On a small unmapped, tropical island in the Pacific, an aircraft arrives with a thud onto the earth, explosions erupt, trees are set ablaze, and wildlife scatter in fear. Our hero, lying supine, seemingly asleep, opens his eyes. Matthew Fox? No. (That game doesn't hit stores till next February.) Our hero is a fox named Miles Prower, who most children recognize as Tails from the heralded Sonic the Hedgehog series. As he investigates the strange happenings on the island, Tails begins his largely ignored solo act known as Tails Adventures.
The plot of Tails Adventure relies primarily on its images. Tails, asleep on a tree stump, awakens to find his once-idyllic forest engulfed in flames. That's the entire set-up. His actions then speak for the rest of the narrative, and this straight-forward style of gameplay is refreshing by today's standards that have most adventures weighed down by lots of dialogues, prologues, epilogues, and in general, a logorrhea of information. For those that like exposition, however, a more detailed plot is outlined in the instruction manual (more on that later).
As Tails makes his way through the first stage (a cave infested with enemy robotic ducks) anyone familiar with Sonic the Hedgehog will immediately notice a glaring difference between this game and its Sonic brethren - its relative lack of speed. Though foxes run faster than hedgehogs, you may at first feel like Tails is walking through syrup, trudging from side to side in a typical sidescrolling romp. When you finally get over the fact that you're not playing a "blast-processed" Sonic game, but a game unique in its own rite, things start becoming fun.
Tail Adventures is primarily a sidescroller with RPG elements, and has often been compared to Metroid, so it must be good. Its worlds offer multiple paths and directions, many of which are initially blocked off, and like Metroid, the landscape-based aporia (seeming impasses or puzzles) require special items to reach previously blocked routes. You find yourself revisiting old grounds wondering what to do next, and with much of the terrain looking the same, you will become lost more than a few times. Be sure to note the save code; this game will take at least a few sittings to complete.
Your enemies are ducks tricked out in high-tech armor that uncannily like Gizmoducks from the old Duck Tails cartoon. They pose a challenge primarily because your bombs are thrown in arcs, which make for landing them precisely a practiced art. You must be exact with your hits to roast your duck properly. There are no neighborhood kills. You can increase your precision, however, if you have Tails spin his two tails to fly helicopter style and drop the bombs in a straight path. He starts with only three seconds of airtime, but flying becomes easier as you progress. With the aid of chaos emeralds (mystical unnatural resources on the island) you can increase both your health capacity (rings) and hover time. Eventually, other items emerge, giving Tails new weapons, abilities, and access to new locales.
Items are lodged in metallic shells, and unveiling them comes with much fanfare and ceremony, giving the player a fulfilling sense of accomplishment with each new discovery. The first item, a robot named Mecha Tails, proves useful throughout the game and serves the role of sidekick. Like a bomb squad robot, Mecha can serve as advanced scout for unforeseen dangers, or he can push switches otherwise unreachable by Tails. (If you're a sidekick to a sidekick character, what does that make you?) There are twenty-five equippable items in all, but not all are needed to beat the game. Part of the strategy lies in the fact that you can only equip four items at a time. When you visit Tails' house, you can choose what to take with you from your cache. Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing beforehand what you'll need. Picture walking to the corner deli and then realizing you forgot your wallet, and so you go home and replace the cell phone in your pocket with the wallet, and then go back to the store and then realize that you need your phone to call home to ask if anyone needs anything and so on. Like much else in the game, your inventory is a matter of trial and error. To make backtracking home easier, Tails can use a teleport device, but this item is largely useless since its discovery comes late in the game and takes up valuable inventory space.
Several small islets surround the mainland, and Tails must pilot his Sea Fox submarine to reach them. These intermittent shoot-em-up stages employ different controls and mechanics from the rest of the game, but they do not seem tacked-on. As you find more items, the Sea Fox could eventually propel Tails into the sky, allowing him to face the final boss, the Great Battle Kukku 15th, and though we don't know exactly who this is, at least he's not a recycled Dr. Robotnic.
The exact plot of Tails Adventures depends of on which side of the Pacific you lie. While the software is the same for Japanese and Western audiences, the back-story given in the instruction manuals diverge. The Japanese story claims the game as a prequel to Tails' partnership with Sonic, while the occidental booklet portrays it as a sequel. This is not a big deal unless you're archiving Sonic lore. [As an interestingly side note, the U.S. version names the island "Tails Island" while the Japanese one calls it "Cocoa Island." The difference between the two names may be a subtle, cultural one. Since the days of Manifest Destiny, Americans have dubbed many of their acquisitions according to people (America = Amerigo Vespucci). Japanese place names, however, tend to reflect characteristics of the land itself, (Nippon = Sun Source). Let me stop here, before I start talking about structural anthropology and forget that I'm reviewing a game.]
Since Tails Adventures was released in late in the Game Gear's lifespan, there aren't many used copies lying around. If you find this review intriguing, you may want purchase Sonic Gems for the GameCube or Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut for the Dreamcast, which features the Tails Adventure as an unlockable "mini-game". Do not be fooled by the word "mini-game." Its expansive world will keep you occupied for days.