Review: Sonic Gems Collection (Nintendo Gamecube)

Game: Sonic Gems Collection
System: Nintendo GameCube
Genre: Compilation
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Released: 8/16/05

The Sonic The Hedgehog history is a rich and deep one, spanning almost fifteen years now. He’s made appearances on a multitude of systems, including each and every one of Sega’s machines, as well has two arcade games. Of course now I find it ironic that almost his ENTIRE history, from Genesis to Dreamcast, can be played on the Nintendo GameCube.

Sonic Mega Collection arrived in late-2002 on the Cube, much to the appreciation of Sonic fans everywhere. The collection contained every Genesis outing of our favorite blue blur, along with Flicky and Ristar rounding out the pack. Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut came around a half-year later, and served as an “unofficial” compilation of every Sonic Game Gear title in existence. To please PS2 and XBox owners, Sonic Mega Collection Plus arrived. It contained all the games found on the Cube version, half of the Game Gear titles, and two more bonus games. I think its safe to say that Sonic’s history has been well preserved in game form up to now, wouldn’t you?

Well, almost. A lot of fans were slightly peeved at the fact that Sonic CD was nowhere to be found on these collections. Neither were other past Sonic titles people wanted to see. After all, there were quite a few notable pieces missing from Sonic’s history.

However, we’re in luck! Sega has released ANOTHER collection exclusive to the GameCube (in this country) that fills in some of those missing gaps! Sonic Gems Collection is out, and many Sonic fans couldn’t be happier. But is this compilation truly what we all wanted? Let’s find out…


COMPILATION

(NOTE: Since there are several different games on this disc, we’ll be looking at those individually, rather than Story or Modes.)

Sonic Gems Collection starts you off with nine games. The first three are probably what will make you pay the $30. I’ll get to the other six in a little bit.

First up is Sonic CD, which is almost worth the cost of this collection by itself. This is only the second home console release the Sega CD classic has ever received, with its only other appearance being on the PC. In fact, the PC version was the one that was ported to the GC. Not much has changed outside of a few cosmetic differences and a spiffy-looking loading screen, but other than that the game plays exactly as I remembered it ten years ago. In fact, the loading times are significantly less than I remember as well, which is an added plus.

People have been waiting for this game to be re-released for the longest time. It was the first Sonic game to have a CD audio soundtrack, and it was an amazing one. It also introduced the 3D special stage, and the “time travel” mechanic, where you could travel through up to FOUR versions of the same act. The boss battles at the end of each level are also incredibly different, as each one requires a different strategy in order to accomplish. You could be zooming around in a pinball machine maze, breaking through an air-bubble shield by breathing it in, or wearing away the control room Eggman is hiding in by running on a conveyer belt. Plus there’s the race against Metal Sonic, one of the more memorable experiences in Sonic’s history. This game simply must be played for the memories it sparks.

Next on the list is Sonic The Fighters, a formerly arcade-only fighting game involving Sonic characters. The graphics and fighting engine resemble a simpler version of the Virtua Fighter 2 interface, and is simple enough for anyone to pick up. Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, Fang the Sniper (Nack the Weazel), Bean the Dynamite (From Dynamite Ducks), Bark the Polar Bear (no clue), and Espio The Chameleon are the characters you can choose from, although their moves mostly use the same button presses. Your goal is to fight through the entire cast, collecting eight emeralds (EIGHT?!?!?), and flying up to the Death Egg for the dramatic final battle against Metal Sonic. While not the most robust game in the collection, it’s still a nice diversion to pass the time with.

The last of the “Big 3” on this disc is Sonic R, an often underrated Sonic racing game. Originally appearing on the Saturn, Sonic R resembles a kart racer, only removing most of the carts. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles all run on foot, with Amy driving a car and Eggman riding in his infamous pod. The interesting thing about the characters is that they are NOT balanced in the slightest as far as speed goes. Sonic is the fastest, with Tails and Knuckles barely able to keep up. Eggman floats along at an average pace, while Amy’s car barely manages to hold on at second gear. The surprising thing about this, however, is that Traveller’s Tales made these handicaps WORK. Tails and Knuckles retain their flight and glide abilities respectively, allowing them more maneuverability to search for shortcuts. Eggman has a weapon that can slow down those in front of him. And Amy’s car contains a boost feature that rockets her along for brief periods of time. Sonic may be the fastest, but with only a double-jump at his disposal, he REALLY got shafted for special abilities. The racers may not be balanced, but each has their own method of winning the race. Some are harder to win as then others, but do you HONESTLY expect to beat Sonic on speed alone? And if they WERE balanced, Sonic would have to retire as the fast creature alive. This concept works SO WELL for this universe, and I respect Sega/Traveller’s Tales all the more for doing this.

There are five huge racecourses to go through, all of which contain multiple routes to traverse (much like many of the Sonic platformers). Side missions include collecting rings to open shortcut doors, collecting “race emblems” to challenge hidden characters (including Metal Sonic), and collecting the seven Chaos Emeralds to unlock Super Sonic. And I would be stupid not to mention the amazing soundtrack included in the game.

Now we come to the other six Sonic games in the pack, which are simply half of the list of Game Gear titles. Two of them are traditional platformers (Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Sonic Triple Trouble), one’s a handheld adaptation of Sonic Spinball, one’s a racer (Sonic Drift 2), and the other two are games both staring Tails (Tails’ Sky Patrol, Tails’ Adventures). Most of these are somewhat entertaining, but my first thought for the inclusion of these is “Why?”. Sega already released the ENTIRE Game Gear Sonic collection as unlockable bonuses in Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut on the GC. Why release half the list on another title? But then, I realized that when Sonic Mega Collection Plus was released on the PS2/XBox, the OTHER six GG games were included. But THEN, this would make more sense if the collection were released on the PS2/XBox. But THEN, I found out that a PS2 version was already in the works for Japan and Europe. But THEN, I found out that there would be NO PS2 version in America, completely destroying the reasoning for including the GG games on the ‘Cube version! But THEN…oh hell, now my head hurts…

Speaking of import-only material, the Japanese version had four unlockable games that we didn’t get: Bonanza Brothers, and the entire Streets Of Rage trilogy. However, this isn’t to say we didn’t get our OWN games. By playing long enough, you’ll be able to unlock the Genesis classics Vectorman and Vectorman 2. While not Sonic games (or even remotely ATTACHED to Sonic Team), these games are nice little rewards for everyone to try out.

In any case, there’s a decent set of games here, and the ability to play Sonic CD and Sonic R on the same disc is friggin’ amazing. Unfortunately, the collection suffers a bit due to the redundant inclusions of Game Gear titles we already could play otherwise on the ‘Cube.

Compilation: 7/10


GRAPHICS

Being a collection of old games, I’d bet you’d expect nothing in the ways of graphical enhancements. Well, you’d be correct. About the most advanced thing graphically that you’ll find in this collection is the interface used selecting your game of choice to play.

The second-most advance graphics here are, truthfully, in Sonic The Fighters. The characters have low polygon counts, yes, but everything moves at 60 FPS with a fluid camera. Plus the characters manage to squish and stretch in humorous ways. Sonic R is one notch below in this regard, as characters have a slightly lower polygon count, the frame rate is less, and the camera gets REALLY stuck in certain situations. However, there have been some additional tweaks made to the environments, including day/night racing and weather modifiers. All of this should be new to you if you’ve never played the PC version.

All other games run in 2D, with the majority of the titles being 8-Bit Master System quality. The games are relatively good for the times they were released in, but certainly don’t make the grade now.

Graphics: 5/10


SOUND

THIS category, on the other hand, rocks out loud.

I love the music found in many of the games. For example, both music soundtracks from Sonic CD and Sonic R are represented in their entirety, and these are two of my three favorite Sonic soundtracks of all time. The music to Sonic CD serves mainly as an atmospheric application, giving personality to each of the stages. Sonic R’s music are mainly upbeat vocal pop pieces that get your toes tapping as you blaze through any given race course. It’s certainly a great change of pace from most other racing games, where generic licensed rock music is blazing through your speakers. Music from Sonic The Fightersis the type of happy, quirky tunes you’d expect from a Sonic game. Even some of the Game Gear music is pretty catchy in its own way, despite the extreme step down in quality from the “Big 3”.

The sound effects bring this score down somewhat, however. All games contain the basic set of Sonic sounds. Ring collecting, speed bursts, jumping sounds, etc. Now much changes between games, especially the Game Gear ones. Also slightly annoying is the fact that while music in Sonic CD is in stereo, the sounds are in mono. This contrast makes the effects sound “muffled” and soft. But you’ll most likely pay attention to the music, as its one of the most powerful assets in this collection.

Sound: 8/10


CONTROLS/GAMEPLAY

As a compilation, controls differ from game to game. Bu I can say without a doubt that almost every game plays like its original release. Sonic CD is as responsive as ever, with no delays in button pressing. (The GG platformers also follow suit.) Sonic The Fighters handles pretty well, although the special moves are a tiny bit tricky to pull off with the thumb stick. Sonic R handles well when you’re going forward, but its frustrating to turn around when you back yourself into a corner. The rest of the GG titles keep their little control quirks, and the Vectorman games still stand pretty well in comparison to their Genesis counterparts. The transition to the GC hasn’t altered the original control schemes very much, if at all. But all problems from previous games are still present.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, there’s a LOT of it. Wow. Sonic CD alone has 70 different versions of stages to see thanks to the time travel mechanic, not even counting the bonus stages. You have eight different characters to go through Sonic The Fighters as, and up to ten in Sonic R. And each of the GG games offers quite a few unique experiences on their own. There’s a lot here to experience.

Controls/Gameplay: 7/10


REPLAY VALUE

Let’s forget for a minute that there’s plenty to do in almost every game. Forget about the Time Stones and Time Attacks in Sonic CD. About unlocking the characters and logging racing times in Sonic R. About the major GP circuits in Sonic Drift 2. About the unlockable Vectorman games. And about collecting the Chaos Emeralds in at least HALF, if not more, of these titles.

The Museum will be the driving force of your life for a while.

While the Museum starts out as one page with 20 “???” items, it will quickly grow once certain conditions are met. Simply entering the “Big 3” on this collection once will add two pages to it. And every 30 minutes of game time you log into the games will unlock more pages. Entering the Game Gear games multiple times will unlock more pages. And meeting incredibly outrageous conditions will unlock even MORE pages. By the end, you’ll have 16 pages, with 320 items unlocked. But getting there is half the fun.

Remember the bizarre unlocking conditions found in Sonic Mega Collection, where you had to enter and exit a game 20-30 times in order to unlock the hidden games? Well, there’s plenty of that, but easier to execute. You’ll mostly be unlocking pictures this way, by entering and exiting games at least five times, and at most 20 times. Also spending X amount of time in a certain game will unlock specific pictures. But THEN, there are special pictures you can only unlock by viewing certain pictures in a certain order. Then there those you can only unlock by viewing the friggin’ Credits ten times without canceling out. It’s your job to figure out what unlocks what.

You are also able to unlock special remixes of songs, and play them in Missions Mode by pressing Y. The main tracks are unlocked by playing through the “Big 3” a lot, with other songs coming to you through other conditions. The songs are pretty hit and miss, with some songs being enjoyable to listen to, while others flat-out stink. I guess it all depends on your personal preferences as to if you’ll enjoy the remixes or not.

Perhaps the most interesting unlocks of them all are the “Final Boss Demos”. Play every game on the list once a day for three days, and they’ll begin to appear. The Final Boss Demos are “demos” of all the games found on the original Sonic Mega Collection and SMC Plus, which put you directly at the final boss of that particular game with plenty of lives to spare. You’re also given a timer that counts down from five, ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes depending on the game you’re playing. You have to defeat the final boss of that game in the time allotted, or else you’re kicked back to the Museum menu. If you beat the boss fast enough, you can sit through that game’s credits. But the weird thing is that if the credits finish, and there’s still time left on the clock, you can play the FULL VERSION of that game for the rest of the time. I beat the final boss of the original Sonic The Hedgehog, only to play through the Green Hill Zone for the final minute on the timer. This proves that EVERY game on the Genesis and GG is on the disc, and that Sega had room to fit them all on there. I’d hate to see what would happen if hackers managed to freeze the timer on these demos…

As you can see, there’s plenty to unlock. And plenty within the games themselves to keep you coming back again and again.

Replay Value: 10/10


BALANCE

If you’re a Sonic fan, quite a few of these games will be on the “easy” side for you. Even if you aren’t a Sonic fan, you’ll have no problems getting into the majority of these games. Outside of some tricky games like Sonic Spinball and Tails’ Sky Patrol, the only hard portions of the games lie in the final stages/courses and the Special Stages. (And for the record, please don’t mention the final special stage in Sonic Triple Trouble again. It hurts plenty.)

As far as “collection balance” is concerned, its quite interesting. You have three classics that were amazing for their times, and they are offset by SIX Game Gear games. It really makes me wonder why THOSE games were chosen, rather than others that haven’t been in collections yet.

Balance: 5/10


ORIGINALITY

It’s a compilation game. There are eleven games ported from their original releases. The only thing that’s truly original about them is the way they were arranged on this collection disc. And games don’t get very high scores on “the way they’re arranged”. Although I will admit that the Final Boss Demos are certainly an uncommon way of granting us a look at Sonic’s history. The only thing I’ve ever seen come close to this is being able to face all the bosses from the original Clockwork Knight in the Boss Attack mode from Clockwork Knight 2.

Originality: 2/10


ADDICTIVENESS

Despite the huge overload of Game Gear titles, the “Big 3” are definitely an excellent grouping of titles that suck you in. I remember going through Sonic CD quite a number of times ten years ago, and I still enjoy myself today. The zones, the environments, the bosses…no matter how cheesy it may seem today, these things STILL suck me in. Sonic R is no different. Sure there’s only five courses, and the controls sometimes make me want to toss my GameCube out the window. But the multiple shortcuts, the amazing soundtrack, and the little things in each stage far outweigh the bad things for me.

The games may be simple by today’s standards, and incredibly primitive in comparison to other titles out there. But the Sonic game lover in me just wants to keep playing. To see how far I can get my Time Attack times down. To see if I can beat every race with every character. To see if there are any more fond memories I haven’t unearthed yet. The games still hold so much for being so old.

Addictiveness: 9/10


APPEAL FACTOR

This collection was made mainly for Sonic fans. The previous compilation contained enough for both casual and hardcore fans to enjoy. (I mean, who can resist playing through Sonic’s entire Genesis history?) This collection, however, seems to cater more towards an acquired taste. Not many of you owned a Sega CD, I’m sure, so Sonic CD might be foreign to most. And other people are going to see the six Game Gear games as tacky add-ons and brush the game aside.

Still, this is the compilation most Sonic fans have been waiting for, and they’ll purchase the game in droves. I just don’t see too many others taking the plunge.

Appeal Factor: 5/10


MISCELLANEOUS

As much as I love both Sonic compilations for this generation of gaming, neither of them truly beat out the Saturn’s Sonic Jam. Although it only contained seven playable games, it had the best extras list out of all of them. It contained a Sonic timeline of game releases, a universal sound test of all games, the original Japanese Sonic CD movies as well as original commercials, a decent gallery, and an entire 3D world where you could access them from. While Gems Collection contains an extensive gallery and the Final Boss Demos, these extras don’t even come CLOSE to Sonic Jam’s.

Still, extras aside, this collection is decent enough. The “Big 3” are definitely worth the $30 bones Sega is asking for, and the extra games provide a good diversion for a little while.

Miscellaneous: 5/10


THE SCORES

Compilation: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 8/10
Controls/Gameplay: 7/10
Replay Value: 10/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 9/10
Appeal Factor: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10
Total: 63/100
Final Score: 6.5/10 (ABOVE AVERAGE)