Review: Sonic Blast (3DS eShop / GG)

From the past, not a blast

Not to be confused with Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Blast only really shares a fondness for rendered sprites with its 16-bit namesake, sticking to more mainline Sonic staples like running, spinning and grabbing Chaos Emeralds.

The rendered sprites weren't particularly impressive back in 1996 and they don't stand up too well today either: muddy colours and shaky animation mean it's aged worse than previous Game Gear Sonic games, but on the 3DS screen at least things are clear and bright; if you play at its original resolution things almost look nice.

While Sonic plays pretty much just like his usual self, Blast introduces one big game-changer: a double jump. While Sonic the Hedgehog 3 had a double jump with a lightning shield, in Sonic Blast it's available as standard. The Game Gear's cramped screen dimensions mean it can be used to save yourself from an unexpected plummet if your reactions are up to speed, or to bump you up to a platform you didn't see when you took off. Sure, it changes how Sonic handles, but it doesn't cheapen things too much; it's a tiny safety net, not a huge parachute.

If you don't want to pick the blue blur, red rival Knuckles gets his only playable 8-bit appearance, and brings his famous gliding and climbing skills over. The difference between the two characters isn't as pronounced as in Sonic & Knuckles, for instance, but it's still enjoyable to discover new areas as Knuckles that you couldn't experience as Sonic. Sonic's double jump means there are a handful of areas only he can access, but explorers will want to plump for Knuckles.

Exploration is also key if you want to find the Chaos Emeralds, accessed through large gold rings tucked away in hidden areas rather like Sonic 3. The special stages themselves blend Sonic 3's spherical worlds with the "collect X rings" theme seen in almost every other Sonic game's special stage, and while their pseudo-3D effect won't blow you away at least the concept is fresher than the tired old tube stage.

So far so good, but it's a shame that some of the level design lets the game down. While some stages offer the series' trademark free-wheeling fun, others put you in cramped areas that you can only navigate through a series of tubes or transporters. Figuring your way through these mini-mazes is unsatisfying and too random: 3DS save states make it a less frustrating affair, but when all you want to do is stretch your legs it's irritating to come up against stop-start sections with no rhyme or reason.

Conclusion

Sonic Blast is a perfectly competent Sonic game that's worth a dabble for interested parties and hardcore fans. For anyone who only wants to pick up one 8-bit Sonic game, wait until SEGA inevitably drops the superior Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or its prequel on Virtual Console.

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