The Hint Orb is a floating white and red sphere of light that leaves small sparkles in its trail. Though it appears as an inanimate object, it is actually the spirit of Tikal in a different form. As the Hint Orb, Tikal retains her consciousness, awareness of the surroundings, and her spiritual powers, most prominently her ability to induce visions in others by sending their minds to the past and teleport others. She is also able to move around using levitation and is capable of speech.
It is never mentioned how Tikal achieved her Hint Orb form, though she acquired it during her 3,000 year self-imprisonment in the Master Emerald. When she and Chaos were released from the Master Emerald by Dr. Eggman, Tikal emerged as the Hint Orb and got away unnoticed. Knowing that Chaos would seek the destruction of the world like it did millennia ago, Tikal enigmatically appeared before Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Big and E-102 Gamma in her Hint Orb form to guide them in their fights against Eggman and Chaos, and impart her history with Chaos to them in the form of visions. It was only until Perfect Chaos attacked Station Square that Tikal shredded her Hint Orb form to appear before Sonic.
In gameplay, the Hint Orb can be found in several places across the Action Stages and Adventure Fields. When touching it, Tikal will provide the player with information about the surroundings, gimmicks, objects, enemies, and strategies on how to play the game. The Hint Orb will follow the player while relaying its information before floating away when finished. The Hint Orb will also usually appear whenever the player receives a Level Up Item to explain how it works.
In other media
Hint Orb appears in the anime series Sonic X, although it is not referred to by name. Like in the games, this was the form Tikal would assume for Sonic and his allies before fully revealing herself.
This form of Tikal first appeared before Knuckles when he was on the Egg Carrier and showed him a vision of the aftermath of Perfect Chaos' uprising. She also appeared in this form before Sonic, guiding him to a shrine with a picture of Perfect Chaos inside before showing a vision similar to Knuckles'.
Due to being the same character, the Hint Orb shares the same voice actor as Tikal.
Sometimes, the player can see two Hint Orbs in the same place, indicating that Tikal can exist in multiple places as the Hint Orb. This may also just be a glitch.
The Hint Orb in the Xbox 360 version of Sonic Adventure seems to be larger during cutscenes and its upgrades inputs.
Excluding E-102 Gamma, all characters who use the Hint Orb will keep looking toward it, even when they are running.