By 1995 a few years had now passed since the success of the Mega Drive Sonic games, and Sega were looking to continue the series through new platforms. With the Saturn in development, another Mega Drive addon was created to try and extend the machine’s shelf life to fill the gap until it was ready. Mostly though, 1995 was the year of the Game Gear spinoffs without any real ‘main’ game for the first time, something that we’d sadly need to get used to over the next couple of years..
Starting the year surprisingly strong, the Game Gear sequel Sonic Drift 2. The first game was rather unexceptional but, while I’m not quite sure exactly what it was about it that was different, I found myself enjoying the sequel a lot more. Released over here without the ‘2’ so as to hopefully not confuse people as to what had happened to ‘1’ (though the number remained on the title screen) this was to Western audiences at the time the first Sonic racing game. In terms of control and style it’s very similar to its predecessor, but the larger selection of characters and increased variety of tracks really help make it stand out.
The only game of the year not released on the Game Gear was one of the flagship titles for the 32X, the year’s latest Mega Drive addon. Hoping to drive sales for the hardware with a Sonic game, the odd decision was made not to feature him and instead make the first (and only) Knuckles solo game. And so we have Knuckles’ Chaotix. Fans have torn apart the game and various beta versions for years trying to find out the full history of the game and it appears that Sonic and Tails were present in early versions prior to it being turned into a Knuckles game.
And it’s quite the odd game. While on the surface looking a lot like the logical continuation of the Sonic 3 art style, it doesn’t really play much like many Sonics of the past due to the ring bond between the two characters that fundamentally alters the physics and gameplay. The stages are also typically larger and more bare, with fewer badniks than you’d expect from one of the Mega Drive games and perhaps the biggest change in formula – no lives or continues. It’s got a pretty decent soundtrack and a good (if frustrating at places) 3D special stage, as well as several new characters in the Chaotix team of Vector, Charmy and Espio. They’re also joined in this game by the return of Mighty from SegaSonic Arcade though this would end up being his last appearance – at least until his hopefully triumphant return alongside Ray in Sonic Mania Plus this summer.
And we’re back to maddening spinoffs. This was my first time properly playing either of the Tails Game Gear games, and I wasn’t a big fan of this one at all. Tails can fire a ring at enemies while constantly flying but there are so many cheap moments where the level design intentionally kills you, to the point that I started my run twice after dying a couple of times in the training level.. Thankfully it turned out to be quite a short game with only 4 levels, but it’s hardly a hidden gem.
Tails Adventures, thankfully, was much better. This time around Tails is starring in a light RPG with collectible items and upgrades that plays pretty well and looks surprisingly good for a Game Gear game. As I mention in the video I cheat a little bit with this one by saving as there’s no lives system, just passwords when you return to Tails’ house that I didn’t want to have to write down every time (though I think I ultimately finished the game without dying anyway) and if you forgot to take note of these passwords while playing back in the day you could very easily lose a lot of progress. That aside though, it’s pretty fun and probably the best example of a supporting character spinoff in the series.
And finally for the year, it’s Sonic Labyrinth. Off the bat the concept is pretty dumb – a game that intentionally makes Sonic go slow seems like the complete antithesis of what you’d want a Sonic game to be. The gameplay is pretty clunky and I ended up dying far, far too many times on the bosses but it wasn’t the worst once I got used to it. Certainly not one that I’ll be revisiting any time in a hurry though.