Let’s Talk About Sonic The Hedgehog Pocket Adventure

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OH. Were you expecting Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and Knuckles and Knuckles? After I mentioned that if I was going to review a Sonic game it would be S3&K&K&K? Nope. Not going there yet. It’s time for everyone to give an underrated gem a bit of airtime, particularly for a console that really did tank under a lack of any real publicity over in the UK. It ended up dying a very low-key death before it ever really got a chance to get going. But then again, when the only developer of games seemed to be first party games by SNK, how is it going to get anywhere? Not that SNK are a bad company or anything but if you can’t convince anyone to make games for your system then… maybe you’re not a GREAT company. I dunno. It does suck a bit that a console that was pretty damn good and features the BEST control stick EVER MADE ON A HANDHELD, you’re really throwing yourself under a bus.

And if Sega gives you a Sonic game and it doesn’t help things out, what else are you going to do?

I mean a Sonic game in the GOLDEN era. I mean, if you give a console a Sonic game now, you might be a bit on-edge.

“Oh really? A Sonic game? Oooh… er… great… thanks.”
“It’s a sequel to Sonic Boom? Oh… er… well… OOH! A BEAR!” *RUNS AWAY*

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For the uninitiated, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega’s mascot for nearly 25 years, has been the star attraction of his own gaming series whereby he runs, jumps, collects rings and foils the constantly unsuccessful plans of Dr Robotnik/Eggman (THE FUCK DID THEY DO THE NAME THING FOR???). Robotnik’s after the Chaos Emeralds again and he’s also out for some sort of global domination in some way or another. It gets complicated. He wants to take over the world but he goes about it such ridiculous ways that you wonder whether he even wants to at all. HOW SHALL I DO IT THIS TIME? WITH A SPRING LOADED GUN THAT NEEDS FORTY SECONDS OF RELOADING TIME. WHAT A CLEVER AND NOT-AT-ALL-WEAKNESS-IDENTIFYING PLAN THIS IS.

Basically.

Every time.

Robotnik, go back to fucking school. Seriously.

Suffice to say that Pocket Adventure is no different to this and the best/worst/mediocre-ist plans are all out for destroying. Go Sonic, etc etc.

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If you have any eyes at all, you will notice that the game itself lends itself to the graphical style of Sonic 2. That is because the game is based off that one. The zones have different names but the graphical colouring and markings and ideas are all pinched directly from Sonic 2 levels. The first zone is basically Emerald Hill in another guise, then comes Chemical Plant and then it’s Casino Night and so on. And course there’s a fucking casino. It’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Every single game has to have a casino based zone because Sonic Team have issues. Or they have a gambling fetish or some sort. It’s old hat now, guys. Just let it go. Come up with better ideas instead. I mean if you can do Oil Ocean, you can AT LEAST TRY HARDER.

Although the level designs are completely different, there are a few similarities here and there and the general ideas still litter the levels. Chemical Plant (Sorry, SECRET PLANT) has the tubes that transport you around the zone and the platforms that flip over so you fall through to your death. Casino Night (Sorry, Cosmic Casino – seriously…) has the gambling machines that can give you a hundred rings with three jackpots or fifty spikes with three Robotniks. Same mechanic, same level of OH-FOR-FUCK’S-SAKE-ery combined. And after the first four levels of Sonic 2, suddenly we’re whisked away into Sky Chase where Tails makes an appearance in his plane.

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And then suddenly everything starts to get a bit weird in terms of chronology. We get Wing Fortress next and then thrown back to Metropolis only to then get a cross between Death Egg from Sonic 3 and Doomsday Zone from Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Knockles and Knuck Knuck It’s Knockles.

It’s not a BAD thing per se. It’s just unusual and it doesn’t really make a huge amount of sense from a gaming perspective that they needed to jumble things around a bit. Perhaps they were wondering how much space they had on the cartridge and then realised that there was more space for more levels. I dunno.

What’s also a bit bizarre in terms of design for this version of the game is the fact that music never fits the levels. They’ve reworked tracks from most of the 2D Sonic games and none of them really fit in with the level designs. Mushroom Hill gets chucked into Aquatic Relix. They don’t even give SKY CHASE TO SKY CHASE.

There. Is. No. Greater. Sin.

Sky Chase is one of the most majestic pieces of Sonic-related music to ever grace any game, particularly Sonic ones. Instead, we get a weird remix of the music from Azure Lake, one of Sonic 3’s 2-player mode levels. It’s not that it DOESN’T fit as such. It sort of does fit it fairly well. It’s just not fucking Sky Chase.

And for that, it must suffer.

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Now, there’s plenty of levels to zip around in the game anyway so regardless of what levels are there or not and regardless of the weird musical choices the developers went with, it’s all fine in the grand scheme of things when the gameplay itself is as good as it ought to be. It is a Sonic game. It is a decent old-school Sonic game. The sprite for Sonic is decent enough. It’s probably a little bit more expressive and cool than the old Game Gear sprites (OH GOD, I REMINDED MYSELF OF THOSE GAMES… *slaps self*) and it runs reasonably quickly in general. It doesn’t run TOO quickly and there’s no MAJOR pitfalls just waiting for you too often. If you too fast through a level then it’s pretty much going to be game over anyway. That was always the way with Sonic 1. Sonic 2 wasn’t quite as mean but there were still obvious DEATH opportunities if you just blasted through parts of the level. But gaming like that is a way of showing yourself what’s going to happen. If you don’t fail, you never learn. You just get by really. If you allow yourself to fail, you’ll give yourself the best chance to learn from it. Oh so that loop took me into spikes? How mean of it. I won’t do that next time. So the lowest path is actually more dangerous a route? I’ll take the top path next time.

See? Learning. You does it good.

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The level bosses have changed for each level as well. There’s no drill car for the first level. There’s no sucking up blue liquid and then falling into the pit below in the second level. Instead we get a giant hammer and a machine that spits balls at you while you ride of spiked platforms. If you’re expecting to roll through the game thinking it’s basically Sonic 2 then you’re going to be very, very surprised. Not disappointed though. The bosses are still fun enough. They’re a bit lazy in what they do and the patterns are ridiculously easy to work out. You can still die relatively easily but after working out the patterns, you’ll only have yourself to blame if things go wrong.

Controls are tight and they follow the same set-up as most games post Sonic 2. Spin dash is present and all the usual power-ups are littered about. What is new to this one and unique to it is that there are little yellow squares dotted about the place in nooks and crannies across each level.

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Sorry, Sonic, bad photo op there. You’ll live. If you find the bubble…

Anyway, these are puzzle pieces that you collect throughout the game. Each one helps you to complete a puzzle with each of the game series’ main characters. It’s not influential in any way to the gameplay. It doesn’t affect the outcome of the story. You won’t lose any sleep over it. It’s just a neat little addition and why not? Suffice to say I never found every single piece. I have most of them but I never did find them all. It haunts me so. It really does…n’t.

It’s cute. Unnecessary, but cute.

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There are the odd oddity here and there for certain levels that prompts a different animation – this one for example where Sonic runs vertically like you see in Sonic CD – but these are few and far between and it feels a little bit showy at times when they throw it in. It is more of a missed opportunity than anything else. I mean, by all means give us these things but throwing in one feature is a bit of a waste really.

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What we do get though is a pretty impressive version of Sonic 2’s bonus stages in order to collect the Chaos Emeralds. The layouts are different and the challenges are much more difficult purely down the way the rings appear fairly quickly in front of you. It’s not that easy to see the rings coming at you some times, which is probably part of the reason the game can feel a little bit slower than other Sonic games. However, technically, this feels quite impressive. To be able to put this in faithfully from the original game is an achievement. It might be as good-looking as the original but even HAVING this is a bonus (PUN! oh my…) and deserves recognition.

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Hooray for smug Chaos Emerald collecting!

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So essentially, I might sound as though I’m bashing the game to a point where it shouldn’t BE a good game. And yet there I am at the top of this review saying that this is going to be a game to talk about. It’s not a SORTA game. But I’m complaining a lot about really minor things that don’t really detract from the overall experience. They’re a bit niggly and occasionally make you sigh out loud but here’s the thing: it’s fucking Sonic 2 in handheld form. Sonic 2 in handheld form before this was the Game Gear version that wasn’t even Sonic 2. It was actually pretty poor all things considered. I’m not a fan in the slightest of any of the Game Gear/Master System Sonics at all. I find them vastly inferior. This was most more cheerful to play. It had a bit more about it that made it actual fun to play.

Sure it can be difficult to play because one of the faults of the Neo Geo Pocket Color was the fact that the screen was this small square that meant the graphics did have to be teeny tiny, and the Sonic sprites are pretty big by comparison so you don’t actually get that much on screen at once. But it meant that you could play Sonic 2. On a non-Sega console. A HANDHELD ONE. That… was great.

The actual game itself was GREAT fun and still is. It is a cracking little game that is hidden aware disrespectfully on a console that very people knew about and I’m fairly sure very few gamers these days have even heard of. Vastly underrated it might be but given the history behind the console, it really wasn’t going to be much more than a bit of a curio.

And curio-city… is… killing cats. And… er… hedgehogs.

Stop killing hedgehogs.

SEGA. STOP KILLING SONIC.

I have no idea where I’m going with this.

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