Sunday 7 July 2019

Sonic Labyrinth (Sega Game Gear review)

Developer: Minato Giken
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1995

Sonic Labyrinth is an isometric puzzle-platformer that's exclusive to the Sega Game Gear.

Dr. Robotnik has replaced Sonic's running sneakers with a pair of heavy boots, and the only way to change them back is to collect six Chaos Emeralds across four Zones. The latter are split into four stages each, with the objective being to locate three keys and then find the exit before time runs out. Sonic's main mode of transportation is a Spin Dash, something you'll need to heavily rely on, as his running speed is ridiculously lethargic; this is the game's obvious flaw, as you'll have no choice but to continually put yourself in harms way to beat the timer. It's not even like the neutered running speed is a hardware limitation either, as Sonic zips around when you collect the Sneakers power up. However, my opinion did change here after replaying the game a second time through; once you adjust to the odd mechanics you realise that the Spin Dash adds to the intensity by acting as a risk-reward element; in many ways, the challenge and enjoyment comes from transitioning your mindset into playing it like a pinball game, and this form of recklessness actually gives the gameplay its edge. The level design successfully balances maze-like environments, while still feeling manageable and not overwhelming the player. It also does a good job of introducing new ideas (e.g. springs, cannons and warps) that allow you to access new areas. There's nothing distinctly 'Sonic' about the locales though and all of the generic backdrops could have easily fitted another character. Also, the bosses don't offer much in the way of innovation or excitement and they can each be beaten by simply Spin Dashing repeatedly.

Sonic Labyrinth is a bit misunderstood in my opinion, and once you start playing it the way the developers intended the slow running speed almost becomes a non-issue. To call the game a hidden gem would be stretching the truth, but the level design is tight and there's much more fun to be had here than you might initially think.

Random trivia: In 2012, the game was released on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console.

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