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RELEASE DATE (JP): April 28, 1995 GENRE: Action/Shmup
// review by SoyBomb

Heads, you win. Tails, you play Skypatrol.

The Sonic the Hedgehog series was really picking up steam in the early-to-mid-1990s; as with so many successful entertainment stories, there is the inevitable spin-off. And what better character to create a spin-off with than the lovable second banana, the two-tailed fox, Miles "Tails" Prower? Just to be safe, however, the Tails games were reserved for the Game Gear, Sega's own second banana console. There were two: Tails' Adventure, featuring the standard gameplay Sonic fans have come to glow over, and then there was Tails' Skypatrol, a strange prequel to the entire series which was, well, something completely different.

But this was Tails' actual first solo outing; he was somehow able to break away from his pal Sonic and follow his own destiny. None of the Tails games were ever runaway successes, but they can be occasionally interesting. In this adventure, Tails comes across a seemingly deserted island, littered only with foliage and abandoned cart rails. Suddenly, as he is standing around doing relatively nothing, the crazy Wendy Witchcart appears in a mine cart and maliciously claims ownership of the island because, after all, if there's one thing a nasty hag needs, it's her own island. If anyone chose to fight against this new development, she threatened to turn such rebels into crystals, and that's uncomfortable. Using the protection of several hired goons, Wendy Witchcart flies away with glee, believing that a second-rate hero such as Miles "Tails" Prower is no match for her. But Tails has determination! Yes, the determination to try and exist in a half-decent video game where he is not overshadowed by Sonic the Hedgehog! And so, our story begins here.

I'd better warn you now: you'd better have some serious testicles for this one. Play your Call of Duty all you like; it will take a different style of courage to pass through this one. Yes, it may star a cute furry creature with two tails that flies, but that doesn't mean this game can't possibly be difficult, because it is. Contrary to what you might expect, this isn't a standard platformer. In fact, if you touch any platforms in this game, you die. That's how badass it is. Instead, Tails must permanently take to the skies and fly through all five levels, ensuring his own survival amongst countless (and I do mean countless) obstacles, be they enemies with attitude, spiky objects, or... walls. Yes, do NOT run into a wall. That's another lost life right there. At least he can choose whether to slowly coast through each level or try and zip through it at break-tail speed.

Silly two-tailed fox: rings are for kids!

Tails does have assistance, however, in surviving these nasty stages. And they ARE nasty: I'm talking crazy Japanese shmup nasty. But Tails always has a ring to grasp, which can be used to pummel enemies or cling to things such as mine carts and balloons. The ring is a novel weapon, though not entirely practical and a tad clumsy; you can, however, aim it in multiple directions, adding to its functionality. He also has a meter while flying that slowly decreases; when it hits empty, his flight is over and you lose a life. Scattered mint candies throughout the levels help to fill up the meter and allow you to continue. Occasionally, you'll also come across an invincibility sign that provides ample protection for a short while... a VERY short while. The detection could use some serious improvement; you'd better be spot on when picking up mints or any other items, or they'll slip through your fingers. Or paws. Or whatever Tails has. With all the action happening on screen, you're bound to get hit by something. It's inevitable. If you're smacked by a projectile, you'll start to tumble towards the ground; rapidly tapping one of the action buttons helps Tails to resume his airborne activities. This won't work if you hit a wall or any other surface, so definitely steer clear of all of those. It won't be easy. Boss battles pop up at the end of most levels and basically require you to give the enemy all you've got. Considering there's no real "life meter" per se, you can pretty much put all your focus on the battle without concern of death, aside from smacking into the ground.

The graphics are liberally snagged from other Sonic titles, but they serve as adequate eye candy while you're engrossed in avoiding every hazard Sega throws at you. Occasionally, Tails will fly behind posts or other obstacles in the foreground; it's not always immediately clear whether they can be passed or whether they will cause instant death, making some parts of stages an effort in trial and error. I wish this had been made clearer visually. Likewise, the music is generally cheerful and adds to the island vibe. I can't expect a symphony out of the Game Gear's relatively measly sound chip, but at least you aren't attacked by rancid tones.

Tails' Skypatrol has its positive points -- it can be fun if you're truly dedicated -- but its steep difficulty and relatively uniform gameplay may just be a turnoff to many gamers. This one never left Japan, though, but it can be found in a few Sonic games: the Sonic Gems Collection (PS2/GameCube), Sonic Mega Collection Plus (PS2/Xbox), and Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut (GameCube), so you really don't have much of an excuse not to seek it out since it's so readily available. Take caution, however, as it's not all that great and is basically just something for Sonic fans to play for fanboys' sake.

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