Sonic Rebirth is another Sonic fan game, showcased at this year's SAGE. It's a remake of the original Sonic the Hedgehog for the Mega Drive. The full version was just released today, which is why I didn't post my thoughts on it earlier.
Since I'd first seen the Sonic Rebirth SAGE booth a few days ago, I'd been really looking forward to it. The screenshots looked impressive, and the fact that there were remakes of the 8-bit zones mixed in was intriguing, as well.
Now that I've downloaded and played through the story mode, I have, as they say, some good news and some bad news. Let's start with the good news.
The most exciting prospect about Sonic Rebirth was that it was a complete game, not yet another demo. Thus playing it will give you a full gaming experience, and not just a few moments of excitement over a tech demo. Beyond simply having the full complement of zones, it also has extras - such as cinemas, emblems to collect, and unlockable artwork.
The sprite set for Sonic is nearly perfect. It's easily the best set I've ever seen used in a fan game. If the sprite set is borrowed from somewhere, and not original to Sonic Rebirth, then I apologise for giving it the credit. But I haven't seem them elsewhere.
I am, though, confused as to why there is a choice in the options menu to play with the original Mega Drive sprite set. I believe players should be given freedom of choice in many areas, such as control and difficulty, but allowing them to change the art style of the character seems a little much. It also makes the experience feel less authentic, because I can't imagine a professional Sonic game giving you such a choice.
Sadly, that's all the good news there is. Now on to the bad news.
While the game doesn't have many overt flaws in the physics engine, there is an overall sluggishness to Sonic that makes it hard to get used to for anyone who is well-aquainted with the Mega Drive titles.
This in itself is an easy enough thing to ignore - with practice, you get more used to it. The same has to be said for Sonic Advance, or Sonic Rush. But where the physics really fail isn't Sonic's movement, but everything else. The timing for all of the Badniks and their projectiles is so off that it makes them look like they are on fast-forward. The platforms in Scrap Brain are timed in an almost perverse manner that it makes it nearly impossible to play comfortably. The bosses pose much less of a challenge than in the original. And the see-saws in Starlight Zone are so badly done that sometimes the little spiked balls fall right through them, rendering them useless!
The music (both MIDI and OGG) is so badly remixed that it would have been better to just leave it alone. The 1-up and Zone Clear jingles are painful, and the bass instruments in particular are atrocious.
Fortunately the music is stored separately, so we can hope for improvements in the future.
Sadly, the graphics are inconsistent. Instead of being as good as the sprites throughout the whole game, some parts are gorgeous (such as the Bridge backdrop), and others are hideous (Scrap Brain in general).
Furthermore, instead of improving on the original, in some places it takes a step backward. The flowers in Green Hill don't spin, Marble's backdrop is completely butchered, and the lights in Starlight don't glow. Speaking of Starlight, that enormous moon in the sky destroys the entire feeling of the zone, and the stars move faster than it does, making them seem to go in front! Inconceivable.
There really is no story, though there are about 4 cinema scenes. Instead of trying to add to the story of the game, by perhaps explaining Robotnik's motives and why Sonic travels to these locations in particular, they (perhaps wisely, perhaps not) did little more than illustrate what is implied in the original. There is nothing to be gained by watching them, but they are mercifully short, and skippable.
The cinemas aren't drawn badly in their own right, but they are a completely different style than the rest of the game. It is bizarre to see a green-eyed, modern Sonic on the top of the screen, but the portrait by his text box is black-eyed, classic Sonic. Also, the Emblem Screen that is shown when you complete a zone is hideous, and looks transplanted from a much less polished game. There needs to be a consistency of style. I know that several artists worked on the game, but they needed to set some standards, as Sega does when using multiple artists. It's called a style sheet, people!
This is the aspect that I'm most disappointed by. I can allow for graphics and music not being up to par. I can't really expect them to be on a professional level to begin with. But there is little excuse for such sorry gameplay.
The zone layouts are minimally changed, making the occasional slightly different area jarring. Also, most of the changes seem to be made to avoid programming a difficult part of the original.
There is nothing added - there are no new puzzles, platform types, loops, or tricks that aren't present in the original. Sonic has no new moves to speak of. In fact, lots of things are subtracted. Gone are many enemy types, and hazards. No more Flame Throwers in Scrap Brain? No more Caterkiller, or Newtron? What's the point in remaking Sonic the Hedgehog if, instead of improving it, you cut out half the gameplay that made it fun in the first place, and with nothing to make up for it?
The Bottom Line
Overall, there is nothing to be gained by playing Sonic Rebirth instead of the original Sonic. I can't see anybody preferring to spend their time playing a gimped version of a good game simply because some texture is added to the blocks and grass.
One thing that could have helped save it is the inclusion of the 8-bit levels, expanding the main game into a longer narrative. Instead, they are unlockables that can only be accessed after you collect enough emblems. Well, I'm sorry, but most people probably won't want to suffer through the zones enough times to unlock them. So, probably the best part of the whole thing is also the part you don't get to access right away.
I hope that most of these issues are due to the fact that the game might have been rushed in order to have it ready to show at this SAGE. If that's the case, we can look forward to patches and improvements that address some of the issues. Ultimately, though, even with all the outright bugs fixed, there doesn't seem to be much point in a remake that subtracts instead of adds.
Maybe someday the sprite set will be reused in a game with original zones that's a little more exciting.