It’s been a bit of an up-and-down year to be a Sonic fan. Sonic Frontiers has looked brilliant and troubled in alternating media drops, and Sonic Origins offered fans the definitive versions of the 2D classics they’ve been clamoring for – except they were riddled with bugs, and weren’t really definitive. But now, Sonic fans have another reason to celebrate: the release of Sonic Triple Trouble… but in a new format.
For those of you who aren’t a thousand years old, Triple Trouble is a classic 8-bit Sonic game. Because the 8-bit games came out at roughly the same time as the 16-bit games, they’re rightly not as revered or beloved – but they are still, broadly, lovely little platformers that attempt to adapt the Sonic formula for much weaker platforms. A few of these games were loose adaptations of their Mega Drive equivalents – but a few were all-original affairs.
Most notable of these is Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble. This 8-but title is actually older than Sonic’s other classic 2D adventures, releasing for the Sega Game Gear handheld a few months after Sonic & Knuckles hit Mega Drive. That placement in the Sonic timeline got some fans thinking: what if this game had been 16-bit, and what if it were a sequel to Sonic 3 & Knuckles? What if it were, essentially, Sonic 4?
That’s what Triple Trouble 16-bit is about – a fan-made game that reimagines the entirety of Triple Trouble as if it were made for Mega Drive/Genesis, in the wake of Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Along the way, you can see key inspiration from another great Sonic revival in recent years: Sonic Mania.
This 16-bit reimagining of Triple Trouble is ultimately still a fan game. It doesn’t necessarily have the polish of an official release, and trips on a couple of the tried-and-true fan game pitfalls – but boy, it feels close to official quality, and most importantly feels well worth your time. Especially when you consider the price of entry: free.
There’s no Mega Drive emulator required, as this is a coded-from-scratch PC executable that’ll run on even weaker PCs, and runs like a dream on the Steam Deck. As for legality, Sega has generally been happy to turn a blind eye to the Sonic fan game community so long as they don’t charge for their efforts – indeed, it’s that community that bred the key staff who went on to work for the publisher on Sonic Mania, Origins, and several other ports of classic games. When it comes to this sort of thing, Sega is pretty cool.
Triple Trouble 16-bit has immediately rocketed into my top Sonic fan games, up there with titles like Before & After the Sequel, and the immortal Sonic Robo Blast 2. It’s a hell of an achievement, but it also has something those titles don’t quite have: it feels more authentic, somehow.
That authenticity comes from the fact that this is a remake of an existing Sonic game – even though the similarities between the original Triple Trouble and this remake are really rather superficial. Some original stage gimmicks and ideas are intact, as are the settings themselves and the broad story. But, really, the fan creators of this project, led by director & designer Noah N. Copeland, have twisted and manipulated recognizable pieces of the original game to fit a glorious new purpose.
Primarily, that purpose is a vehicle for vast helpings of delicious fan-service. The game is now cast as a direct sequel to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, picking up directly where that adventure left off. That means there’s a new introductory stage, a moody cinematic mini-level where Sonic and Tails dash through the rubble of the Death Egg to find where Robotnik crashed. Stage transitions make the adventure feel seamless, as do new boss mechanics, and new gimmicks like a snowboarding stage that is rather reminiscent of Sonic Adventure’s take on the Ice Cap zone.
You’re constantly being bombarded with new mechanics, plus old stage gimmicks reused in interesting and inventive ways. Along the way, the experience is peppered with dialogue-free 2D cutscenes, where lovingly crafted sprite work tells you everything you need to know – just as in Mania and S3K. The cinematic flair on display, particularly towards the end of the game when the story ramps up, is brilliant. It does more with less.
The soundtrack is excellent, too. It mixes together new versions of the music from the Game Gear version with some new melodic additions and some elements borrowed from other games. Again, this is the sort of fan service these obsessives are best at delivering – culminating in a mind-meltingly good Metal Sonic boss theme that weaves together every piece of music associated with the character in the classic Sonic era, including the theme from the original Triple Trouble.
It’s just a brilliant experience. It also brings to mind an idea: perhaps a Sonic Mania 2 could actually be based around this sort of experience– re-imagining the non-Mega Drive 2D Sonics in the style of the entries in the 2D series that really matter. There’s a lot of specific things that the publisher could take from this game, really. As ever, Sonic fans lead the way, and the stewards of Sonic would do well to pay attention to them.
If Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit were a real, full game released by Sega, it’d be teetering dangerously close to a 5-star VG247 review. It’s not quite as good as Sonic Mania or S3K – but it’s probably now my third-favorite 2D Sonic. Which sure is saying something. Well done to these fans. You owe it to yourself to play it.