Portable Pedigree: The handheld history of Sonic The Hedgehog - part two

We bring Sonic’s portable journey bang up to date – blink and you’ll miss it

Portable Pedigree: The handheld history of Sonic The Hedgehog - part two
| Portable Pedigree

We’ve already guided you through Sonic’s Game Gear years in part one of this unique Sonic The Hedgehog Portable Pedigree retrospective, but now it’s time to see what happened once the spiky blue fellow was liberated from the constrains of Sega’s underpowered 8-bit handheld and allowed to run free on other formats.

When the Game Gear eventually gave up the ghost in the mid-‘90s, Sega decided not to replace it with a serious portable successor (let’s conveniently ignore the still-born Genesis Nomad for the time being). This left the company free to explore the notion of pushing its hugely popular mascot onto other formats, which it did with unbridled enthusiasm.

Sonic Jam (Game.com, 1997) sonic jam

After Sonic’s final few Game Gear titles – which ranged from passable to downright depressing – fans of the series might have been forgiven for thinking that new hardware might mean an entirely new experience. Sadly, Sega’s choice of platform was less than ideal: the company decided to support Tiger’s abysmal Game.com, a shambolic mockery of a system which was practically doomed to failure the moment it emerged from the production line.

Although Sonic Jam purports to contain Sonic 2, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles (thereby aping the contents of the full-scale Sega Saturn compilation of the same name), what you’re getting here is so far removed from the original releases that the game practically qualifies as an all-new Sonic adventure – albeit one with crippling motion blur, terrible looping music and dodgy collision detection. Not the greatest start to Sonic’s multiformat career, in other words.

Sonic Pocket Adventure (Neo Geo Pocket Colour, 1999) sonic pocket adventure

After the horror of his Game.com instalment, the only way was up for Sega’s premier mascot. Sonic Pocket Adventure marked a glorious return to form, with brilliant visuals, addictive gameplay and jaunty sound. The game took many cues from the Mega Drive version of Sonic 2 (including the tunnel bonus stage) which is no bad thing as it is often considered to be one of the best entries in the entire franchise.

The fact that the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s screen was able to display Sonic’s trademark speed without turning into a blurry mess was a testament to the quality of the hardware. Sadly (as you’ll know if you read our Handheld Classics Neo Geo Pocket feature) the console wasn’t long for this world and Sonic didn’t get chance to enjoy another outing on the format.

Sonic Advance (GBA, 2001; N-Gage 2003) sonic advance

By 2001 Sega had pulled out of the hardware race altogether and become a third-party software publisher, and as a result the unthinkable happened – Sonic started to appear on a Nintendo consoles, assisting Sega’s former rival rather than opposing it. It was a turning point in Sega’s fortunes and it took a while for fans to stop blubbing like babies and truly accept the situation.

Development duties on Sonic’s GBA debut were handled by both Sonic Team and renowned Japanese studio Dimps and the resultant game was bursting with attitude and – most importantly – blisteringly fast. The only fly in the ointment was the rather disappointing NES-like music – but then many GBA titles suffered from this unfortunate affliction.

An N-Gage port following in 2003 and aside from the obvious change in screen size, it was essentially the same game. While not quite as good as the GBA original, it remains one of the better titles available on Nokia’s ill-fated phone/console hybrid.

Sonic Advance 2 (GBA, 2002)

Buoyed by the critical success of the first Game Boy Advance outing, Sega once again enlisted the assistance of Dimps to give Sonic another pop at the portable market. Generally regarded as an improvement over the first Sonic Advance title, this sequel adds the ability to shatter the sound barrier when travelling at particularly high speeds.

Sonic Pinball Party (GBA, 2003)

Sonic’s second attempt to rule the world of pinball (the first being the lame Sonic Spinball for the Mega Drive/Game Gear), Sonic Pinball Party not only showcased the talents of Sega’s popular mascot but also featured characters such as Nights (from the game of the same name) and Amigo (from music title Samba de Amigo). Eye-catching tables and impressive ball physics resulted in a highly enjoyable experience that put to rest the ghastliness of that first pinball game once and for all.

Sonic Battle (GBA, 2003)

Another spin-off title, the technically ambitious Sonic Battle succeeded in dividing critics when it was first released. Essentially a fighting game that takes place within a 3D arena, it was badly let down by shoddy execution.

While the action is unquestionably intense and often enjoyable, it’s impossible to shake the impression that the game concept was probably asking too much of the humble GBA platform. The game would have worked better on more capable hardware and it could be argued that this genre of video game isn’t ideally suited to Sonic’s penchant for high-speed hilarity.

Sonic Advance 3 (GBA, 2004) sonic advance 3

Sonic’s final GBA outing proved to be his most entertaining yet, with Dimps once again helping out with development. As well as enhancing the successful blueprint laid down by the previous two games, Sonic Advance 3 introduced a gameplay feature that had been absent from the Sonic universe since the Sega 32X outing Knuckles’ Chaotix.

The player picks two characters and throughout the course of the game can ‘tag’ the second character in order to perform special moves. It was a neat mechanic that showed the developer was open to experimentation, and such willingness to innovate resulted in a fitting swansong to Sonic’s GBA adventures.

Sonic Rush (DS, 2005) sonic rush

Although it carries a different title Sonic Rush is, at heart, a continuation of the Sonic Advance series. Co-developer Dimps was called on board once again and the overall graphical style is very similar. Naturally, being a DS title, Rush makes use of both screens to house a tall playing area. The console’s additional power is used to create full-3D boss encounters. Sadly, for all the game’s polish it’s far too easy, despite the presence of some infamously frustrating bottomless pits.

Sonic Rivals (PSP, 2006) sonic rivals

The first Sonic title to be developed on Canadian soil, Rivals adopted the 2.5D approach to create a visual style that possessed the beauty of 3D but maintained the simplicity of two-dimensional gameplay.

As the title suggests, the game is all about beating your rivals to the end of each level. Various power-ups exist which aid your task, and the entire game feels like a curious mix of racer, fighter and platformer – quite an apt combination given Sonic’s love of speed. Sadly, while it looks good on paper, this fusion of play styles doesn’t really work as well as it should.

Sonic Rush Adventure (DS, 2007) sonic rush adventure

With Sonic Rush shifting just shy of three million copies worldwide it was practically a given that a sequel would appear. Thankfully, Rush Adventure managed to improve on its predecessor in pretty much every department, boasting better graphics, more enjoyable gameplay and superior level design. At the time of writing it remains Sonic’s last ‘true’ adventure on a portable system, with successive titles being spin-offs.

Sonic Rivals 2 (PSP, 2007) sonic rivals 2

The second Rivals title is essentially more of the same –aside from offering new characters to control and a multiplayer battle mode, it doesn’t really differ all that much from the previous game and is unfortunately saddled with the same disappointing lack of cohesion.

As an interesting side note, neither of the Rivals titles were released in Japan.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (DS, 2008) mario & sonic at the olympic games

2008 marked an event that few people believed they would ever live to see. Sonic and his once hated enemy Mario joined forces for the official title of the 2008 Olympic Games, giving Sega and Nintendo fans the opportunity to find out once and for all which mascot was superior.

Despite not being totally accurate (let’s face it, super Sonic would easily beat fatty Mario in the 100m sprint), it remained a hugely enjoyable game (although for those interested, Konami’s New International Track & Field is arguably superior when it comes to DS-based sporting greatness).

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (DS, 2008) sonic chronicles

Possibly influenced by Mario’s recent RPG-style outings, this BioWare-developed adventure title caused shockwaves when it was announced. One of the world’s premier role-playing experts joining forces with the planet’s most famous hedgehog? A licence to print money, one would assume.

Sadly, while the game offered some entertainment, it failed to live up to the enticing promise, with the gorgeous presentation doing little to disguise the fact that the plot was limp and the gameplay uninspired. There’s certainly potential for a truly amazing Sonic RPG but, sadly, The Dark Brotherhood isn't it.