Playtest: Sonic Gems Collection

Playtest: Sonic Gems Collection

During our trip to Tokyo (more on this in our upcoming ‘TSS In Tokyo’ special, where we visit SEGA Joypolis and tour the many game shops in Akihabara), we snapped up a copy of Sonic Gems Collection. In the US this title remains a Gamecube exclusive, yet in Japan and Europe it is also available for the PlayStation 2. This article is a brief analysis of our first playtest of the game, ahead of our full review. We don’t want to give people the wrong review score, yet we strive to bring our readers the info as far ahead of its domestic release as possible, so expect these types of article to become a fairly regular feature.

SONICTEAM usually make a habit of including an English language set within their productions, which makes importing the latest Sonic games from Japan easy if you don’t happen to speak the language. Bizzarely, not so for Gems Collection. No English setting. The menus were fairly simple to navigate, yet we reckon the reasoning behind this is because the English language version of Gems has been altered in terms of game offering.

The games that are staring you in the face when you first boot up the game are the three headlining titles: Sonic the Fighters, Sonic the Hedgehog CD and Sonic R. More on these later. You also get a bunch of Game Gear titles; with the facility of savestates for the first time on Gamecube. Five unlockable titles are not available from the offset; Vectorman 1 and 2 and the Streets of Rage trilogy. Note that the Streets of Rage series is only available in the Japanese GCN/PS2 versions of Sonic Gems Collection.

Select Metal Sonic in the main menu and you access a list of manuals. This being the Japanese version, we were treated to an abundance of colourful and interesting manual scans and artwork; the Game Gear manuals and Sonic the Fighters scans are of particular interest. The bottom selection of the main menu, illustrated by Eggman, features the miscellaneous options, including the familiar ‘unlockable hints’ list and credits roll.

The proof in the pudding, aside from the games themselves, will ultimately come from the ‘Sonic Museum’, a gallery of images, music and movies for players to unlock. Regarding Sonic the Fighters, Sonic CD and Sonic R, unlocking artwork and other extras has been excellently handled – artwork becomes available once you complete Sonic the Fighters, or once you play Sonic R for intervals of 90 or 120 minutes. You actually have to play the games in order to obtain the rewards, which is a definite step in the right direction. Unfortunately, only the headlining games in this compilation have been reformatted and fiddled with by SONICTEAM: the Game Gear games still follow the aggravating ritual of the ‘Game Log’, where you have to “play” a game a certain amount of times to unlock some extras. And despite the objectives outlined in the major three games, there are still some ‘Game Log’ objectives for even STF, Sonic CD and Sonic R.

Despite this, the museum appears to be expansive; having played this for only a little while, we cannot lay a full review on the contents nor the compilation itself yet. However, the museum holds the artwork you remember from Sonic Jam, as well as artwork specific to Sonic CD, Sonic R or Sonic the Fighters that haven’t previously been on a collection. Other unlockables, aside from images, include special game remixes and movies – the latter of which includes a “History of Sonic” trailer… although we imagine our hearts will sink if it is similar to the “History of Sonic” trailer found in Mega Collection.

As for the games, for accessibility we tip our hat off to Sonic Gems Collection. Sonic the Fighters is certainly very basic, but its charm was never in its ability to mirror Tekken 3 (it was a spinoff game remember) but in the comic situations and the special moves that were authentic to Sonic the Hedgehog. Depending on your difficulty setting, Metal Sonic can be one MEAN boss as well. Certainly not extensive, and not particularly lasting in longevity, but then it is an arcade game, a title designed for quick plays on the seafront, not sessions lasting hours in your own bedroom.

Sonic CD is every bit as playable as on the Mega CD, and in some ways even more so. Despite the odd graphical glitch here and there (which are barely noticeable and don’t really impede on gameplay), it’s refreshing for someone like me to finally play this great title on a stable console. Those who have collected the Mega CD version can agree that it was a pain in the ass to setup your Mega CD system, then rather a traumatic experience worrying whether your Internal RAM had survived longer than two days. The Japanese version retains the original Japanese soundtrack, which is much more melodic and ‘Sonic’ than the American soundtrack, which sounds closer to a ‘SatAM’ wannabe tracklist.

Sonic R is the game that people love to hate, or love to love. Opinion on this game is divided (if you want TSS’ definitive verdict, check out the Sonic R section and read the review), but short as it is, it is quite playable once you get around the rather awkward controls. Just like on the SEGA Saturn, effective control is down to your advanced use of the trigger buttons. Once you began turning corners like a pro, you’re laughing. It’s a shame the game lasts a dedicated Sonic fan about an hour or two to complete, because the course design and format was something truly inspired – a real breath of fresh air compared to all the silly Mario Kart clones going around, Sonic R actually set a new benchmark in explorable courses. Something that hasn’t really been taken advantage of. Ahead of its time.

The Game Gear games are a bit of a mystery – why compile a shortlist of games already available on Gamecube in the form of SADX? For those with a PS2 weaned on Mega Collection +, this selection will complete your Sonic Gear Collection. And the savestate function is a first – and a godsend – for the GCN version. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Tails Adventure remains some of the best Sonic Game Gear titles ever made, yet you could be hard pushed to actually play them regardless.

All in all, accessibility and the improvements over past collections will be sure to be stable good points for Sonic Gems Collection. While the downsides that will undoubtedly drag the final score down will be its questionable offering: where was SEGASonic the Hedgehog? Whatever the case, this will inevitably benefit those hardcore Sonic fans who chucked away their old Game Gears or couldn’t be arsed to faff about with a troublesome Mega CD add-on system back in the day. Sonic CD remains the star of this compilation by a long shot.

Stay tuned over the next few days for a complete review, the only definitive rating you can trust for Sonic fans. Only on The Sonic Stadium!

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Founder of The Sonic Stadium and creator/co-organiser of the Summer of Sonic convention. Loves talking about Sonic the Hedgehog in his spare time. Likes Sonic Colours a little too much for his own good, apparently.