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.

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