Going into Sonic Blast I expected it to be nothing more than an 8-bit port of Sega's miserable Sonic 3D Blast game. Instead I was surprised to discover that this Sonic outing is a much more traditional affair, the type that would probably appeal to a lot of die hard Sonic fans. But I was immediately put off by the game's weird graphic style, sluggish controls and lame power-ups. That's not to say that Sonic Blast can't be enjoyed, but there are definitely more enjoyable 8-bit platformers on the Game Gear.
Sonic Blast is a brand new Sonic adventure, one that brings our favorite blue hedgehog together with Knuckles the Echidna. You choose the character you want from the start, each with their own pros and cons. Their adventures are identical, but it's certainly nice to have a choice between a couple of different characters. Once you've decided it's off to the first level, where you'll be met by the familiar Green Hill Zone.
What sets this Sonic game apart from the crowd is the graphic style, which features a strange rendered look. It's clear that the developers (Aspect) was trying to make the game resemble Donkey Kong Country for the Super NES, but boy did they fail at that task. The problem is the hardware; the Game Gear just isn't powerful enough to pull off 3D rendered graphics. Instead of looking new and innovative, the graphics just look shiny and ugly. Worse yet, the graphics actually slow down the action. Had this game been designed using traditional sprites they could have made the game at least twice as fast, but as it is you get a slow and sluggish Sonic game that never quite looks or feels right.
The best thing about the game is the new set of levels, each with their own unique twist. At first the game will seem too easy, especially as you're running through mountains, jumping over lava and doing loopty-loops in the Green Hill Zone. But then you'll get to the underwater levels, and that's where you'll stop dead in your tracks. Sonic has always had problems with underwater levels, but never before has our hero had to put up with so much just to beat up Dr. Robotnik. In the first area the game teaches you that you can stay underwater for a good minute without dying, a lesson you take to heart. But hold on, because in the very next area the game only gives you 15 seconds to stay underwater. That's right; the game actually changes the rules on you for no reason. Throw in an underwater pipe maze and you have yourself the single most unfair Sonic the Hedgehog level ever devised.
Thankfully most of the levels aren't like that, but there's no question that this level leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Aspect tried to make up for their shoddy level designs by offering some truly creative level bosses. While you are always battling Dr. Robotnik, he comes at you in a number of creative suits. In one level you'll have to deal with a flying doctor with a mace, while in another level he'll be a floating colossus with a huge spear. It's nice to see a company put a little effort into a Sonic the Hedgehog boss battle, that's that didn't seem to concern Sega when they were making their own Sonic games.
Aside from the level designs, the real problem with this game is the way it plays. Thanks to the graphics the game feels sluggish, which is about the worst thing you can say to a fast-paced 2D platformer. Aspect did manage to get a few things right (double jumping, the way you only lose a few rings when you get hit, etc.), but the game just never feels right. I'm sure if Aspect had a little more time and more powerful hardware this could have been a spectacular game, but as it is this is one of those Sonic games you can completely avoid. This Game Gear game is for collectors only.