Saturday, 22 October 2011

Sonic Jam

I haven't caused major harm to my brain in a while. Let's fix that.

Why look, it's Sonic Jam... on the Game.com. Yes, internet legend drx got his hands on an official Game.com emulator and development environment, so now it's possible to play games for this horrible, horrible system without having to exchange funds. As a start in this Game.com marathon I have lined up, I'll be looking at perhaps the most famous Game.com game and the first Sonic game to be released outside of a Sega system. I'm sure Yuji Naka will be proud.

First though, a brief history of this system. The Game.com (pronounced "game com") was a late 90s attempt by Tiger Electronics to dethrone the Game Boy in the handheld market. Terrible specs, too bulky to carry in your pockets, a silly price - many, many things were wrong about this project, and as such, the Game.com is often labeled as the worst handheld system to ever be created.

Yet the Game.com saw quite a lot of support from meaningful entities - Sega, Capcom, Midway, Konami, 3D Realms - many bizarre things were brought to the handheld, and unlike most obscure systems, you might have actually heard of the games it houses. The quality of the screen and audio means that running these games on actual hardware is a stupid idea - running them in an emulator is the best option but that hasn't been possible until recently.

There have been many horror stories about Sonic Jam. About it being completely unplayable and a general disgrace to the series. The controversy is that actually this game's not too bad for Game.com standards. Now of course, I've yet to define what those standards are (spoilers: they're not great) but I think anyone who is willing to give this system a shot will come to the conclusion that Sonic Jam is one of the better realeases for it. It's a meaningless statement to make - I'm sure the contents of my local sewage system are a bit cleaner than those of greater London's, but you wouldn't go out of your way to visit either.

The original Sonic Jam, released for the Sega Saturn in 1997, was a remarkable compilation, containing the four Mega Drive Sonic platformers and a few nice extras. "Extras" is not in the Game.com's vocabulary, nor is the concept of porting, so we have a very different release on our hands from the get go.

Sonic Jam is split into thirds - "Sonic 2", "Sonic 3" and "Sonic & Knuckles", each of which are playable with Sonic, Tails or Knuckles and are essentially the same game with different backgrounds. Of the three characters, only Tails differs from the norm, as he has the ability to fly - Sonic and Knuckles are identical. There is also nothing related to the original 1991 Sonic the Hedgehog in this game.

One thing worth pointing out at this early stage - the Game.com can't do audio. Music is generally made up of quiet notes played in a seemingly random order. It leads to most games sounding the same, and though you can usually make out a tune by stopping and listening to the system, things tend to be distorted by sound effects and inevitable slowdown, caused by software too complex for the system to cope with. Sonic Jam is no different - it sounds just as terrible as the rest.

Graphically a Game.com is not much better than a Game Boy, despite being released a good nine years later. More objects can be squashed onto a screen, but we still have to deal with four shades of grey and noticeable on-screen lag. Needless to say the rich, colourful worlds of Sonic were battered in the porting process, but to give the developers some credit, it does look like a Sonic game.

Sonic Jam on the Game.com is mostly broken. There are no physics to speak of - characters struggle to make it up hills and ramps, and it's often just as difficult to come to a stop. Momentum is often lost for unknown reasons, leading to Sonic and chums being painfully slow and unresponsive, and coupled with awkward level design leads to an overly frustrating experience. Whereas it's understandable that perhaps a system of this nature would struggle with a game as complex as Sonic the Hedgehog 3, there are just as many design flaws as there are gameplay ones. Clearly it's a game that hasn't been tested, rushed out solely to fool the unsuspecting general public.

The camera is dreadful. The Y axis only scrolls when Sonic touches the edges of the screen, and it's impossible to look up and down. With graphics this big on a screen this small, it's frankly too difficult to make your way through the levels unless you know what's coming. Spikes, for example, hurt you even if you touch them from the side, so if you accidentally land on some which you can't see you'll undoubtedly lose a life. This is where Tails comes in handy, thanks to his ability to fly over the problem areas, but even then death is common.

You can't charge your spindash, and its lack of power makes the move completely worthless most of the time. Sonic 2's second act of Emerald Hill Zone contains many pits you'll likely fall into because you can't physically see where they are. There's a truckload of problems, most of which can be attributed to the fact the Game.com is not designed to cope with Sonic platformers. There's a few levels and some bosses, but you never progress onto more interesting zones. I can't for the life of me understand why they created three small games as opposed to one big one.

Sonic Jam could be (and likely is) the worst official Sonic the Hedgehog game out there, but it's still bettered by Sonic Adventure 7 on the Game Boy Color when it comes to Sonic-related pain. This one seems to at least try to deliver a competent experience - it fails on all accounts, but it's more on track than other Game.com games as I will demonstrate in the near future.

So yes, as you'll hear ever so often in the next few posts of mine - don't ever contemplate buying this garbage.

4 comments:

  1. If you're not playing on the original system, you're missing half the brain fuck.

    Here's a review I wrote a few years ago:
    http://www.planete-sonic.com/jeux/historique/insolites/review-sonic-jam-gamecom-a384.htm

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it's all in french....

      Delete
  2. Where can I get this emulator? Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sonic Jam on game.com, awesome.

    ReplyDelete