E3 2005: Sonic Gems Collection Hands-On

We take a stroll down memory lane in Sega's upcoming Sonic compilation.

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Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the last iconic mascots to still be thriving on the market today. The small blue hedgehog who first came to public attention on the Sega Genesis in 1990 has starred in a plethora of different games since his debut. While Sega recently issued a solid compilation of Sonic games in Sonic Mega Collection and Sonic Mega Collection Plus, neither compendium was complete. Sonic Gems Collection, recently announced for the GameCube, aims to offer more highlights from Sonic's career. It was playable in Sega's booth on the E3 show floor and we dutifully grabbed a controller and gave it a go.

Though the final compilation is slated to feature a mix of titles, including the fan favorite Sonic CD, cult hit Sonic R, arcade oddity Sonic the Fighters, six Game Gear Games, and some surprise titles, the demo on display at Sega's booth was limited to just two titles, Sonic CD and Sonic the Fighters. Sonic CD, the fan favorite adventure for the Sega CD peripheral, which sent the speedy hedgehog on a wicked platform adventure spanning the past and present, was our first stop. The game is a solid re-creation of the CD title in terms of visuals, and it churns out the 2D and pseudo-3D graphics like a champ. We tried out one of the early levels in the game, which all played out like we remembered. The show floor din drowned out the game's soundtrack, so it was hard to make out how the music was faring.

Once we were done enjoying Sonic's forays into time travel, we tried out Sonic the Fighters. If the name is unfamiliar to all but the hardcore fans, don't feel bad, as the unique arcade game saw limited release in the US in 1996. The polygonal fighter made use of Sega's Model 2 arcade hardware, and it was slated for conversion to Sega's Saturn console, but it never actually came home. The game is essentially an old-school polygonal beat-'em-up set in themed rings. The roster of fighters mixes a slew of familiar faces from the Sonic universe, including Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, Metal Sonic, Super Sonic, and Dr. Eggman, along with lesser-known characters, such as Espio the Chameleon, Fang the Sniper, Bean the Dynamite (technically a mallard), and Bark the Polar Bear. The fighting system uses a modified version of the standard Sega three-button mechanic. The game ran smoothly and looked a good deal less blocky than its old arcade counterpart, thanks to the refreshed graphics. The controls mapped out well on the GameCube controller, allowing us to hop right in and start kicking butt.

From the looks of the playable demo we've tried, Sonic Gems Collection should be a good Sonic compilation that finally gives players what they want. The refreshed graphics in Sonic the Fighters is welcome, and the sheer number of titles to choose from is good for a compilation. Regardless of how hardcore a Sonic fan you are, Sonic Gems Collection should be worth a look when it ships this summer exclusively for the GameCube. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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