Sonic The Hedgehog Pocket Adventure

Release: December 4, 1999 | Size: 16megs 

Author: M.E. Williams

This standout Sonic Adventure title is one of the few platfomers on the Neo Geo Pocket Color - but boy is it a good one! Despite the low power of the SNK's handheld, Sonic Pocket stands as one of the best platformers on any portable console with the speed, attitude, and panache to match Sonic's Mega Drive outings...mostly. 

When SNK released the Neo-Geo Pocket Color in 1999 they needed a marquee title that would help to make the little wonder console more appealing to a broad audience. Due to some work with Sega during the tail end of 1990's, Sega licensed the Sonic the Hedgehog IP to SNK in order for them to create a fresh entry in this long running series on their new handheld. Developed in-house at SNK rather than at Sega, series creator Yuji Naka was on hand to provide feedback and help ensure the Sonic brand was being treated with respect. The team that created Sonic Pocket would also go on to found the development studio DIMPS just a couple years later, after the collapse of classic SNK. Despite being short lived on SNK's portable console, and low sales due to lack of interest in the Neo Pocket, Sonic Pocket Adventure is a standout showpiece for the little portable that could. 

Sonic Pocket is less of its own thing and more of a celebration of 2D Sonic tropes from the mid-90's. The 9 Zones you'll visit on your adventure are variations of the locals from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the bosses mimic those found mostly in Sonic 2, the music is a mix of tunes from Sonic 2 and 3. Okay, so it's mostly a Sonic 2 remix with some Sonic 3 rolled in for good measure. :) 

Of the 9 Zones you'll visit, only 5 of those have two Acts to play through. The Acts are just about as long as what you'd encounter in Sonic 2 (if not a bit shorter), meaning you can zip through these Zones pretty quickly - especially if you're good at Sonic games. The level design is solid, and despite the small screen size the camera is zoomed out enough to not be frustrating while running through the levels at top speed. Due to the verticality of the levels you can still look up or down to see more of the layout above or below you if you're unsure of what lies ahead.

While the general level design is fine, one has to wonder what on earth is taking up all the space of the 16meg cartridge? For example: Sonic 2 is 8megs and had more stages, variety, and animation, while Sonic 3 is 16megs, has crazy long stages, and even more animation. The Zone’s in Sonic Pocket, despite their overall quality, feel shallow and undercooked when compared to the more complex games on the Mega Drive. I’ve always felt the game has a lot of wasted space, and I’ve never been able to find any developer documentation on how they crammed so little into such ample cartridge space when you consider the much larger 2D Sonic games that came before.

As you zip through the zones, you’ll discover all the Sonic power-ups you’ve become accustom to – ring monitors, a shield, 1-up’s, and speed shoes. Gone are the varied shield varieties of Sonic 3, though. Sonic’s move set has also been paired back to mimic Sonic 2 with only his spin-dash available on top of his jump and roll. Oh, also, there's no Super Sonic.

At the end of each Act you have a chance to enter the special zone as in prior sonic games in order to collect one of the seven Chaos Emeralds. Keeping in tone with the overall Sonic 2 vibe of the rest of the game, the special stages are variations of the half-pipe introduced in Sonic 2 - and man are they impressive to see on this little console. Of course the track design is different, and they’ve added more hills, twists, and turns to make these variations a little more exciting than the effort seen in Sonic 2 proper.

Sound design is great for the little handheld, given its limited audio capability. Music is a mix of tunes from Sonic 2 and 3, but savvy video game OST aficionados will immediately notice that every track has been considerably shortened. Again, this is baffling as I have no idea what SNK did with all the space available on the 16meg cartridge given the simplicity of the hardware and assets. Sound effects are also normal Sonic fare that keep in line with the classic feel of the rest of the game.

To help pad out gameplay, SNK added in a puzzle feature where you need to find and collect 96 puzzle pieces hidden throughout the zones to create one of a few full puzzles that will unlock a few bonus extras. There is also a 2-player competitive mode you can play when linked with another Neo Pocket and second copy of the game, as well as a time-trial mode. A very handy feature is the save function that auto-saves after every act rather than at the start of each zone like in Sonic 3.

Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure is one of the very few platforming games on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, but it is a solid effort that all Sonic and Neo Pocket fans should definitely add to their collections. It’s a little short, and compared to past Sonic games you’ll be wondering where all the content is in a game with a 16meg rom size. At the end of the day, though, it is a portable game designed to be played in quick bursts rather than an hour long sitting. A complete US edition in the cardboard case will cost around $100, while the UK edition in the plastic snaplock case will run you $200 or more. Thankfully, for those not fussed about the outer casing, you can grab a bare cartridge of the game for less than $40. If you have a Neo Geo Pocket Color, you also must own this game. It’s an affordable, fun, classic Sonic adventure that any SNK or Sonic fan will adore.