Sonic Pocket Adventure – Neo Geo Pocket Color
Platform: SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color
Developer: SNK / Sonic Team
Publisher: SNK / Sega
Release Date (NA): November 11, 1999
Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
Franchise video games come in all shapes and sizes, even the biggest of franchises! Sega may have only made 1 true handheld video game system (we’re not counting the Sega Nomad) with their famous (infamous?) Sega Game Gear, but that didn’t mean that the Game Gear would be the last time Sonic got out of the house in the 1990s. Sonic would make his first and last appearance on a SNK console with his arrival on the much-loved but short-lived Neo Geo Pocket Color. It’s a little odd that Sonic made his way to the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999 considering that Sega had actually just debuted their brand new game-changer with the Dreamcast!
Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure, more commonly shortened to Sonic Pocket Adventure, isn’t much of a brand new game for Sonic, nor is it that new of an experience for gamers. It’s also not really a re-release of a classic game either. So, one could realistically call Sonic Pocket Adventure a bit of a hybrid. Sonic Pocket Adventure seems to borrow heavily from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 from the Genesis while containing other elements from the first Sonic the Hedgehog game, also for the Genesis. You will also notice that much of the music doesn’t quite match up to its respective zones as much of it is recycled from Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Furthermore, the actual Sonic character in the artwork bears a striking resemblance to the reinvented Sonic look and style from Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. Sonic no longer has that same childish look that he carried all the way from Sonic the Hedgehog to Sonic R. He now has the edgier stylistic look of his time in Sonic Adventure. Despite the fact that Sonic Pocket Adventure came out only 2 months after Sonic Adventure, and that both titles have the word “adventure” in them, Sonic Pocket Adventure is much more of a traditional Sonic game and is nothing like the Dreamcast games.
With this combination mash-up of the multiple Sonic games from the classic era, what sort of experience is Sonic Pocket Adventure? For starters, you should feel a great rush of nostalgia the minute you start playing. Each level has a completely different name from its respective visual style or actual set up, but make no mistake, these zones are pretty close to their original counterparts. The zones go as follows, along with their doppelganger zones from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, with the exception of the 1st zone (Neo South Island) which is clearly from the 1st Sonic the Hedgehog game:
- Neo South Island: Green Hill Zone
- Secret Plant: Chemical Plant Zone
- Cosmic Casino: Casino Night Zone
- Aquatic Relix: Aquatic Ruin Zone
- Sky Chase: Sky Chase Zone
- Aerobase: Wing Fortress Zone
- Gigantic Angel: Metropolis Zone
- Last Utopia and Choatic Space: These look pretty original, although they do borrow more elements from Sonic 2.
Despite having different names, all of these levels feel pretty similar. Sonic Pocket Adventure gives Sonic access to the Special Stages from Sonic 2 by jumping into a giant ring at the end of the level, just like in Sonic 1. Some of the badniks throughout them are used from the original Sonic game. This overall feeling provides a comfortable and seamless transition as I put down my Genesis controller and pick up my Neo Geo Pocket Color.
While Sonic Pocket Adventure may suffer from a lack of originality, it does a good job at providing gamers with a truly portable Sonic game. The levels and music will definitely remind of you the games of old, but better than that is the amount of detail used throughout. The Neo Geo Pocket Color isn’t known for its superior graphical capabilities as a whole, but it is much respected for what it achieved during its time. With that being said, Sonic Pocket Adventure has really fine graphics, and one could probably say that it’s the best looking portable Sonic game of the ‘90s!
Since the Neo Geo Pocket Color was created without the inclusion of a backlight, the colors don’t seem to be as vibrant as they should be for a Sonic game. That’s one of the things Sonic games are known for… Having very vibrant colors that pop off the screen! But even with the limited nature of the machine at hand, I would say that SNK and Sega did an exceptional job producing great colors and even better graphics. Each level is jampacked with an outstanding amount of detail that greatly contributes to the overall feel of a classic Sonic game… Except this time it’s ON THE GO!
The music selection is phenomenal and is absolutely Sonic music through and through. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. There is only one small downside to the music, and that’s the fact that it doesn’t sound as good as the game looks. Does that make sense? As in, the graphics have the visual presentation of possibly being almost as good as a Genesis game but the music sound more like it belongs on a Game Gear game. This isn’t entirely bad as the developers made the most out of what they had, so they lose no points here.
Now that the positive details are laid out, what about the negatives? Honestly, there isn’t much to complain about! It’s masterfully created and is very faithful to the original Sonic trilogy (counting Sonic 3 & Knuckles as one game) in style, music, sound effects, level structure, and their overall approach. But my biggest complaint, and this one is hard for me to get past, is the extremely inconsistent difficulty level.
The biggest issue here is how insanely easy this game is. I’m talking unreasonably easy with a handful of difficult moments that are easily worked out through 1 or 2 trial and error sessions. I actually blasted through the first 4 zones in less than 20 minutes! That’s over 60% of the game! The levels are somewhat on the short side, but it’s really the lack of enemies throughout that make traversing the stages easy. What about the inconsistency I was referring to? Well, later levels, such as Gigantic Angel, are a true challenge in one’s patience and platforming abilities. The difficulty rapidly ascends with no learning curve!
Aside from the overly simplistic gameplay, Sonic can only recover a maximum of 4 rings whenever he takes a hit. You might recall the previous game in which Sonic could recover upwards of 10, 12, 15, maybe more, rings that he loses when he takes a hit. In this game, you could have 200+ rings, get hit, and only 4 will come out and start bouncing around. This isn’t a big deal and definitely not a deal-breaker. Just a tiny little “ugh” moment.
All-in-all, Sonic Pocket Adventure pulls out all the stops for its best handheld Sonic game of the ‘90s! With a multitude of familiar music and even more familiar stages, you’ll feel right at home. In addition to the main game, Sonic Pocket Adventure offers a less-than-stellar puzzle mode, a decent time trial mode, and an average, albeit boring, “duel room” mode for 2 player connectivity.
While Sonic Pocket Adventure might be the best portable Sonic game ever made up until that time, there is no denying the low replayability. With such considerable shortness and a lack of difficulty, there is virtually no reason to want to play again after you have beaten it. At least not for some time. But there is also no denying how extraordinary this game is. SNK and Sega teamed up and created a very well polished game with beautiful graphics, incredible sound, and brilliant colors despite the lack of backlighting. Overall, Sonic Pocket Adventure is a must-own for any Sonic enthusiast or Platformer purist. And I still say that the Neo Geo Pocket Color is one of the coolest gaming systems of the ‘90s and deserved so much more fame!
Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
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