The attentive amongst you may have wondered why last week, when I covered Sonic’s dalliances with edutainment, I passed over Sonic Gameworld for the Sega Pico. Well, firstly I don’t think it’s quite accurate to consider it edutainment, despite Sega of America’s feeble claims that it “Plays Like A Video Game While Teaching Dexterity And Memory Skills!” (what game doesn’t?), and furthermore I think it’s interesting enough to merit its own Sonic Second spotlight.
Sonic Gameworld (or more properly Sonic the Hedgehog Gameworld as it was called in Japan upon its release in 1994 or Sonic the Hedgehog’s Gameworld when it came to the US in 1996 in the same month as Sonic’s Schoolhouse and caught the possessive case by contagion) is one of the most interesting Sonic games you don’t hear much about.
Unlike other Sonic games designed to divert and occupy extremely young children, this one was developed by a veteran team with actual good Sonic games on their résumé – Aspect Co. Ltd, behind some of the best 8-bit games (Sonic 2, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Triple Trouble, Tails Adventure) and, admittedly, some of the not-so-best (Sonic Blast). Boot up the game and listen to the title screen music, and you’ll immediately know it’s them – the ditty would be right at home in Chaos or Triple Trouble.
Because it’s developed by folks who know how to handle Sonic’s world, it doesn’t feel like shovelware at all (here’s looking at you, Sonic’s Schoolhouse). Being a Pico game, the physical game cartridge is a hybrid of a cart and a storybook, and it’s incredibly endearing to anyone with nostalgia for the days when games were literally fun plastic toys instead of digital transactions that download patches for hours and call home to servers.
The drawings inside feel a lot like the old “SegaSonic” promotional art or the images from Sonic the Screensaver – Sonic and friends engaged in leisure activities, with little animal friends scattered about getting up to mischief.
Knuckles is nowhere about, because the game was released in Japan before Sonic & Knuckles when he wasn’t yet properly a “good guy”. Therefore we see Sonic, Tails, and Rosie hanging out together as a roughly equal trio, possibly in an attempt at a more reasonable gender ratio because it’s aimed at younger kids.
Whatever the reason, it’s a rare enough thing to see these three as “the team”, but I think the dynamic works out pretty well. I’ve always liked this picture where they’re in a band together.
I wish Aspect had kept this up, and put Rosie in Sonic Triple Trouble; it would be fun to know how she would have played in a classic side-scroller before the hammer idea and the redesign.
But I digress. Back to the game!
The sad thing is, by the time Sonic Gameworld made it to the US two years later, it was massively pared down from the Japanese version, removing many of the minigames, in particular the casino themed ones. Possibly Sega of America did this to remove flagrantly non-educational content, or just because anything related to gambling was thought to be inappropriate, but it leaves the game a lot poorer as a result. And unfortunately, to my knowledge the Japanese version remains undumped, so if you want to emulate it, you’re stuck with the bowdlerised version. (If you have any info to the contrary, please let us know in the comments.)
At least the US got an extra page as a consolation prize – a drawing minigame. It’s no Mario Paint, but it’s cuter than it could have been and has a reasonable number of features.
Despite the fact that the American artists did a poor job of hiding the fact that it’s a tacked-on page (just look at that edited stock pose of Sonic), the funhouse theme is cute. Click Tails and the distorted mirror and it will temporarily wiggle and woggle your picture, or click Rosie in the spinning tunnel to flip the picture around.
The game has plenty of other bits of interest. Because of the short voice clips, it’s the first time Amy or Tails have had voiced dialogue in a game. It’s also the first time in a game that the animal friends get dialogue of any kind. Though sometimes all you get is weird pick up lines.