy to blast off out of bounds or over the edge and to your death, and you can also fall to your death in hub worlds! When you complete a stage, though, you’ll be given a grade based on how fast you finished and how any tricks you performed as Sonic (by jumping through special hoops and performing QTEs), among other things. This, and defeating enemies, will provide you with experience points (EXP) that you can use to power-up Sonic’s base speed and Ring Energy, and the Werehog’s strength, Unleash Meter, maximum life, and learn new combos and attacks.

There are many hub worlds and Medals to collect but I could’ve done with more Tornado sections.

Out in the hub world, you can spend your Rings on food and other items and must perform a few tasks to open up stages. The main way you’ll access new areas, though, is by finding Sun and Moon Medals; I’ve heard many complain that this slows the game down as you have to replay stages or hunt around to find them just to progress but, honestly, I have never experienced this problem. There is a bit of backtracking and replaying of earlier stages required, though, as you sometimes need to farm for extra lives and need to hop from one location to another, playing stages out of order in order to access the next boss or area as part of the story. Gameplay is given a bit more variety when you acquire a camera that you can use to battle Gaia Beasts that have possessed NPCs and through the inclusion of auto-scrolling shooting sections in which Sonic mans the armaments of the Tornado while Tails flies him towards their next destination. Unlike in Sonic Adventure, this involves pressing the right buttons when they flash up on screen and alternate between mashing LB and RB to refill your power meter if you press the wrong button or are hit. Also, these sections only appear twice in the game, which is a shame as they’re quite fun, though you can replay them (and any other stage of boss) from the main world menu.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, Sonic Unleashed looks absolutely fantastic; the game has a crisp, colourful presentation and everything really pops when onscreen, especially compared to how drab and muted Sonic ’06 was. Sonic looks fun and full of energy and has a number of idle animations in both his base and Werehog form; Sonic is also constantly accompanied by Chip, who acts as an annoying guide, and is voiced by Jason Griffith who was always my least favourite voice actor for the character. The rest of the Sonic X (2003 to 2004; 2005 to 2006) voice cast are fine, with Mike Pollock absolutely nailing Dr. Eggman, but I always found Jason to be so lifeless and boring as Sonic, though the game does stand out by briefly having Sonic’s usual confidence shaken by his monstrous appearance. Graphically, though, the game is gorgeous; Sonic, the Werehog, Tails, and Amy all look vibrant and full of life and fit perfectly with the game’s Pixar-like aesthetic for the NPCs. Rather than have the NPCs be realistic-looking humans like in Sonic Adventure, Sonic Unleashed’s are exaggerated, cartoony characters with large eyes, noses, and larger-than-life properties that help them to be visually interesting even when they mainly just wander around in short animation cycles, stand in one place, or communicate using text boxes and gibberish. The most prominent human NPC is the kindly Professor Pickle, who offers advice and exposition regarding Dark Gaia and has a penchant for cucumber sandwiches and souvenirs.

Stages are gorgeous and varied and full of unique elements, gimmicks, and jaunty music.

The game’s hub worlds and stages are all based on different societies and cultures of the real world. Apotos is based on Greece, Spagonia on Italy, Mazuri on Africa, Holosoka on Antarctica, Chun-Nan on China, Shamar on Egypt, Empire City on New York City, and Adabat seems to be based on the likes of Hawaii. This means that every area feels distinctive and unique, mainly thanks to having different seasons, hub worlds of various sizes that all look and feel different, and are populated by different NPCs. This translates into the playable stages as well as you’ll blast through the air, grind on rails, and plough through alleyways, race up winding paths, and fall through the sky in a variety of colourful and action-packed environments. When playing as Sonic, you’ll naturally often blast past your environment without really noticing little details here and there but, when the game switches to its 2.5D view or you tackle the Werehog stages, these subtleties are brought to life wonderfully. This means you can see markets, animals, and entire cities in the background, discover alternative paths by jumping through boost rings or hopping up walls and rails, and run up and along pathways at breakneck speeds while dodging axes, laser traps, and blasting through enemies. Stages become increasingly bigger and more complex as the game progresses, with you hopping from collapsing ice floats and using a killer whale and a bobsleigh to progress in Cool Edge, grabbing onto rockets and hopping to spinning platforms in Dragon Road, and running across water and through ruins making tight, dangerous turns in Jungle Joyride.

The game’s high-quality cutscenes are incredible and the best in the series at that point.

As beautiful and detailed as the game’s stages are, though, Sonic Unleashed goes above and beyond with its high-quality cinematics. While these are a notable highlight of Sonic ’06, even the cutscenes that use the in-game graphics are a joy to watch here as Sonic and Chip bond and overcome numerous obstacles on their journey. When the cinematics kick in, Sonic and his world are rendered magnificently and it honestly baffles me that Sonic Team never used this style of animation to produce a CGI feature film. These sequences, and the graphics in general, are only bolstered by the game’s jaunty, uplifting, and varied soundtrack; the game’s main theme, “Endless Possibility” by Bowling For Soup’s Jaret Reddick, is a catchy little punk-rock piece that captures the high-spirited adventure aspects of the game while the ominous Gaia themes help sell the threat and menace of the monstrous Dark Gaia. Even better is the fact that the day-time Savannah Citadel stage uses a remix of the ending credits theme from the 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog (Ancient, 1991), which was especially pleasing to me since I am a big fan of that game and it was the first Sonic title I ever played.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you blast through Sonic’s stages at full speed, you come across a number of Dr. Eggman’s robots; mainly comprised of Egg Fighters, these robots will throw slow punches or swing swords at you and defend themselves with shields. Later, they’ll bounce you back with springs, blast at you with laser bolts or homing missiles, and attack with electrified swords but, for the most part, they’re largely disposable pawns that you can bash through with your Homing Attack or boost. You’ll also use the small robots (who sometimes blast at you or defend themselves with electrical shields) to get across gaps and have to watch out for spikes, Eggman-branded springs that often push you into spikes, crushing platforms, and other environmental hazards that can mess up your run.

Bash through Dr. Eggman’s robots and beat down Dark Gaia’s minions with your combos!

Although Sonic also has to fight Dark Gaia’s minions, you’ll mainly battle against these as the Werehog. Gaia’s creatures take a variety of forms, from small, annoying little critters to the larger, more commonplace “Nightmare” variants. These guys will attack as a group with their own punches and combos and even defend themselves from your attacks by putting their guard up. You’ll also have to contend with Dark Masters, wizard-like enemies who can fire elemental blasts at you or replenish the health of other Gaia creatures, and the ever-annoying Killer Bees, who always seem to hover just out of reach and dive at you with their stingers. The Werehog also has to battle the much larger Big Mothers and Titans, often while dealing with many other enemies at the same time; the Big Mother will endlessly spawn smaller Gaia creatures and its rotund belly allows it to absorb a great deal of punishment. The Titans are much worse, though; attacking with giant clubs and causing shockwaves to cover the immediate area, they can blast you into a stun (which you must desperately mash A to get out of) or even off rooftops and to your death with a ridiculous amount of ease. For both enemies, I recommend expending your Unleash Meter and using the Werehog’s QTE combos/grapples to take them down quickly.

Sadly, as fun as they are, the boss battles against Dr. Eggman are all very similar.

Just as there are two distinct playstyles in Sonic Unleashed, there are also two types of boss battles; those against Dr. Eggman and his latest contraption and those against Dark Gaia’s gigantic guardians. The battles against Dr. Eggman, however, are largely similar in each instance; when you battle the Egg Beetle, Egg Devil Ray, and Egg Lancer, you’ll be continuously running around an endlessly-looping track, collecting Rings to boost towards Dr. Eggman and ram into his cockpit. Each machine sports a variety of lasers, missiles, and bombs and tries to fry and bombard you with its armaments and you’ll have to use the quick-step and the advantages of the 2.5D sections to dodge these hazards. The battles do get more difficult as they, and the game, progresses, though; I recommend avoiding using the Homing Attack when running across walls or ceilings as you can sometimes drop to your death and you’ll also have to complete a QTE when hopping from wall-to-wall to land hits on the Egg Lancer. Dr. Eggman also erects protective shields and drops flaming hazards into the arena and also challenges you in the Tornado sections in the Egg Cauldron, though here it’s simply a case of hitting the right buttons to destroy his missiles and damage his weak spot.

Dark Gaia’s minions may be big and require more strategy but they all come down to QTEs.

The Werehog’s boss battles are much more varied and interesting by comparison. When battling the Dark Gaia Phoenix, you need to throw barrels of water at it to douse its flames while avoid its flaming shockwaves and feather barrage; the Dark Moray is protected by a shield that can only be lowered by attacking the eel heads around the base of the arena, then you have to freeze the beast (while also avoiding being frozen yourself) to attack its glowing weak spot; finally, the Dark Guardian is similar to a Titan, but a bit smaller, and must be stunned long enough for you to push blocks over to a switch to weaken it. In all three cases, the bosses become tougher and increase the rate of their attacks as the fight progresses and you’ll be tasked with performing a series of QTEs in order to deal massive damage and put them down. Thus, the length and difficulty of these fights depends greatly on how good you are at QTEs as, if you fail, you’ll have to go through all the motions to get to that point again, which can be annoying.

After conquering the gruelling Eggmanland, you’ll battle Dr. Eggman’s most dangerous machine yet!

Speaking of annoying, while the game is generally a lot of fun with only a few frustrating moments, Sonic Unleashed really kicks you in the balls when it presents you with its final stage, Eggmanland. A giant amusement park literally filled with traps, hazards, bottomless pits, and every kind of enemy and obstacle you’ve encountered so far, this stage is a true test of anyone’s mettle as you’re forced to switch between Sonic and the Werehog and take on a series of incredibly challenging platforming and combat tasks in order to progress. Easily the longest and most difficult stage in the game (or any Sonic game for that matter), Eggmanland can take up to an hour to get through and will have you tearing your hair out at its finicky platforming and frustrating sections. Once you finally get through his chore of a stage, though, you’ll have to battle Dr. Eggman one last time in his most interesting and dangerous contraption yet, the Egg Dragoon. You battle this as the Werehog and run around a small platform in freefall while avoiding Dr. Eggman’s shots and taking out his robots to attack the glowing green core on the machine’s tail. Once you do enough damage, you have to pull off another QTE sequence and then the fight moves to the next stage, which involves more aggressive attacks from Dr. Eggman and less windows of opportunity to strike. Still, it doesn’t seem as though you can fall off the platform you’re on and your attacks still do damage even when Dr. Eggman is guarding himself so just keep pressing your attack and make sure you don’t fail the QTTEs and this boss is nowhere near as intimidating as it first appears.

Plot the unwieldy Gaia Colossus then battle the tricky controls and camera to finish Dark Gaia.

Although Dr. Eggman is defeated, Dark Gaia rises from the planet’s core so Chip, finally remembering his true purposes as Light Gaia, causes all of the Gaia Temples to come together as the titanic Gaia Colossus and engage with his dark counterpart one-on-one. To do this, you need to hold X to boost the slow, clunky ass of the Dark Colossus towards the beast, guarding against or desperately trying to punch the flaming boulders it sends your way. When Dark Gaia charges up its big energy beam, try to move out of the way but for God’s sake put your guard up as it can instantly drain all of your health otherwise! Once you get close enough, you’ll have to perform another QTE and then you’ll switch to Sonic and be given a few seconds to race past Dark Gaia’s deadly tentacles and energy blasts and bash it in the eye (again, after completing a QTE). This must then be repeated twice more, with Dark Gaia’s attacks and ferocity growing each time; thankfully, your health is restored for each phase of the battle and you don’t have to restart right from the beginning if you die but this is still one of the more frustrating parts of the game. Dark Gaia isn’t so easily defeated, though, and mutates into the gruesome Perfect Dark Gaia. Of course, Sonic uses the Chaos Emeralds to transform into Super Sonic for the final battle of the game. Unlike other Super Sonic levels, you don’t have to worry about a time limit as your Rings aren’t depleted over time; instead, you must fly/boost towards Perfect Dark Gaia, who has encased itself in an impenetrable shield, collecting Rings to fill up your health bar and dodging asteroids. While the Gaia Colossus distracts the creature, Super Sonic must fly around the shield avoiding obstacles, flaming meteors, and that same massive energy beam to attack the snake-lake tentacles that poke out sporadically through the barrier. This is easier said than done, though, as it’s really hard to see where you’re going or target the heads (there’s no aiming reticule this time); there are also no extra Rings to get and it’s ridiculously easy to get hit by Perfect Dark Gaia’s attacks or ram into an asteroid and deplete your health bar. Once you do finally destroy all of the heads, you’ll of course have to complete one last massive QTE sequence but, as long as you hit the right buttons and mash them into oblivion, you’ll finally destroy the beast and return the planet to normal.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike many Sonic videogames, there aren’t actually that many in-game power-ups on offer in Sonic Unleashed. Gone are the speed-up shoes, invincibility, and protective bubbles, replaced by simple Golden Rings and a few extra lives floating about the place. The Werehog is able to pick up power-ups that will instantly fill his health and/or Unleash Meter, power-up his attacks, increase his shield count, or bath him in a protective aura, though, which makes it worth your while to smash crates and doors in search of them.

Sonic can grab new shoes to perform additional abilities and reach new areas.

In addition to increasing Sonic and the Werehog’s abilities with EXP, Sonic can also purchase a variety of foods that, when he eats them, will award him additional EXP (they can also be fed to Chip to increase his bond with Sonic, though this has no impact on the actual gameplay). Furthermore, like in Sonic Adventure, you can acquire additional abilities by finding special shoes in the hub worlds; the Stomping Shoes allow Sonic to perform a stomp to bash downwards through glass and blocks and onto enemies with a press of B in the air, the Light Speed Shoes let you dash along rows of Rings, the Wall Jump Shoes allow you to jump vertically up walls to reach new areas, and the Air Boost Shoes let you blast through the air by pressing X while jumping in order to cover large distances quickly.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements to earn in Sonic Unleashed; six of these are awarded simply by playing through the story and restoring the planet to normal but you’ll naturally also earn others through regular gameplay as you get Achievements for increasing Sonic and the Werehog’s abilities and finishing stages with an S ranking. Sadly, considering the vast potential for fun and quirky Achievements, most of Sonic Unleashed’s are quite by-the-numbers; finish a Tornado section without missing a shot, talk to every NPC all over the world, collect half of (and every) the Sun and Moon Medals, and use the different shoes and you’ll snag some G but by far the most challenging Achievement sees you having to complete the various “Hot Dog” challenges in each area. The various Hog Dog Vendors will let you take on a series of challenges for the cost of a few Rings; these have you collecting a certain number of Rings, defeating a certain number of enemies, or finishing stages in a certain time limit but these aren’t like challenges in some Sonic games as you still have to finish the entire stage even once you complete the objective, By far the most difficult of these tasks you with completing Eggmanland in just forty-five minutes, which is all-but-impossible given that you’re guaranteed to die at least once during this stage and dying in these challenges means having to restart from the beginning. In the hub worlds, and scattered throughout the stages, you’ll find CDs, books, and videotapes that allow you to view the game’s cutscenes, artwork, characters, and listen to music in Professor Pickle’s laboratory. To do this, though, you’ll need to buy certain furniture from the game’s various shops, where you can also purchase some of these items and souvenirs to gift to the Professor. Other NPCs will give you side quests, such as finding lost children or clearing out enemies, or even challenge you with answering quizzes to help mix things up a bit. Finally, you can take on perilous obstacle course-like additional stages in each area and these can be expanded upon with some downloadable content that truly test your speed and reaction times.

The Summary:
Sonic Unleashed was exactly the breath of fresh, exhilarating air the franchise needed at the time; after Sonic ’06 proved to be such a broken, glitchy, disappointing mess of a game, it’s no exaggeration to say that even I had started to lose faith in Sonic Team. Thanks to the Hedgehog Engine, which allowed for crisp, vibrant visuals and high-speed action to be the order of the day, Sonic Unleashed was an incredibly fun and exciting gameplay experience that was an absolute blast to play through again. At the time, Sonic had never looked or played better and the game’s many varied locations and fantastic music and graphics really went a long way toward making up for the awfulness of Sonic ’06. And then there’s the Werehog stages. Truthfully, I didn’t really mind these all that much; yes, they could get overly long and annoying and very repetitive but they did help to break up the gameplay a bit. I think if maybe they had been a bit shorter (and fairer), and if Sonic Team had scrapped the Sun and Moon medals, these stages might have been received a bit better (or if the Werehog had been scrapped completely and replaced with, say, Knuckles the Echidna!) If there’s one area that truly lets the game down, though, it’s the entire finale. Eggmanland is an absolute ball-breaker to get through and is less a test of the skills you’ve built up throughout the game and more a test of your sanity and patience. Similarly, while I enjoyed the Egg Dragoon fight and playing as Super Sonic, the final battles against Dark Gaia and its perfect form were a clunky, frustrating end to an otherwise solid gaming experience. Thankfully, once you clear the game, you never have to endure these sections again unless you’re a sadist and can focus on replaying the games other, more entertaining sections instead.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Sonic Unleashed? Did you enjoy the boost-based mechanics introduced in the game or did you feel they made it too simple? What did you think to the Werehog and its gameplay sections and would you have preferred to see Knuckles used instead? What did you think to the story and Dark Gaia as the main antagonist? Which of the game’s stages or bosses was your favourite and why? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Unleashed, sign up leave a comment below or share your thoughts on my social media and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content next Saturday!

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (Nintendo 3DS)


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 an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 27 September 2016
Developer: Sanzaru Games

The Background:
As I mentioned in my review of Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (ibid, 2014), Sonic is no stranger to reinvention and adaptation; even before the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic’s appearance and backstory were notably different from the Japanese designs and long-term Sonic fans saw the character interpreted as a slapstick Freedom Fighter, a rock star prince, and an angst-ridden superhero across numerous cartoons and comic books, to say nothing of the anime-inspired makeover he received in Sonic Adventure (ibid, 1998). Yet one of the more controversial redesigns for the character (aside from the initial design for the live-action movie) came when SEGA commissioned the production of a computer-animated series, Sonic Boom (2014 to 2017). For me, these new designs actually made a lot of sense (aside from the sports tape) and I think SEGA should have started over with a complete franchise reboot with these designs. Unfortunately, concerns over this new direction and the negative reception of the Wii U spin-off title significantly soured the impact of this new series. Although not nearly as derided as its Wii U counterpart, Shattered Crystal still considered to be a disappointment so the announcement of a sequel came as something of a surprise for me. Even more surprising to many was the fact that the developers’ claims to have learned from their mistakes actually paid off, resulting in Fire & Ice receiving a far more positive reception from critics and fans alike.

The Plot:
After discovering an element known as “Ragnium”, Doctor Eggman harnesses its powers to create robots fast enough to outrun Sonic and his friends and pollute the environment to his liking. With the planet suffering from a series of earthquakes, and opposed by Eggman’s newest creation, D-Fekt, Sonic and his friends race to put an end to Eggman’s schemes using their newly-acquired powers of fire and ice.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a 2.5D action/adventure platformer that involves a fair amount of exploration and character switching. Interestingly, though, there is nowhere near as much of this as in the previous game; because the map (helpfully displayed on the lower screen) shows the entirety of every stage, exploration is easier than ever and, since Sonic Tokens are no longer a thing and the game simply unlocks automatically as you clear each stage, there’s far less emphasis on backtracking and replaying previous stages. You’ll have to do it if you’re going for 100% completion but, this time around, the rewards for this are tied to additional gameplay options rather than story progression so you’re free to blast through stages as just Sonic if you want.

All the characters return with a handful of new abilities and a new playable character in the form of Amy Rose.

Just like in the last game, you can only play as Sonic at the start but you’ll unlock the other playable characters (Miles “Tails” Prower, Sticks the Badger, Knuckles the Echidna, and Amy Rose) as you complete stages and advance through the story. Once again, you can switch between each character on the fly using either the directional pad or the touch screen, and all of their basic abilities carry over from the last game (they can all jump, use the Homing Attack, sprint along, and swing around using the “Enerbeam”). Their unique character abilities also remain intact but with a few added extras: when performing Knuckles’ dig move or Sticks’ boomerang throw, you no longer have to worry about a meter running down so you’re free to use them as much as you like and Tails’ Sea Fox sections have been moved to a dedicated spot on the overworld map.

Switch between fire and ice to create and destroy platforms and progress through stages.

Otherwise, things are very much the same but slightly tweaked: Sonic can still perform the Spin Dash and air boost and Tails can still hover along air currents but he now fires a reflecting laser rather than tossing bombs and Knuckles can also now perform a flying punch attack. The addition of Amy to the playable roster adds her patented Piko-Piko Hammer to your arsenal, which is primarily used to lower or move platforms and blocks with a tap of the X button. New to the game, though, are the random powers of fire and ice each character possesses; with a press of either L or R, you’ll switch between a fire and ice aura, each of which allows you to traverse stages in different ways. Switching to ice, for example, allows you to run across bodies of water by turning them into temporary ice blocks and using fire allows you to melt through ice; Tails’ laser can also be powered up with these elemental powers to reflect off surfaces and clear obstacles and, as the game progresses, you’ll be tasked with quickly switching between ice and fire to complete stages. As always, Golden Rings will protect you from damage and the continued absence of a traditional life system means that you’ll simply lose Rings if you fall down bottomless pits or enter water. As long as you passed by a checkpoint, you’ll respawn in the stage you were in if you fall or get hit without any Rings, once again meaning that the game is far easier than most traditional Sonic titles.

Challenge Rooms and Dragon Rings add a bit of variety to the stages and award you with collectibles.

Sadly, while much of the game is improved (or, at least, streamlined) over its predecessor, the controls are still a bit unintuitive (at least for me) since the developers made sure to use every single button available on the 3DS this time around. Thankfully, though, stages are no longer locked out by Sonic Tokens; instead, the overworld map (which is now much bigger than before and features more stages per island than the last game) opens up as you complete each stage. You can even fast travel to a specific stage and island from the main overworld screen, which is very helpful, but this fast travel screen doesn’t tell you anything other than the stage names so you’ll need to know where you missed any collectibles when using it. When playing stages, you no longer have to worry about being slingshot all over the place by Enerbeam points; instead, traditional springs and grinding rails are the order of the day, making the game far more linear. While this is great for blasting through it, it does mean you’ll have to replay each stage from the start if you missed any of the collectibles rather than being able to backtrack within the stage as before. Again, the average game speed is quite slow, meaning you have to hold Y to sprint ahead and control is frequently taken out of your hands by loops, speed boosts, and auto-running sections. Every stage also includes a “Challenge Room” that is hidden a little bit out of the way; enter it and you’ll be tasked with completing a short obstacle course of sorts and navigating through a few hazards to grab a Trading Card. Also, you’ll find “Dragon Rings” in each stage; grab one and ten more will spawn along a path for you to collect within a time limit to earn a piece of Ragnium.

Alongside returning Sea Fox and racing sections, the new hovercraft and tunnel races add some variety.

Trading Cards and Ragnium are essential if you’re going for 100% completion as they can be used to unlock courses and Bot Racers on Thunder Island. This new gameplay element is presented alongside the aforementioned returning Sea Fox sections; now found on the main overworld map, they are much bigger and have more hazards and requirements than before but the controls remain the same (tap the screen to activate the sonar and see hazards and collectibles and fire missiles with X). This time around, though, once you’ve blasted the Trading Card, the stage will end automatically and you can try to finish them (and every stage) faster for a Ragnium shard. The racing stages also make a return, though this time they take place in a three lap format and pit you against Eggman’s Bot Racers rather than traditional Sonic rivals. Again, you’ll need to switch between fire and ice and use rails, stomps, and the Homing Attack to win and these races are often quite tricky as the computer controlled Bot is easily able to overtake or match pace with you. Also returning are the Worm Tunnel stages from the last game but without the worms and themed after ice and fire instead; while you still boost along down an auto-run tunnel and switch lanes to avoid bombs, this time you’ll need to switch to ice to run across frozen surfaces and fire to blast through ice blocks and will have to avoid more obstacles and race against much tighter time limits than before. A new bonus stage is also included, however, which sees you piloting Tails’ hovercraft in a vertical shooter of sorts. You can boost ahead by holding R and shoot missiles at icebergs with X but also have to watch out for whirlpools and mines, collecting clocks to extend your time and trying to reach the goal to earn another Trading Card before you’re destroyed or run out of time.

Graphics and Sound:
Graphically, not much has really changed from the last game; in fact, everything basically looks and sounds and plays exactly the same except with a stronger emphasis on ice and fire scattered throughout each stage. The camera is still positioned in this awkward way where your character and enemies are big enough but you don’t necessarily get fair warning of any hazards that might be in your way but, again, the game’s slower pace does somewhat compensate for this. As before, the game’s overworld is divided into islands; this time, there are seven, with six being home to the playable action stages where you’ll progress the story and the seventh being home exclusively to your upgrades and Bot Racers.

Some islands feature a bit more life and unique aesthetic and mechanics but they’re few and far between.

Thanks to the emphasis on ice and ice, you can expect to see a lot of elemental hazards and themes used throughout each stage, which again largely stick to the usual platforming clichés such as forests, deserts, and volcanoes but each island does try to add some variety in its bonus stages (such as the race missions, for example, which take place in a much more industrial, mechanical environment and the tunnels, which are all in caverns). Just like the last game, though, stages often appear largely barren and lifeless even though they’re generally much brighter and more varied in their appearance. You’ll notice that there is an abundance of spikes this time around and far more rails to grind and springs to hit than there are Enerbeam swing points this time around, which contributes to the game trying to be a bit more like a traditional Sonic title, and islands like Cutthroat Cove and Gothic Gardens try to bring some visual flair to the proceedings by including skeletal remains, haunted graveyard-like aesthetics, and having you explode barrels with your fire ability but, again, stage variety mainly comes down to a reskin of the same mechanics, meaning that the game can get quite boring quite quickly even with the added mechanics.

Thankfully, not only does the game utilise CG cutscenes for its story but Dr. Eggman is back as the central antagonist.

Thankfully, Fire & Ice ditches the boring speech bubbles and partially-animated cutscenes of its predecessor and doubles down on the CG cutscenes. Any time there’s a new story element or the plot progresses, a fully animated and fully voiced cutscene is used to show this progression and, even better, these look and feel exactly like an episode of the cartoon, containing all of the same wacky banter and hijinx you expect from these characters. These cutscenes, and the game in general, are bolstered further by the presence of the bombastic Dr. Eggman, whose absence really sucked a lot of the life out of the last game, though, again, I can’t say that I was blown away by much of the music, with is serviceable enough, at best.

Enemies and Bosses:
Although Dr. Eggman returns as the primary antagonist, many of the robots you’ll encounter are just as uninspired as in the last game; again, they don’t release little woodland critters upon destruction and generally appear sporadically throughout stages to act as destructible platforms to higher areas or brief hazards to shed you of your Rings. You can still use the Enerbeam to relieve them of their shields and many of them will respawn when you leave the screen to be used again but, for the most part, they’re nowhere near as memorable or quirky as Eggman’s usual Badniks.

Switch between the different characters to dodge Unga Bunga’s hands and avoid sticky tar.

However, this time around Fire & Ice actually includes boss battles! Four of them, in fact, with each one featuring an auto tag mechanic that has you (as Sonic) switching out with another of your team mates during the battle (unlike the last game, which ditched your teammates altogether for its one boss battle). Each boss is a massive mechanical monstrosity piloted by D-Fekt in his desperate attempt to win his master’s affections by destroying Sonic and his friends and requires a bit more strategy than just bouncing into a cockpit to bring down. The first boss, Unga Bunga, sees Sonic and Amy team up against a giant series of totem poles that tries to smash you with its flaming hands. Once you’ve dodged out of the way and scored with the Homing Attack enough times as Sonic, Amy will tag in and needs to use her fire hammer to melt the ice blocks to that Sonic can alternate between fire and ice to climb the totem pole and attack the boss’s head. Honestly, the hardest part about this fight for me was the brief moment of stupidity where I didn’t realise that Amy needed to be in fire mode to destroy the ice blocks; once you crack that, though, it’s simply a case of having the right element equipped to attack its head. The second boss has Sonic and Tails take turns battling a giant golem-like robot that drops sticky blobs of tar into the arena; if you get stuck in the tar, you’ll have to mash B to free yourself before the boss attacks with its claw-like tentacles. When these fly across the arena, hop up and use the Homing Attack as Sonic to deal damage and then, as Tails, you’ll have to use the air vents on each side of the arena to hover between the floating bubbles and avoid dropping into the damaging tar that floods to floor until the golem collapses and opens itself up for another Homing Attack. You can also use Tails’ laser blaster to clear out the tar bubbles, which is handy to know was the hazards, speed, and aggression of the bosses attacks increase as the fight progresses, making this a bit more frustrating than the first boss simply because of the limited nature of Tails’ hover.

Disposing of the spider’s mines can be quite tricky, but the final boss is the easiest of the game’s bosses.

Next, Sonic and Knuckles team up against a huge spider cobbled together from nearby junk; the spider likes to try and ram into you in its first phase, though you can take advantage of the nearby temporary platforms to avoid it and hit it with a Homing Attack (but watch out for the lingering acid residue it leaves in its wake). After the first portion of its health bar has been drained (this is the only boss in the game with three health bars, oddly enough), it’ll spit web balls at you that you must hit back at it with a well-timed Homing Attack. Finally, you’re forced to burrow into the ground with Knuckles; the spider releases a number of mines into the dirt that will explode if you don’t burrow around them in a circle with the right element equipped to send them back at the boss, which I found to be one of the more frustrating parts of this boss as it can be a bit difficult to make a circle in the restrictive area you’re trapped in. Finally, after enduring the hardest race, Worm Tunnel, Sea Fox, and hovercraft stages in the game, you’ll have a final showdown with D-Fekt on the volcanic island of Ragna Rock. This time, Sonic teams up with Sticks and must either dodge the falling boulders or use Sticks’ boomerang (in conjunction with your elemental abilities) to destroy them as they rain from the sky while also jumping over the flaming shockwaves they leave as they land. When the two-headed dragon’s tail appears onscreen, quickly hit it with a Homing Attack with the right element equipped to deal damage and, before you know it, this disappointing final boss will be done and you’ll be victorious.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like its predecessor, Fire & Ice is sadly missing many of the power-ups you might expect from a Sonic title and actually has even less on offer to help you out than Shattered Crystal as you can only find shield capsules in stages rather than ones containing additional Rings. On the flip side, though, the game is also much easier in a lot of ways since the stages may have increased but they’re also much shorter and, again, there’s little to no danger of dying and even less emphasis on collecting Rings as you don’t need to do this to earn collectibles this time around. Similar to the last game, though, each stage features a number of collectibles for you to find either by finishing the stage, completing Challenge Rooms, or exploring using the character’s unique abilities.

Trade your Ragnium for upgrades and Bots or collect hammers to equip reskins for Amy’s signature mallet.

Once you have collected enough Trading Cards, you can bring them to Knuckles at Tails’ Workshop on the overworld to complete a variation of the first game’s jigsaw mini games and unlock additional courses for your Bot Racers. You can also find junk in each stage that you must deliver to Sticks’ Burrow, similar to the crystal shards from the first game, in order to unlock a special Bot Racer. Every time you complete a stage, defeat enemies, or fulfil certain objectives, you’ll earn a piece of Ragnium; with enough of these, you can purchase additional Bot Racers and the same upgrades from the last game (an instant shield at your first checkpoint, a Ring attractor, and the ability to destroy enemies with the spring function) however these came at a much higher cost than in the last game. Finally, you’ll also be able to find hammers in each stage; collect enough of these and you’ll unlock different hammer skins for Amy that serve no function as far as I can tell other than looking different.

Additional Features:
Sadly, there’s far less on offer in Fire & Ice for 100% completion than in Shattered Crystal; you don’t need to collect every piece of Ragnium to finish the game, it doesn’t take much to find all the junk, hammers, and Trading Cards, and the rewards for finding these collectibles are minimal, at best. While you can still visit Sonic’s Shack to view cutscenes, listen to music, and read a bonus comic, the toy shop is gone so you can’t even view character models any more and you don’t even unlock a lame party like in the last game. Instead, the bulk of the game’s additional features are focused entirely around Bot Racing; you can purchase new Bot Racers on Thunder Island and use the 3DS’ wireless connectivity to race against other players across a variety of courses but I don’t know anyone else who has a copy of the game so this was completely wasted on me and I never got to experience it.

The Summary:
If you’ve played Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal then there’s not much new on offer in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice; the game looks and plays pretty much exactly the same just with a fire and ice mechanic tacked on with very little explanation and to add a slight wrinkle to the formula from the last game. Fire & Ice is both easier but artificially longer than Shattered Crystal thanks to the stages being better spread across the overworld, meaning it’s much easier to play in short bursts, and the story is much funnier and feels more authentic thanks to the inclusion of Dr. Eggman. However, while the team-based mechanic is better emphasised in the inclusion of actual boss battles, I found myself switching characters far less than in the first game; Knuckles, especially, is massively underutilised in the game and it’s perfectly viable to just stick with Sonic and still succeed without much issue. Separating the different gameplay mechanics like the Sea Fox into their own stages helps to make things a bit more manageable and provide a bit of variety to the gameplay and not locking progression behind arbitrary tokens make the game less of a chore to play, to be sure. However, much of the replayability is similarly arbitrary as Amy’s hammers are largely cosmetic and there’s far less reward for your efforts after finishing the game and collecting everything unless you’re able to connect to another player. It’s definitely better than the first game thanks to your abilities not being tied to a damaging meter and the improvements to the story and progression but it’s still a far cry from a classic Sonic title. I appreciate all the little improvements and additions but, in the end, it fails to really be any better or worse than its predecessor even with the improved cutscenes and more action-orientated gameplay.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice? Do you think the game was an improvement over its predecessor or were you just as unimpressed with its offerings? Were you happy to see Amy Rose added to the playable roster and which of the characters was your favourite to play as? What did you think to the Sonic Boom cartoon, redesigns, and the introduction of Sticks? Would like to see more Sonic Boom content from SEGA or do you think it’s best to move on from that experiment? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice, good or bad, leave a comment below and check back in next Saturday for more Sonic content.

Game Corner [Donald Duck Day]: The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck (Master System)


DonaldDuckDay

It’s June 9th, which means that it’s National Donald Duck Day! Disney’s foul-tempered fowl first debuted in The Wise Little Hen (Jackson, 1934) way, way back on 9 June 1934 and has since become one of the multimedia conglomerate’s most enduring and popular characters, featuring in a variety of cartoons, videogames, and other merchandise.


GameCorner

Released: October 1991
Developer: SEGA (AM7)
Also Available For: Game Gear

The Background:
Back in the nineties, it was tough to find better licensed videogames than those produced by Disney; bright, colourful platformers featuring their popular characters and adaptations of their film franchises are highly regarded as some of the best 8- and 16-bit action/platformers on Nintendo and SEGA’s home consoles. While their mascot, Mickey Mouse, obviously featured in the majority of these titles, Donald Duck had his fair share of pixelated adventures over the years as well. The Lucky Dime Caper was technically very similar to Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (ibid, 1990) with a few notable alterations; first was that Donald was afforded a melee and ranged attack and, second, was that he was exploring a version of the real world rather than fantasy lands. The Lucky Dime Caper was also one of the very first videogames I ever played and owned for the Master System; over the years, I have never managed to finish it so I’m very excited to be returning to it for Donald’s big day!

The Plot:
One day, while showing his prized “Number One Dime” to his nephews, Huey, Dewy, and Louie, Scrooge McDuck is attacked by the evil Magica De Spell, who steals the lucky dime and kidnaps his nephews! Donald hops into his bi-plane and journeys across the world to rescue his nephews, recover the Number One Dime, and put a stop to Magica’s evil aspirations of amassing her own vast fortune.

Gameplay:
If you’ve played Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, you’ll be immediately familiar with the gameplay and controls in The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck; there are no options available to you to change up the game’s difficulty or controls and, following a brief and impressive little introduction video, you’re taken to a world map and given the option to play one of three stages right off the bat. Whichever one you pick, you’ll be placed in the sailor hat and outfit of Disney’s foul-tempered fowl. Donald has a fairly fast standard walking speed, which is nice; he doesn’t race along but it’s also not like he has lead in his non-existent shoes, either. He can jump on enemies to defeat them, which is always a plus, and can hop up to higher levels by holding the 2 button when bouncing off enemies or certain platforms. Donald can also jump onto vines to swing over gaps, though it can be a little clunky to detach him once you’re over to the other side. Donald’s default method of attack is to swing a hefty mallet, which you can bust out with a press of the 1 button; pretty much every enemy dies after one hit and Donald can even smash enemies while in mid-air and can duck to avoid incoming projectiles (though many of these can be jumped on as well).

Swim, collect keys, and dodge blocks over spike pits all while a timer decreases for added pressure.

The game is divided into seven stages, and every single stage has a number of different areas with the except of Stage 1, which consists of a simple trek through the woods to rescue Louie; other stages end at the entrance to a cave or other interior area, which Donald either automatically enters or will open with either a key or a press of up on the directional pad. Although a number of bottomless pits are present in numerous areas, Donald can enter certain bodies of water and swim by furiously tapping the 2 button; luckily, this really doesn’t come up very often as Donald is completely vulnerable while swimming and has no method of fighting back. Donald is mildly durable; when hit my an enemy or spikes, Donald will lose whatever weapon he’s currently holding, leaving him vulnerable, and he’ll lose a life if he’s then hit a second time. As you battle your way through each stage, you’ll also be up against a constant timer; a bar decreases as you progress, turning from blue to yellow to red as you go, and you’ll lose a life if it completely drains. However, the bar regenerates to full when you leave one screen to the next in the longer stages and none of the game’s stages are long enough to drain it unless you just leave the game idle. Donald also carries his current weapon to each stage and even after dying, and he is even blessed with an infinite number of continues; however, you’ll have to restart the stage right from the beginning if you use a continue, as opposed to when you lose a life, which sees you return to the start of the last area you were in.

A number of environmental hazards and spikes will test your platforming skills.

I mentioned keys earlier; this is about as complicated as the game’s stages will get, for the most part. Occasionally, you’ll come across a locked door and will need to progress a little further along to collect a key, and then backtrack to open that door. When in the Pyramids stage, you’ll be able to press up to open doors somewhat hidden in the background tiles, and Magica’s Castle includes a bit of a maze element where you can end up looping around the castle and having to trek back through it again to actually progress. In the Great American Forest, you’ll need to ride on a turtle to cross bodies of water, run down steep slopes making tricky last second jumps over enemies and blocks in the Andes Mountains as well as hopping over a spike pit while avoiding floating blocks that try to smack you out of the air, and avoid fireballs raining down from a volcano in the background of the Tropical Isles. A blizzard will push you onwards, and backwards, across the slippery ground in the South Pole stage (though you can use this to clear longer gaps), and you’ll be forced to duck under and make precarious jumps over spiked walls and ceilings in Magica’s Castle while avoiding a whole mess of obstacles just to reach an anticlimactic showdown with the evil witch.

Graphics and Sound:
The Lucky Dime Caper is a bright, vibrant, colourful little platformer for your favourite 8-bit home console. Donald pops out from the backgrounds and is instantly recognisable no matter what stage he’s in or what types of enemies are onscreen, and exhibits a great deal of character in his every movement. He bops along to the cheery in-game music, throws a tantrum when left idle, pants with heat exhaustion when inside the volcano, and shivers when in the South Pole. Sadly, the same can’t be said for his enemies, which are generally very basic, and I did have one instance where the music cut out after my invincibility status ended.

Stages are varied, if a bit cliché, but the use of sprites and animations all add to the game’s charm.

The same can also be said for the stages you’ll journey through; initially, you are presented with just three stages but, once you rescue Huey, Dewy, and Louie, you’ll have to take on three more stages to track down Magica and the lucky dime. It’s cool that you can freely select your stage from the map screen as some stages are trickier than others, but the stages fall into the same platformer clichés such as woods, deserts, and snow levels. While you’ll typically travel from the left side of the screen to the right, Magica’s Castle has you taking upper paths using moving platforms and you’ll drop down into water in the Great American Forest stage. Generally, though, the game is very colourful and surprisingly detailed; it’s all obviously a bit basic compared to 16-bit titles but there are little things to see in the backgrounds, such as a volcano and ice floats and so forth, and the music is very jaunty and cheerful. There is some slowdown here and there when there’s a lot of sprites on the screen, and a noticeable loading time to spawn in the stage boss, but generally the game is quite quick and stable. In addition to the opening and closing cutscenes, you’ll see big partially animated sprites at the end of each stage where Donald chats with his nephews or interrogates Magica’s lieutenants, in addition to using the in-game sprites to show him rescuing his nephews from their cages.

Enemies and Bosses:
I mentioned above that the game’s enemies are very basic and it’s true; you’ll battle killer mushrooms, bees, and spiders, club-wielding Mexicans, mummies, bats, and fire-spitting statues, yetis, bone-throwing skeletons, scorpions, and ghosts. Most of these can be defeated in one hit, while others (like the spiders) take two or can’t actually be defeated (like Magica’s skeletons and falling paintings); spikes will dog your progress later in the game and have quite a large hit box (they can even damage and kill you when you’re invincible), lava droplets will cause temporary ice blocks to disappear and drop you into lava, and you’ll also get stuck in rooms where the ceiling threatens to crush you until you open all of the Treasure Boxes contained within.

Of the first three bosses, only the vicious lion provides anything close to a challenge.

At the end of every stage, you’ll have to take on a boss to rescue one of Donald’s nephews or get information from Magica’s lieutenants. When rescuing Louie, you’ll battle a big bear with a bee’s nest on its head; simply jump over him when he rushes at you and whack him with your hammer or toss a frisbee at him and he’ll go down in just a few hits without any real difficulty. Dewey is held captive by a vicious lion that charges at you in a blur; you can use the nearby platforms to avoid this attack but you’ll also need to jump over him when he hops at you. Thankfully, he stops to taunt quite often, leaving him wide open to attack, though he’s noticeably a little trickier than the bear, at least. Finally, you’ll need to take out a couple of possessed statues and an odd floating head to rescue Huey; this boss is actually easier than the bear in a lot of ways as all you have to do is stay to the far left or right of the screen to avoid the boulders they throw and then jump up and smash each statue, before whacking the head as it pinballs around the arena in a slow and predictable pattern.

When armed with the frisbee, Magica’s crow underlings are easily bested.

Once they’re saved, you’ll need to visit three more stages to retrieve their lucky dimes from Magica’s lieutenants, each of which is a large black crow. The Tropical Isles crow flies around above you dropping bombs as it passes, but you can simply stay on the middle platform and either whack it as it flies by or toss frisbees at it without ever being hit. The Pyramids boss can be a little more frustrating; this crow flies around dropping musical notes and a big snake will rise up to spit fireballs at you. If you have the hammer (or no weapons at all), you’ll need to use the snake to get high enough to hit the boss but you’ll need to watch out for the snake’s tongue attack as well, but the boss is a complete joke if you have the frisbee as you can simply toss them upwards to hit it and all you’ll have to do is dodge the projectiles. Finally, at the end of the South Pole, another crow will drop an ice block into an enclosed arena and then try to take a dive at you. However, you can destroy his ice block and simply attack the bird as it lowers itself down to drop another, making it ridiculously easy to defeat once you get into a routine.

Getting through Magica’s Castle is far more difficult than actually battling her.

The final battle against Magica herself is equally just as simple; she positions herself up on a ledge and out of the way and conjures a bunch of different magical attacks to rain down into the arena. However, all you have to do is attack the crystal ball in the middle of the arena and she’ll be defeated; a weapon will help with this but you can just as easily jump on the crystal ball a few times and that’s it. I don’t think I got hit a single time during this battle, meaning that some of the previous bosses were actually harder than the game’s final boss! However, Magica’s Castle is easily the game’s trickiest and most frustrating stage; not only do you have to work out which route actually allows you to progress, you also have to get around the respawning enemies and make pixel-perfect jumps and ducks to avoid spikes and progress through the stage, which can be very annoying.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There are a number of random items for Donald to collect as he defeats enemies in each stage; although time is against you, you can easily backtrack ever so slightly to respawn enemies and farm items if you need to, which makes stocking up on extra lives or gaining an invincibility pretty simple and key to progressing through Magica’s Castle, which can get very unfair near the end.

Donald can grab a few items to power himself up and launch a ranged attack.

As mentioned, Donald’s default weapon is a mallet but you can also grab a frisbee that allows you to perform a ranged attack; you can also press up and 1 to fire a frisbee upwards, which makes fighting the three crows a complete joke. You’ll also grab two gems for a score bonus if you like racking up a high score, extra lives, and Star items. Each Star will increase the speed of Donald’s attack but will also make him invincible for a very brief period of time once you collect five of them (though don’t get cocky as you can inexplicably still be hurt by spikes while invincible).

Additional Features:
There’s nothing, I’m afraid to say. The game doesn’t even have any credits when you beat it, so the main incentive to go back to it is to try and earn a better high score or simply to replay a fun, colourful platformer. There is apparently a push-button cheat to grant Donald infinite lives on the continue screen but I couldn’t get this to work, and you can play the stages in a different order on each playthrough if you like, but it won’t change anything significant about the game.

The Summary:
The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck has been a staple of my Master System library for about thirty years; I played it over and over as a kid but could never complete it. I don’t really remember if I ever actually managed to make it through one of the three stages after rescuing Donald’s nephews, so I was very excited to come back to it and actually finish it for this review. Considering the game has infinite continues, I must have just gotten frustrated with some of the game’s harder sections and not stopped to stock up on extra lives, which doesn’t take very long to do and makes it a simple test of patience and memorisation to get past those trickier sections. The game is bright, cheery, and full of character; Donald controls really well and has a nice range of attacks, the music and Donald’s animations are terrific, and the stages and bosses are pretty decent in terms of the level of challenge on offer. It’s not really doing anything other platformers, especially those produced by Disney, weren’t doing at the time but there’s enough here to keep you busy for about an hour and a half and it remains a fun and colourful little platformer for SEGA’s 8-bit system.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think of The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck? Where do you rate the game compared to other Disney titles of that era? Which of the game’s stages and bosses was the most difficult for you? What game/s did you struggle to finish as a kid and have to revisit years later? How are you celebrating National Donald Duck Day? Whatever you think about The Lucky Dime Caper, Donald Duck, or Disney in general, sign up to drop a comment below or let me know on my social media, and have a great Donald Duck Day!

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (Nintendo 3DS)


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 an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 11 November 2014
Developer: Sanzaru Games

The Background:
Sonic the Hedgehog is no stranger to reinvention and adaptation; as I’ve already detailed, Sonic’s design and backstory were dramatically different outside of Japan, where he was more of a snarky rock star as opposed to a Freedom Fighter who was once friends with the kindly Professor Ovi Kintobor. Sonic’s design was further altered for his jump to 3D, where he was redesigned as a more aerodynamic, anime character and many long-term Sonic fans have seen Sonic’s lore go through numerous changes so it’s honestly strange to me that there was such a negative backlash when Sonic and his friends were redesigned once more for SEGA’s CGI Sonic series, Sonic Boom (2014 to 2017). While the over abundance of sports tape was a bit strange, I was actually very much onboard with the redesigns at the time and fully believe that SEGA should have wiped the slate clean and started over with a fresh, new take on the franchise. Unfortunately, as great as the Sonic Boom cartoon was, the accompanying videogames irrevocably damaged the spin-off’s appeal; the Wii U title, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (Big Red Button, 2014) was notoriously glitchy and is generally regarded as one of the worst games in the franchise. The 3DS counterpart, however, was developed by a completely different team and, while Shattered Crystal was met with criticism for its lacklustre, repetitive gameplay, it was still received slightly more favourably than Rise of Lyric.

The Plot:
In a prequel to the Sonic Boom cartoon, Sonic and his friends race to rescue Amy Rose from the clutches of the malevolent, serpentine cyborg Lyric, the recently awakened Last Ancient who seeks to claim the fragmented Lost Crystal and, with it, the power to dominate the world!

Gameplay:
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal is a 2.5D action/adventure platform title with a heavy emphasis on exploration, character switching, and both finding collectibles and finishing stages as quickly as possible. If you don’t mind the headaches and eye strain, you can adjust the 3DS’s slider to activate the 3D effect, which adds a decent amount of depth and causes the colourful graphics to pop out nicely enough but I prefer to have this turned off to avoid being distracted by this effect. Like in Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), when you first start the game you can only play as Sonic and will unlock the other playable characters (Miles “Tails” Prower, Sticks the Badger, and Knuckles the Echidna) as you complete stages and advance through the story. Each character can be switched to on the fly using either the directional pad or the touch screen, allowing you to quickly swap between the different characters and their unique abilities quickly enough, but all characters share some basic abilities. They can all jump with B, Homing Attack nearby enemies, springs, and other objects by pressing B again in mid-air, sprint by holding Y (basically the same as the Boost function that has become a staple of Sonic games), perform a stomp by pressing down and X in mid-air, and bust out the “Enerbeam” by pressing A to swing from certain platforms and remove shields from enemies.

Each character can use their unique abilities to traverse stages and reach new areas and secrets.

Each character also has their own unique mechanics to help you explore the game’s locations: Sonic can perform the Spin Dash when on the group and a vertical and horizontal air dash by pressing up, left, or right and X in mid-air to smash through blue blocks, and Tails can hover by holding B in mid-air (which he can use to ride air currents but this isn’t the same as his usual flying mechanic as he’ll quickly descend downwards as soon as you start hovering), toss bombs with X, and use his submarine, the Sea Fox, in certain areas. Sticks’ main gimmick is her boomerang, which you can throw with X to activate switches, collect Golden Rings and items, or defeat enemies; you can even hold X to manually guide her boomerang for as long as the onscreen meter lasts but you’ll have to be very precise when trying to guide it through narrow passageways. Finally, there’s Knuckles, who disappointingly can’t glide or climb walls anymore but he can punch with X and burrow through specific parts of the environment to reach new areas and items; however, if his meter runs out when you’re burrowing, you’ll be deposited back where you started and take damage so be sure to hold Y to burrow faster, avoid any mines, and pop out of the ground before you lose all of your Rings! Speaking of which, as always, Golden Rings will protect you from damage and can be found…sporadically….across each of the game’s locations. Unlike pretty much every single Sonic game, though, Shattered Crystal doesn’t have a standard life system; collecting one hundred Rings will earn you a Token but doesn’t grant you an extra life and, if you fall down one of the many bottomless pits or fall into water, you’ll be deposited back to the last piece of solid ground you were on and take damage rather than dying. If you get hurt without any Rings, you’ll simply respawn at the last checkpoint you passed (or at the start of the stage) and can continue on, all of which makes the game significantly easier than most Sonic games as you never have to worry about running out of lives. This is helpful as I found myself struggling a bit with the controls; for some reason, I just didn’t find them very intuitive and it seemed like the developers went out of their way to use all of the buttons (except for L and R) when they really didn’t need to.

The map is a bit limited and areas are often locked out until you collect enough Sonic Badges.

I mentioned Tokens just now and you can earn these in every stage by finishing with a hundred Rings and/or within a specific time limit. If you take too long to finish a stage, you’ll simply miss out on the Token rather than having to restart, which is helpful, but Tokens are a mere distraction rather than an incentive to play as they’re simply used to purchase “Toys” from a shop and to add to your overall completion percentage. Each stage also hides a number of Crystal shards and Blueprints, both of which also unlock additional, extraneous features, but the main reason you’ll want to find these and finish stages is that they award “Sonic Badges” (kind of like the Emblems in Sonic Adventure) which are necessary to unlock stages. If you don’t collect enough, you’ll have to go back and replay previous stages and explore a bit more to find these items and earn a Sonic badge in order to progress the story, which is a bit like Sonic Unleashed’s (ibid, 2008) Sun and Moon Medals (though I never had any instances in that game where I was locked out of stages like I was here). Thus, the best thing to do is to take your time and explore every stage as thoroughly as possible and then replay it afterwards to go for the fastest time since the Sonic Badges are actually needed to progress. Stages in Shattered Crystal are unlike anything I’ve seen in a Sonic game before; you enter them from a limited overworld map (from which you can also access Tails’ Workshop and the aforementioned shop and travel to other islands to take on more stages) and, rather than being divided into or labelled as “Zones” or “Acts”, you’re simply presented with a large, multi-layered stage to explore.

Gameplay is spiced up a bit by some submarine, auto-run, and racing sections.

The game runs at a pretty slow speed for the most part; you have to hold Y to move faster and there are an abundance of automatic boost sections where you can literally take your hands off the 3DS since your input is not required, but speed is not the objective of this Sonic game. Instead, you need to explore high and low using each character’s abilities to find all the hidden times. Sometimes, you’ll need to grind on some rails and quickly chain together Homing Attacks or ride air currents and swing across gaps on the fly to reach these items, while others you just use the touch screen to slingshot your way to different parts of the stage to find them and work you way towards the exit. Gameplay is mixed up a little bit in the Sea Fox sections, which see you controlling the submarine in a series of underwater caves lined with mines. By touching the touch screen, you’ll activate the radar and get a brief look at the layout of the area and you can fire missiles with X to destroy mines and rocks that block your progress but be sure to keep an eye on the meter and avoid getting hit as this will cost you time (though you can, and absolutely should, collect the clocks scattered around the area to refill this meter). Each of the game’s islands also includes an auto-running section where, you (as Sonic) must race along a tunnel very similar to the Special Stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), avoiding electrified barriers, switching lanes, Boosting through walls, collecting Rings, and using the Enerbeam to grapple onto overhead lines. If you fail to grapple at the right time or hit a barrier, you have to start from the beginning again and you can’t switch lanes while Boosting or jumping, which is extremely annoying, but, while these sections get faster and trickier as the game progresses, they’re pretty simple to complete on one or two (maybe three) tries. Similarly, you’ll also be asked to race against certain characters (including criminally underused cameos from Shadow the Hedgehog and Metal Sonic) in sidescrolling races that remind me of those from the Sonic Rivals games (Backbone Entertainment/Sega Studio USA, 2006 to 2007) except you can’t attack your rival like in those games.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal looks serviceable enough, for the most part; the graphics seem a little distorted at times but, to be fair, I find that to be a common issue with the 3DS. The camera is maybe zoomed out a little too much, though, or in this weird, awkward position where you can’t really see enough of what’s ahead to make the split-second jumps or actions required of you. It’s also, at times, a little difficult to see what’s part of the environment and what can hurt you; I found this especially troublesome in the Ancient City stages, where it wasn’t immediately clear that pools of water or waterfalls could damage you.

The game’s a mixture of the usual clichés but they can be quite colourful and make decent use of the 3D effects.

The game is split into six islands, each with up to three stages to play. Each island is modelled after such age old gaming clichés as a beach, a canyon, or a volcano and is distinguished by little more than a slight change in the overworld design and layout of the levels. As you progress, you’ll notice more breaks in the grinding rails, for example, or more air currents and switches, or a mixture of these and other mechanics to put everything you’ve learned along the way to the test. By the time you reach the final island, Air Fortress, the game finally ditches the hint balloons and leaves you to figure out for yourself to switch to Tails at the last second or has you desperately trying to hit switches with Sticks as platforms appear and disappear beneath your feet. Sadly, there really isn’t all the much to make each island unique; the aforementioned temporary platforms and rails look the same no matter which island you’re on and it’s rare that stages get a chance to be much more than a skin swap.

Sadly, the game relies too much on speech bubbles to tell its story rather than CG cutscenes.

The Scrapyard and Robot Facility give it a go by introducing a grimy, industrial aesthetic and substituting spikes for jet flames, but you’ll see these elements repeated in the Volcanic Caverns and Air Fortress, which takes away from their distinctiveness. Some stages, like the Ancient Ruins, remind me a little of similar “Ruins” stages from other Sonic titles, which is a nice call-back if nothing else. The game’s story is told using both CG cutscenes in the style of the Sonic Boom cartoon and partially animated sequences where characters talk using speech balloons that are often way too big for the words they are saying. Voice clips are also used in these sections, and during gameplay, and the writing is about on point for the show, being an amusing mixture of bickering, confidence, and absurdity amongst the main four characters. As for music, I can’t really say I was massively impressed with what Shattered Crystal had to offer; it was catchy and fitting enough but nothing too special and the sound effects were the same recycled tunes we’ve heard over and over again from recent Sonic releases.

Enemies and Bosses:
In a rare change of pace for a Sonic title, Shattered Crystal does not feature the traditional Badnik enemies we’ve all come to know and love; indeed, Dr. Eggman himself appears only in one, very brief scene and he and his robot army are, instead, supplanted by Lyric and his…robot army. Lyric’s robots are very similar to the Badniks of old, firing projectiles your way and generally being a nuisance, but lack a lot of the character and charm of Sonic’s usual enemies. Occasionally, you’ll have to use the Enerbeam to relieve an enemy of its shield or maybe switch to Tails or Sticks to attack from a distance but, for the most part, robots exist simply to be an annoyance or act as an alternative route to new areas and goodies, often respawning in order to fulfil this function, and aren’t even made satisfying to smash since no little woodland critters are released upon their destruction. In another change of pace for not just a Sonic game but videogames in general, Shattered Crystal doesn’t actually have any boss battles except for the final bout against Lyric. Instead, you’ll race down the Worm Tunnels as a giant mechanic worm tears up the environment around you; the worm itself, however, cannot harm you and all you really need to do is stay alive through quick lane switching to win.

Lyric, the only boss in the game, is a joke and easily beaten with the bare minimum of skill.

In fact, the closest thing the game has to traditional boss battles before the finale are the racing sections, which have Sonic race against Sticks, Shadow, and Metal Sonic towards a goal, hopping from springs, rails, swinging over gaps and dashing through objects as you go. These can be a bit challenging as your rival is often only a few steps behind you so it’s best to try and take the higher path wherever possible and keep your thumb pressed to the Y button to sprint ahead. Once you reach the Air Fortress, you’ll have to battle Lyric in a three stage boss battle that is broken up by similar race sections; Sonic’s friends are all captured, completely neutering the game’s core mechanic and theme of teamwork, and you must chase after them between Lyric’s phases. When you battle Lyric, it’s on a progressively smaller and dangerous platform; if you fall or are knocked off, you’ll respawn back on it but it’ll cost you Rings or possibly kill you if you don’t have any Rings left. Lyric’s attacks increase in speed and ferocity as the battle progresses and you’re given less time to counterattack but, fundamentally, the core strategy remains the same and ridiculously easy throughout the fight: avoid his vertical and horizontal lasers, dodge the missiles (grabbing any Rings as they appear), and Homing Attack his tentacles to dispel his energy shield and Homing Attack his cockpit (which you can also attack when he fires his horizontal laser).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Just as it’s disappointingly light on boss battles, Shattered Crystal is equally light on power-ups; you’ll find capsules containing Rings and a protective shield in the stages but that’s all. There is no speed up shoes or invincibility monitors here, no Special Stages to play or Chaos Emeralds to collect for a power-up, and characters are limited to their specific abilities, with no option to upgrade them or learn new ones.

Explore to find Blueprints, which can be assembled to earn upgrades and make the game even easier.

If you collect all of the Blueprints in each stage, though, you’ll be able to build an upgrade at Tails’ Workshop by completing a simple jigsaw puzzle mini game. These allow you to upgrade the map up to three times to highlight secrets and nearby bonuses, grant you an instant shield at your first checkpoint, cause Rings to be attracted to you, halve the amount of Rings you lose when taking damage, and instantly destroy enemies with the Enerbeam or whilst sprinting (effectively turning this function into the actual Boost function).

Additional Features:
Shattered Crystal makes every effort to encourage you to explore every stage with each character in order to find all of the Crystal shards and Blueprints and to meet the criteria to win every Token in the game (which you can also earn by working out with Knuckles every twenty-four hours). Sadly, as mentioned, these Tokens are pretty useless; if you want to get 100% and see all the toys the game has on offer, it’s not a bad incentive to keep playing but it’s not that great either as the toys basically amount to character models of the characters and enemies and not much else.

Read a comic, collect some toys, and watch the characters dance. All honestly really rubbish bonus features.

Thankfully, you don’t need to find all of the Crystal shards to finish the game but, thanks to the map upgrades, it’s very easy to find them all; when you find them, you can restore the titular shattered crystal at Sticks’s Burrow and, once it’s fully restored, you’ll get the grand prize of a Purple Token and a special toy of the main characters. If you then collect all of the Sonic Badges, you can unlock Amy’s House and are treated to an amusing (if awkward) scene of the five main characters dancing to a bit of disco music and…that’s it. You can’t unlock Amy as a playable character, don’t unlock any additional forms or skins, and the only reason you’d really want to go back and find everything is so that your save file reads 100%. You can also visit Sonic’s Shack to watch the game’s cutscenes and read a bonus comic, and use the 3DS’ Streetpass function and to connect to the Wii U but I have no idea what these functions do, if anything.

The Summary:
I’d heard nothing but negative feedback regarding Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal; this didn’t necessarily put me off the game as, being a die-hard Sonic fan, I’m happy to play any and all Sonic titles and make my own opinions but I had put this game off for way too long and was happy to finally bite the bullet and experience it for myself. Overall, I have to say that it’s nowhere near as bad as I was led to believe; it’s not great, certainly, and is a very different type of Sonic game but it’s pretty simple to play and complete and was fun enough as a brief distraction. Having said that, though, it’s a tough game to recommend; it’s annoying that you can’t destroy enemies by jumping on them (you have to use the Homing Attack or character’s abilities) and it’s very tedious to lock out your progression with the Sonic Badges and force you to replay other stages just to progress the story. Similarly, even with all the map upgrades, you still need to explore every stage to the fullest as Blueprints and Crystals will only appear when they’re nearby and the lack of a real reward for finding everything is a big letdown. Still, there’s enough here to distract you (especially younger players) for a day or two and it’s not bad as an action/adventure platformer if you keep your expectations low.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think about Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal? Did you enjoy the game or were you put off by the emphasis on exploration instead of speed and action? What did you think to the different characters and which was your favourite to play as? Were you disappointed with the game and, if so, what were some of the flaws that put you off it? What did you think to the Sonic Boom cartoon, redesigns, and the introduction of Sticks? Would you have liked to see SEGA replace the existing Sonic designs with those from Sonic Boom and apply them to more traditional Sonic games? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, good or bad, leave a comment below and be sure to check out my review of the sequel.