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Game Gear Quick Look: Sonic The Hedgehog!

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The first Sonic game that I ever played was not one of the Genesis/Mega Drive versions. I didn’t get any of those until 1999, after the Dreamcast came out. No, my first real foray into the Sonic series was actually on Sega’s Game Gear handheld.

The Game Gear had a few problems that prevent full enjoyment of the games you play on it. The screen’s far too blurry for action games and fast-paced platforming. And the terrible battery life would abruptly end any extended gaming session.

It’s a shame, because there are some very nice games on the Game Gear that often get lost in the shuffle.

Here’s a look at a game that, inappropriately enough, isn’t one of those games. It’s a game that you can and will find anywhere that sells Game Gear titles second-hand. It’s the 8-Bit version of one of Sega’s icons: Sonic The Hedgehog.

Sonic the Hedgehog title screen

Fun fact: the Game Gear version of Sonic was actually a port of the Sega Master System version of the game, which was the last game released for the Master System in the U.S.

Yay! Sonic! The Fastest Thing Alive is lookin’ pretty good on the small screen. This title screen isn’t nearly as detailed as the Genesis version, but what are you going to do?

Sonic Gameplay Screenshot

Sonic The Hedgehog starts off in Green Hill Zone. An 8-bit rendition of the iconic theme plays throughout the level, and it’s quite nice. In fact, all of the music for this game is pretty good for what it is. Coming from someone who abhors the Game Gear/Master System sound (it’s entirely too high-pitched), that’s a pretty big endorsement.

One of the tracks, that of the Bridge Zone, sounds a lot like Janet Jackson’s Together Again, which is almost certainly a coincidence. But, hey, maybe Janet or her producer really liked the music for this game and sampled it for “Together Again.” Honestly, it wouldn’t be surprising, since the music for the Sonic series has had a bit of a history with the Jackson family.

The game plays just like the original Sonic game: Run, jump, collect rings, beat down badniks…


One of the most interesting things about the game is that it’s not a straight port of the Genesis game done on lesser hardware. Oh, no. This game is pretty much entirely different. Yes, Green Hill is in the game, but the zone is completely unique to the game. In fact, the only three zones shared by the two games are Green Hill, Labyrinth and Scrap Brain Zone, and all of them have had their layouts changed. Everything else is completely unique to this 8-bit outing.

Check out that dithering effect that you get when Sonic is underwater. That’s only noticeable on an emulator, though. On an actual Game Gear, it would look much more like Sonic was actually underwater (ie: less-noticeable checkerboard patterns). The enemies you encounter are mostly identical to the ones from the Genesis version, but there’s a difference in how Sonic reacts when he gets hit: You can’t re-collect rings that you’ve lost. This makes it a bit more challenging. You know what else makes it challenging? The Game Gear’s screen. That thing is blurry. Super blurry. It makes this game a lot harder than it needs to be. Because of the screen, there is definitely some trial-and-error involved in some parts of the game.

Sonic on Game Gear screenshot

Here’s a little difference: This monitor is your checkpoint system in this game. No checkpoint posts here. Also, Chaos Emeralds are scattered throughout levels instead of being locked away in special stages. The special stages in this game are only for grabbing rings, extra lives, and continues. Honestly, with the screen problems that you are bound to face when playing this on a real handheld, you’re gonna need all the lives you can get.

Despite all the problems that the Game Gear hardware can bring to the table when playing this game, it’s pretty solid. It literally is what it is: an 8-bit Sonic title. Is it as good as the Genesis one? Not quite, but they’re not meant to be the same experience. Any first adopter of a Game Gear would have happily played this game until their capacitors failed, like they do in every Game Gear.

Yes. Every one. EVERY ONE.

Every one I’ve had, at least… I have yet to see a Game Gear that has kept its original parts and stayed in working order. The same problem happens with NEC’s TurboExpress and a lot of old stereo equipment from the early 90s. Bad capacitors were kind of rampant through the tech industry back then.

Sonic 1 for the Game Gear was pretty good. Sonic 2, on the other hand? Well, that’s for another time. And let me tell you, I’m not looking forward to that one…

Currently a production specialist for a television news station. Retro gamer since, uh, ever. Forever. Real human being. And a real hero.