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Grinding Game Gears: An Overview of Sonic's Portable Origins

by Neal Ronaghan - June 21, 2013, 8:48 am EDT
Total comments: 5

A bunch of Sonic's Game Gear escapades are on 3DS now. What is the deal with them?

With all these Game Gear games coming out on the 3DS Virtual Console now, I’m personally baffled by all the versions of Sonic the Hedgehog on the battery-sucking portable (and I even owned a Game Gear in the ‘90s!). So, I tried to sort out what each Sonic game was, and where they fit into the ‘90s Sega legacy. Most of these games will likely come out on 3DS Virtual Console, if they haven’t already, but if you want to bust out your GameCube (or Wii), you can play all 12 Sonic Game Gear games in Sonic Adventure DX, and six of them in Sonic Gems Collection.

The first Sonic Game Gear game, called Sonic the Hedgehog (out on 3DS Virtual Console in all regions) came out in the fall of 1991, a few months after Sonic made his debut on Genesis. It was a bit of a weird release in retrospect, as the focus wasn't on speed, but then again, the original Genesis version wasn't focused on speed either. Sonic on Game Gear also had a world map, and was a port of the Master System version (which is available on Wii Virtual Console) that was optimized for handhelds.

This first Sonic portable salvo is also the only one developed by the, at the time, new company Ancient, which was co-founded by Yuzo Koshiro, who is more known for his awesome musical work in ActRaiser than anything else. He also composed music for Nihon Falcom games such as Dragon Slayer and Ys, as well as Streets of Rage. Most recently, he’s worked on the Etrian Odyssey series. Ancient went on to develop Streets of Rage 2, ActRaiser 2, and Beyond Oasis.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Game Gear (out on the 3DS Virtual Console in Japan; coming soon everywhere else) came out around the same time as Sonic 2 on Genesis in 1992 and once again, it was a slightly altered version of the Master System version. You could also ride in a mine cart and a hang glider, which I guess is neat. Since it was completed before the home version of Sonic 2 came out, it didn't add the Spin Dash move introduced there. This time, Sonic's Game Gear adventure was developed by Aspect, who basically made every subsequent Sonic game on Game Gear with a few exceptions.

Chronologically, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, the Puyo spin-off, was next in 1993. More or less, it’s a port of the Genesis version of the puzzle title but oddly enough, it featured a brand new mode. Read our review for more details, and if you’re interested, pick it up on 3DS Virtual Console in your region.

Later in 1993, alongside the release of Sonic CD, Sonic Chaos hit Game Gear. Once again developed by Aspect, this third Game Gear title was mostly based on Sonic 2 on Genesis’ stages. It was also the first time Tails was playable on the handheld system, and thanks to Aspect’s familiarity with the system, it ran faster. Despite being out (in Master System form) on the Wii Virtual Console, Sonic Chaos is oddly not out on the 3DS Virtual Console in Japan and isn’t slated for a North American or European release, as far as we can tell.

Although, neither is Sonic Drift, the Japan-only Mario Kart clone released in 1994. This was Sonic’s racing debut, and is also notable for featuring Amy Rose as a playable character. I’m thinking we didn’t miss much with this release (though it is on Sonic Adventure DX). The sequel, Sonic Drift 2, came out in every region in 1995. Adding Knuckles, Nack the Weasel, and Metal Sonic as racers, this game is currently available on the 3DS Virtual Console in Japan and is forthcoming to the other regions.

Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble, the fourth Sonic platforming game on Game Gear, came out the fall after Sonic 3 on Genesis. Triple Trouble is widely hailed as the best Game Gear Sonic game, which is kind of like saying it's the best version of Mortal Kombat on the Game.com. By this point, Aspect had three games under their belt and became rather good at making decent reproductions of Sonic games on handhelds. Triple Trouble played to the system's strengths, as it was a little bit slower paced than the other Game Gear titles and had both Sonic and Tails playable. It’s currently out on 3DS Virtual Console in all regions.

Around the same time, Sonic Spinball came out on Game Gear, a year after the Genesis version. The downport of the weird pinball platformer is not slated to appear on any 3DS Virtual Console service, though you can get the Genesis version on Wii Virtual Console.

In 1995, Tails got a highlight, as not one but two Tails adventures came out on Game Gear. The first, Tails’ Skypatrol, only came out in Japan. In it, Tails is always in flight and has to avoid obstacles in the sky. If you get hit once, you lose a life. Skypatrol isn’t listed for release on 3DS Virtual Console as of now, so the SIMS Co.-developed title might not be available on Nintendo’s new portable.

The other Tails game, Tails Adventure, is available everywhere, though. This is the closest Sonic has ever gotten to a Metroidvania, as it’s more of an action RPG where you control Tails through different levels to collect items.

The only other Sonic Game Gear release in 1995 was Sonic Labyrinth, which is kind of like a demented version of 3D Blast, as you control Sonic in that same isometric style. Robotnik created Slow Shoes for him to wear or something; it’s sort of weird. I've personally never played it, but I've heard people say it's sort of like Sonic mini-golf. This game is out on 3DS Virtual Console everywhere but North America, but it should be coming soon.

One of the last Game Gear games ever was Sonic Blast, the fifth and final traditional 2D Sonic game on the platform. While it came out around Sonic 3D Blast, it has basically nothing to do with the pseudo-3D Genesis game. Instead, it’s a 2D platformer in which you can play as Sonic or Knuckles. The general consensus is that Triple Trouble is the pinnacle of Sonic gaming on Game Gear, and this entry was a bit of a step back, likely due to the attempt at aping Donkey Kong Country's pre-rendered sprites on a handheld. Blast is now out on 3DS Virtual Console in every region, so you can be the true judge of its quality.


PogueSquadronJune 21, 2013

Loved Sonic 2 on Game Gear, but I think it was because it was the only GG game I had when I was a kid. I wish they would've just given us the Master System versions. Aren't these games simply worse versions of those games with lower resolution?

As far as I can tell (and this is from really only remembering Triple Trouble as a kid), Sonic 1 and 2 on Game Gear are not necessarily "worse" versions of the Master System games. Those two were altered a bit to be better for handhelds (slowed down, some warnings for cliffs and stuff).

jarodeaJune 23, 2013

I never owned a Game Gear, never knew anyone who did, and only played it in a store a couple of times so it kind of surprises me how many games were on it (oddly I had a Master System that was a hand me down but still).  It did sell ok I guess and portable games didn't need huge teams back then but still, that is a lot of Sonic games.  I'm thinking about picking up Triple Trouble since aside from being the best one apparently it was made for the system itself and isn't a port.

LucarioAugust 01, 2013

surpisingly good stuff! ;D

pokepal148Spencer Johnson, Contributing WriterAugust 02, 2013

Quote from: NWR_Neal

As far as I can tell (and this is from really only remembering Triple Trouble as a kid), Sonic 1 and 2 on Game Gear are not necessarily "worse" versions of the Master System games. Those two were altered a bit to be better for handhelds (slowed down, some warnings for cliffs and stuff).

so theoretically triple trouble is the one to get.

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