Where's Chaotix? You can't erase the 32X, Sega!
As gamers tend to do often, I recently went into a local Gamestop just to take a quick look around. I really didn’t intend to buy anything, but funny things tend to happen when a rare game finds its way into your hands. The rare game in question was Sonic CD, considered the pinnacle of the Sonic series. And when I saw it, I swear I felt a big sucking void where my heart used to be because I also saw my heart leap out of my mouth and onto the floor, where it performed a perfect Moonwalk. And the price I would be paying for this rare classic wasn’t very high, either; for thirteen bucks, it would be warmed by the laser in my console. But the price tag turned out to be misleading. The real price I had to pay for Sonic CD was ownership of eight of the dirtiest secrets in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, because Sonic CD is the main selling point of a nostalgia package called Sonic Gems Collection.
Actually, Sonic CD shares the top billing of Sonic Gems Collection with two other games: Sonic the Fighters and Sonic R. There are actually eleven games in all on Sonic Gems Collection, but the games in this collection of so-called gems are more like Chaos Emeralds: The can be destructive if they fall into the wrong hands. Okay, bad analogy, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Sonic CD is part of the core series of Sonic the Hedgehog and it should have been included on Sonic Mega Collection. Putting it on Sonic Gems Collection was really just an advertising move designed to suck you in. With Sonic Gems Collection, Sega actively shouts “We want your money!”
There are eleven total games on Sonic Gems Collection: Sonic CD, Sonic the Fighters, Sonic R, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Game Gear), Sonic Spinball (Game Gear), Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble, Sonic Drift 2, Tails’ Skypatrol, and Tails’ Adventures. Vectorman and Vectorman 2 are both unlockable.
A cursory glance at the list will reveal to any hardcore gamer what the contents of Sonic Gems Collection really are: We have a genuine classic, a cult fighting game, a pair of racing games, two unlockable fillers which have nothing at all to do with the Blue Blur, two available games which have nothing at all to do with the Blue Blur, a port of a Genesis game, and a bunch of original games for the Game Gear. And for the genuine classic (and main selling point), we have what may be the Casablanca of video games: A game which is indeed worthy of being called a classic, but one which is held in such high regard that it couldn’t possibly live up to its own hype. Sonic CD is fully responsible for one of the two stars I am awarding to Sonic Gems Collection, but if you’re expecting something revelatory, lower your expectations to something more reasonable. Sonic CD plays exactly the same as the original Sonic the Hedgehog game. And its revered soundtrack, while also excellent, is very tiny-sounding and so it massages the game instead of drawing you into it. There’s little in it which couldn’t be done on the Genesis, and while the time-travel element helps distinguish it, it doesn’t play a very big role in the game.
The other star I’m giving to Sonic Gems Collection comes courtesy of the combined efforts of Sonic 2, Triple Trouble, and the Vectorman games. All of them are very fun and fast and well-designed. But they don’t add up to the classic status of their bigger brothers on the Genesis. And I have trouble seeing why Tails plays such a prominent part of the advertising of Sonic 2. He doesn’t appear in the game very much, and the whole plot really revolves around rescuing him from Dr. Robotnik’s evil clutches. The same compliments and complaints apply to both Sonic 2 and Triple Trouble for the most part, but in Sonic 2, you don’t get the Spin Dash Attack.
The Game Gear ports are all direct ports, so they won’t feature enhanced graphics or sounds. In fact, they produce an unsightly black outline which appears on the very edges of your screen. Looking at them made me realize for the first time that comparatively, the sprites on Sonic games for the Game Gear are actually bigger than their Genesis counterparts, though they are less detailed. The problem of blurriness for the Game Gear titles has been thankfully eliminated. But other than that, there’s not much to differentiate the Game Gear titles from their original source material. When Sonic takes a hit while carrying a lot of rings, you’ll only see five rings fly off him, total. And the games still suffer from slowdown whenever this happens.
Sonic Spinball is a pinball game featuring Sonic as the ball. But as a pinball, Sonic is a fast runner and one hell of a marvelous marsupial. Hedgehogs apparently follow different laws of physics than regular pinballs, because Sonic tends to float a lot of times. Also, the hedgehog has such predictable movements that he’ll often repeat bounces off various objects with absolutely no variations. In the levels, Sonic Spinball because an ultra-annoying scavenger hunt in which you have to send Sonic through various tubes to collect Chaos Emeralds. Once you’ve done that, you fight the boss in an entirely separate chamber, and if Sonic falls between the flippers of the boss chamber, he’s launched back into the level proper. This isn’t fun.
Sega made a rush at Mario Kart’s gold standard for mascot racing games with Sonic R and Sonic Drift 2. Sonic R features the characters running in a footrace against each other. Not only is this bad because it implies that Sonic isn’t really “the fastest thing aliiiiiiiive,” it also has a grand total of five courses, including an unlockable course. The characters aren’t that different from each other either. Sonic Drift 2 does better in the character and course selection, but the courses are all uninspired and have very simplistic obstacles. Furthermore, the track is so narrow that trying to complete a race without falling off it at least once is pretty much out of the question. This problem isn’t helped by the lack of scrolling graphics. Turns literally pop up on you and they always take you by surprise.
The Tails games are both forgettable. Skypatrol is the more interesting of the two, but that’s like saying one movie starring Pauly Shore is superior to another Pauly Shore movie: It doesn’t matter because you don’t particularly want to watch any of them. Skypatrol is more of a shooting game, with Tails using a single boomerang-like Power Ring as his main sidearm instead of a gun. Adventures is more of a traditional adventure game, and a weak one at that. Tails can fly in Adventures, but his flying ability is actually limited by a freaking meter.
Sonic the Fighters is nothing but a novelty act. It happened because Sega is just trying to cash in. There’s no reason on all of Mobius to believe these characters would want to meet in some nutty death tournament and pummel each other. The interface includes an interesting twist with barriers, which you can use up to five times per fight. But anything worthwhile which might have come out of this twist is countered by the useless kick button. In Sonic the Fighters, your kicks are outranged by your punches, and an offense attempted around kicking is doomed to fail. If someone playing against you used a kick, it’s your lucky day because it means you might be able to administer a free shot if you’re just the right distance away. The backgrounds are beautiful, and some are very cool – one fight takes place on a flying carpet. But honestly, you have every right to expect more from the people who brought us the Virtua Fighter series.
Sonic Gems Collection is a nostalgia package created so Sega can take an off day from designing and throw some of the Blue Blur’s dirtiest secrets at you. Sonic Mega Collection is a far superior choice. But since we finally have Sonic CD in a nostalgia package, I now have to ask Sega: Where are the other few good Sega CD games? The 32X - Chaotix is notably absent from Sonic Gems Collection. Where is the Sega Saturn compilation? Where are Clockwork Knight, Shinobi Legions, and Nights? I look forward to the day when Sega finally sees the light again and throws all of those into another nostalgia package. They should just create a full package of rare games.
What did you think of this review?