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Beat the Backlog: Tails Adventure

Special thanks to Wolfman for helping with edits.

Some installments in SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog franchise are among the most prolific and revered works the Tokyo-based company he represents has published. Others, such as its twelve 8-bit titles that spanned the Master System and Game Gear, are seldom recognized. Aspect handled many of the smaller-scale Sonic platformers of yesteryear, including a curious spin-off known as Tails Adventure.

Miles “Tails” Prower’s side scroller isn’t the fox’s first headlining role (it’s his third following Music Maker and Skypatrol), but it is the most successful of the lot. Adventure is an outlier in Sonic’s portfolio for eschewing the high-speed spectacle typical of the brand, opting to channel the ethos of a Metroidvania. Playing with Sonic’s conventions is a commonplace practice among the many studios who’ve worked on the IP, sometimes yielding interesting and often dissatisfying results. Shockingly, given Aspect’s track record, Adventure proved to be a fairly playable attempt at differentiation.

Tails Adventure

Tails’ Adventure predates Sonic’s by three years. Its biggest influence on the greater franchise was in Archie Comics’ adaptation, published nearly fifteen years after the game itself. (Image: SEGA)

As explained in the Japanese manual, Adventure is set an undisclosed time prior to Sonic and Tails’ fateful meeting. (SEGA of America, however, positioned the game’s events as an ill-fated vacation Tails took after temporarily parting ways from his hero.) Our antagonistic empire for the quest is the Battle Kukku Army, the bird-themed armada under the command of Great Battle Kukku 15th. Can the inexperienced Tails stop the fouls from procuring the Chaos Emeralds scattered throughout Cocoa Island?

Starkly contrasting his regular Sonic speed, the kid moves at a glacial pace and lacks his soon-to-be mentor’s spin attacks. Instead, Tails arms himself with contraptions found strewn across the island, starting only with a simple bomb. His physical abnormality – his two tails typically allow him to hover – still grants him flight, but his ability to remain airborne is initially strictly limited. Likewise, Rings remain plentiful and function as Tails’ health, but they emerge after destroying rocks or enemies rather than found floating in the open. You can only carry ten Rings at first too, and you lose one per hit. Tails, thankfully, can better himself by locating the six gemstones (one of which he’s outright given); collecting them incrementally increases Tails’ Ring threshold and flight gauge.

Tails in Poloy Forst in Tails Adventure

Tails has the ability to grab onto ledges in another break for the series’ protocol, further highlighting Adventure’s slower-paced nature. (Image: SEGA)

Adventure executes a less linear style of level progression, presenting you with a world map and allowing a degree of freedom in how you explore it. Backtracking to old areas after obtaining newer tools grants access to hidden alcoves, secret equipment, and previously unaccessible exits. The kid relies on his controllable android to crawl through tight corridors he cannot, and it transforms into his upgradable Sea Fox submarine to allow passage through three levels tailored to the vessel’s movement capabilities. Adventures’ level layouts aren’t particularly intricate and they fail to facilitate replayability comparable to speedrunning the Sonic trilogy on the Genesis, but their sense of discovery is gratifying. The Battle Kukku Army, however, falls flat. Its standard troops move and attack in predictable patterns, functioning more as simple nuisances than anything that challenges you. High-ranking soldiers confront Tails across eight boss encounters, all of whom are similarly unremarkable.

As to be expected with an Aspect production, imperfections mar the experience. Not all of Tails’ tools benefit him (there’s little reason to equip a close-combat weapon when bombs eradicate everything from a safe distance), and even fewer are fun to mess around with. There’s also a degree of trial and error involved, as you may need to backtrack out of a level and return upon discovering you’re required to use a specific item you neglected to bring. The audio is bland, and the Game Gear’s aspect ratio, as usual, sometimes prevents you from seeing impending hazards – an issue that admittedly plagues other entries in the series. And although Tails Adventure pushes the system it’s on to produce impressively detailed visuals, it’s occasionally hard to distinguish foreground from background.

Tails and a Flicky in Tails Adventure

It’s fun when sidekicks are given the limelight, exploring aspects of their character. Tails’ technological expertise had previously been touched upon, but it hadn’t been pushed to the forefront so profoundly until here. (Image: SEGA)

Tails Adventure is outclassed by more influential entries in its genre, and it arguably isn’t even the best title in its neglected sector of its home series. Other 8-bit Sonic side scrollers, however, can be enjoyable, but they’re approximations or watered-down versions of their 16-bit brethren. Aspect, on this one occasion, graciously abandoned their usual mantra and accommodated the Game Gear’s less capable hardware. Tails’ pilgrimage across Cocoa Island offers a flavor distinct from everything else found in Sonic’s world, and it’s appreciable for it.

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Cart Boy

Cart Boy wants to be the very best. Like no one ever was. He also occasionally contributes an article here when the stars align properly, and he helps out with editing and Source Gaming’s Facebook page.
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  1. It’s weird but how would Sonic feel if the next new Sonic game if it was a remake or a sequel to Tail’s Adventure? It would be cool.

    Also I feel that Tails is going to be one of the DLC fighter in Smash but want to you think?

    David Horan on November 28 |
    • I also think it’d be neat if the next Sonic game was a remake of or sequel to Tails Adventure. It’s been 23 years, so SEGA probably would’ve properly revisited it by now if they were ever going to, but it’s fun to think about how they’d handle a successor to Adventure in 2018. The original was held back by the platform it was on and I feel it’s an interesting foundation to try to build from. I wonder who’d SEGA get to develop it because it wouldn’t be Aspect. Anyway, if we continue to get new classic-styled Sonic games, it’d be neat to see the Battle Kukkus given some kind of cameo.

      And I can’t really speculate who’s going to be Ultimate DLC yet since the base game isn’t out and I’ve been (somewhat unsuccessfully) trying to avoid spoilers. If we do get a Sonic newcomer, however, Tails would make sense and he’d be fun, though we could get another Sonic or SEGA newcomer. But if we do get Tails, what stage would you like him to come with? Something from Sonic 2 maybe?

      Cart Boy on November 29 |
      • I guess ether casino night zone or chemical planet zone

        David Horan on November 30 |