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Tails’ SkyPatrol

Genre: Shmup Developer: SIMS Publisher: Sega of Japan Players: 1 Released: 1995

The mid-1990s was a strange time for Sonic games. No, I don’t mean strange like the ’90s was the only time period Sonic was massively popular or had great games. The weirdness I speak of involves the odd Sonic spinoffs. Not just stuff like Sonic Eraser or Sonic Schoolhouse, but the games that don’t actually star Sonic, instead one of his friends. Only at the height of Sonic’s popularity could a Knuckles game and two Tails games see store shelves. The one I’ve played the most is Tails’ SkyPatrol. This game is odd in ways you might not have realized before.

Tails’ SkyPatrol technically features a story, but it’s almost not worth mentioning. Simply put, Tails must defeat Witchcart and her underlings, who I guess are terrorizing South Island or wherever this game takes place. What’s weirder is there’s no options screen. No sound test, no difficulty settings or anything. The game literally consists of the opening cut scene, the title screen and the game itself. As a Game Gear game, this isn’t too uncommon, but it is odd after having played so many Sonic games with that ever familiar options screen in place.

The controls are very simple, just the D-pad to move around and either of the action buttons to throw a ring, which is Tails’ only attack. Collectibles and other interactive objects only require Tails to touch them with his ring, no throwing required. Most of the time, you just use the D-pad, which I think a lot of critics don’t understand. It’s easy to get caught up with throwing the ring everywhere, when in reality you seldom need to attack things to progress.

The game itself, at first glance, looks like a scrolling shooter. The screen automatically scrolls horizontally, Tails can fly freely and his one solitary ring can be “shot” at enemies. After playing for a while, you realize that it’s not actually a shooter. It’s more like a strange merging of a shooter and a Sonic platformer. Rather than focus on scoring and blasting enemies, the game has you eliminate obstacles blocking your path and utilize contraptions like rail cars, weights, balloons and looping poles to launch Tails in different directions. The goal of each level is to survive to the end and defeat a boss (except the training area). In the same way Sonic fits well in pinball, Tails seems to naturally work well with a shooter motif.

One particularly unique feature (or perhaps challenge) in Tails’ SkyPatrol is the flight meter, indicated by an F icon next to a meter in the upper left corner of the screen. This meter goes down slowly but also seems to go down when you attack with the ring. You can replenish the flight meter by collecting candies, which occasionally appear along the ground or on top of buildings during each level. If the flight meter runs out completely, Tails will suddenly tumble to the ground and cost you a life. I can’t recall too many scrolling shooters where this kind of design was ever implemented. It doesn’t make the game difficult, but it can catch new players off guard.

The most common word I’ve found used to describe Tails’ SkyPatrol is “difficult.” As a fan, I’ve never understood this mentality. Most shooters I know punish you for crashing your ship into objects and enemies, making Tails’ SkyPatrol no different. It does innovate however. If Tails gets hit with a projectile, he will tumble to the ground, leaving the player a chance to tap buttons to snap Tails out of it and regain control. What Sonic fans will notice is Tails never collects rings and thus never has that classic damage system. I think that would have ruined Tails’ SkyPatrol to be honest, there’d be way too much stuff onscreen and losing rings would bring the game to a slow crawl. It’s possible everyone treats this game like a shooter, which would definitely increase the difficulty. You’re really just supposed to navigate the oncoming obstacles and reach the end of the level.

As far as Game Gear exclusives go, Tails’ SkyPatrol is definitely one of the great looking ones. Sure, it doesn’t try to push the limits of the console, but that at least means no ridiculous slowdown like most of the Sonic games. It’s artistically sound and maintains the Sonic visual style very well. It’s also got some pretty catchy tunes, very similar to the other Sonic games. There may not be much variety, but the visual and audible elements are definitely of great quality.

If there’s one fatal flaw to be found in Tails’ SkyPatrol, it’s definitely the length. Counting the training area which lacks a boss, there’s only five┬álevels. For a kids game, it’s not too bad, but it definitely falls short of competing shooters. It would be nice if the game had special stages or a hidden final level, maybe where you defeat Dr. Robotnik.

It’s a short and sweet Sonic game, perfect for Tails fans, but it’s definitely no Aleste or Thunder Force. Perhaps the most odd thing about Tails’ SkyPatrol is its Japan-only release. The game is completely in English, and 1995 wasn’t overly late for Game Gear games; it could have made a good budget U.S. title. It wouldn’t be until the mid-2000s Sonic compilations that most western Sonic fans would have a chance to play it.

SCORE: 7 out of 10

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1 Comment

  1. The Jackal says:

    This one is ok. If you want a good Game Gear title with Tails in the lead, hunt down “Tails’Adventure/s”. That one is a corker.

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