10 August 2010

SAGE Advice: Part 1

One of my first posts here was a rundown of my thoughts on the crop of Sonic fangames at SAGE 2009. Well, it's been another year, and here we are at SAGE 2010. Of course I can't resist spilling what I think about this year's offerings, so here goes.

I'll be covering the games INPO, and I won't be covering them all (some aren't related to Sonic, so I didn't bother trying them out). I also won't be fitting them all into this post, so check back each day for the latest reviews if you're interested.

Lazy Sonic

Game made by Sad Hedgehog in Game Maker

Visit the Lazy Sonic Booth

I started with Lazy Sonic, because, to be honest, I thought it didn't look like much and I figured I should get it out of the way quickly. I can be excused for not expecting anything amazing because the game advertises itself as being lazily made.

As I started playing, my suspicions seemed to be confirmed. It's very basic graphically and artistically, its physics are sluggish, and there aren't any loops or anything of the sort in sight. The levels are made entirely of repeating blocks and floating platforms.

However, instead of immediately scoffing I continued to play and found that it wasn't actually so bad. The physics, while slow, aren't plagued with glitches and are quite solid. There's no Spindash, and the jump doesn't have variable height, though, and that kinda sucks.

I have to give props for using the Pocket Adventure sprites, which I really like, rather than the overused Sonic Advance sprites. It gives off a certain charm. I was also pleased to discover that progressing through the first level and fighting the boss wasn't riddled with poor hit detection or other sloppy glitches you might expect.

The first boss is actually very reminiscent of the Great Turquoise Zone boss from Sonic Triple Trouble. Although one wonders how many of those Badniks Robotnik can fit inside his Egg-o-matic....

The second Zone, though, is where Lazy Sonic really started to shine. When I saw Sonic riding on the Tornado, I thought, 'Oh, no, not another boring Sky Chase rip-off' but I was completely surprised by the "Sky Ruins" idea.

Instead of a Zone consisting entirely of the Tornado and Badniks, there are floating ruins and platforms for Sonic to interact with. By jumping, you can even steer the Tornado backward, making the auto-scrolling aspect less restricting.

Maybe I'm easily blown away, but I found this idea both simple and simply amazing. It's very humbling to boot up a game called "Lazy Sonic" expecting a glitchy amateurish mess, and be met with a totally original level concept like this. Sky Chase has always been a one-off in Sonic, an oddity that didn't really mesh. Sure, it's been rehashed several times (in Sonic Adventure, and Sonic Unleashed), but never properly expanded upon or integrated into the normal Sonic gameplay like this before. Sky Ruins Zone has made me think, 'Hey, yeah... why hasn't there been another Tornado-bound Zone in Sonic?' The concept has some mileage left in it, it seems.

So, thank you Lazy Sonic, for injecting a little something fresh into my Sonic world. That's why I love fangames! =)

It's not all good, though. The next Zones have some areas that are poorly thought through. Some areas in the second Zone are very similar to those in the first, and that just seems... well, lazy! Also there are some textbook examples of bad level design. Take these platforms for example:

They are further apart than Sonic's jump height, and they move in perfect unison. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to jump from one to the other. In cases like these, the platforms should be offset so that one carries the player toward the other. Games that don't think things like this through tend to have unforgiving bottleneck areas in the levels that frustrate players until they stop playing. Challenge in games should be intentional.

Or maybe I'm just a lazy player.... Anyway I did enjoy what I played, and I'll probably return to it to play more after I finish trying out the rest of the SAGE submissions.

My Advice: It's not an absolute must-see, but I'd recommend it, especially to fans of Sonic's earlier handheld titles.

The Rose of Longevity

Game made by DarkJedi188 in Game Maker

Visit the Rose of Longevity Booth

I've seen this game in passing before, perhaps at previous SAGEs, but I've just now given it a try. I should have trusted my prior judgement - playing this game is a mistake.

Aside from having the worst plot ever (Amy Rose, afraid that by the time she finally wins Sonic's heart she'll be old and (more) hideous, seeks the Rose of Longevity, which has the power to keep her youthful), this game's physics are also atrocious. And by that I mean fall-through-the-floor-for-no-reason, appear-half-a-screen-above-springs-when-you-hit-them, camera-jerks-uncontrollably atrocious.

Whatever buried charms this game may have, they cannot be appreciated through the fog of the horrible game engine. Having worked in Game Maker for years, even in the Free version, I can tell you that there's no excuse for failure on this level. Modifying the provided platformer tutorial would result in a better game than this.

My Advice: Avoid at all costs, unless you're a slavering Amy Rose fanatic. If you are, avoid me at all costs - please!

Techno: The Gamma Project

Game made by Techno Superguy in Game Maker

Visit the Techno: The Gamma Project Booth

Yes, this isn't strictly a Sonic the Hedgehog fangame, but I've played a game by the same creator before called "Techno the Hedgehog", which I thought was very entertaining. There wasn't much to the gameplay, but the writing was tongue-in-cheek, and I enjoyed the experience. So I figured I'd give this a chance, too.

The writing is up to the standard I was expecting. But I was also pleasantly surprised by the gameplay. While repetitive and not very original, it's smooth, fast, and feels very playable. It's the type of game that doesn't fight you, and compels you to keep breezing through the levels in order to watch the story unfold.

My Advice: If you liked Techno the Hedgehog and its style, check this out. If you prefer your games to be a bit more than mindless fun, give it a pass.

Next Time...

So that's three appetisers for you. Next time I post there will be some heavier hitters, including what might well be my favourite fangame ever, so stay tuned.

Visit SAGE!

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