Sonic Drift
  • Genre:
    • Racing
  • Platform:
    • Game Gear
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • JP 03/18/1994
Score: 65%

This review was published on 03/28/2018.

Sonic Drift is a racing video game developed and published by Sega for the Sega Game Gear. It was originally exclusively released in Japan on March 18, 1994. The sequel, Sonic Drift 2, did get released outside of Japan, though. In any case, Sonic Drift is obviously a spinoff from the Sonic the Hedgehog series. Most of the Sonic games back then were side-scrolling platformers with an emphasis on speed, but they generally weren't about racing. Since speed has always played a big role in the franchise, a Sonic racing game made perfect sense. However, the inspiration for Sonic Drift likely came from Super Mario Kart, a popular racing game by Sega's main competitor at the time, Nintendo. Sadly, Sonic Drift is nowhere near as good as Super Mario Kart. A big reason for that is the lack of Mode-7, a special visual effect only the Super Nintendo could do. There are other reasons, of course, and I'll be covering them in this review.

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Similar to many racing games from the late 1980s and early 1990s, races are viewed from a third-person perspective, but you see the track in front of you as if you were viewing things from a first-person point of view. The graphics are firmly 2-D, so it's hard to see what's coming up ahead. To help with that, courses have signs that indicate what the next turns will be, plus there's a map at the top of the screen that displays the layout of the track and the locations of all the racers. However, even with all of this assistance, it's still difficult to accurately gauge turns. This problem doesn't just affect Sonic Drift; it's an issue that plagued racing games since their inception. That's why Nintendo's racing games of the early 1990s were so groundbreaking, because they fixed this issue with Mode-7. By the time Sonic Drift came out, it was already dated.

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Four playable racers are available in this game, and they're Sonic the Hedgehog, Miles "Tails" Prower, Amy, and Dr. Eggman. Each racer has a unique vehicle with different statistical attributes that affect its performance on the road. For instance, Sonic drives the Cyclone, a sports car with good speed, but poor handling. Tails drives a 1960s era Formula 1 racer called the MTP-01 Whirlwind that excels in handling, but has poor speed. Amy, who made her debut in Sonic the Hedgehog CD as a damsel in distress, makes her first playable appearance in Sonic Drift. She drives a vintage convertible named the Breeze that has great acceleration, but a low top speed. Lastly, Eggman is the main antagonist of the Sonic series, and this is his first playable appearance. In this game, Eggman pilots a modified version of his typical Eggmobile known as the Egg Typhoon, and it has a high top speed, but poor acceleration. All of this is fine, but Sonic Drift could have really used a larger cast of playable racers.

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In addition to the slight differences in top speed, acceleration, and handling that each racer's vehicle has, each character also has a special ability. These special abilities allow Sonic to gain a quick burst of speed, Tails to jump over obstacles, Eggman to drop mines, and Amy to toss hearts that slow down other racers. Special abilities cost two rings per use, and so collecting rings on the track is rather important. Along with rings and the occasional spring that makes you jump, there are also a few power-ups to find while racing, all of which are contained within CRT monitors like in the main series. Unfortunately, there are only two power-ups; red monitors that give you a quick burst of quickness and blue monitors that grant temporary invincibility. Interestingly, the invincibility music is an 8-bit rendition of the "You Can Do Anything" song from Sonic CD. Anyway, the special abilities and power-ups aren't really enough to spice this game up.

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There are three cups of varying difficulty in the game's main mode, the Chaos Grand Prix. Every cup puts you through the same six courses, all of which are themed after stages from the original Sonic the Hedgehog game released on the Sega Genesis in 1991. During races, you must complete three full laps before moving onto the next course, and all racers are awarded points based on how well they placed on the final lap; placing higher awards more points. After finishing all six courses, every racer's final score is tallied up and the one with the most points is the overall winner. This is all pretty standard for a racing game. The main issue here is that, aside from the thematic elements and number of turns, there's not much to differentiate one course from the next.

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Besides the Chaos Grand Prix, there are a few other modes available in Sonic Drift. First up is the typical time trials mode, known here as "Free Run," which allows you to race on a track of your choosing with no pesky computer players to bother you. This mode merely exists as a way for you to practice courses and see how fast you can complete them. There's also a "Versus" mode, which allows you to link up with another Game Gear via a cable for some multiplayer racing. So yeah, that about covers all modes of play in Sonic Drift. It's a very short list.

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"Lacking" is the word that comes to mind when discussing Sonic Drift. For a racer released in 1994, this game is lacking in playable racers, tracks, modes, and features. There's also not much depth to the core mechanics. The game is all about making turns without wiping out, and once you master that, there's not much else to think about. Sonic Drift is a Mario Kart clone with fewer features and less fun. To be fair, though, Super Mario Kart was released on a 16-bit home console, whereas Sonic Drift came out on an 8-bit portable. Additionally, Sonic Drift isn't an outright awful game. There's just not much of a reason to play it in a post Mario Kart world.

Word Count: 1,026

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