01 October 2011

Hack Attack (Part II)

This is the second part in a three part series of my reviews of the hacks submitted to the Sonic the Hedgehog Hacking Contest.

30 Day Project: Revisited

Hack of Sonic 1 by PsychoSk8r

To fully detail all the changes made to Sonic 1 for this hack would be a whole blog post in itself - the changelog provided with the hack is nearly 700 lines long!

The hack is so named because PsychoSk8r set a challenge for himself - make as many changes as possible in a 30-day period. Because of this, there's not much focus or coherency, but a bunch of the changes are cool and fun to play around with.

The art mods are a bit uneven - Marble fares much better than Green Hill - but are certainly more creative than most and I appreciate the humorous "easter eggs" strewn throughout.

The music mods are one of the strengths of the hack. There are original remixes for each of the 3 acts (for the zones that are modified in this demo, anyway), and the Sound Test includes a treasure trove of ports and conversions that are extremely well done. It's probably worth the download for the soundtrack alone.

As far as programming mods go, there's a slew of those, too. There are a couple of dash moves and a double jump for Sonic (none of which are really necessary to progress), and you're required to find a Chaos Emerald monitor in each Act in order to gain access to the next - a concept which I obviously like, though I do wish they were hidden a little better.

There are also some fun effects like time of day changes and weather, which may not be terribly impressive at this point in the history of hacking, but I liked the atmosphere they created.

Overall I'd like to see this hack given more of a point, but I do like the work that's been done on it.

Sonic ERaZor

Hack of Sonic 1 by Selbi

Sonic ERaZor was submitted to last year's contest, as well. When I played it then, I wasn't too fond of it. Something about it felt too edgy and confrontational to be truly enjoyable.

This year, though, I found that I liked it a lot. I don't know if that's entirely because it improved (though of course it has made a bunch of progress), or because I've just gotten over any hangups I might have had with it.

Either way, this time I really liked the tone and the "Sonic's having a really weird day" storyline. The challenge level was just right and the concepts for each level, while quite disparate, somehow gelled to create a whole.

Particularly standout was the Special Stage, which I adore. I like it far more than the original Sonic 1 stage, and I'd gladly play many more - even if they get progressively harder. Bring it!

So I'd recommend ERaZor. I was playing it again while writing this review, and even after the novelty wears off it's still fun.

Sonic 1 Lunacy

Hack of Sonic 1 by The Masochistic Maniacs

"Lunacy" and "Masochistic Maniacs" are incredibly apt terms when it comes to this hack. An example? Everything is out to kill Sonic, even his own jump - pressing the button again while in the air will cause instant death. This game, in Lunacy Mode, must be played extremely carefully!

The idea, as far as I can tell from this demo, is to make Sonic 1 not just harder, but a lot harder. While there are Normal and Hard modes, it looks to me like Lunacy Mode is the meat of the game. Since the title card for Green Hill is replaced with "Cherry Blossom" I'm assuming that future releases will be using custom art, which I look forward to (especially knowing that MarkeyJester is on the team).

I'm afraid I don't quite have the stomach for Lunacy Mode, though, and had to battle my through it using savestates. It's not the kind of fair challenge I enjoy that Sonic VR is such a beautiful example of. However the game does tease us with things like this:

...so when it's finished it might be worth self-flagellating to see all the content. As it stands, though, it's mostly Green Hill and I wouldn't recommend it unless you're already following the project.

The S Factor: Sonia and Silver

Hack of Sonic 1 by Aquaslash & Pals

Believe it or not, I'm a member of that rarefied species - a Sonic Underground fan. (Just this morning, I had to fend off a cryptozoologist who wanted to stuff and mount me.) So I - unlike others - have no quibble whatsoever with playing as Sonia. In fact, I tend to think of this game as "The S Factor: Sonia" because I couldn't care less for Silver. =P (Scourge and Shadow are not complete as of this release, but even if they were I don't find the prospect of playing as them very appealing, either.)

Excepting the less-than-interesting supporting cast, everything about this game - it feels inadequate to call it a "hack" - is brilliant. I've been following it's development as a fan for what seems like years now, and it hasn't disappointed me yet. The hacking contest build was no exception - the new levels were beautiful and won my heart immediately.

It surely deserved all the trophies it won this year and it was certainly my favourite overall submission. But I've got to stop talking about it now, or I'll wind up killing the rest of the evening playing it again. =)

Untitled Sonic 3 Hack

Hack of Sonic 3&K by D.A. Garden

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to step into a bizarro world where Sonic Team had made different level layouts for Sonic 3 & Knuckles, this is the hack for you. The overall game is intact, but the levels are now completely new while remaining strangely authentic. Keep in mind, though, that the hack is not finished so this is true of some levels more than others.

Sadly the palettes have also been changed, and they're hella ugly.

There's nothing else to say, really. It's not going to hold anyone's interest for long. D.A. Garden deserves props for making nearly spot-on level layouts, but the Untitled Sonic 2 Hack (that I reviewed in Part I) had more going for it, I think.

Sonic 2 Heroes

Hack of Sonic 2 by Flamewing

When I first heard of this hack, I was very wary of it. The last thing I want is some of Sonic Heroes' poison rubbing off on a classic like Sonic 2.

Fortunately those fears were unfounded, and only the good elements, i.e. the ability to play Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails at once, switching leader on the fly, have been ported over. There's no nonsense like floating rainbow question marks, character switching gates, or conversions of the Seaside Hill BGM.

In fact Sonic 2 Heroes reminds me of a time when I was a little kid (and you can be sure I was an adorable one) playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles. When Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are all present in the Hidden Palace/Sky Sanctuary cutscenes, I would ache for the ability to run around in all the rest of the zones with the complete and total "Team Sonic", having adventures like the glorious second part of the OVA where Knuckles joins the fray.

Flamewing has not only fulfilled that boyhood dream, but gone above and beyond the call of duty to polish the project to a level of shine that forces Knuckles to don his shades.

Not only is there the yearned-for 3-player mode, but there's also every possible combination of 2- and 1-player modes. Sonic and Knuckles, Knuckles and Tails, Tails and Sonic... And all of this is fully compatible with letting a friend pick up the second controller!

In addition to the "Heroes" mechanic and cool combo moves like Tails being able to carry Sonic and Knuckles around, there is a plethora of other goodies to make one swoon. All the elemental shields are here, and with their complete function set, as well, down to repelling projectiles (and one can hardly exaggerate how cool it is to be able to wear a Bubble Shield when playing the "tricky bit" in Chemical Plant Act 2!).

Bits of polish Sonic 2 has always needed, such as the underwater distortion effect and victory poses at Act's end, are added in. Sonic has his Insta-Shield and Super Peel Out (yes yes yes!), Tails can fly, and Knuckles' jump height isn't unfairly nerfed. You can even perform aerial actions, such as gliding and flying, from a drop or a spring, rather than just a jump - something the series has always needed!

Everything, from the in-game text to the Sega screen to the Special Stage, are all modified to match the triple character dynamic. Nothing is shoddily done or overlooked.

Seriously, this hack is like winning the lottery. It tempts one to delete their vanilla Sonic 2 ROMs and never look back. I'm in love.

Note that I did not review any of the 3D hacks. This is because of my computer's prodigious aptitude for failing to run such things. I will be upgrading soon, so this won't hold me back in future contests.

Stay tuned for Part III!


  1. A review that actually gives me a nudge in the right direction! (Albeit over a year late).
    Thanks for taking the time it must've took to prepare and post all this.
    Glad you like my soundtrack, my music skills do tend to outweigh my programming skills. =P

    1. You're welcome. I look forward to seeing more from this hack! :)