Earlier this week, Sega announced the release of the Game Gear Micro as a part of its 60th anniversary celebration. The ludicrously small handheld console comes in four different colors, each of which has four different games. I’m sad to say that Sonic: Triple Trouble isn’t one of them.
Two of the four Game Gear Micro variations have a Sonic game on them; the black color has the original Sonic The Hedgehog and the blue has Sonic Chaos (known as Sonic & Tails in Japan). The first Sonic shares some elements with its cousin on the Genesis, but overall it’s the lesser of the two games. Sonic Chaos is a new game with new takes on the franchise and is honestly an OK game worth your time. But if the goal is celebrating the Game Gear—unless the Micro isn’t truly about celebrating the Game Gear and is just another prank 2020 wants to play on a fatigued general public—wouldn’t it make sense to feature the absolute best Game Gear Sonic?
The nearly-forgotten sequel to Sonic Chaos, Sonic: Triple Trouble it improves upon its predecessor in every way. Its graphics are better suited to the Game Gear, the colors popping vibrantly from the backlit screen. The level design marries speed and platforming, with new, never-before-seen power ups like rocket shoes, spin dash-powered minecarts, and snowboards. Tails even comes back as a playable character, with Knuckles and Nack the Weasel—in his first appearance ever—tormenting the heroes.
Triple Trouble is a 2D side scroller with the same objective as all the others—race through levels, collect the Chaos Emeralds, and defeat Dr. Robotnik, who at this point had not yet legally changed his name to Eggman.
Things kick off the typical Green Hill Zone clone, then peak far too early in the second stage, Sunset Park, in which the Blue Blur pops against a vibrant orange-yellow sky. Sonic races through the level on minecarts avoiding mosquito monsters and flying robots that drop bombs on his head.
Sunset Zone’s highlight—and the highlight of the entire game—comes at the end of its second stage. Instead of hitting the “level complete” panel and flashing to the score tally screen, the stage seamlessly transitions into the boss zone with a change in music and tempo that has Sonic running on the back of a speeding train. It’s so frickin’ cool.
It’s not the most difficult of the Sonic handhelds—that designation is saved for Sonic 2, with its twisting labyrinth zones and the game’s own aspect ratio confounding players. But you can find a challenge in the game’s Chaos Emerald side quest. To earn Chaos Emeralds, Sonic must traverse two kinds of special stages: a ring collection challenge reminiscent of the Genesis version of Sonic 2, and the vastly more difficult time attack zones, which transport players to an eerie purple and white stage. There, you have 60 seconds to either reach the end before the clock runs out, or break open sparsely-placed time boxes to get more time to reach the end. These levels are hard to navigate, constructed like mazes with hidden platforms and traps designed to eat away your time. They all end with a fight against Nack the Weasel, but it feels more like a perfunctory victory lap to reward you for defeating the real boss.
Triple has trouble with lag. Occasionally, too many sprites or particle effects on the screen will slow things down to a gelatinous chug, making it hard to recover rings after being hit. But in general, every level of Triple Trouble is a beautifully designed and brilliantly scored experience that merits its inclusion not only on the Game Gear Micro but in the pantheon of the best Sonic games ever made.
Perhaps if Sega decides to release the Game Gear Micro outside Japan, it will reconsider the lineups for each color. And if not, you can always experience the finest in handheld Sonics by purchasing it on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.