Sonic Second Chances: 3 Awesome Sonic Hacks

Normally here at Sonic Second, I post about official classic Sonic stuff that’s obscure or interesting, but this time I’m doing something a little different: Sonic Second Chances, a spin-off of the main Sonic Second column where I show fan-made content. Fan creations on average have more of a tendency than official works to be buried by the inexorable march of the internet, because they aren’t curated in the same way. Sure that fangame got a lot of attention at the SAGExpo years ago, but has anyone played it since? Sure that hack won the hacking contest, but is anybody still talking about it? Part of why I do the Sonic Second is to regularly showcase accomplishments of the community (e.g. discoveries of lost material or revelations found when hacking) and I think original work by fans fits right in with the spirit of the column.

So without any further ado, here are three of my favourite Sonic hacks, in no particular order.

Sonic VR

  • Base Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Mega Drive / Genesis), with ported objects from Sonic the Hedgehog 1 (Mega Drive / Genesis)
  • Author: ColinC10
  • Info/Download: Sonic Retro Wiki

Sonic VR is less of a hack of Sonic 2 and more of a celebration of its game engine. It contains none of the levels or music from the original game, instead comprising 40 brand new micro-zones. Each of these is a brilliantly crafted challenge based around some object or behaviour from the original game, with occasional appearances from Sonic 1 objects (the game is actually a hack of a hack, based on ColinC10’s previous Sonic 1 and 2). For example, in level 2, “Halfpipe”, reaching the goal requires the player to make use of Sonic’s ability to launch ever higher in the air by rolling back and forth in a halfpipe, something most of us learned from Casino Night Zone.

Not all of the challenges are as easy as rolling back and forth, though – not by a long shot. Some of the things you’re expected to do skirt the edge of hair-pullingly difficult, especially with the conspicuous lack of Rings anywhere in the hack. It really expects the player to have a thorough familiarity with the physics and a firm enough grasp on the controls to pull off tricks that look impossible at first, but it’s designed to facilitate this:

I decided pretty early on when making the hack that every object would be taken directly from Sonic 1 or 2 without any modification whatsoever, so the player doesn’t have to relearn how anything behaves and can concentrate on solving the level. – ColinC10

Masterful level design and the ability to quickly retry levels without a long wait or fear of running out of lives gives the game high playability despite the challenge. I’m able to beat all 40 levels without resorting to savestates or feeling frustrated, and I’ll admit I’m no gaming wizard. Moderate aptitude at the Sonic engine and a little perseverance should be all you need to complete it. I’ll also tell you upfront: there’s no reward for completing it, not even a congratulations message. I assure you, though, playing each of the levels is its own reward.

One other cool thing about this hack is the soundtrack: it features four tracks by Anamanaguchi, recreated with full-length audio samples instead of synthesis. I was a bit out of the loop in 2011 when I first played VR, so this was my introduction to the band. When I heard a couple of the same songs in Bit.Trip Runner, I was surprised – “Hey, those are the songs from Sonic VR!”

Unfortunately the fancy soundtrack means that the ROM is 6 megabytes, preventing some emulators from playing it correctly. You should be fine with most version of Gens (I’ve even successfully played this on the Wii port), but Kega Fusion is recommended for the smoothest experience and best audio quality.

Here is a longplay, but I highly suggest you don’t watch it all the way through and play the game itself without spoiling it, since some of the challenges are puzzle based.

Metal Sonic Hyperdrive

  • Base Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 1 (Mega Drive / Genesis)
  • Author: Darkon360/LoneDevil
  • Info/Download: Sonic Retro Wiki

When I played Metal Sonic Hyperdrive for the 2012 Sonic Hacking Contest, it was completely average, if slightly ambitious. Ever since the standard was set by Sonic Megamix, hacks of Sonic 1 with a handful of characters dashing through zones with modified art and layouts were a dime a dozen, and most ran out of steam about halfway through the adventure. Hyperdrive was hardly different, a functional but clumsy experience whose design and balance issues in its latter half prevented enough enjoyment to make it memorable or worth recommendation.

However, merely one year later, at the 2013 Sonic Hacking Contest, the game was so drastically improved it was like I was watching Extreme Makeover: Sonic Hack Edition. It snagged the Tails Trophy for “Most Improved Hack” by a comfortable margin, boasting overhauled graphics and level design that not only outshone the previous build, but could stand on their own as an exemplar for other hacks to aspire to.

Now considered complete, with the creator moving on to new Metal Sonic related hacking projects, Hyperdrive has joined the company of my favourite hacks almost entirely on the strength of its brilliant levels. The other aspects of the hack and its smattering of interesting bonus content (like a playable Kirby) are well done, to be sure, but the rollicking level design is easily the hack’s claim to fame. It’s not uncommon for hacks to have mediocre level design, a blight we can probably blame in part on a poor understanding of how to best design good Sonic levels and in part on the sheer difficulty of working with the complicated modular format they are constructed in. Another factor might be that gimmicks (such as new types of moving platforms) are critical to good levels, but creating them is an advanced task that is rarely undertaken, with most hack layouts leaning heavily on terrain instead. Now, I’m not saying that Hyperdrive creates exciting new gimmicks on the level of something like Sonic & Knuckles, but it has a good grasp on how to use the familiar ones and put nice twists on them, and a similarly good grasp on how to make terrain that maintains flow. Curves, jump trajectories, and platform timing all come together in a polished package that always feels good, with none of the awkward structures from other hacks that hamper acceleration and make the Sonic 1 engine feel its age.

Here’s a video walkthrough. It’s of the 2013 build, but it’s still indicative and I couldn’t find a video that I preferred of the 2014 build.

Sonic Classic Heroes

  • Base Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Mega Drive / Genesis)
  • Authors: Flamewing, ColinC10
  • Info/Download: Sonic Retro Wiki

Sonic Classic Heroes began life as Sonic 2 Heroes, a hack that gave Sonic 2 the ability to play as 3 simultaneous characters and switch between them on the fly à la Sonic Heroes. The scope of the project quickly grew when creator Flamewing collaborated with ColinC10, fusing Sonic 2 Heroes with the latter’s Sonic 1 and 2 hack, thereby adding all of the gameplay from Sonic 1 to create a multi-campaign epic. Later revisions have added Espio, Vector, and Charmy as a second available team (although they can’t be mixed and matched with Team Sonic), and the project is still being developed so more content is expected in the future.

Not only can you play as Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles all on the screen together – something I longed for back in the day when playing the original games – but you can mix and match any pair of characters or play as any of the three heroes solo. In effect, this hack supersedes any “Tails in Sonic 1” or “Knuckles in Sonic 1” hacks. Add to that all the other great new features, like being able to save your progress, elemental shields, Super/Hyper forms, and every character’s abilities, and Sonic Classic Heroes is damn near the definitive way to play Sonic 1 and Sonic 2.

Of course the addition of the extra characters understandably adds a few palette issues here and there, but there’s surprisingly little jank considering just how much is going here. It’s quite an accomplishment, and should be in any Sonic fan’s hack collection.

There you have it, three awesome Sonic hacks, each of them among my personal favourites. They are fairly widely known, but they deserve as many players as they can get, so I’d love it if this article gets you to try them if you haven’t yet! Expect Sonic Second Chances to return from time to time, but next week I’ll be back with another traditional Sonic Second. See you then!

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The Sonic Second: The First Sonic Hackers

19, 65, 09, 17

1, 9, 9, 2, 1, 1, 2, 4

4, 1, 2, 6

A lot of video games had cheat codes, but the codes in Sonic were the best, and the best of those were in Sonic 2. The codes were hardly secret, being circulated in most of the gaming magazines of the time, and the Level Select menu was clearly intended for players to access, with a polished user-friendly interface and unique graphical icons for each zone. You didn’t even need quick fingers to press an obtuse combination of buttons, but merely had to input a sequence of numbers into the Sound Test. The sequence of numbers was Yuji Naka’s date of birth, with the results being an easily memorable code and him having the most famous birthday of any game developer.

Entering another date (the game’s own international release day, 1992-11-24, a.k.a. “Sonic Twosday”) on this screen would give up another goodie – Debug Mode. In addition to being a great name for a 16-bit Depeche Mode cover band, it was the coolest cheat code ever; it allowed the player to turn Sonic into myriad other objects from the game and place them in the layout (where they would remain until the screen scrolled far enough way that they were cleaned up by the object manager). It wasn’t a fully-fledged level editor, but it was the next best thing.

Sega clearly wanted us to find and enjoy Debug Mode. It would have been trivial to disable it. It’s not really talked about much, but this feature really made the Sonic games stand out. They all had it, not just Sonic 2, but no other game I played at the time – or, for that matter, since – has had anything like it. Certainly not the Mario games that were the direct competition. This, plus Sega’s endorsement of the Game Genie for Genesis while Nintendo sued Galoob, made Sonic perfect for players who liked to get their hands slick with the guts of a game. With Debug Mode, we poked and prodded the running game for a response like gaming Galens.

While the leaked Sonic 2 beta would be the flame around which the hacker moths of the early online Sonic scene would circle, I believe that Debug Mode and the Game Genie were already sparking the hacking attitude in players back in the early ’90s. In some sense, you could say those who used these codes and features were the first Sonic hackers.

I honestly think that this is yet one more of the ways the Sonic series is so special. The games themselves fostered an ability to enjoy them from any angle, from front to back and inside out, and that’s part of the reason why there’s such a vibrant and talented hacking scene surrounding them today.

Next time on The Sonic Second, I’ll be counting down my favourite Sonic hacks, but for now I’ll leave you with a video of one of the silly and fun things I did with Debug Mode back in the day. (I’ve recreated it using emulation so I can record it and provide a savestate, but I used to do it on hardware.)

I love the classic physics! Here’s the savestate (for Gens). Can you jump up all the doors without falling down?

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The Sonic Second: Sonic History Video

Last time on The Sonic Second, I talked about the promotional videocassette for Sonic 2. Well, Sonic 3 got one as well, albeit one that’s less than two thirds the duration at only 6 minutes long. This time it’s not billed as a “CHIRA-video”, either, but as a “Sonic History Video”, and it focuses mostly on exactly that, with only the briefest of Sonic 3 teases at the end.

Again like last time, you can watch the whole video below, and I’ll be posting a breakdown with images of the packaging, screenshots, and my thoughts below that.

Unlike the Sonic 2 promo video, which had a paper insert in a plastic case making it look almost like a slim Genesis game, this one has a cheaper folded cardboard sleeve. It’s still cool, but for a picky collector like me it’s kind of annoying that they don’t match. (Sonic & Knuckles came in a cardboard box, though, so these are just the kind of irksome things one has to learn to move on from.) Again, the cover artwork is the same as the game’s.

The tape itself, however, does match the Sonic 2 one quite well.

And that’s it – as far as I know, no coupons or anything were included with it. So let’s get started with the video. It opens with the same “Sega!” animation as the Sonic 2 promo video.

Then oddly, there’s footage of the Sonic CD opening cartoon, complete with Sonic CD music.

This is a little confusing – if the viewer wasn’t lucky enough to know about the comparatively rare Sonic CD, they might get the impression that this cartoon and music had something to do with the game being promoted, because there’s no indication otherwise. In fact, Sonic CD music is used here and there all throughout the video.

The cartoon culminates in a deft piece of editing that has Sonic’s spinning jump smoothly transition to his jump that smashes the Sega logo in the Sonic 3 intro sequence. Then the “Sonic History Video” title is shown. Not quite as fancy as the gentle fun(?) being poked at Mario and Luigi in the previous video – just a grey background.

Like the previous video, there’s a character section that starts with Sonic, but this time they jump right into it. It’s called “All About Sonic!”, and technically, it’s more than one section, because it’ll keep coming back throughout the video for each character’s profile.

Sonic’s profile:

  • Nickname: Sonic
  • Type: Hedgehog
  • Gender: Male
  • Age: 15~16 years old
  • Weakness: Swimming

For the sake of comparison, here’s Sonic’s profile from Sonic Jam (Japanese and English versions):

(I find it interesting that neither Japanese profile commits to an age here, and the American one used 16. Sega now uses 15 according to Sonic’s profile on the official Japanese site.)

Back to the video! In the case of Sonic only, the profile goes into more detail, focusing on three of his individual traits.

For “Hair”, the Sonic 2 special stage is shown, because it’s the best 3D demonstration of Sonic’s spines.

For “Hand”, Sonic 2‘s waiting animation is shown, with Sonic looking at his watch.

For “Shoes”, footage of Sonic running – actually from Sonic 3 this time! – is shown, and the narrator mentions Michael Jackson’s “dancing shoes” from Bad. Naoto Ohshima has mentioned these as the inspiration for Sonic’s shoes in later interviews (e.g. in Gamasutra).

The next section is called “Making of Sonic!”, and whereas Yuji Naka got to talk in the previous video, this one has Naoto Ohshima.

The black and white document being quickly flipped through at the beginning of the segment has some interesting stuff in it I’ve not seen elsewhere. It’s got an odd mix of Japanese and American art – I’d love to see the whole thing, I’m sure there’s great stuff in it, whatever it is. These are terribly blurry, but you can see what looks like Sonic and Tails yawning, running, and a picture of Sonic with a telescope.

After that, while Ohshima talks, a bunch of concept art for the character contest that resulted in Sonic’s creation is shown. This video is the source for many of these images you’ll see around the ‘net.

Finally it’s narrowed down to two rough sketches by Yasushi Yamaguchi (who would later create Miles “Tails” Prower) and Ohshima himself. The latter, at the bottom of the screen, is the famous “Mr. Needlemouse”, or more technically “Mr. Harinezumi” – a Japanese compound word meaning “hedgehog” made from “hari” (needle) and “nezumi” (rat/mouse).

Once Ohshima’s design was chosen, Sonic started to take shape, resulting in his final design.

The segment ends with a mention of Sonic’s public reveal, at Dreams Come True’s Wonder 3 concert tour in Japan.

(As an aside, there’s some music throughout this video that’s not from any Sonic games, and it’s particularly striking in this “Making of Sonic” section. It sounds suitable for Sonic though, and I wonder if it’s just stock music or if someone from Sega composed it.)

The next section is “History of Sonic!”

It opens with this weird drawing of Sonic flying some vehicle (possibly the Tornado, although it would have to be awfully off-model) in pursuit of Robotnik, whose hovercraft has insect wings like something out of Studio Ghibli’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Robotnik appears to have captured Tails, and there’s also a very disturbed bird. There’s no real explanation for its inclusion here.

Next Sonic 1 is shown, and its subsection concludes with some nice drawings of Dr. Eggman.

Next Sonic 2 is shown, and its subsection concludes with Tails’ profile to match Sonic’s at the beginning of the video.

Tails’ Profile:

  • Nickname: Tails
  • Type: Fox
  • Gender: Male
  • Age: 8 years old
  • Favourite Thing: Mechanical Tinkering

Again, Sonic Jam profile for comparison:

(You may note that Prower is transliterated into Japanese in two different ways here. The video, as well as the booklets for Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, use “PA-U-WAA”, while Sonic Jam matches Sonic 2 and Sega’s current official profile with “PA-U-AA”. The Terada/Norimoto manga uses yet a third way, “PAA-A-WAA”. None of these actually sound like “Prower” – I would have gone with “PU-RA-WAA” myself (compare “power” and “flower”) but what do I know? I also find it weird that “Miles” and “Tails” are both transliterated with a “SU” sound at the end instead of a “ZU”, despite the latter being how “Knuckles” is transliterated. But I’m probably digressing way too much here….)

Next, the video finally gets to the good stuff (from the point of view of a player at the time who’s excited for the next game). Sonic 3, and the new character, Knuckles!

Knuckles’ profile:

  • Nickname: Knuckle
  • Type: Echidna
  • Gender: Male
  • Age: Older than 15
  • Pastime: Digging Holes

Again, Sonic Jam profile for comparison:

It seems a little silly that his nickname is “Knuckle”, but even the narrator of the video calls him that. Also, his age in the video is listed as more than 15, while Sonic Jam just says 15. Seems weird for him to be possibly younger than Sonic, and I guess Sega realised this too, as he’s now listed as simply 16, a year older than Sonic.

With Knuckles introduced, the video goes on to show off the three new shields.

“Thunder Shield”, called “Thunder Barrier” in the Japanese manual for the game and “Lightning Shield” in the US manual. I think it’s interesting that the video uses “shield” despite being Japanese where “barrier” was always the preferred term, even well into the Sonic Adventure era.

“Aqua Shield”, called “Aqua Barrier” in the Japanese manual and “Water Shield” in the US manual.

“Flame Shield”, called “Flame Barrier” in the Japanese manual and “Flame Shield” in the US manual.

(Because there wasn’t any reason to match what the instruction booklet said exactly, I grew up calling them the “Lightning Shield”, “Bubble Shield”, and “Fire Shield”, just because those sounded the most natural to me at the time.)

I guess the new elemental shields were something they were really proud of, because they are the only new features of Sonic 3 that get specific attention. All the other cool stuff, like Ice Cap’s snowboarding and the new Special Stages are relegated to a tiny montage at the end, and then the video is over, signing off with a cute animation and the phrase “See you next Sonic!”

And I’ll see you next Sonic Second. 🙂

h/t Sonic Retro

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Sweet Mountain (Classic) Remix by AshZone ft. Joshua Taipale

TheAshZone has just shared a remix track of Sweet Mountain from Sonic Colours which he created with the help of Joshua Taipale. It sounds great. Here’s what he had to say:

This one actually took a long time to work on, I kinda went for a different take on this one. I actually started on it during Summer and recently came back to it to finish it off. I really didnt know how else to loop the song too. Also, this song is for Sonic Misadventures, the new Sonic show that’s gonna be exclusively on Tails Channel on YouTube! I have to say, this one was really hard to work on, mixing wise, since im not too good at mixing and I wanted to avoid lowering the master volume because the song would turn out way too quiet. Oh well, it’s done. Enjoy!
Also be sure to check out Sonic Misadventures on Tails Channel on YouTube!

You can listen to the track here:

Source: Sonic United Message Board

Behind the Scenes of Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal 3DS

SEGA has released a new behind the scenes development video for Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal which is coming out on the Nintendo 3DS. The video features gameplay and an interview with Sanzaru Games. Both Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal are to be released in less than a month from now on the Wii U and 3DS.