The Game Gear was an impressive piece of technology during its time. The GameBoy was not only technologically inferior to its console counterpart, the NES, it was also monochrome. This meant that franchises that made the leap to the console generally had to be watered down in order to be playable and straight ports generally weren’t possible. The Game Gear, on the other hand, was basically a portable Master System, and you could even play Master System games on the system if you had an adapter for it!
While my mind has tricked my memories into thinking that the Game Gear was just a technologically inferior GameBoy Advance, the truth of the matter is that the device isn’t quite as impressive as that by today’s standards. The screen doesn’t offer the kind of clarity that later GameBoy models do, and the sound quality is really awful. Not to mention the prospect of needing six AA batteries to power the thing doesn’t exactly inspire long playing sessions.
So what is my point, you say? Quite simply, that my idea of playing a Game Gear game on a new system fills me with a bit of skepticism. It’s a good thing, then, that one of the first Game Gear titles to be released on the 3DS Virtual Console service is a Sonic game, particularly one released during an era of 2D Sonic games, and amazing ones at that. Time to find out how well Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble has held up all these years.
In Sonic’s 1994 Game Gear outing, he is not only up against Dr. Robotnik (Dr. Eggman for the newer fans), whose latest weapon experiment has scattered the infamous Chaos Emeralds, but also against two other foes as referenced by the Triple Trouble title. Knuckles makes his return as a villain, still not having learned his lesson from Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Additionally, Nack the Weasel, seeing an opportunity for easy profit, tries to snatch up the Chaos Emeralds. Now it’s up to Sonic and his partner Tails to knock heads again and set things right.
It’s a fairly simple premise, which is to be expected given the expectations of the genre in that particular year. So don’t go in expecting dramatic anime openings and closings like Sonic CD or even in-game sprite based scenes. Remember, this is Game Gear after all.
And despite being on Game Gear, the game looks way more impressive that I had expected it to be. When you tap the bottom screen, there are a ton of options for you to tinker with, including a number of graphical variations. You can choose to stretch the screen to fit the entire top screen, give it a bigger size than the original while keeping it proportional (which is what I chose to do), or keep it in its native resolution with a border that makes it look like you’re actually playing a Game Gear. This is all in addition to several other graphical filters that can be played with. It’s all rather impressive when compared to other titles on the Virtual Console service on both the 3DS and the Wii which, as far as I can tell, don’t really give you any graphical freedom.
The sound quality even turned out much better than I expected. One of the biggest downfalls of the Game Gear hardware was the crackling, and in some cases outright failure, of the speakers in the system. Everything comes out perfectly clear and is filled with the same kinds of Sonic sound effects you’ve likely become accustomed to over the years, such as the jumping and ring collection. The music is quite decent itself, but doesn’t stick with me like some of the Genesis titles had.
When you begin the game, you can choose to play as either Sonic or Tails. They play very similar to each other except by pressing up and your jump button, Sonic will do a peel-out move similar to what he did in the Sonic CD game. When you perform the same action with Tails, he will rotate his tails in a helicopter motion that allows him to fly momentarily. Both characters can also hold down on the directional pad and press the jump button to do a spin dash move that will propel them forward while keeping them in a ball form to prevent them from taking damage as they progress in that direction.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble does give you the option to reconfigure the buttons if you please, though for this particular game, it’s a matter of choosing which one you want to be your jump button. You have the option of using both the thumbstick and the directional pad to control your motion, though I found the latter to be a bit more comfortable for this sort of game. You can also remap buttons for bringing up the Virtual Console menu or to pause.
Many of the stages play out similarly to Sonic games that came before and after it, though there are a few gimmicks that are employed here, some of which have been seen previously. One is the addition of rocket shoes that will propel you through the air for a short period of time. The snow stages feature a snowboard that can be used to traverse steep hills in a hurry, and is generally quite entertaining during the brief time you get to spend with it. There are a few others like spring shoes and an underwater fin that can be acquired as well. Some of them can only be used by certain characters, so playing as both Sonic and Tails might yield a slightly different adventure during each stage.
Aside from just reaching the goal at the end, you’ll also encounter power up boxes that have a picture of a Chaos Emerald in them. If you smash one of these boxes when you have 50 rings or more, you’ll be taken to a special stage in hopes of acquiring one of the emeralds. Some of the special stages are just like the normal levels, except they play out more like labyrinths in design. Others will have you flying a plane to try to obtain as many rings as you can before you reach the finish line. I found these to be a bit tricky, since the plane is so big, it obstructs much of your view, making ring collection difficult.
As a whole though, Triple Trouble is not a difficult game, not to mention a short one. It was originally intended to be played in one sitting, so a quick playthrough for each character while trying to obtain all of the Chaos Emeralds does not take long at all. Once you finish, there’s not much reason to come back to it apart from doing a speed run or something.
When you get hit by an enemy, rather than losing all of your rings, you’ll only be deprived of about 30 of them. Unless you hit spikes, in which case 50 will be taken from you. So stockpiling rings will net you a number of hits before you meet your demise, plus you can still pick some of them up again after they are dropped. This is balanced out slightly by your inability to see very much above or below you. Many of my lost lives were as a result of thinking there was a platform below me when it was actually just a pit or row of spikes, though this is slightly less of an issue for Tails since you can fly over most things.
Old school Sonic fans should enjoy Triple Trouble, despite how derivative it is of older entries. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that it has been re-released numerous times over the years. If you own the Gamecube or PC versions of Sonic Adventure DX, this game can be found on there as a bonus. Likewise, the Gamecube version of Sonic Gems Collection has it as well. If all you care about is playing all of the Sonic titles in the most cost effective means necessary, this is probably not the way to go. However, it’s much easier to bear than playing it on the Game Gear over again, so if you want to take it on the go, this will be the ideal version.
One of the things added for the Virtual Console version, which I’ve noticed popping up in updates to some of my ambassador games (like Metroid), is the addition of restore points. In most VC games, if you decide to quit a play session, the game would generally start you back to where you last were when you initially decided to stop playing. Now, you can create a restore point, or a saved state as it is sometimes referred, and load back to whatever point you wish. I found myself doing this whenever I began a new level or checkpoint so I didn’t have to risk my lives and starting all over at the beginning again. In all reality, this really isn’t necessary given the ease of the title, but I like having this option available to me regardless.
Appeal Factor: Great
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble rises up from the Game Gear ashes to remind us how fun it is to play a Sonic title in 2D and on the go. While not a particularly stand out entry in the franchise as a whole, it’s a fun romp through familiar territory and fans will be delighted to know that this is one of the better versions that exist out there. Despite being a straight port with a few extra bells and whistles, it looks and sounds better on the 3DS system and the ability to adjust how it looks as well as create save states is icing on the cake. Triple Trouble can be found in numerous Sonic compilations, including the Sonic Gems Collection, so if you already own those there isn’t much incentive to upgrade. On the other hand, if you are a big Sonic fan and must simply take this on the go, this is definitely worth picking up. Hopefully, Sonic’s other Game Gear titles will follow suit.