Well, sassy readers of RetroGameGeeks…It was only a matter of time…
It was only a matter of time before I, Olly023; reviewed a darn Sonic game for the Reviews section of this very site. It’s only natural and there will be more, but this is the one to y’all started. Jam got there before me with Sonic Spinball, so if I was going to review a less obvious Sonic title, I figured I’d go 8-bit. I figured I’d go…Game Gear!
Sonic’s GG outings never faired too well upon initial release in terms of critical reaction, mostly settling into the categories of “mixed” or “unfavourable”. Here is one of those, but I seek to give all you retrobates reasons as to head back to this particular gem as there’s much fun to be had. No, this isn’t the ever dodgy Sonic Blast, it is in fact Sonic Triple Trouble! Also known as Sonic & Tails 2 in Japan.
While the 8-bit iterations of Sonic The Hedgehog 1 and 2, as well as the rather excellent Sonic Chaos, all had official multi-region Master System ports, Triple Trouble remained an exclusive for the plucky handheld it was initially designed (well, until appearing on the likes of the Sonic Gems Collection for PS2, or its Virtual Console release). In all honesty and fairness, it’s a game that stands alone in a way that could easily have me pointing it out as a reason to buy the console. It’s that kind of sexy. Developed by Aspect, who were masters of their craft by this point in terms of Game Gear titles, and published by Sega, Sonic Triple Trouble was released internationally for the Game Gear during the rather grand year of gaming history that was 1994 (the same year of the ground-breaking Sonic & Knuckles and elsewhere the world got its first taste of Donkey Kong Country).
So, what’s the story, Jackanory? Well, plot wise it all begins with Robotnik/Eggman doing his typical tyrannical schtick and testing a new weapon following his [recent] Chaos Emerald gaining spree. Accidents happen and the emeralds go flying across the island, so Sonic and Tails do what they do best, in attempting to retrieve them prior to the moustached one. Knuckles gets involved, as he is tricked by Robotnik to stop our heroes in their tracks and retrieve the emeralds himself, thinkin’ they be thieves. All the meanwhile a brand new character in the Sonic universe, Knack the Weasel/Fang the Sniper; looks to gain the emeralds himself by pretty much being an annoying road block amongst the chaos for the Chaos (Emeralds). That’s essentially all in terms of story, which was later backed and retold in comic form. It’s your basic Sonic plot that you come to expect from the series and almost acts as an 8-bit equivalent to Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
In keeping what Aspect had done with Sonic Chaos, they sought to create a much bigger, much faster game that kept truer to the tone and feel of the 16-bit home versions of everyone’s favourite Hedgehogs video game outings. In this reviewer’s opinion, despite from a few hiccups, they more than succeeded. Without the need to worry about a Master System port allowed the developers to play entirely to the handheld’s strengths and really push the console to its absolute limits. In a sense, giving you as close to a “real” handheld Sonic game as we ever got prior to the Sonic Advance series which came a decade later (the Neo Geo Sonic game has always felt clunky to me and in sheer depth and presentation alone this beats out Chaos, too). The presentation is utterly first-rate, no doubt. You’ve got mini-cutscenes to help tell the story in a visual manner, similar to what was found in Sonic 3 and all the classic fonts, etc. were here to back-up those positive impressions.
Graphically speaking, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. There’s the odd-flicker but far less than you’d expect considering what’s being displayed and the expanded colour palette of the Game Gear (over the Master System) is out in full force here. Sprites are the perfect size for the GG’s screen and are highly detailed considering the guys of the system with some very nice animations thrown in (Sonic back flipping when propelled in the air for one). When your alternatives in ’94 were what they were, Triple Trouble on Game Gear will take any and all to school on that front. No, there isn’t any blast processing, but much like the game this is a sequel to (Sonic Chaos) there is a definite sense of speed that is missing from the original two 8-Bit Sonic titles. I love the look, I love the feel and the graphics are arguably the best seen anywhere on a Game Gear. Fact, yo’.
The music is (almost) equally great, too. There’s many a memorable tune that will have you humming to yourself on multiple playthroughs. My particular favourite is the track played during the second stage boss (Sunset Park Zone, Act 3), alongside the recurring Knack/Fang theme. One of the major elements setting Sonic Triple Trouble apart from its handheld brethren is its immense levels of variation. This all begins with the general level design itself, with each stage looking/feeling uniquely different from one another. I dig that. But also, the levels have many a secret to uncover and allows much time for exploration if you so fancy, while keeping up with tradition and giving you the correct lanes just to blast through a stage in seconds. The new and returning abilities also add to this flow of variation.
Whether you’re grabbing some rocket shoes and speeding at the top of the screen, smashing an enemy’s head in and riding its body, or bouncing around on copious amounts of cleverly laid springs. There’s levels where you’re riding rails, those pop-pop balls (yeah, not official name) from Sonic CD return here to rack up points, there’s levels where you’re floating about in bubbles…Many a ting to be doin’. The special stages have their own variation, too – typically ending with a mini-boss battle against Fang/Knack before collecting the Chaos Emerald at the end of it – which includes flying in a plain collecting rings and avoiding bombs, etc.
The bosses themselves are, although mostly easy, rather inspired. The appearance of Robotnik (barring the opening video) is contained to the game’s final act with his mechanical monsters fighting his battles for him. Each third Act is a boss battle with this, with a small selection of rings to collect usually followed by two-tiered battles with a specific enemy. This includes running on a (literal bullet?) train and a familiar feeling Robotnik battle at the end. It’s all good stuff, which puzzles me even more how this got lukewarm reviews. Then again, as a Sonic fan, I may be bias. But there’s much fun to be had in this variation, me thinks – which works well for beginners to the franchise and throws up something refreshing for those returning.
The only downfall, for me, is that some of the controls can feel a tad cumbersome at select times. Although there’s not much slowdown, occasionally it feels as if it could be just a tad more responsive, which makes it all the more obvious that this isn’t Sonic Team at work due to the controls being just that bit looser. But again, it’s only slight and to be honest, barely affects anything in-game, nor does it kill any real enjoyment, as they are (after all) far from broken. Again, this isn’t Sonic Blast (thankfully).
If you are familiar with the Sonic franchise (which you should be, otherwise you can leave now and never return) you’ll know roughly what to expect with popping this particular cartridge into your beloved Game Gear. It’s a game that delivers for me, personally and should deliver for any true fans of the ‘Blue Blur’. If you have ever played a Sonic platformer (seriously, if you haven’t, I mean it…LEAVE) this is exactly that, in every positive way possible. The good and bad thing of this, is obviously if you suck at Sonic (I know there’s enough of you out there who prefer the leisurely Super Mario World kind of platformer) this may equal instant hindrance, but I can report this is much easier than many Sonic titles. It’s very pick up and play in that respect and has less of the need to master than the likes of Sonic 2, etc. give. This is the only other real hiccup I can mention, because for traditional Sonic players it will instantly be rendered as “beat it, I’m done”. But if you wanna branch out and not be stereotype with that? Well, then, boom. Here’s your game.
The lastability is mostly in the form of high scores and speed runs, but you get the option to play as Sonic or Tails with each having their own abilities and the hour each gameplay time available there, that’s a fair amount in and of itself (especially for the time period and the particular system at hand). It’s unlikely you’ll be getting all the emeralds on your first run, so that’s a return reason right there. Including the Special Zone(s), there's seven in total, with 3 Act's a piece all taken at a steady, easily digestible pace and nothing ever outstays its welcome. The main reason to return to this, however, is quite simply due to how fun it all is.
Right, so…The graphics are outstanding, the music is great, the gameplay is good with brilliant levels of variation even if it’s a tad easy. Where’s the beef!? I cannot honestly answer that. As I said from the off, the Game Gear never had the best reaction for its Sonic games and many a time that was with good reason (seriously, Sonic Blast needs to die). But not here. I can’t help but think that those complaining were doing so to fit in more than anything else. There is an incredibly solid title and a worthy handheld edition to the franchise with Sonic Triple Trouble. Personally, I really like it. Love it, in fact. Easily a must play, must own member of the GG library and a true gem amongst oft-forgotten Sonic games.
I whole-heartedly recommend this to any handheld warrior of the Sega persuasion, or to anyone simply looking to play a game they may have otherwise missed out on. Sonic Triple Trouble, is the tits.
Verdict:- This is an absolute MUST PLAY title in the back catalogue of the Sonic franchise. Harshly reviewed and unfairly so in the past, I'm setting that all straight right here.
The cream of the crop in terms of solid platform brilliance on Sega's handheld, Sonic Triple Trouble is a game I can happily return to over and over and never for a moment find it dull or uninspired.
You're doing yourself an injustice if you follow the crowd and overlook this gem.
Play it immediately.
Second Opinion:- Transbot feels this game's pain in that nobody has ever heard of it outside serious Sonic or GameGear fans circles and that's a shame.
Much like a certain Master System title that involves a certain ME it was overlooked upon release even though it received fantastic scores at the time from the gaming press thanks to it's superb platforming design and control.
Transbot agrees with this review plus some more on top and so awards this fine example of Sega in their prime the following score of....
Transbot Scores:- 9 out of 10