Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble
Genre: Action Platformer
Growing up on the Sonic games and as an only child, I’m shocked that I didn’t push harder to try to get a Game Gear into my greedy little hands. I do have memories of playing the Game Gear rendition of Sonic the Hedgehog on a friend’s handheld, though- until the battery died. I never saw that Game Gear or game again until years later once I started collecting.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble falls into a strange era of the Sonic franchise. Dropping right into the same timeframe as Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, the game released in the midst of a time when the flourishing series was expanding its roster and digging its heels into the same league as Mario popularity-wise.
Given that the Game Gear seems to have a fairly limited library and objectively paled in comparison to the Nintendo Game Boy in units sold, it’s sometimes easy to forget how much Sega invested in its potential. Not only is Triple Trouble the third “mainline” Sonic game to be released on the system- it does act as the sequel to equally known Sonic Chaos– but it’s one of nine Sonic related games to be released on it (including games that only released in Japan).
While Super Mario Land and its sequel commonly receive mixed reviews from folks in the current day, I couldn’t help but want to take a step back in time to see if Triple Trouble could stir up those old feelings I got from my original adventures with the spiky blue hedgehog. Given that I haven’t dug into the annals of the Game Gear library yet here on the blog and that this title interested me more than many, this seemed like a suitable place to break ground.
Somehow, Dr. Robotnik has found in his possession the entire collective of Chaos Emeralds, the fabled jewels that can grant their bearer ultimate power should they all be harnessed together. As one would expect the “great” doctor to do, he is hard at work attempting to create a machine that can wreak havoc and devastation across the world. Of course in true evil genius fashion, he leaves some of the technical tweakings to his assistants- one of whom make a slight miscalculation that makes the experiment explode, sending five of the Emeralds soaring across Mobius and out of his hands.
With the notification of the explosion and the Emeralds being back in the wild, Sonic and his best pal, Tails, find themselves hot on the trail to snag them before Robotnik can snatch them up again. They aren’t the only ones, though. Knuckles, the guardian of the Emeralds, has been convinced that Sonic and Tails are trying to steal the stones for evil purposes by Robotnik and will stop at nothing to hinder their progress while the scientist continues his search. A new player, a treasure hunter by the name of Nack the Weasel, also joins in on the hunt for the rare and very valuable jewels.
With all of these forces standing in their way, will the hedgehog and fox duo be able to retrieve the Chaos Emeralds to keep peace in their land?
While I’m a major fan of the Sonic series, if you’ve played one of the earlier entries, you’ve pretty much played them all.
Everything is in place here from previous games: choosing Sonic or Tails to begin your adventure, you have the ability to run, jump, and spin your way from one end of a level to another. Each level is broken up into three ‘acts’ which consist of two full levels and a final level that consists mainly of a fight with some mechanical contraption or evildoer. This persists over six levels or so in Triple Trouble.
Throughout the levels, each of the characters can also spin dash, curling up into a ball and hurling themselves forward to destroy the nearest enemy or obstacle in front of them. Both protagonists have unique skills, as well- Sonic can perform a Strike Dash, sending him forward in a surge of invincibility, while Tails can fly for an amount of time, reaching platforms and areas that are a bit higher and out of the way. Both of these are performed by holding the Up button and pressing one of the action buttons.
Those maneuvers aside, you’ll be seeing all of the same trappings you’ve seen in any other game in the series. Collecting 100 golden rings will net you an extra life and bonus stages come in the form of item boxes with Chaos Emeralds displayed on them. Jump on them with 50 rings in hand and you’ll have a chance to run a course and get your hands on one of the coveted Chaos Emeralds. If you don’t have all five Chaos Emeralds at the end of the game, you’ll receive a scene telling you to try again. If you do…
Well, I guess you’ll have to do it to find out.
The Good, The Bad, And…
Triple Trouble has a couple of glaring- well, troubles as a game. The main problem with the game is that it feels more an explorative exercise than an action platformer. There are plenty of sequences that involve Sonic and Tails zipping around, crashing through walls and flying through the sky to reach the goal of the level. Unfortunately, there is a stunning lack of enemies throughout the levels, resulting in what feels to be a more leisurely stroll toward the boss rather than a strategic challenge. If it weren’t for a few pitfalls and the underwater levels (yeah, you remember how those go), most gamers would easily walk through it unscathed. It’s great to be accessible to fans of all difficulties, but I’m not sure that this was what the developers were going for.
I guess my next issue would fall under “ugly”. Sadly, this game follows the trend of Sonic side characters that fall to the wayside far too easily by introducing Nack (now known as Fang the Sniper to most fans), a concept that ultimately would be catered characteristically toward the much more famous Rouge the Bat. Not only did Nack debut on a system that ultimately was dwarfed by the Game Boy in the handheld arena, but it was in a sequel and he is barely featured as the player ventures onward. Should Sonic or Tails find themselves in a bonus stage, they’ll meet up with Nack at the end, emulating Knuckles’ “impervious taunting” before the player moves on. The only other time I saw him in the game was at the end where he had made off with the Chaos Emeralds I hadn’t retrieved. The poor guy didn’t stand a chance, and the game feels more like Double Trouble in the end.
What did it do right in all of this, then? Despite feeling like it followed the safe route by committing to the Sonic formula so closely, the small variations are kind of fun. While I played through as Tails, not only did I get to do some extra exploring using his flight mechanic but the couple of vehicles and other travel options that occasionally cropped up made the game feel a might bit fresher than it could have otherwise. While these are pretty much limited to the underwater levels with a submersible and by being able to float upwards in a bubble (both of which negate the need for air pockets thankfully), it showed an effort toward creativity that would affect at least one or two other games in the Sonic stable later on.
For a little screen, the graphics are pretty decent given the limitations of the system. There are a few shortcuts here and there that make this feel like a major step down from the Sega Genesis Sonic games. When you realize that’s to be expected due to differences in processing power among other technical elements, it actually feels impressive that the game looks as good as it does.
The weakest part of the game’s front-end, though, is definitely the music. The sounds are fairly one-for-one with the rest of the series’ origins. The music doesn’t stand out nearly as much, though, with even the earworms dislodging shortly after playing the game. By no means are there terrible tracks, but they just don’t live up to the Sonic feel- and it feels more like a skip in composition rather than limitations of the hardware.
Triple Trouble isn’t the worst Sonic game by a long shot. In fact, it appears from what I’ve been researching that some folks are attempting to make a remaster of this and its predecessor. On its own legs, though, it’s not revolutionary. It doesn’t do anything exorbitant or fresh, and it is clearly limited by its platform. Even some of its new elements aren’t capitalized on in the short time the game runs.
What the game ends up feeling like is a test to see what the Game Gear can handle in a Sonic game. It is a solid tribute to the library while still feeling slim in comparison. While the fault can’t be handed to one source in particular, it’s tough to recommend going back to try this one out unless you’re a diehard Sonic fan. Plenty of other games in the series do almost the exact same thing as Triple Trouble but stronger and with a much more satisfying process.