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.
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.
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 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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