REVIEW: Sonic Jam (Game.com)

[Editor’s Note: This article was written as “bonus” content that was formerly hidden inside of the original GatorAIDS’ “Coming Soon” page.]

sonicjam1Game: Sonic Jam

Developer: Sega

Platform: Tiger Game.com

Genre: Platformer

Released: 1998

The Game.com was an interesting (and short lived) handheld game system from the late nineties. The company responsible for creating it was Tiger Electronics, a company you may recall also being responsible for churning out crap like the R-Zone which was a little flip down screen you wore over your eye that projected a shitty LCD game onto it entirely in red in an attempt to imply that it’s VIRTUAL REALITY… you know, since in the nineties we were all hooked on that “future” crap and whatnot.

The Game.com had a lot of interesting features going for it that predated all of its competition. For example, the thing boasted a touch-screen long before the Nintendo DS was around to cash in on that. It also could connect to the Internet before any other handheld could including even the ridiculously overpriced Cybiko; the connection speed was only 14.4 Kb which by today’s standards is professionally defined as “slow as all fuck” but the fact stands that Tiger wasn’t going to dick around with their handheld. Users who purchased the Internet bundle could upload high scores and surf the Web with their Game.com because mercifully at the time the majority of the web was text. Attempting to surf the web on a Game.com today (if your computer even has the proper place to plug it in) will result in you effectively reversing the flow of time. Early models of the Game.com also featured two cartridge slots and allowed players to choose their desired game from the main menu. Future models known as the “Pocket” Game.com only featured one and despite the misnomer “Pocket” the thing was still the size of a brick.

How you can manage to include all of these features before your competition and still manage to fuck everything up is beyond all human comprehension but Tiger Electronics against all odds managed to pull it off and sell a grand total of three Game.com systems. Four were returned.

Sonic Jam is an example of one of the many licenses that Tiger was able to secure for their handheld and then subsequently butcher in an array of colorful ways. Upon starting the game up you’re greeted by the Game.com’s ability to have only one sound channel (two half-assed ones add up to one whole) as the Sonic Jam title screen clips into view. For those who aren’t up to par with their Sonic the Hedgehog trivia Sonic Jam was a Sega Saturn title that included Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles from the Sega Genesis system. How they could manage to fit all three games onto a tiny cartridge sounds crazy but once you start the game up you’ll discover how they figured it out. They could make a triangle out of a dodecagon with the number of corners they cut with this port.

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Something’s not right here…

There’s a simple game selection screen that lets you choose your game where the developers were nice enough to include a little cartridge picture of each title although for Sonic 2 and 3 “GENESIS” is replaced with “GAME.COM” and “TIGER”, reminding you that this is indeed not a Sega Nomad and that you are about to sink your teeth into some really nasty bile. Since Sonic & Knuckles‘ cartridge was shaped funny rather than spend the extra five minutes to draw it for the compilation the Sonic Jam team decided that putting a black box with “SONIC & KNUCKLES” on it would suffice. It did.

For old time’s sake I selected Sonic 3 and instead of an emulation of the Genesis title playing it skips straight to the character select screen (Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles each with bizarre 3D-ish concept art as their pictures). I chose Sonic since he’s kind of the star of the games and rather than being able to watch the Angel Island opening where Knuckles takes all of the Chaos Emeralds it just throws you straight into the game without any titlecards or any inclination as to what the hell is going on. I’m assuming the level they throw you into is Angel Island only because I know that’s the first level in Sonic 3 for the Genesis. In this bizarro mirror-land incarnation of this could be Wild Wacky Cowboy Zone for all I know. Right from the start I can tell that the level design is completely off and the game plays more like a Game Gear title than anything from the Genesis. Moving and jumping is clunky and largely unresponsive and trying to move around on the screen just seems like it takes forever, which brings us to another problem altogether.

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BLAST PROCESSING

Once you move the bigger problem becomes apparent. Sonic the Hedgehog is known for speed; for Christ’s sake Sega even coined a bogus marketing term (BLAST PROCESSING) to promote the raw seizure-inducing speed that Sonic was tearing ass through his Genesis titles with. On the Game.com Sonic feels like he just power walks to wherever the hell he is trying to go. The Game.com is also blessed with having a screen that has a refresh rate of about a frame and a half every eight minutes which is fine if you’re playing something that requires no movement like Scrabble, but in this case it reduces all of Sonic’s speed down to a monochrome blur of gray and staticky-sounding effects. If you manage to get to the end of the first Angel Island level you’ll be greeted with something resembling the hollow tree that you run up in a spiral fashion, which apparently wasn’t programmed properly in this game and does nothing. Did anybody ever fucking playtest this game before release? Nobody could be assed to even test the first goddamned level?

I changed characters to Tails so I could properly play and review this abomination of software seeing as how he’s the only character capable of upward flight and thus able to get through the tree. Taking it upon myself to simply skip the levels by flying over everything I discovered that you can pretty much fly through the “roof” of the game and then spindash across the entire level and skip everything. That aside I believe this incarnation of Sonic Jam is the first time that a series has featured four acts in a zone. I’m well aware that the Sega Genesis version of Sonic 3 only had two acts but hey I guess nobody told the developers that. It’s impossible to tell just what storyline these games are following because while you’re tearing ass through Emerald Hill Zone in Sonic 2 you end up fighting the Chemical Plant Zone’s boss. After playing through a handful of zones all with the same music and seemingly random sets of enemies and out of place bosses it becomes crystal clear that nobody knew what in the fuck was going on with this game and rather than porting the titles to the Game.com they just wrote things on notecards and threw darts at them to draw conclusions on how to port their games.

The special stage level is a fucking joke. They somehow thought it would be a smart move to put the Blue Sphere special stage into this game. A better idea would have been to figure the fuck out how to translate a two dimensional game to the Game.com before thinking that stepping it up to 3D would be a smart move. Rather than getting colored spheres the game says to get “black” ones and before you have a chance to actually figure out what in the hell is going on the special stage takes off at a speed unmatched by anything else in the game thus far.

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Collision detection: Stellar.

The problem with Sonic Jam is the Game.com is simply just not capable of processing something with the speed and detail demanded by a fast-action platformer so to combat this Sonic Jam was dumbed down as far as possible without becoming Pong and it still was not enough. Programming oversights lead to your character falling through loops, not interacting with level objects, and being able to skip entire fucking levels by flying straight up. Sonic Jam was one of the first of many skid marks on the Sonic franchise’s reputation and is so laughably bad that not even hardcore furries will find something positive about this title.

Defining Moment:
The soundtrack (or lack thereof).

Graphics: If you actually quit moving around for a second, adjust the contrast knob on the Game.com, and look at the sprites you’ll notice that they actually did a passable job of porting graphics and images from the compilation’s Genesis titles. Graphics are supposed to look nice all the time however, they aren’t supposed to reenact Will It Blend the second you take a step in any direction. 8/10

Sound: What little sound there is for this game is god awful. It really defies description because you can’t really call it sound or music to begin with. To further make my point here is a recording of the game’s only music track. It starts out as the “theme song” and then simply changes pitch or one or two notes depending on your level. It doesn’t speed up when you get the Speed Shoes, there is no Invincibility track, and there is no Level Clear track; just this… over and over again. 0/10

Control: The Genesis titles that comprise this compilation (or rather, the shriveled husks of those games) were games that required effective but manageable controls for each of the characters’ special abilities and also for the player to be able to keep up with going through loops and flips in each level. Everything in Sonic Jam is unresponsive from Tails’ ability to fly to Knuckles’ ability to glide and climb walls. The Game.com boasts four buttons for their games but I have yet to come across anything that required all of them and for a handheld that had a touch-screen it doesn’t do a damn thing in any of these Sonic games, not even on the menu. 1/10

Replay Value: Technically upon playing the first title in the compilation there should at least be the urge for two more playthroughs, one each for the remaining two. No. There’s no reason to subject oneself to the pain of attempting to play the other two titles because literally once you have played one of them you’ve played them all seeing as how they all look the same, sound the same, and are all equally as unplayable as the last not to mention likely non-canon in the storyline to diehard Sonic the Hedgehog masturbationists fans. 1/10

Overall: The only serious reason I could see someone buying a copy of this game is if they’re a collector of video game merchandise and in that respect there are only two kinds of people who will buy this game. On one hand we have the yiff addicts who will purchase any and everything with Sonic’s mug on it and on the other hand we have collectors who are attempting to collect games for a Game.com. May God have mercy on their souls. Sonic Jam is a vortex of pure blackened shit that sucks the fun out of anything within twenty feet of it. 1/10

– Dracophile

(Note: There is no emulation support for the Game.com so these screenshots are courtesy of Brian Provinciano. His capturing device produces clear images, whilst playing titles on the actual handheld looks infinitely worse. You can visit his website at www.bripro.com.)