14 August 2010

SAGE Advice: Part 5

Here comes the final part of my series on SAGE 2010. I apologise now to the remaining games I didn't get a chance to review.

Sonic 1: SAGE 2010 Edition

ROM hack of Sonic 1 by Cinossu

Visit the Sonic 1: SAGE 2010 Edition Booth!

This hack of Sonic 1 is more than just that - it's actually a proof-of-concept demo for the new Retro Channel at Sonic Retro.

The idea is like a modern evolution of the Sega Channel. By playing in a special emulator, you can upload data such as achievements, scores, and time attack times to the Retro Channel database.

It's still in its infancy, though, and there are a lot of technical issues to sort out. But that doesn't stop it from being one of the geekiest, coolest ideas I've ever seen.

Seeing the Sonic Retro logo at the beginning (with randomly chosen little sprite vignettes) gives me a pang of excitement. Wouldn't it be cool if we were fast heading towards a world with a "Retro Team" that develops quality hacks like this one that will work in conjunction with Retro Channel? It's probably nothing more than my fanboyish dreaming, but I'd love for that to happen. Needless to say, they'd be my favourite developer - Sonic Team would be left in the dust (I say that as if they haven't been already. =P)

Now, I couldn't get the networking features to connect, so I just played the game to ogle at the technical changes. Each Zone and Act is accessible from a cool playable menu with pushbuttons and warp rings. All your stats are saved to SRAM, making time- and score- attacking possible.

There's also a nifty Boss Rush with music by Tweaker that can't be missed.

My Advice: Even if you can't connect to Retro Channel, this is worth playing. If you're a hacking nerd like me, it'll be quite a treat to check out all the classy changes that have been.

Sonic 2: Retro Remix

ROM hack of Sonic 2 by Thorn & DNXDelta

Visit the Sonic 2: Retro Remix Booth!

This is a pretty thorough hack of Sonic 2 that makes it into almost an entirely new game. There are two modes: Classic and Adventure. Adventure Mode involves all sorts of Emerald hunting, missions, and level unlocking, which I'm a sucker for, but I didn't have time to play it in depth. What I did do, though, was fun. Anyway, I'll be looking at Classic Mode only for this review.

Well, we've got our obligatory green level here. The new art is a little grainy, and also samey. The repeating blocks all look like they're at the same depth, causing it to look boring, but also making the gameplay confusing. It's hard to always tell what you can pass through, behind, or in front of or not.

We've got some new moves for Sonic, too. There's a wall jump, homing attack, and even an expertly recreated version of the trick system from Sonic Advance 2, which I have to say is mighty awesome. All of this works very well and it's fun to use the controls.

Unfortunately the level design is poor. It's like a bad mix of Sonic Advance 2 and Chaotix. You keep finding yourself zipping along, only to come to a stop, or fall through a passageway, or get bounced into a blocky area that impedes your flow. It's also fairly easy to get lost.

Some fangames, like Sonic Axiom, or Sonic: Time Twisted (see below), have level design that works very well. I'm not entirely sure what the secret to good level design is, but I think one aspect is that the designer needs to be aware of the screen. As they draw the Zone, they need to constantly be thinking about how the material they're adding is going to be presented to the player. How is it going to be revealed onto the screen? Will the player see where they need to go? Is there enough interest present in any given frame? How can we surprise the player? What kind of visual cues can we use to encourage certain player behaviour? The two games I just mentioned seem to have this kind of thing in mind.

Sonic 2: Retro Remix, however, much like the two games I compared it to (Sonic Advance 2 and Chaotix) seems more like you're playing a map than a Zone. As though it was all splodged onto a big canvas by someone who understood the overview, but had no concern for how it should feel to play through it as it scrolls onscreen incrementally.

So, for all the content here, the level design mars things pretty badly. Playing the Zone gives me a sort of empty feeling, like I'm not actually doing anything.

I've seen trailer videos, though, with amazing speedruns of the Zones. Perhaps the Zones are just too finetuned, and I have to play them "right" in order to properly enjoy them. Either way, I think they need work.

The later Zones actually fare slightly better in the level design department, or maybe I was just getting used to the style. I particularly appreciate the snow level - it's both pretty and fun.

My Advice: Don't get me wrong, Sonic 2: Retro Remix is in no way bad. In fact I quite like it. The ported musics are really good (I especially like the third Act of the first Zone), and the Zones are fast and exhilarating when things are going well. You should definitely play it.

Sonic: Time Twisted

Game made by Overbound in Game Maker

Visit the Sonic: Time Twisted Booth!

I've seen this game around since I first encountered the Sonic community several years ago. It's notable as a solid Game Maker Sonic fangame, and for having Sonic CD-esque time travel, albeit streamlined to only 2 different eras.

This demo's level, Perplex Puzzle, has extremely well conceived level design, and has quite a handful of different gimmicks and moving platforms types - some of which are even unique to the past or future. It's amazing the difference that this makes - suddenly you feel like you're playing a true Sonic game, with echoes of Sandopolis, Marble Garden, or Tidal Tempest, and not a mere tech demo made up of blocks.

There are branching paths, hidden rooms, and nothing feels like it's just been thrown together or unnecessarily repeated just to pad things out. The enemy placement is fair and reasonable, plus the enemies themselves are cool. One is a snail that leaves a slime trail (quite a cool graphical effect, to be honest), and another is based on this guy from Sonic Triple Trouble. Actually, a lot of the level design reminds me favourably of the latter two Game Gear Sonic titles, mixed with Sonic CD. Importantly, it's genuinely fun to play the Zone.

The music is really nice, too - it has the Sonic CD vibe, which fits really well, but it also reminds me of one of my favourite game soundtracks, that of Pushover for the SNES. This is fitting, considering that the Zone is a perplexing puzzle!

It's not perfect, though. The art style, while vibrant, consistent, and technically proficient, at least for this Zone uses too many conflicting primary colours. The future is all green and purple, while the past is all blue and orange.

I'm guessing this was done because Tidal Tempest has a similar look, but it confuses the eye and makes some of the gimmicks you're supposed to interact with (the pull-switches and doors, for instance) difficult to make out. Some of the object sprites, like the shield and the springs, look a little flat and unfinished. Also, the water doesn't change the colour of what's submerged, which reminds me of the lazy PC port of Sonic CD.

I like the Sonic sprite, though, apart from some issues with the eyes in a few of the frames, and the balance of borrowed to original art is also respectable. None of the repurposed elements look out of place.

The game has a fair amount of bugs and incompatibilities. The Zone Clear sequence is particularly unpolished - which is fair enough, this is just a demo. But at one point it triggered during the Zone when I was nowhere near the end, and then froze up the game! The music didn't play on my machine, either, so I had to manually run it in a media player as I played the Zone. The Time Travel transition also showed up as video garbage - and my system can handle Game Maker and surfaces just fine, usually.

Those glitches aside, though, the engine - a modified form of Sonic DASH - is a lot more playable than in most cases. There are a bunch of obvious problems that stand out to someone like me who's studied the originals so carefully, but to the average player there's nothing here that will frustrate you so much you won't be able to finish the demo.

My Advice: This is definitely worth checking out. It's much more polished than the previous demos of the game I've played, which promises that Sonic: Time Twisted will only continue to improve in the future, too. If you like well-thought-out Zones and platforming gameplay (like me), then this is one to watch.

Visit SAGE!

A Happy Announcement!

A few days ago, Overbound - the creator of Sonic: Time Twisted - asked me if I'd like to join the project as Lead Programmer, and make the game's physics and engine even better. I was flattered that he proposed this, and also excited to lend support to a promising Sonic fangame, so I jumped at the chance and said 'yes'.

Now, some of you may also know that I'm currently working on putting together a Unity engine for Sonic Fan Remix. How can I juggle both projects? Well, the truth is, I already am - as I code for SFR in Unity, I'm also working on my Game Maker Sonic engine. When things are going tough in one, I can switch to the other for a breather.

So, though nominally I am now the "Lead Programmer" of STT, more accurately I'm still just working on my Game Maker Sonic engine as I have been doing. However, now I'll be keeping Overbound posted on progress, and STT will be the first game to use my engine when it's done.

By the next SAGE, you're almost assured to see a demo of STT that we'll work to make better than ever. Be there!

13 August 2010

SAGE Advice: Part 4

This time we'll be looking at some 3D fangames at SAGE, as well as some that are more heavily influenced by "Modern Sonic".

Sonic Adventure 3

Game made by Acidhead Games in Game Maker

Visit the Sonic Adventure 3 Booth!

I wish I could give this game a proper review, but sadly it's buggy as hell and I can't control it. Sonic doesn't seem to be able to run forward properly.

What I can see of the presentation, though, is underwhelming at best. No Sonic game, not even a 3D one, should have to have mouselook. It screams 'I've re-textured a basic FPS tutorial' not 'worthy follow-up to Sonic's last hurrah on the Dreamcast.'

My Advice: Who knows - if the controls work on your system, you might get something more out of it than I did. But I don't really see the point. I can't even say 'Great effort, guys!' because I'm most emphatically not a fan of 3D Sonic fangames. Why, exactly, would you want to repeat Sega's mistakes? Sonic works in 3D about as well as it does as an interpretive dance.

Sonic 3D

Game made by Zykov Eddy in EDuke 32

Visit the Sonic 3D Booth!

Well, this fares slightly better. I can at least control it. But again we have mouselook, which just feels wrong. Worse, since it's the only way to turn (the WASD controls allow only strafing), you have to always have one hand on the mouse. But of course, jump is mapped to the spacebar! Oh joy, we have to run and jump with one hand, while looking around with the other! It's far from the optimal setup, and isn't conducive to Sonic gameplay at all. Jumping on enemies or items is supposed to be the central action of a Sonic game, but here it's a tedious chore - like in most 3D versions of Sonic.

My Advice: In the end it feels like the poor man's version of the much better Sonic Robo Blast 2. I find it a shame that - perhaps in some attempt to be "impressive" - people are compelled to make 3D games like this. When most major studios can't get it right, what hope do you have? I'm all for quixotic perseverance in the face of the odds, but this is just silly. Maybe I'm just being closed-minded here, but does anyone actually have fun playing projects like this, or are they just glorified tech demos?

Sonic NXT

Game made by Altheboss in Game Maker

Visit the Sonic NXT Booth!

You know what? This one is horrible, too. I don't know if I'm just in a bad mood, or if these 3D and "Modern" fangames just suck (but I have a vague idea which it might be).

Aside from the borrowed graphics that are copy-pasted in the least imaginative of ways, the physics are also terrible. I bounced around in here for a good half-minute.

These springs bounce you right into a big solid thing. Helpful.

And the red spring to the left of here isn't powerful enough to send you further up this slant without stopping (you have to use the Spindash). Of course, in any decent engine it would be. It's almost as though the level design doesn't want me to play it.

Well, I'm happy to oblige it.

I do sorta like the Zone intro, though. Meh.

My Advice: This is way too broken to be any fun, and everything in it is recycled. Skip it. It's telling that the fangames that seem the most heavily influenced by the more recent Sonic games are also the worst.

And, yes, that's Tails with four tails. Saints preserve us.

Sonic Phoenix

Game made by LH_The_Hedgehog in Multimedia Fusion

Visit the Sonic Phoenix Booth!

Well, we've got a single act demo here, it appears. There are all the usual "Modern Sonic" suspects: boost, homing attack, Egg Pawns, wall jump, QTE's - the works.

Unfortunately there are also all the bad things about "Modern Sonic", too: treacly acceleration (PROTIP: Sonic is supposed to be fast), run-run-run-trick-run level design, and awful butt-rock music (though the Zone theme isn't terrible).

It has more polish than some similar attempts I've seen, though, I'll give it that much. And I like that it detects your ToD ("Time of Day") and changes the Zone's ToD accordingly.

My Advice: It's not totally unplayable (which means it stands out in today's group), but there's nothing that makes it fun. Though, compared to Shadow the Hedgehog 2 from last year, there's just no contest.

Well, they get props for blowing up Washington, I guess.

Wait... what? Now it's NY? I'm confused.

Sonic and the World Rings

Game made by A.J. in Multimedia Fusion

Visit the Sonic and the World Rings Booth!

Well, now it looks like we might be getting somewhere. This game makes an effort in the presentation category, and it's quite interesting for it to use double-tall resolution like a faux DS game. The title also suggests more thought has gone into storyline than if it was called "Sonic, um... 3D!".

Unfortunately, the storyline - taking a page from Sonic Rush Adventure - is told in a very unappealing way. (I also feel compelled to complain about the lazily coded message boxes, with words that type out only to jump to the next line after spilling over the right edge. It's not that hard to fix.)

We've also got a bottom-screen Tails bitching at Sonic (complete with grating voice clips), and an entirely pointless (and compulsory!) tutorial. 'This is how to walk left and right!' Honestly, would anyone dare to include something so banal if Dimps hadn't led the way?

Truly, Dimps poisons everything (to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens). Some more of the lovely Dimps-isms we're treated to here include pointless unskilled tricking to fill a boost meter (with the attending boost gameplay), death pits, bland Egg Pawns, and rooms full of bland Egg Pawns. C'mon, people, unless you're making a tongue-in-cheek parody hack, please aspire to a higher level than Dimps!

It gets worse. The level "plays itself", full of boosters and springs and rails. The homing attack (called the "Exact Attack") is awful - for some reason Sonic instantly transports to the enemies rather than zipping towards them. Ugh. There are also homing attack chains, which is a particularly brainless brand of gameplay. The few times Sonic is on solid ground it seems to be nothing but an exercise in running nose-first into crates. Has it really come to this?

I might be able to praise the original way that they handle the wall jump (continue to hold the jump button and alternate pressing left and right), but unfortunately, while it may be creative, it's terribly unintuitive and for that reason doesn't work as well as if they'd just left it alone.

Scattered throughout the Zone are bungie cords (you know the kind; first introduced in Green Forest from Sonic Adventure 2, and rehashed ever since), but they don't actually bungie (at least I couldn't get them to). They just stretch out until Sonic dies. Thrilling. I tried tricking, jumping, the "Exact Attack", spamming the directional keys... if this is some attempt to out-barrel the barrel, it's working.

My Advice: There's a more playable game here than the others we've just looked at, and the presentation is held to a slightly higher standard. If you can jump over the bungie parts (and if you fail, at least you seem to have infinite lives), there's a Sonic Rush-y bit of fun to be had. But when the Zone art and music is directly lifted from the Sonic Rush series itself, you're better off just playing those instead.

Visit SAGE!

Sorry this group was all duds, basically. I also apologise if my assessments are short and overly repetitive. I'm pretty swamped at the moment and I don't have time to be as brilliant as I'd like to be.

Next time, though, you can look forward to another gem! =)

12 August 2010

SAGE Advice: Part 3

Note: It's come to my attention that there's more to Sonic Fusion than I gave it credit for. For some reason when I ran it on my machine, the "Up" button was continually registering, and that's what was killing Sonic's ability to roll or spindash. It also prevented me from accessing the other levels and characters from the menu. If and when I can resolve this issue, I'll be giving the game a more accurate and balanced review.

Sonic 2: Dimps Edition

ROM Hack of Sonic 2 by SOTI

Visit the Sonic 2: Dimps Edition Booth

As implied by the title, this is a hack of Sonic 2 that attempts to mimic the style of Dimps (the developer responsible for the Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush series, as well as the upcoming Sonic 4). This means that the Zones are chock-full of Speed Boosters, the Homing Attack is present (use button C), the jump height is lower, plus a few other minor modifications, such as to the music and sound. The illusion isn't complete - for instance the Monitors and Springs are still solid, which isn't the case in the majority of the Dimps titles - but the game is still under construction, so that's understandable.

Because this is a parody hack, it can't be evaluated in the traditional way. The music is intentionally worse; the physics are intentionally bad; the alterations intentionally take away from the experience of Sonic 2. As such I have no complaints except for this: The main additions, the Speed Boosters and Homing Attack, aren't properly implemented.

The Homing Attack isn't supposed to work when the enemies are above Sonic's head. Though I'm not sure how it works in Sonic 4, this is the case in the Dimps titles I've played.

The Speed Boosters are poorly coded. When Sonic hits them, he's immediately bumped outside of their hitbox, which creates a jerky motion. Again, in the Dimps games I'm familiar with, this isn't so - hitting Speed Boosters is actually very smooth. This is even more inexplicable because Chemical Plant Zone already has Speed Boosters in it, so I don't know why the creators of the hack didn't just take a hint from those objects' code.

It's all very well and good to throw something together sloppily if it's only going to reflect badly on Dimps and not yourself, but in the interest of accuracy I think that these issues should be fixed.

My Advice: The joke's a good one, and Dimps needs to be shown up after their recent miserable failures, but the idea quickly turns stale by the second or third level. If you don't play the game, though, at least check out the "Ben Kalough" PR video - if you've been following the turbid Sonic 4 saga, you'll probably enjoy the humour.

Sonic Gijinka

Game Made by Gear the Hedgehog in Game Maker

Visit the Sonic Gijinka Booth

There are three things that strike me about Sonic Gijinka. 1: Sonic is given a humanoid makeover. Weird, but not in itself an unworkable idea. 2: They're including some elements from the Sonic 1 beta, such as the "Welcome" sign in Green Hill Zone. 3: It's the worst thing I've ever played.

Right off the bat you'll notice that the sprite is hideous - excuse-me-a-moment-while-I-bleach-my-eyes hideous - and isn't even the right size in relation to its other frames, let alone the other objects. This is odd because the Zone graphics aren't totally irredeemable.

The background paralax is calculated using both the player's X and Y position, so it moves left and right when the player jumps. I can't for the life of me figure out why this should be so - or how anyone thought it was acceptable to reveal a demo with a bug that basic.

If you can stomach the sprites long enough to actually play the one act you're offered, you'll be in for even more punishment. The game engine (called the "Sonic Revival Unleashed b4", it appears) is so jerky and sluggish that it'd be funny if it wasn't so painful. I'll be the first to admit that modern Sonic games are too speed-crazy, and that momentum plays an important role in Sonic gameplay, but there has to be some middle ground between i-can't-see-what's-whizzing-by and oh-god-why-am-I-suddenly-a-quadriplegic. When you spend most of your time during the level waiting for your damn jump to fall back down, something's wrong.

My Advice: Don't stick anything larger than your ear on your elbow. (What - you expect me to make sense after Sonic Gijinka melted my brain?)

Be the Bullet

Game made by Steven M in Multimedia Fusion

Visit the Be the Bullet Booth

Be the Bullet is a crazy original concept - a Sonic the Hedgehog sidescrolling shmup that harks back to the NES era. As the game opens, you're treated to a remix of the Capcom Ducktales Moon theme, so you know good things are in store.

But how does Sonic shoot if he doesn't have a gun? Well, he doesn't actually shoot bullets - he is one. Hence the title.

By pressing the attack button, Sonic shoots forward in his Spindash form, destroying any enemies in his path. When he reaches the right edge of the screen, he wraps back around to the left (how old-school can you get? =P) and returns to the marker position he was fired from (while he's Spindashing, you can move the marker, and this is actually used to cross obstacles such as waterfalls - it's all very clever and well thought out).

When Sonic destroys an enemy, any of its bullets that are still on screen turn into Rings, which draw towards him until he collects them. When Sonic is hit, he loses Rings, so there's no insta-death here like the unforgiving NES shooters you may be used to. I'm also happy to note that Sonic doesn't "crash" into the level boundaries, he just slides up against them. One of the things I hate the most about shmups is when the environment kills you as well as the enemies, and it's good that that's not the case here.

My Advice: I'm not terribly good at playing this type of game, but I can recognise its worth and I really like the old-school presentation. And for once I don't have to say, 'it's not original enough!'

Sonic Construct Worlds

Made by Candescence in Construct

Visit the Sonic Construct Worlds Booth

I'm afraid it's back to the bad news with Sonic Construct Worlds. It's an extrememly unpolished first attempt at recreating the Sonic Worlds engine in Construct. While this might spell future good fortune for Sonic fangame makers that favour Construct, at the moment the engine is absolutely unusable.

I'm not going to be judgemental about Sonic Construct Worlds, because all of us engine-makers have had builds as sorry as this one. In a year or two, this could well be the best Sonic fangame engine there is - but there's no way to tell from what's on offer here. Personally I can't imagine why someone would even bother showing this off. Understanding folks (like me) won't hold it against the creator when their next engine demo is on display, but the majority are going to write this off as hopeless when they see it.

My Advice: If you don't have something to show, don't show it.

...Oh, right, advice for SAGE goers - skip this one; and if you don't skip it, cut the creator some slack: the only mistake they've made is to be overeager to show their work.

Visit Sage!

11 August 2010

SAGE Advice: Part 2

Last time, I talked about three games that didn't follow the traditional Sonic formula. This time I'll be looking at a few games that will definitely feel more familiar.

Sonic Genesis

Game made by Toaster1 in Game Maker

Visit the Sonic Genesis Booth

Those Sonic fans amongst you who survived 2006 (despite Sega's best efforts) probably remember the horrendous GBA port of Sonic the Hedgehog called "Sonic Genesis" - unless, that is, you blocked the traumatic experience.

Fortunately, though, this game is similar to that release in name only. So, what do we have here?

A classic-style Sonic fangame with partially original graphics, a passable engine, a borrowed Sonic 3D Blast tune, and some modified enemies (I like the Shellstoppers, myself). There's also a Robotnik boss at the end that's pretty easy to defeat.

And I'm afraid that's pretty much it. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, aside from the usual deficiencies of the Rogueyoshi/Damizean engine it uses. But there's nothing on offer here to jump over the moon for, either.

This is actually a common problem with Sonic fangames. I know it's incredibly hard work to put together a level, and people want to show off their work - but when the achievement basically boils down to something we've all seen before, what's the point? In the end, we're left saying, 'Good effort, but come back when you have something new to show us.'

I also have a personal pet peeve - I hate seeing the Tropical Island trope done to death. You can bet that out of any random selection of Sonic fangames, 3 out of 4 will be a single-zone demo set on an island. Sure enough, that category is well-represented at this year's SAGE, so I'll run down some of the others. But first...

My Advice: I have nothing against this game, but since there's nothing here we haven't all seen before (over and over), I recommend you pass. I am looking forward to seeing progress on it, though, because there's certainly potential. Next SAGE, maybe?

Sonic Zero: Remastered

Game made by Mr.Kaosu, LarkSS, and Sparks in Multimedia Fusion

Visit the Sonic Zero: Remastered Booth

I appraised this game last year, and wasn't especially impressed. This year things are marginally better.

Oh, joy - another palmtree-laden green level! At least they have the decency to acknowledge this (the Zone is called "Generic Garden"), but I might go so far as to say that this betrays a deepfelt ennui with Sonic on the part of the creators. If you have to stoop to pointing out just how mundane you are, isn't it time to do something else?

The engine is Sonic Worlds, which is still as buggy as ever, so there's nothing special there. The layout and music are just kinda there - again, it feels like there isn't enough creativity to go around. I'm particularly incensed by the Robotnik statues scattered around - when Taxman's Retro Sonic did that, it was cool and original. I hate to see a good game ripped off like that.

My Advice: Ultimately I find it a bit boring, but to be fair it is put together reasonably well, so it's not a total waste of time. But don't expect it to stick in your memory.

Sonic Redux

Game made by Retronic in Multimedia Fusion

Visit the Sonic Redux Booth

And... yet another tropical island! Hooray!

Seriously, though, Sonic Redux is rescued from oblivion by the fact that it's heavily based on Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Sure, it may not be any more original than any other fangame that borrows art, layouts, and music, but most opt to rip off Sonic 1, 2, or CD. It's somewhat refreshing to see a fangame that revels in the style of the latter two Sonic classics.

There's also a fair amount of imagination on display here, too, despite the "redux" business. I predict that this will do very well if they can keep it up.

I do, however, have to bring up the frankly terrible camera. There is nothing wrong with stable, classic Sonic camera - so why do so many fangames feel obliged to screw over the entire experience with weird new camera systems? It would be one thing if it actually worked, but most of the time it doesn't even follow your character properly, inducing migraine headaches. And woe betide someone who dares to run around a loop! Enough with the lerpy derpy cameras, people.

My Advice: It's totally worth it just to see Knuckles on a surfboard in the opening sequence. I'd also recommend you keep your eye on it, too - this promises to be something special.

Sonic Fusion

Game made by Felik in Multimedia Fusion

Visit the Sonic Fusion Booth

I really liked Sonic Fusion at last year's SAGE, and I was doubly excited for it this year after seeing the trailer. Full motion video? Comic book panel cutscenes? Hell, yeah!

Unfortunately I was brought down immediately. Another tropical island? And after the nice, original Zone from last year? I AM DISAPPOINT! And why is it so ugly? With the Richard Jaques version of Green Grove Zone's theme in the background, it's almost like they want me to hate this level!

Also, in some misguided attempt to feel more like a Sonic Adventure-inspired game, there's no proper way to roll up or Spindash (unless I'm doing something wrong, but it should be obvious, right?) The level layouts and physics are also really poor, leading to cheap blows and lots of frustration.

It's terribly sad to see a promising Sonic fangame actually regress, developing Tropical fever and falling apart at the seams. I can only hope it will recover.

My Advice: Download it to ogle the cutscene, and - heck - give the gameplay a go. See if you can bear it. You'll only die a little.

Sonic Zeta Overdrive

ROM Hack of Sonic 2 by Mikel

Visit the Sonic Zeta Overdrive Booth

I've come across the occasional basic hacking tutorial online before. I was amused once to read one that said something to the effect of, 'First, come up with an idea for your hack.' From my point of view, you'd think someone would have already done just that if they were bothering to read a hacking tutorial in the first place.

But I guess that's not always the case. Exhibit A: Sonic Zeta Overdrive.

Well, the name sounds impressive, but does the hack live up to it? Judge for yourself by looking at that screenshot. I'm sorry, but anyone capable of leaving a palette like that in their game isn't instilling a lot of confidence in their other abilities.

The hack feels totally directionless: clumsy, sparse level design; flat, uninspired music; the throwaway inclusion of Bean the Dynamite as a playable character (which I would otherwise find cool, but the implementation of it here is nothing more than a lousy edit of Sonic's spriteset); and a jumble of reused graphics that don't belong together at all.

My Advice: Sonic Zeta Overdrive amounts to little more than a glorified palette hack. I can't think of any grounds for recommendation.

Sonic Axiom

Game made by Vexer in Multimedia Fusion

Visit the Sonic Axiom Booth

Aw, hell. Another island paradise rehash fest with that malignant Sonic Worlds engine. Will the pain ever end?

Um... yes, actually, it will. Sonic Axiom, bizarre title and slightly weak first level aside, is the best Sonic fangame I have ever played. (I did promise this last time, remember? =P)

Let's look past the problems here for a moment. Yes, there are physics glitches spewing everywhere - what can you expect with MMF and Sonic Worlds? - and yes, the framerate and sound mixing are just plain bad. But the Zones... the Zones!

The graphics are mix of wholly original tiles and repurposed bits of all the classics, but never have I seen such an elegant fusion of these elements. You have to actively check yourself and remember, 'hey, these are borrowed graphics!', so well are they put together.

Sonic Axiom is a whole lot more than the sum of its parts. As a devotee of Sonic Zones, I of course am wowed by the gorgeous level graphics, but that's not all it has going for it. The music choices are apt, atmospheric, and absolutely lovely. The layouts are genuinely fun, surprising, challenging-but-fair, and contain some creative platforming - something Sonic fangames usually sorely lack.

I could talk more about it, but I'm too busy drooling over those multi-plane backgrounds...

My Advice: Yes, yes, yes! If you play nothing else at SAGE this year, play Sonic Axiom. I admit it may not be for everybody - my personal history of loving Sonic CD (particularly the North American version) sets me up to respond positively to this game. Others may indeed hate it because it's not "boost-boost-boost-Crush-40" enough. Well, sod them, I say. Play this game.

Visit SAGE!