In the 1990s the best reason to own a Sega console was to play Sonic the Hedgehog games. The success of Sonic Mania compared to the lackluster response to Sonic Forces suggests what many nostalgic Sonic fans have long argued – that Sonic belongs as a 2D game. The iconic Mega Drive Sonic games, Sonic the Hedgehog, 2, 3, & Knuckles, are clearly well-known, much-loved and subject to a great deal of nostalgia. They’ve been released in several collections from Sonic Jam on the Sega Saturn, through to The Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection on PS3 and the Xbox 360. The Master System Sonic games, by contrast, are not nearly as often the subject of intense nostalgia. The first thing that needs pointing out is that despite the Master System being older hardware, the Sonic games were usually released after their Mega Drive counter-parts. Lacking the infamous blast-processing it should be unsurprising that the Master System Sonic games are slower with fewer enemies, but this typically meant a greater emphasis on platforming overall. Sonic Chaos is the most distinct Sonic game for the system, being a standalone title rather than a scaled down version of another release. Sonic Chaos was released worldwide as a Game Gear game, probably where it is most often played, but just before this was released in Europe on the Master System.
Sonic Chaos is worth taking note of for a few key features. Firstly, it allowed the player to control everyone’s favourite little brother surrogate, Tails, for the first time on the system. The lack of a 2-player co-op mode is disheartening – the Master System is not exactly overflowing with good co-op games, and the lack of Sonic and Tails being played side by side remains the biggest reason this does not quite capture the full Sonic experience. Tails effectively acts as an ‘easy’ mode in this instance – not only does he boast his trademark flight, but starts the game with extra lives and continues. Playing as Sonic is usually more satisfying, and his 16bit moves are well replicated here. The spin dash is included for the first time on the system, as well as the super peel-out from Sonic CD. Small improvements and additions like this make it much easier to pick up and play.
The special stages are not quite as enjoyable as in other titles, but their inclusion is a nice addition that breaks up regular gameplay. A drawback is that only Sonic can access them – meaning playing as Tails means being incapable of collecting the titular Chaos emeralds that serve as the driving force of the minimalist plot. The stage design is also fairly straightforward. Its certainly not long enough to say it becomes repetitive, but its a far cry from some of the more iconic Sonic levels. Sonic Chaos short length is one of its most common criticisms, being beatable in one sitting, with only a moderate amount of challenge in the later stages. While at the time of release this may have been a drawback, now it makes it perfectly suited for a quick burst of retro Sonic platforming.
If you’re looking for an 8bit Sonic game then Sonic Chaos is definitely an excellent choice. While its unlikely to ever be compared too favorably to its big brothers on the Mega Drive for a Master System game it ranks is among the best platformers for the system, if not one of the best titles overall. In managing to capture the Sonic flair more successfully than either of the first two games Sonic Chaos has aged very well and remains highly playable.