SAGE Advice, Part 1: 3D Games

It seems like no more than a trice since I was last here, giving out “SAGE Advice” – reviewing the games on offer at the Sonic Amateur Games Expo – and now that Act 2 is underway, it’s time for another go. Two SAGEs in one year can be pretty hectic, but it’s double the fun! I’ll provide links to each game’s booth, as well as a download link in case you wind up reading this after SAGE closes.

Last time I didn’t try out any of the 3D games, but this time I’ve decided to put in the effort to get them running and check them out, and I’m going to go ahead and lead with them. Without any further ado, let’s take a look at the 3D games of SAGE 2014 Act 2.


Sonic World

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I’d heard good things about Sonic World so I was excited to try it out, and it didn’t let me down. The standout thing about this demo is that – despite having only a few levels – it’s stuffed to the gills with content.

The Good:

  • Over 20 playable characters spanning the entire spectrum of the Sonic series, from Marine the Raccoon to Fang the Sniper – complete with voice acting and unique abilities. You can choose to play any of the characters on their own, or mix and match in teams of 2 or 3 characters.
  • The engine – described as “a very advanced enhancement of the BlitzSonic engine” – is robust and feels almost as stable as playing a console Sonic Adventure, especially when using a gamepad.
  • Multiple missions for each of the provided levels. Instead of just heading for the Goal Ring, you can do other series staples like destroying a given number of enemies or collecting a given number of rings.

The Bad:

  • The graphics are not great – in fact, the lack of proper lighting makes it difficult to play sometimes, as it’s hard to judge distances or shapes. But on the plus side, at least it runs smoothly on my computer!
  • The controls, while they work better than I expected, are far more complex than they need to be. Don’t do with two buttons what can be done equally well with one! When mapping them to my gamepad, I had a hard time finding a place for all of the myriad abilities. Some effort should be focused on combining or discarding the unnecessary cruft.
  • The levels seem to be designed for Sonic’s abilities in mind, and when I played as other characters I found myself having trouble progressing past areas that needed the light dash or homing attack. Possibly I’m just missing alternate paths or something, but for a game whose strong suit is all these extra characters, it’s a shame it’s not more comfortable to get through the zones as them.

Conclusion: Sonic Sonic Sonic

Despite some rough spots, I had a great time with this, and I’m not a big fan of “Modern Sonic” gameplay. I spent more time than I usually do on games of this sort, just to try out the many missions and characters, and I’m pretty sure I’ll find myself coming back again after SAGE is over to explore it further. I’m definitely interested in seeing where this one goes; with more polish and new levels I can see this being a milestone game in the future.


Blue Sphere Madness

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Blue Sphere Madness recreates the famous Special Stage / puzzle game using SonicGDK. The first stage feels very familiar, but by time you get to the second stage you’ll realise there are definitely new layouts here.

The Good:

  • There’s new Blue Sphere stages to play, if that’s your thing.
  • You appear to have infinite tries for each stage, and it saves your progress each time you beat one.

The Bad:

  • The controls and physics don’t work precisely as you’d expect if you’re used to the original version, causing a few struggles with things that don’t seem entirely fair. It’s not impossible to work with though.
  • The turning animation is jerky and distracting, and could possibly induce a headache.
  • You can’t turn with the arrow keys, and you’re forced to use WASD. Like other SonicGDK games, for some reason Xpadder doesn’t work with it, so I wasn’t able to play with my gamepad.
  • The graphics are bland, and if anything, worse than the original on the Genesis / Mega Drive. It doesn’t help that each stage looks the same.

Conclusion: Sonic Sonic

Though I suppose it’s interesting that this can be done in SonicGDK, I can’t help but think this would have been better served as a ROM hack. I happen to like the Blue Sphere game a lot, so I had some fun with this, but it’s nothing super amazing. I gave up on the 7th stage, so I don’t know if there’s anything cool that happens when you beat it.


Sonic Lost Adventure: Havok Harbor

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Sonic Lost Adventure is another SonicGDK project, containing a single level – the titular Havok Harbor – and a tutorial set in the same environment.

The Good:

  • Colourful graphics and a really great level trope.

The Bad:

  • It barely runs for me, even on minimum settings, and my computer can play Sonic Generations just fine.
  • Aside from the level art, there’s nothing really new here. The enemies are just placeholders and there’s no gimmicks to speak of.
  • It’s glitchy – I kept getting stuck in the collision and there’s a spot I can’t get past because Sonic just falls down and dies for no reason.

Conclusion: Sonic

The potential of a truly beautiful level ultimately feels wasted here. If by some stroke of luck you can get it to run for you, and you don’t encounter the glitches, you might have a decent experience, but I wound up frustrated. I can only hope that the level finds a home someday (perhaps in another project) and doesn’t go to waste.


Sonic Souls

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Sonic Souls appears to be much more than a demo – its booth shows screenshots of more than 10 levels. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this as it gets so unplayable by the second level that I quit.

The Good:

  • It looks like a fairly complete game with a bunch of varied, interesting levels.

The Bad:

  • It just refuses to recognise a gamepad of any kind, and playing with WASD and a mouse is just awful for a Sonic game.
  • The level design seems maddeningly unaware of the slippery controls, and the second level is a water zone that requires awkward platforming and the seeking of switches while at risk of drowning. I got too frustrated with Sonic flying off of ledges every which way that I gave up at this point.

Conclusion: Sonic

My biggest gripes are due to my personal issues with keyboard and mouse control, so if you’re superhumanly able to play using that setup or find a way that I missed to use a gamepad, you should form your own opinion on it. For me, though, I didn’t see enough that captivated me enough to make it worth the struggle.


Sonic the Hedgehog 3D

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Sonic the Hedgehog 3D feels like a spiritual successor to Sonic Robo Blast 2 in some ways. I’d have more to say about it, but it gave me a “Blue Screen of Death” on the second act. Understandably I didn’t care to test my luck with it after that.

The Good:

  • I like the painted pictures in the opening cutscene.

The Bad:

  • It’s hard to tell where you’re supposed to go in the levels.
  • There’s an annoying delay when using the spin attack that makes it hard to react in time with it.

Conclusion: Sonic

It’s hard to say, considering that I couldn’t play it that long. It looks like a lot of work went into it, but without a more stable engine I can’t recommend it.


Note: Sonic World Remix (download) went live during the writing of this post, so I haven’t had a chance to play it yet.


Ultimately it’s not always very rewarding to try out the 3D games at SAGE. Until there’s a better way to deliver 3D content to fans without frying our computers and forcing us to struggle with setup and unresponsive controls, it’s always going to be more frustrating than it should be.

That said, I’m glad I played Sonic World, so that’s the positive note I’m going to take away from the experience.

Tomorrow, I’ll be covering 2D games, some of which look like an absolute blast. Stay tuned!

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