Pocket Power: Sonic the Hedgehog

Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.

It is a generally agreed upon fact that Nintendo is the heavyweight champion of handheld gaming. As much as I enjoy my PlayStation Vita, the difference in success between the consoles is comparable the result of a fight between Glass Joe and Mike Tyson Mr. Dream. Before the Big N was beboppin’ and scattin’ all over Sony’s handheld, they went to handheld blows against their one time bitter rival Sega. In an era before Mario and Sonic competed against each other in the Olympic games, Nintendo and Sega were mortal enemies. Sega proudly proclaimed that the Genesis does what Nintendon’t, but maybe they should have gone with Nintendid, because the most excellent Dreamcast died an unceremonious early death, making it the final console made by Sega.

With the Game Boy becoming the popular way to play games on the go, Sega decided to throw down the gauntlet in the handheld arena with the Game Gear. Game Gear featured a full color display and a TV tuner, making it much more powerful. History tells us who ended up winning this battle, but the Game Gear did have its time and was a nifty device for its time. Naturally, Sega was enjoying the success that blue rodent (editor’s note: Hedgehogs belong to the Erinaceomorpha order and are not rodents) amped up on amphetamines known as Sonic was bringing to the Genesis, so decided to port him over to their handheld platform.

Sonic the Hedgehog for the Game Gear is not a port of the beloved Sega Genesis classic, but a port of the somewhat obscure game with the same name developed by Ancient for the Sega Master System. There are a few key differences between the two Sonic the Hedgehogs for the Genesis and Game Gear. The levels are different, and in the handheld Sonic is not able to collect the rings he loses after he is hit, nor are there any vertical loops for him to run through. These differences do scale back things a bit, but these differences aside, it does a good job of recreating the Sonic experience on the less powerful portable hardware.

The game plays like what anyone would expect from a Sonic game. Sonic runs through a few levels collecting rings, occasionally going to a bonus level, and battles Dr. Robotnik at the end of the level and frees some animal friends from some weird contraption. This version does not surpass its Genesis counterpart, but considering what handheld gaming was like in the early ’90s it is definitely a solid installment in the Sonic franchise, and does a fine job of being a complimentary title to be enjoyed while out and about as opposed to doing a marathon session tethered to the television. Sega may have ultimately lost the handheld console battle, but this title shows they didn’t go down without a fight.

For whatever reason, most retailers these days do not regularly stock Game Gear games for purchase making this title somewhat difficult to find without having to resort to eBay, though the plus is the asking price is usually pretty low. The most accessible way to get a hold of Sonic the Hedgehog today is oddly enough through the Nintendo 3DS eShop. This title did see earlier issues on the Gamecube and PC in Sonic Adventure DX, and later in Sonic Mega Collection Plus for PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. The Sega Master System version was released on the Wii virtual console, which is the same game with some visual differences in resolution and color palette due to the differences in hardware.

Sonic the Hedgehog for the Game Gear is a great example of one of the early attempts at recreating a home console experience in a handheld format. While Nintendo did come out on top in the world of handheld gaming, the Game Gear was an impressive piece of hardware for its time and Sonic the Hedgehog demonstrated that it was capable of delivering games that were comparable in quality to what was on the Genesis. This title serves as a reminder that while the Game Gear may have never been the undisputed champion of handheld gaming, there are some worthwhile titles for this platform.

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