When the Game Gear was developed, it was supposed to offer an alternative to the mega success that was the Nintendo Game Boy. By using colour opposed to monochrome, it was hoped it would be a huge success and tap into the market the way the Game Boy did. Alas, whilst we’re all playing on the Game Boy’s great- grandson or great-great-grandson (the DS and 3DS respectively), the Game Gear never had such a legacy. But it was no means a failure, as it was highly popular outside of Japan.
Sadly, some of its games can’t be the classics the Game Boy had. We all know about the fact that the more famous Game Gear games are either fantastic (Tails Adventure) or downright abysmal (Tails Sky Patrol). Sonic Labyrinth falls into the latter category. Very, very much. Whilst SEGA did do some good Sonic games on the Game Gear, Sonic Labyrinth is one that was doomed to failure right from the concept. Let’s get this over with – it’s going to be a painful review. Well, for me, anyway.
The story, as ever in a Sonic game, hardly matters. Dr. Eggman (still known in the US and EU as Dr. Robotnik at this point) traps Sonic in a large labyrinth to try and stop his foe once and for all. To try and make sure his plan succeeds, he tricks Sonic by giving him a pair of Slow-Down Boots, causing him to go very, very slowly. This restricts Sonic into only being able to move fast by spin dashing through pinball-esque stages.
Okay, first flaw. Why make a Sonic game in which Sonic doesn’t go fast? It’s like making a Mario game where he’s captured, or a Metroid game with Samus being portrayed as weak – it makes no sense. Okay, so in some cases it works really well, such as having a Metal Gear game without Solid Snake*. But unless you do it well and treat the source material with respect, you’ll just ruin things. And this is what happens with Sonic Labyrinth. It’s a poor excuse of a gameplay mechanic and it’s not executed or justified well at all.
Now, the decision would be forgiven if the game was actually a lot of fun. Sadly, this is not the case. The game is 16 stages long and they are all exactly the same. For 12 of the stages, you need to collect 3 keys to unlock the goal door within a time limit. This present a huge problem, as Sonic cannot travel well. His slow walk restricts fine movement, and his spin dash movements are very unpredictable. Combined with the fact the levels act like a pinball table means that the controls are fairly awful. Now, I’m only playing the Mega Collection + version of it (as I was a Game Boy holder when younger, and so didn’t play the original), but despite the simple controls, it feels really off. There’s no tightness or refinement to it. Great games should be playable on any control system – this doesn’t.
For 4 of the remaining stages (after every 3 key-hunt stages), you face off against a boss, but not before a “mini-game” to collect as many rings as possible. Realistically, all it does is to decide if you get a life, and how many hit points you get in the boss. End the mini-game with at least one ring – congrats, you have 2 hits. No rings mean you’re a one-hit wonder. That’s it. This makes bosses unnecessarily hard and stupid, as you cannot reclaim the rings you lose. You can’t even pick up more in the boss arena as they “suspiciously” disappear when a boss starts, and reappear once beaten. So it boils down to luck overall as to whether you are hit when attacking the boss or not – especially with the dodgy controls.
The music is also something best kept to one side. The music is patchy, not very memorable and at times, grating on the ears. Now I know that most people will say that in the 8-bit era, most music was awful. I counteract that with one single game: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening**. I still believe that game holds better music after 20 years than some of the tracks in games released in the last 5 or so years***. Just because you have limited technology does not justify your failings. You work around it, adapt it and mould it to best suit your restrictions. Okay, so I might be comparing oranges with apples, but if you want a better comparison; see Tails Adventure, a game released before this one and generally regarded as one of the best Game Gear titles made.
As for the actual game…it’s like the whole thing is an endurance match for us rather than Sonic. It’s very sluggish to play and there’s very little drive for you to continue. Whereas some games change things a bit as the game goes on, this just adds one or two minor quirks that offer nothing new. For those that do get through the entire game, the payoff is just insulting. You see Sonic chase down Eggman, reclaim his speed after picking up a very un-Chaos Emerald Chaos Emerald and run whilst the credits roll. Though you’d probably have got a message saying it wasn’t perfect. Oh yes – there are two “endings” in this game, if you can call it that. But seriously – why would you play this game again to clear the hidden bonus stage to get a “better” ending that just tells you the level select cheat?
The only slight positive I can see in the entire game is that the graphics aren’t too bad. They’re okay in a generic way and they don’t hurt your eyes too much. But they are very basic and not the best example of the Game Gear’s capabilities.
Overall, this game is bad. Really, really bad. The only reason why it’s still remembered is that everyone knows it is bad. And now, a new generation of players can “enjoy” this game with its availability on the 3DS eShop. Personally – save the money you would’ve got with this game and buy Link’s Awakening DX. It’s slightly dearer, but infinitely better in every way possible. Or if you don’t like Zelda games, get a Mario game. Or Metroid II. Or ANYTHING else. Please.
|GRAPHICS||The best part of the game, and that’s saying something. Sonic and the Badniks look okay, but not impressive. Stages are bland, but at least they don’t assault the eyes…much.|
|MUSIC||Urgh. Not nice to listen to at all. It’s not completely awful, but it’s just noise to me.|
|CONTROLS||Sloppy, loose, no real control over our blue hero. And when he’s “running”, he moves so slow it’s not funny (and yes, I realise the whole point isn’t to run, but this is taking the mickey…).|
|REPLAY VALUE||What replay value? It’s the same 4 levels, but with different quirks. You’ll be finished with it within an hour or so. And once over, there’s no real conclusion or need to replay.|
|OVERALL||Awful. Awful, awful, awful, awful, awful. This is a horrendous game that plays more like a tech demo than anything else. No enjoyment, no redeeming features, nothing. But at least it isn’t Tails Sky Patrol (and if that isn’t damning with faint praise, I don’t know what is)|
*I’m classing the Naked Snake/Big Boss games to be this, as Big Boss is certainly not the same person as Snake. Metal Gear Rising on the other hand, qualifies 100% to this mantra (and, at a push, MGS2’s Plant chapter)
**I wish I could review this instead…
***Dare I remind you of Sonic Chronicles’ music?