1994 took me a bit longer to get through than expected due to a combination of working out how to actually play the Pico games, Christmas and putting off one that I really didn’t want to suffer through (Sonic Spinball) but I finally got there in the end.
Starting the year off strong Sonic 3 introduces everyone’s favourite meme machine, Knuckles. Initially Sonic’s enemy due to being duped by Dr. Eggman, Knuckles will of course eventually become one of Sonic’s most common allies.
Sonic 3 is a gorgeous game even now, with some great artwork and level design. The music is also really good, it plays great and.. well, I just wish the rest of the games released in 1994 were as good.
The first of Sega’s many, many attempts to try and come up with a Sonic game to counter Mario Kart, they immediately hobbled it by making it a Game Gear game instead of a Mega Drive one. This first Sonic Drift is a pretty barebones affair, featuring only 12 tracks and 4 racers and mediocre gameplay so there really isn’t an awful lot to recommend it. It does however feature the first playable appearances of Amy Rose and Dr. Eggman so that’s something.
This is another of the ‘oddity’ entries that only get classified as Sonic games on a technicality. Despite being central on the cover art, Sonic barely features as all aside from being the home screen cursor, though Tails does at least get some animation. It’s essentially a really basic (at least by modern standards, maybe it was interesting back in 1994) interactive sticker book, you can place what are effectively stickers of a number of Sega characters and other weird things onto one of several different landscapes and colour and animate them. And that’s about it!
Noteworthy for being Tails’ first title role and solo appearance, Tails and the Music Maker isn’t really worth remembering for much else. A edutainment title for Sega’s Pico platform, it comes with a simplistic several page book that shows different locations for Tails to interact with. Changing the page on the book also changes what you see on screen. So far so good, but unfortunately the minigames that you play on each page are at best incredibly average and generally not even that good. To make matters worse, it sounds pretty bad too which would seem to be the exact opposite of what you’d want a music game to do.
Very similar in structure to Tails’ solo game, Sonic the Hegehog’s Gameworld is another collection of fairly simplistic minigames for the Sega Pico. I thought this one was a bit better, with I’d say improved graphics as well as better games but there’s still really not a lot to it (though of course I’m nearly 3 decades older than the target audience). It also sounds better, which doesn’t do the music based game any favours.
Thought I’d already played this? Yeah, me too. After Dave mentioned he’d seen a speedrun of the 8-bit version of Spinball and that it was different I had to check it out to confirm and unfortunately he was right. While it largely follows the layout of the Mega Drive version, there are some different bosses, special stages and of course everything was made from scratch as the 16-bit assets couldn’t simply be ported over. Meaning, by my own criteria, it’s a distinct separate game and I should play it. Ugh. Thanks Dave.
While the Mega Drive game can be frustrating for its difficulty, the 8-bit version is frustrating for everything else. The addition of continues means its not actually hard to complete, but the awful controls, wonky physics and complete misunderstanding of how momentum works make it a chore. It’s just a bad game. Sadly, I doubt it’s going to be the worst I end up playing on this playthrough..
A superb palette cleanser after the garbage that came before, Sonic & Knuckles is essentially Sonic 3 Episode 2. I play the two games separate for the purposes of this playthrough, and as I didn’t really want to have a third run of the two locked together I instead just pick up a Sonic 3 & Knuckles save at the end for the bonus final zone.
Just like Sonic 3, it’s still a good looking game that plays and sounds just as great now as it did in 1994. Plus you get to play as Knuckles! The only real downside is that it’s the last proper 16 bit Sonic we would get.
Another one that I’ve long known about and own at least one copy of, I’d never actually gotten around to playing Triple Trouble before. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was, with graphics that are a step up over the previous 8-bit platformers and some pretty good levels. While prominent on the artwork, Knuckles isn’t playable here and instead just functions as the deuteragonist and eventually becomes friends with Sonic at the end – the other two opponents who make up the titular trouble being Nack the Weasel/Fang the Sniper and of course Dr. Eggman. Nack in particular is an interesting character, simply because of how much he’s remembered as being a big thing from this era despite not really amounting to anything.
Much like Sonic & Knuckles before it, Triple Trouble was the last proper classic 8-bit platformer. The end of an era..