SAGE Advice, Part 3: Classic Styled Games (Returning from Act 1)

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.

This time I’m looking at the classic styled games that are returning from Act 1, which was held earlier this year at the end of February. Let’s see how much they’ve changed (and hopefully improved) in the intervening five months.


Sonic: Edge of Darkness

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I really liked Sonic: Edge of Darkness at Act 1, and I replayed that version as well as the new demo in order to compare them directly. Oddly I notice a lot of physics problems in the older demo when playing it now, but there’s no mention of them in my review. They weren’t awful by any stretch, though.

The Good:

  • The physics are improved, especially the wall jumping.
  • There are now 3 zones with 2 acts and a boss, instead of only 2 zones with 1 act.
  • I still like the transitions between the levels.
  • If you’ve ever felt like it would be cool to fight the sand golem boss from Sandopolis Act 1 directly (rather than leading it into the quicksand), you’ll like one of the new bosses.

The Bad:

  • The physics are still really… weird. Whereas before they felt too sluggish, now Sonic gains speed way too quickly when jumping. This isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself, but when you are playing a bunch of other games that have more accurate physics it’s hard to adapt.
  • Springs feel really underpowered.
  • The music is still all over the place, with some good choices and others feeling “fangamish”.
  • Ring scatter is really abnormal, and they often all fall where you can’t get to them. During bosses, though, they stop at the sides of the screen, which I found pretty nice (though someone could probably bring up balance issues with this).

Conclusion: Sonic Sonic Sonic

All in all, this is exactly what should happen with successive demos. More content, more polish, and more fun. With the progress it’s made since SAGE Act 1 as an example, I look forward to Edge of Darkness shaping up into a great finished fangame.


Sonic Black Ace

black ace

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Sonic Black Ace is a little confusing. The booth contains no screenshots or videos, just a tiny logo. If I hadn’t played it at Act 1 I’d have no idea what it was about or feel any draw to play it.

According to the comments, the game had a showstopping bug that caused it to freeze and crash, and now that’s been fixed. Before the fix the booth was titled Sonic Black Ace & Knuckles, which can still be seen from the URL, but now it’s back to being called Sonic Black Ace Demo 7, which was its title at Act 1.

Playing the fixed demo, the only noticeable different from the Act 1 version was that the test zone had been removed, along with Modern Sonic’s ability to enter any of the acts from the “White World” hub. Now you have to beat the demo to unlock these things, which makes sense for a finished game – but for a demo showcasing content, it’s annoying.

The fact that there’s little new is borne out by the description in the booth:

New This Time Around:
-Save and Loading
-New Airship Armada Act 1
-First Zone was renamed Aphotic Forest
-Knuckles and Da Rock added

It’s also a shame that a lot of the problems from last time aren’t fixed yet (like the temporary freezing when music loads). I know life gets in the way, but I would have liked to see more progress here.

Conclusion: Sonic Sonic Sonic

It’s still a fine game, but if you played it at Act 1 you’re probably safe in skipping it this time.


Sonic Time Twisted

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Because I’m personally involved with the development of Sonic Time Twisted, I can’t give it an unbiased review. I’ll just point you to what I said about it at Act 1, and go over the most exciting new parts. Any complaints I have with it can go directly to the team.

What’s New:

  • A new act of Attraction Attack Zone, with a neat slot machine gimmick that evolves beyond the Casino Night ones by giving you power-ups instead of merely rings.
  • A cartoon cutscene that leads into the Metal Sonic fight in Attraction Attack Act 2. It’s no Sonic CD opening, but it’s awesome nonetheless, especially considering how rare this kind of thing is in fangames.
  • A new act of a new zone, Tidal Tubes, with future and past time zones. The background art in these is excellent.
  • Shameless plug: A key mapper program I made for the project that lets you customise your controls before you launch the game. You can control Sonic directly inside the program, previewing how the controls are going to feel before you start playing. I worked very hard to make this nice, because control setup is often the most painful part of playing fangames and I wish they all had something like this. Such functionality will come standard with the AeStHete engine when I finish it.

Overall, the content that was present at Act 1 hasn’t changed much, but there’s definitely some new stuff that’s well worth seeing. Project leader Overbound has announced that this is the final demo of Sonic Time Twisted before its full release, so I hope you enjoy it and anticipate the completed game.


Tomorrow I’ll be going through the modern styled fangames, and following that I’ll finish up with the non-Sonic and miscellaneous offerings. See you then!

SAGE Advice, Part 2: Classic Styled Games (Newcomers)

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.

Today I’m checking out the 2D games. Because there are so many, I’ll be splitting them up into multiple posts. I’ll cover the classic styled newcomers today, and the ones that are returning from SAGE Act 1 tomorrow. I’ll cover the modern styled games and the non-Sonic games after that.


Sonic Max

sonic max

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Sonic Max is billed as a custom Game Maker Studio engine intended to be “as accurate as possible” to Sonic 2.

The Good:

  • It’s a good start at what it’s attempting to be.
  • There are lots of gimmicks and features provided in the test levels.

The Bad:

  • Basically, everything that isn’t accurate to Sonic 2. When that’s the stated goal, then even the tiniest things add up.

Conclusion: Sonic Sonic

If one’s trying to play “spot the difference” between this and Sonic 2, it’s not even challenging. Everything – from palettes to solidity to physics to timing – is palpably just a little off. (Of particular note is how much Sonic jitters as he moves; here’s a free tip: Sonic shouldn’t be drawn at x, y, he should be drawn at floor(x), floor(y), and the camera should follow that same point.) But it’s a stable effort with a lot of features already in place, and if it can grow beyond this point it could be a great option for Game Maker Studio users.


Sonic: The Blue Blur

blue blur

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Sonic: The Blue Blur is barely a demo… it’s more of a playable teaser, really. The one provided act is a bare layout. According to the readme file, it’s only being shown in order to take part in SAGE, which is a reasonable enough thing. The booth contains mockup screenshots and download links for the soundtrack and also a pack of graph paper concept art. With regards to the latter, I’ve seldom if ever seen this done, and it’s pretty cool to see especially if you’ve ever sketched out zones on graph paper yourself.

There’s nothing to really review, but I wish the project luck.


Sonic Dynamo

dynamo

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Sonic Dynamo is a one zone demo made with Sonic Worlds.

The Good:

  • Custom title screen art, and it’s really good. I’m getting spoiled to this, and fangames without it seem lacking.
  • Nice level art. It’s not all original, but it comes together well and has a pretty colour palette.
  • There’s a cool, if a little unfinished, sandstorm effect in the second act that forces Sonic back if he can’t stay out of it.
  • The boss is neat and feels like an authentic Sonic boss. I kind of wish it moved a little faster, though.

The Bad:

  • There’s nothing special or interesting about the level layouts. You kind of just breeze through them without any challenges or surprises.

Conclusion: Sonic Sonic Sonic

It’s solid, and pretty, and has a strong identity. I just wish it were a little more exciting. Sonic games need to never let up with the surprises to be truly unforgettable.


Sonic Mega Drive

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Sonic Mega Drive is a one zone demo created by Felik, the mind behind the excellent Sonic Fusion. It seeks to recapture the “quality gameplay and atmosphere of classic Sonic games”. Okay, so that’s the goal of a lot of fangames, but can it pull it off?

The Good:

  • Beautiful Mega Drive cartridge icon. 🙂
  • A custom, animated (!) title screen. It doesn’t have a perfect professional shine to it, but it’s awesome that it’s there. I love the Robotnik airship.
  • Gorgeous art for everything from the levels to the objects. I can’t really tell what’s original or not because I don’t closely follow every fangame and engine release, but I do know it looks great. I stared at the shiny bubble shield sprite for quite some time!
  • Fun level layouts full of new gimmicks and badniks. There are some new twists (pardon the pun) on the classic corkscrew that really felt fresh.
  • Great music. At first I thought the powerful attitude of the BGM in Act 1 was a little too much, but in the end I really liked the way it felt with the level.
  • At first I was wondering where the Spindash was, but it turns out that you can unlock it as you play. This is an intriguing system and I wonder what other abilities will be accumulated in the final version.
  • The bosses! They aren’t very challenging, but they have unforgettable entrances that I absolutely love.

The Bad:

  • I’m not a big fan of the tired old Tropical Island level trope, but you know what? I’ll forgive it this time because of the great transition to Act 2 and the creativity therein.
  • The title is a bit weak. How are we going to Google Sonic Mega Drive?

Conclusion: Sonic Sonic Sonic Sonic

Sonic Mega Drive is practically flawless and a good example of what I was saying about Sonic needing surprises to keep it exciting. Sonic 3 opens with a new rival punching Super Sonic in the face, and doesn’t let you go one whole act before literally setting a classic Sonic trope on fire and then drops bomb all over it. While Sonic Mega Drive doesn’t reach quite the same level of in-your-face epicness, it’s definitely on the road to its stated goal of recreating the Mega Drive magic. A real standout.


Sonic 4 Remastered

remastered

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Sonic 4 Remastered is a game with an incredibly clever story: Dr. Robotnik has collected all seven Time Stones and sent Sonic back in time to 2004 when Sonic fangames totally reeked. Can Sonic overcome the grueling challenges set for him (by Game Maker 5.3a) and defeat his lifelong nemesis (the slope)?

Oh wait, that’s not the story? Well, moving right along.


Sonic Overture

overture

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Sonic Overture is a one zone demo made with Sonic Worlds. It’s a prequel, set on Christmas Island, and has a bunch of homages to the concept art from the early days of Sonic 1‘s development.

The Good:

  • For a game called “Overture” it’s only fitting, but the music is brilliant. I can only describe it as joyous, and it matches the atmosphere created by the level art perfectly.
  • The level art is similarly brilliant. It starts good, but the second and third acts get even better. Seeing the Sonic 1 concept art come to life in such an expertly crafted way is amazing.
  • There’s an adorable cameo in Act 2 that I can’t help but love.
  • And another custom, animated title screen! This must be the SAGE of great title screens.

The Bad:

  • There’s almost nothing to do in the levels. Aside from a couple cute badniks and a nice new spiral tunnel, you’ll spend most of your time admiring the scenery instead of being challenged by actual gameplay.

Conclusion: Sonic Sonic Sonic Sonic

Sonic Overture has some of the highest production values I’ve ever seen in a fangame. If the levels had been more fleshed out, it would have been a perfect demo. Absolutely do not pass this one up.


Sonic Mega Drive and Sonic Overture tie for favourites of this batch. So much good stuff this time around!

Be sure to come back tomorrow when I’ll be looking at the games returning from SAGE Act 1 and seeing how much they’ve improved. See you then!

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!

Review: 3D Sonic The Hedgehog

After reading this interview with the developers of the 3D remake of the original Sonic on Nintendo’s 3DS, 3D Sonic The Hedgehog, I was impressed enough with their dedication to doing the project right that I just had to try it out immediately when it launched on the eShop today.

I purchased the game for the entirely reasonable price of $5.99 US, cooked up a couple of chili dogs in order to make a proper event of the proceedings, and sat down to play all the way the through Sonic 1 again (for approximately the billionth time). Here are my thoughts.

There are two burning questions anyone who hears about a 3D remake of Sonic The Hedgehog is going to have at the outset: What is the 3D like, and is this going to be a repeat of the disaster that was Sonic The Hedgehog Genesis (GBA, 2006)?

I’ll get the second question out of the way first: No. This is a fantastic version of the game. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the recent port for iOS and Android – there’s no widescreen support or a 7th Chaos Emerald here – but for my money it’s nearly as good as having the original Genesis / Mega Drive version in your hands. The framerate is solid, the controls (which are also customisable) don’t lag, and the 3DS’s larger screen fits the original graphics without the egregious scaling that plagued the Sonic Classic Collection (NDS, 2010) version.

I say “nearly as good” because there are still some – very minor – differences and issues. The sound effect when running past the sign post at Act’s end has the same issue from Sonic Mega Collection (GCN, 2002), which is jarring when you are used to the correct sound. And I did encounter a minor collision issue in Star Light Zone when pressed into a curve by a fan. All and all though, the game delivers an experience that is highly accurate and satisfying.

So what about that 3D? Far from being a lazy effect applied to the multiple scrolling planes from the original game, M2 went the extra mile to apply the 3D to all of the lines of parallax, and even the foreground elements like road cones, lamp posts, and those famous spinning sunflowers, giving them all a sense of depth. It is quite the experience to look across the sparkling lake of Green Hill Zone or the starry sky of Star Light Zone after over 20 years of playing these Zones on a perfectly flat plane.

In the game settings, it is possible to choose a “Classic” Screen Mode, which is basically a glorified TV filter, giving the game the blurred colours and bulging look of a CRT you may have played the original game on in the 1990s. I was slightly disappointed to find that this effect, while 3D in and of itself (it really looks like it is bulging right out of the 3Ds), removes the other 3D effects from the game. Which I suppose makes sense considering it is called “Classic” mode. I am happy with the overall look of the filter though – sometimes attempts to recreate the RGB smearing of a CRT go overboard and give me eye strain, but I didn’t find that here. At first I felt the bulge was too much, almost like a Sonic X-Treme style fisheye lens, but of course it can be adjusted with the 3D slider until it is as subtle as you’d like it to be.

And of course, it is always possible to just slide the 3D all the way down and play the game in good old 2D, at which point it is basically indistinguishable from the original, making this a solid port if you just want to play Sonic 1 on a Nintendo handheld.

The only negative part of the experience for me was the eShop’s trailer for the game wasn’t in 3D. For shame! Without seeing the raison d’être of the game in action, how are people going to get excited enough to press that all important “purchase” button? Fifty-eight seconds of someone of moderate skill playing Green Hill Zone isn’t a proper trailer, people.

3D Sonic The Hedgehog, at the end of the day, is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s Sonic, and it’s in 3D, and neither aspect is a letdown. So if the price of admission for yet another version of Sonic 1 doesn’t get your hackles up, I’d recommend giving it a go.