God is most generous. After another year of not watching Ebay I again spontaneously decided to start checking it every morning. After a few weeks this popped up, mislabeled as Sonic 2, as a buy-it-now for $8. I was probably the first person to see it.
I know at least one of you is as interested in this as I am, so here's everything. There's nowhere else on the Internet to get this info.
It is indeed an American game, released in 2000. It must have been a spectacularly limited release though, because I watched Ebay like a hawk for 2 years then casually for a bit, and this is only the second one I've seen. This is Tiger's last attempt to profit from the Sonic franchise, coming 3 years after the blithering and seizure inducing Sonic Jam for the Game.com and the same year as the Sonic Underground game (their most fluid iteration of the sidescrolling formula).
This is by far the most daring of the handhelds. I was expecting another update of Sonics 1-3 with the name Sonic Adventure slapped on it, maybe with a token appearance from Chaos. I was pleasantly surprised. Tiger makes the definitive leap from monochrome, hardcoded, non-overlapping sprites into the world of...dynamic monochrome lcd displays!
(my camera sucks and so does my ceiling fan)
The most perfect way to describe it is SA1 as a VMU game. The perspective is just like SA1, at Sonic's back as he runs down the path. You can stand in about 8 positions laterally, stop whenever you want, but you can't go back. As you may have noticed, the stick pops out of that slot it's in and locks into the D-pad. It's pretty good; I used it the whole way. A is jump, which doesn't do damage, and with perfect timing and positioning pressing it again will yield the homing attack, the range of which reaches all lateral positions. B is the spindash, which can be held and charged up. I can't figure out for the life of me what C and D do. I mashed them at every conceivable moment and got nothing. I know they're not broken because when you run into the side of the screen, pressing any button will jerk you further into the boundary. Other than 3D blast where Tails occasionally appears (EDIT: He appears when you collect 50 rings. Walking into him sends you into the special stage, which is a 20 second ring collectathon with no enemies and different music. After 20 seconds a chaos emerald appears which brings you back to the normal game. I was constantly going to the special stage before; I guess I was just running into Tails without noticing) and the difficultly level in the game described above, this is the only game with an obvious aspect I'm missing. I thought it might be light dash, because it looks like there's a trail of rings going across a pit in Windy Valley, but I get nothing.
Gameplay is like a simplified version of the recent Sonic axiom: hold forward and watch the world fly by. There are no split paths, unless the C and D buttons are hiding something. Trails of rings line the paths, as well as 5, 10, and ? ring boxes, extra lives, speed shoes (which work more like a dash pad), pits, level gimmicks, and enemies including Kiki, Rhinotank, Leon, Ice Bot, Unidus, and Egg Keeper. When you get hit, you drop all your rings and can only salvage 2 of them. Each stage (except Sky Deck) ends with a capsule, which is followed by a screen that displays how many rings and lives you ended the level with. There are boss stages, all of which are 3 hits, in which you can only move sideways and have to either homing attack or spindash the enemy 2 spaces into the screen. Like Sonic Adventure, losing all 3 of your lives brings up the continue/quit screen. Unlike Sonic Adventure you continue from the last checkpoint you crossed which, coupled with the fact that there's no score, makes lives completely pointless. There's no music, but the 10 or so sound effects are ripped straight from the Dreamcast, including Ryan Drummond's "Whoa!" and Deem Bristow's "Aha!" and "Hrr!" (when he gets hit).
There are very few issues with the engine. You can't just drift to the far side of the path; you have to stop, move there, then resume running. There may be a few ring detection issues. Enemies move toward you if you stand still, but if you trip on one it'll stay on your position for a set amount of time no matter how far forward you go. That results in a lot of double hits where you drop your rings and then get killed. The game has <i>some</i> sense of momentum. I stopped on a few hills and had to spindash to get over them, but there were a few times where it was clearly unrealistic. Other than that, this is probably the most coherent tiger game of the bunch. I could tell when I was moving forward, even when the path wound vertically, and recognize what was coming and was happening without having to learn it.
The designers tried to mimic the real game down to the level design, especially noticeable in Emerald Coast. Universal devices such as rockets, jump pads, bouncer trails, and dash pads break up stretches of remarkably well drawn road, while level specific areas and events are right were you'd expect them. The game is even about as long; my first run took 2 hours. My next, with an invincibility cheat, took 1.
When you turn the game on you're greeted with 2 options: start and name. Naturally I assumed Name was for some kind of high score, but it's actually a disguised password system. The game starts like SA1: Chaos 0.
Chaos 0 - He throws his arms and you jumps around, throwing his arm down at you has he lands. He's vulnerable most of the time.
Emerald Coast - Almost exactly like the actual level's main path. All it's missing are the spiked obstacles that come down and the segment with the whale.
Egg Hornet - It fires 2 missiles that rain straight down, then dives harmlessly into the ground in front of you. Like SA1, this is when it's vulnerable.
Windy Valley - Includes trampolines, updrafts, those tunnels of wind (that you fall out of if you stop running), breakable roadblocks, and an encounter with a tornado (but not a trip through it) which takes you to the second area of the level.
Knuckles - With an accurate picture of the train tracks and the stairs leading to Tails's workshop in the background. He dashes toward you with a punch or walks off screen and glides at you at you from left to right. When he's beaten, he falls down with a ? over his head.
Ice Cap - Includes the cave and the snowboarding segment.
Chaos 4 - Your ground is made of up 3 lily pads. A submerged Chaos lurks left to right, disappears, and shoots up a column of water where he was (but on your layer of the background). After 3 of these he splashes his tail and creates a wave you have to jump. Then he sticks his head up just long enough to get a hit in.
Speed Highway - Those yellow elevators, the helicopter ride, and the At Dawn portion, which ends with a fountain that launches you up to the capsule.
E-102 - He shoots 2 lasers that explode on impact. It usually causes a double hit and instantly kills you. He's not vulnerable very often.
Red Mountain - Those zip lines and the lava cave.
Chaos 6 - He charges forward with his mouth open, steps to a side, jumps up off screen, and causes a shockwave when he lands. Like the game, you have to freeze him to damage him. An ice bomb appears in the lower right corner. Walking over it launches it at him. I think the only time he can be hit is when he's charging, or just afterward.
Sky Deck - It's got that portion with the gun in the center of 4 pillars (which now have ladders on them that you climb). It counts as a boss for some reason. After rocketing it 3 times, you appear at the part with the gun turrets. There's no wind to blow you off, but you do have to navigate the pits that the aircraft launch out of. After this you encounter the second gun with 3 rocket pads at your disposal. After you knock out it's health bar, it refills and takes another 3 hits to kill.
Final Egg - Those grabber claws drop down during a few sections, and the fans are there.
Egg Viper - It rides by the screen twice, dripping 2 easily dodged lasers. Then it comes up in front of you launches 3 lasers, and becomes vulnerable. After 3 hits, its health refills and it continues the same pattern, but now instead of shooting lasers when it faces you it launches the spiked platforms (can't jump on them). Hit it 3 more times and is drops off screen, then rises up exploding. A copout picture of Sonic jumping in victory comes up, followed by the 3 passwords:
BOSS - Only fight the bosses. Same ending.
LIFE - Start with 9 lives. Useless.
SUPE - I was disappointed to find that this doesn't unlock Super Sonic or his missing battle with Perfect Chaos, but simply makes you invincible. Bosses still make you drop rings for some reason and pits still kill you though.
I'd like to say Tiger saved the best for last but, while this is very graphically impressive for a tiger game and the novelty of a VMU incarnation of SA1 is worth something, this game suffers from the identity crisis that was part of the fundamental reason Sonic Jam couldn't work. It's too complicated to be a fun little arcade game that you can just sit down and kill time with, but it's too weak to deliver what you'd expect from a full fledged game. It's a 1 way path with very little challenge from the enemies, the bosses are simple, and there's no score. Once you've beaten it there's no reason to play it again other than to admire the backgrounds.
And that, at long last, is that. The complete collection. This was pretty much the last material thing in the world I was after. Not pictured are these:
The first 3 are just recasings of ones I already have, and I played the McDonalds one on Sonic-Cult.