Sonic The Hedgehog – Sega Game Gear – Review

Synopsis

Run, Jump and Spin through 6 different zones as everyone’s favourite Hedgehog in this original entry in the series on Sega’s 8-bit platforms. Control Sonic as you hunt down hidden Chaos emeralds and defeat the evil Dr Robotnik.

About

Released worldwide on December 28th 1991 and developed by Ancient, the studio formed by the legendary composer, Yuzu Koshiro (The Revenge of Shinobi, Streets of Rage). The 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog was developed specifically for the GameGear, but due to good sales of Sega’s other 8-bit system, it was also ported to the Master System and technically launched first on this platform in November 1991. 

Due to the limitations of the 8-bit GameGear, it was not possible to port the original Sonic 1:1 so it was built from scratch to take advantage of the GameGears capabilities. The resulting game is technically impressive for the 8-bit handheld with colourful graphics and some memorable music, especially Bridge zone.

Box Art

Button configuration

What can I say, move with the D-pad, jump with either button. It can’t get any simpler than that! 

RArity

Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega GameGear is not a particularly rare game. A quick look through Ebay reveals that a Complete-in-box copy will set you back between £18-25 and a loose cart can be as cheap as £5 or less, condition dependent and availability is good. 

 

The Review

When I offered to write a review for this site, I knew instantly what game I wanted to cover.  Sonic the Hedgehog as a franchise is especially close to my heart, but the 8-bit version especially is one that evokes some very special memories for me.  You see, my first experience of Sonic was not the   Megadrive/Genesis version, it was the GameGear one, albeit on the Sega Master System.  My sister and I would play this, huddled around the living room TV, trying to find those elusive Chaos Emeralds and defeat Dr Robotnik once and for all!

8-bit Sonic games are an interesting breed. 

Developed specifically for the GameGear and sometimes ported to the Master System, they are generally unique experiences.  They may sometimes share the title of its 16-bit counterpart, but they are generally not the same game ported down and the first handheld Sonic game is no different.  

The developers, Ancient, set out to make a Sonic game that stood on its own, that wasn’t compromised by the limitations of the GameGear. Most of the core aspects are there, and only a few concessions have been made.  The loops that famously appear in Sonic on the Megadrive are no longer present and the levels are shorter, but the focus on exploration, rather than pure speed is obvious from the start.

After the title screen,

The player is thrust straight into the main game after a brief map showing your progress. The game follows a basic structure of 6 zones split into 3 acts, just like its Megadrive big brother.  However, there is a slight difference. Act 1 is largely speed based. They feel shorter and allow more for a quick blast through the level. In fact Green Hill zone act 1 can be so fast, that the game can’t keep up with the blue blur!  Act 2 focuses more on exploration.  The level design means you have less open spaces to stretch Sonic’s legs, forcing you to navigate tight paths or jump across moving platforms.  In the later stages, Scrap Brain zone in particular, the game takes on a more maze-like structure, forcing you to find the correct path through multiple routes and locked doors.  It’s largely in these more exploratory second acts that you will find the Chaos Emeralds. Unlike most Sonic games, these are hidden within the levels themselves rather than relying on beating a special stage. It’s worth noting that there is no requirement to find all 6 emeralds to beat the game and there is no Super Sonic (sad face), but hunting them down is fun and some are fairly well hidden.  

The difficulty curve in Sonic the Hedgehog, 

I feel is just right.  This is not a difficult game by any stretch of the imagination, but the later levels can provide a challenge for new players and there can be a few deaths along the way, but these never felt cheap.  If I died, It was because I messed up.  There are far less traps for Sonic to fall or run into compared to the Megadrive version.  Each zone ends in a boss fight naturally against Dr Robotnik. This is where the game is a touch lacking. The fights against Robotnik are a little too easy. It won’t take many attempts for most people to defeat the egg-shaped villain and I feel this could have been more challenging.

I don’t think anyone 

can deny however that Sonic on the GameGear looks fantastic!  Especially if you are playing it on a modded GameGear with an LCD or IPS display.  The colours pop off the screen and it all runs fairly smoothly. 

It’s here that there is some noticeable slowdown.  When there is a lot going on at any one time, the game can feel as if it is running in slow-motion.  Running across the falling bridges in Bridge zone or the second act of Sky base zone with multiple projectiles flying across the screen really pushes the GameGear to its limit.  But when it’s running well, the experience is fast, fluid and responsive and a joy to play.  The lightning effects in Sky Base zone are particularly impressive considering this is running on an 8-bit portable system.  I also need to acknowledge that the music in this version is excellent and given that it was developed by Yuzo Koshiro, that shouldn’t come as a surprise given his pedigree as a game composer. The tunes here will get stuck in your head for days.

So overall, 

how do I feel about this game now, in 2021? Does it still hold up?  I think the answer to that is a resounding yes.  I had a blast playing through this again and putting aside my obvious love of this game in particular, I genuinely think that this gives the 16-bit version of Sonic a run for its money. I was fully prepared to pick this game apart, but I can’t.  There are far more positives to it than negatives. Yes, it’s short, it’s pretty easy and can struggle with slowdown at times.  But, when you consider that in 1991, this was running on a handheld and could be played anywhere if you had enough batteries, I am willing to forgive those imperfections. Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega GameGear is a fun, well-made, beautifully designed portable Sonic game that deserves to be played by all Sonic and GameGear fans.  Highly recommended.

 

Conclusion

Art/Graphics

Sonic the Hedgehog for the GameGear pops off the screen with colourful artwork and sprites.  Jungle zone in particular is gorgeous and the lightning effects Sky Base zone are excellent for an 8-bit handheld.  There is a fair amount of slow-down however when things start to get too hectic on screen.

Story

Not a whole lot of story to this one. Find all the Chaos emeralds and stop Dr Robotnik.  There is no ongoing narrative here.  If you’re looking for a deep story-rich adventure, you’re not gonna find it here.

Controls

Playing on original hardware, the controls are fast and responsive. There was no noticeable input lag. 

Playthrough

An experienced player will blast through this in around an hour. On average, with all the Chaos Emeralds and bonus stages, expect to get one and a half hours out of this one.

Difficulty Level

Experienced Sonic players will find this one easy.  Can get a little challenging in the end stages but nothing too strenuous.

Overall

80
8
Summary

Excellent graphics, interesting level design and music but the slowdown and the overall length/difficulty of the game prevent it from being a true great, however, if you own a GameGear, it's essential.

8
Essential!
Tom Anson
Tom Anson

Tom is the creator of @classic_console_wars on Instagram. A self-confessed Sega kid, Tom was raised on Sega consoles becoming a Nintendo fan in the N64 era. A video game collector and enthusiast, Tom is passionate about retro and modern gaming.

Favourite GameGear game - Sonic the Hedgehog

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