I consider my childhood to largely belong to Nintendo, as far as my pursuit of the video game hobby goes. I often remember myself as a tremendous Nintendo fangirl up through my teen years, but when I think back, I did have a lot of affection for other consoles. I never shied away from playing on a Playstation or Genesis, and I don’t recall truly developing a preference until… Oh! It was probably high school, and that was likely because it was the first time I really found people who liked to argue about what was best. It would be at that point that I truly chose my side.
Anyway, I bring this up because I had a friend who owned a Game Gear, and memories of playing on that handheld have stuck with me. I recently completed my first capacitor swap on a Game Gear, bringing life to a dead handheld, and upon booting up Sonic the Hedgehog for the first time, the crackly “Seeee-gaaa” of the initial splash screen hit me in the heart like a wrecking ball made of solidified nostalgia.
I never owned a Game Gear, however, so this is my first chance to really take a focused effort at completing any of the games, and the original 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog seems like a great place to start.
ALL HEDGEHOG, NO BLAST
As with the original Genesis title, Sonic the Hedgehog is the story of a blue monstrosity speeding around trying to save his animal friends from the evil roboticist, Dr. Robotnik. I think. The game doesn’t really have much in the way of exposition or cutscenes. Hold on, I’ll check the instruction booklet. Yeah, those are the basics, but the instructions refer to sonic as “one tough dude,” so that’s fun.
If you’re familiar with the Genesis version, this scaled down facsimile isn’t too far off. You still run fast, hop and bop on various robotic enemies, and square off with Dr. Robotnik at the end of every act. There are six acts in all, taking you from backdrops similar to ones in the Genesis version, to entirely new creations. It’s an interesting mix of new and old, with the obvious intent of getting it all to fit on a less powerful console.
The momentum based movement, collecting rings to survive, breaking TV’s because you’re one tough dude; it all made the transfer with a few concessions. For one, it’s more platform heavy than its 16-bit counterpart, asking you to slow down and consider your actions more. Loops have been removed, but there’s still plenty of places to stretch your legs and just run. Collecting rings still protects you from an instant death, but rather than scatter everywhere when you take a knock, a single ring falls out and you have no chance to recover it. It’s nothing dealbreaking, but there are deficiencies when comparing it to what you’d find on the Genesis.
Over on the Game Boy side, developers initially had a difficult time adjusting console gameplay to four shades of grey, so initial offerings were often underwhelming. The Game Gear didn’t really had that problem, since it was largely a beefed up Master System crammed into an allegedly portable shell. No, the Game Gear had other problems.
Anyway, it’s because of it familiar architecture that most games throughout the lifespan were decent emulations of ones that were released on consoles, especially when they could just be ported from the Master System. Concessions had to be made because the Master System was still not as powerful as the Genesis, but the point is that it was a lot closer to console quality than the monochrome monstrosity that was the Game Boy.
Sonic the Hedgehog is no different. While it is intended to be a substitute for the Genesis version, it really is its own beast. With that said, it certainly looks and sounds the part, with bright graphics and a chipper soundtrack. If you squint at the blurry Game Gear screen, it even kind of looks like the Genesis version.
I wound up enjoying Sonic the Hedgehog on the Game Gear far more than I thought I would. Maybe it’s because I’m playing on a “new” handheld, but I probably had more fun playing through Sonic’s portable adventure than I did with his first outing on the Genesis. It might just be more my speed, or maybe it’s because it’s more forgiving than the otherwise stiff console games. I’m just certain that, while it’s certainly limited in a number of ways, I had a lot of fun with the miniaturized hedgehog.
Regardless of how it floats my boat, it’s doubtlessly a successful translation of the Sega mascot’s console adventures. While everything is squished down onto a small screen, it retains the charm of its 16-bit brethren. Being on an 8-bit processor has only slowed the hedgehog down a bit, and for a handheld game released in 1991, that’s no small feat.
This review was conducted on a Sega Game Gear using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.