By Jonathan Higgins / August 3rd, 2013
|Platforms||Sega Game Gear
3DS Virtual Console
|Release Dates||JP: September 22nd, 1995
PAL: September 30th, 1995
NA: November 11th, 1995
3DS Virtual Console:
JP: April 3rd, 2013
INT: June 20th, 2013
|Age Ratings||ESRB: E|
Tails Adventure (Nintendo.com)
Nintendo and SEGA were certainly two huge players in the early/mid-nineties, an age many consider to be the “golden era” of gaming. If today’s technology existed twenty years ago, I wonder how many posts we’d see on NeoGAF chronicling the ongoing “battle” between Mario and Sonic. …Regardless of all that, and the reflecting I’ve already done regarding the fate of these two companies—today I write with the shadows cast by both these characters in mind. While it took Nintendo fifteen years or so to give Luigi a starring role in a game—SEGA was much more generous when it came to Sonic’s two-tailed companion.
Indeed, Tails has been able to solo many a Sonic adventure. He even starred in Tails’ Skypatrol, a game that was only released in Japan, that I never heard of until Sonic the Hedgehog was (arguably) well past its prime. But the first game that was globally marketed as “Tails’ first solo adventure” found its way to my hands during its initial release in 1995, and now once again via the 3DS Virtual Console. I played this game for a long while on the Game Gear some time ago, but any worries I had of this review being influenced by nostalgia went away rather quickly. More on that momentarily…
Without further ado: my take on Tails Adventure, a wacky game that stars a rather reluctant hero.
Tails is on vacation, snoozing away in the middle of Poloy Forest, when all of a sudden… a swarm of duck aliens (yes, you read correctly) decides to torch the forest and scare the crap out of him. The game’s story begins on the note of Tails running back and forth in a panic. There’s no real exposition to this story, unfortunately. The instruction manual and advertisements for the game offer some degree of back-story, like explaining why Tails is on the island housing ten or so unique levels in the first place. But… the game itself doesn’t offer the player that luxury. Heck, the game calls itself Tails Adventures, while everything else about the game (from its box to its advertisements) insist it’s just…one Adventure. There’s no characterization, and no real sense of purpose, beyond the fact that ducks = bad. If you’re expecting philosophy, it’s best to look elsewhere.
One aspect of the game that certainly isn’t lacking is its…wealth of…rather unique gameplay options. When one thinks of a game starring Tails, one probably imagines it playing a lot like a solo run through Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and beyond, but… man, would that interpretation be off base. Sure, there’s platforming and jumping and flying and the like, but…the primary means of dispatching foes is actually through…bombs. Tails chucks bombs at his foes, and can use them to search for twenty-three other unique items including six chaos emeralds, a wrench, a helmet, some napalm, and a remote control robot that can squeeze into tiny spaces and scout an entire screen on a whim.
As if giving you twenty-four unique weapons weren’t enough, the game also offers a few levels featuring submarine combat in which you use torpedoes, mines, and other means to advance a few stages. If you find a chaos emerald, your ring count (your rings actually function as HP; you start out with ten rings, and you lose only a few if you’re hit) goes up. My meager ten rings at the beginning of the game became ninety-nine after my exploring was done. There’s no question Tails’ adventure is a grand one that offers plenty of ways to play. Rather than thinking of a conventional Sonic game going into this one, it’s best to picture a Metroid game more than anything else. You advance through each level in order to find weapons to explore new areas in said level, or entirely new levels with branching paths.
Granted, these extra items don’t lend much in terms of offering replay value. You can complete the game without gathering all of the Chaos Emeralds, and without using certain weapons. Some of the exploration aspects just serve to make the overall experience easier, not necessarily more enjoyable. I don’t find myself inclined to try to beat the game with as few items as possible, or with different sets of items, but the opportunity is definitely there. Exploration and gathering items is most definitely an interesting premise.
That said, though, the graphics and music are certainly up to par. The environments do more than enough to set themselves apart, and the various themes (while basic and subject to the various tropes of early chiptune music) are catchy enough not to be grating to the ears. That’s the thing about this game—it tries so hard to be fun and innovative.
It ultimately fails in execution though, unfortunately. The controls are awful because they’re held back by what little the Game Gear is capable of. Jumping, flying and the like just feel “off” sometimes, and the flaws in the basics of the game were especially noticeable during some of the last levels when real acrobatics were required. I know when a game has me beat, folks, but I also know when I want to beat a game senseless because it doesn’t do what I know it should. Collision is sometimes laughably off; the game is made difficult because of various inaccuracies present in the game’s engine. An example: while in the submarine, if you’re a considerable distance away from a mine that drops from the ceiling, despite it being nowhere near you, it will still cause massive damage. I thought it was just a glitch, at first, but no matter what I did, it always yielded the same result.
The game has several boss battles, but they’re not very difficult, menacing, or entertaining. There’s usually a simple pattern, and once you’ve got it figured out, everything falls rather easily. Even the final boss of the game was a push over after finding all the emeralds and figuring out the simple method to his madness.
The game really has no sense of flow to it. Yes, the paths branch, but I would argue that there’s not really a point to it, outside of getting certain (eventually mandatory) weapons earlier versus later. There’s definitely no “guide” telling you where to go, nor does the game offer much signposting. Get an item, get a password that lets you continue to the point where you left off if you died, like a Mega Man game. No sense of a save system beyond that, no purpose in continuing other than to see what other ridiculous things Tails Adventure will throw at you (seriously…the last item in the game is a wrench. The three items I used against the final boss were something like a wrench, a helmet, and “triple bombs”. It’s like Tails is MacGyver). All in all, I’d say the game takes a handful of hours to complete, perhaps more if you’re looking to 100% everything and collect the emeralds for super health. My 3DS Activity Log has me clocked in at 5 hours and 35 minutes, and that involved me going back and taking notes for the purpose of a review. I’ll bet the average gamer could 100% Tails Adventure over the course of a single free morning, in less than five hours.
I wish Tails Adventure could have lived up to my childhood impressions of it. I have little doubt, it did amazing things for its time and absolutely, positively tried to accomplish anything and everything the Game Gear possibly could. Going back to it after almost twenty years of innovation in the genre, however, just leaves me with this:
During a particular scene in the game, Tails builds an extremely complex robot only to have it blow up in his face. My journey with Tails Adventure reflects exactly that—amazing potential that ultimately lends itself to being a bomb. Perhaps Sonic the Hedgehog fans would benefit in picking this up just to journey through the game as I have and see how many weird faces it causes them to make throughout the journey, but… there’s no mistake. This game has amazing potential, but it falls just below the mediocre mark when it’s all said and done, if only because the Game Gear can only do so much.
Review copy purchased by author.
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