Review by SneakTheSnake
An unsatisfying entry to the Sonic series
Perhaps Im just not very familiar with the Sega Game Gear or Master System, but Sonic Chaos feels incomplete. There isnt much here that I can use to persuade other players to play it, other than the incentive of trying every Sonic game out there. By that logic, Id recommend Sonics Schoolhouse just as heartily. Sonic Chaos is playable, but its not very fun; I cant recommend it.
Its up to Sonic and Tails to traverse a handful of different zones, each with three acts apiece, to take down the robot baddies and stop the nefarious Dr. Robotnik. Speeding through levels, going through loop-de-loops, bopping enemies and collecting rings are as integral here as theyve ever been, albeit with a few changes. Getting hit results in only one or two rings flying off of poor Sonic instead of however many hes actually carrying (because of hardware limitations), so it can be more difficult to recover from enemy fire than it usually is. Getting to the Special Stages to get the Chaos Emeralds (and thus the better ending) means collecting 100 rings in a stage, not by hitting a checkpoint; the levels arent large enough to warrant checkpoints, for one thing. Also, there are transportation tubes and minecarts which work somewhat differently to what players see in the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Genesis, so it takes a little getting used to. That, and the game plays much slower.
Many of these are compromises because of the Game Gears hardware. Theyre necessary to make the game work, but the changes are detrimental enough to not only be noticeable, but occasionally burdensome. Sonic Chaos is slower than its forebears, which doesnt work much in the games favor either. The stages are compact; they feature the occasional element of innovation or creativity, but others are so straightforward that it would take effort not to zip through them in less than two minutes flat. I clocked one later stage at 38 seconds. To the games credit, the bosses here are well above average; instead of Robotnik swinging a spike ball or something, the bosses attacks and patterns are interesting and fun to work around. An early boss, for example, has a spring on its back, so Sonic must repeatedly spin-dash into its side to take it down. Its not a big innovation, but it works.
What doesnt work (besides the short length of the game) are the viewpoint and collision detection. The camera is zoomed in to a ridiculous level; its a handheld game, so it kind of has to be that way, but it makes any sort of platforming or combat an exercise in futility. Players can barely see whats in front of them; why would designers, knowing full well that the games zoomed in, have arcade-like, trial-and-error portions? Just to make the game longer, or unnecessarily difficult? It feels like unfair game design. Working with (or despite) hardware limitations can be a rewarding challenge for developers but, more often than not, it ends up compromising the game design and changing what works best about whatevers being ported or adapted. The results could easily end up like Sonic Chaos.
The soundtrack is not worse for wear. In fact, some of the tunes are memorable and catchy. The graphics are nice here too; even with the limited color pallette, the zones are varied and appealing to the eyes. Character sprites are detailed and expressive; overall, the visual and aural design make this not only a fine adaptation of the Sonic franchise, but a great-looking Game Gear game in its own right.
I doubt this was the case of a rushed development cycle. I think this is just how the Sonic games for the Game Gear turned out. Sonic Chaos is not an outright terrible game; as an early, portable release from the series, it is simply below average. Unless players want to go for the Chaos Emeralds, the whole game can be completed in well under an hour. The difficult portions came near the end, but it results more in cheap difficulty spikes due to visibility issues than legitimate challenge. It has been outshadowed by other Sonic games since then (particularly in the portable market), so it reminds as kind of a footnote in the archives of the Sonic game chronology.
Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Product Release: Sonic the Hedgehog Chaos (US, 11/23/93)
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