19 September 2011

SAGE 2011 Reviews (Part 1)

And now, INPO, here is the first batch of my reviews of the games on offer at this year's SAGE. There will be more over the next couple of days, but don't expect a review of all the showings; I'm only interested in the Sonic ones and even then there are a few that don't catch my fancy.

Sonic Small World

I'm impressed that this is actually a complete functioning level with a handful of objects such as a trampoline and moving platforms. But there's nothing here to really blow me away - or anyone else, for that matter.

I don't have much affinity for 3D Sonic engine tests. The effort necessary to make a 3D game even playable, let alone good, usually means that all other departments get neglected. As a result, they are usually very bland and not entertaining, and Sonic Small World is no exception. I'm not going to say it's bad - it's not - but it was probably far more fun for the creator to make, exercising their skills, than it will ever be for an audience to play.

As basically all of the artworks and other elements are ripped from other sources, there's nothing really new or creative on offer, either. I'd give it a pass if I were you, unless you're a 3D Sonic engine test enthusiast.

Sonic Zero

I reviewed this one last year and it hasn't changed much - but it sure has been expanded! There are now 3 working acts and a boss (albeit an embarrassingly easy one).

Though I was lukewarm last year, calling it generic, I've warmed to it this year. I really like the mix of elements, from Sonic's new sprite set, to the appearance of the Golden Shield from Sonic 3D Blast, to the Battle Kukkus from Tails Adventure. I was really enjoying myself, and even though I harbour a certain amount of hate for the Sonic Worlds engine (the way it handles corners and edges is just ass) it doesn't seem to mar this game too badly. The level design works around a lot of the issues quite cleverly.

I am disappointed by some minor changes from last year. The music has been traded out with another remix of Chaotix's Isolated Island (and not a very expert one, at that), which is so overused it makes me groan every time I hear it. And there's a rumble feature that - on my system, at least - makes the identical annoying jolt with every spring and enemy you hit.

I do really appreciate the highly detailed and user-friendly control customisation screen, though. I am sick of games that leave joypad users high and dry, so the Sonic Zero team deserves commendation for rectifying that.

And one last thing - why is the intermittent drowning warning (which is traditionally a chime) the Sonic CD drowning countdown sound effect? It's a ridiculous change that makes anyone who's familiar with Sonic CD feel like they're drowning any time they happen to be underwater for a moment.

The good far outweighs any complaints I may have with this one, though, so I definitely recommend you check it out. If this ever progresses beyond the "single green zone demo" stage, it'll be a keeper.

Sonic Run 3

This is either a joke, part of a conspiracy to make Game Maker look bad, or made by a developer that needs 5 or 10 more years of practise before they should ever set foot at another SAGE.

I won't complain about the visuals - they're actually sort of cute - but the gameplay is totally borked. Which I could excuse if there were complicated loops or something - but the whole game is made of simple boxes. Even then, there's a terrible bug upon all horizontal collisions, making each jump a chore that requires you to stop and start.

This would be better suited to RAGE, I'm afraid. Don't waste precious minutes downloading it.

Madcap Grotto

Made by two members of the community I've long respected, Dimension Warped and my bud Overbound, and with music by the inimitable Karl "Sonicesque" Brueggemann, this single level demo delivers a veritable Sonic playground. It has more gimmicks than a sitcom with failing ratings, and when it comes to Sonic zones, that's a very good thing. Along with those gimmicks, a posse of clever new enemy types and an impressively animated boss make for a greatly satisfying experience.

What makes a Sonic zone live and breathe for me is when it has a tonne of original stuff for Sonic and his friends to actually do, rather than the all-too-common "look guys I made Tropical Trope Zone Act 345656frghgjkjkf and the Ring Monitor sound is different!" Be warned though, at least one bit of gadgetry in Madcap Grotto will inspire rage unless you remember the worthy lesson the Barrel of Doom taught us all. =P

It's not all roses, though. Some of the usual Sonic Worlds issues rear their ugly heads, and there was plenty of slowdown on my machine (which, to be fair, isn't that high-end). Some of the gimmicks had a bug or two, one of which actually forced me to restart, and the boss - as cool as I think it is - is in a large arena making it difficult to keep track of. Wandering around stupidly while a boss shoots you from offscreen happens to be one of my pet peeves - there's a reason Sonic game don't normally do this, you know!

That aside, I'd definitely recommend this audio-visual and gameplay feast.

Project Spikepig

The plaintext manual that accompanied the Project Spikepig executable I found to be incredibly witty, but I'm afraid that's the extent of anything good I have to say about it. The level trope is generic, the level layout is - as the manual admits - "slow, nebulous, confusing, complicated and made by a drunk man", the music is frankly terrible, and the engine is plain vanilla Sonic Worlds at its worst. Give this one a pass.

...I suppose the graphics do have a certain charm to them, as well. But it's not enough to save it.

Sonic Gear

Look at that shot and tell me honestly whether it's an improvement over the original:

I didn't even bother playing this for more than a few minutes. It was pretty dire.

Sonic GML

This is such a clumsy mess I have no idea where to begin. It's weird because there's so much content and so much "completed", it must have been worked on for a long time. But there's absolutely no polish or charm whatsoever.

A pass, then.

Sonic Mobius

Sonic Mobius, judging from the material at its homepage, has a lot of potential. This demo, however, is yet another "single green zone demo". As such it would be unfair of me to evaluate it. I'll only say this - I don't think it was ready to be shown off.

Sorry it's got to be so abrupt. Next time I'll be giving my thoughts on some of the heavier hitters: Sonic Axiom, Sonic and Friends 2, and Sonic: Before the Sequel. Those will be in greater depth.


  1. Anonymous09 May, 2013

    Fuck your review about Sonic Gear, you even dedicated more words to the shity Sonic run 3

    1. It fell into that most loathsome of categories - neither good enough to rave about nor bad enough to rant about.

      Looking back now, I should have added something about that truly hideous green background.