Shortly before the release of Sonic 1, British video game developer U.S. Gold, already known for porting Sega hits such as OutRun to home computers, announced that they had the home computer rights to Sonic 1. This was reported in the June 1991 issue of British gaming magazine Computer and Video Games as a sidebar amidst a preview for the Mega Drive version of Sonic 1:
Just before this issue of CVG went to press, US Gold announced that they had the home computer rights to Sonic the Hedgehog! This means that the cuddly little hedgehog will be appearing on the Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, [Atari] ST and Amiga! No programming team has been signed up yet to carry out the conversion, but as soon [as] we get any more details (like when it’s coming out, for example), expect an update here in CVG!
It’s possible that when they list Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, Atari ST and Amiga they are merely speculating. The only version to have any confirmation is on the Amiga: In the September 1991 issue of the Italian version of a different British gaming magazine, The Games Machine, this sidebar was run:
Il grazioso personaggio in stile Disney creato dai programmatori della Sega per il Megadrive stà riscontrando un enorme successo in molte parti del mondo (tra cui l’Italia), grazie alla grande velocità e fluidità con cui si muove tutto il gioco. Già negli ultimi mesi del 1990, quando “SONIC the hedgehog” fu presentato alle varie fiere di computer/videogame americane nelle sue prime schermate, molti lo definirono come il più probabile miglior platform game mai visto sino ad oggi; e vi assicuro che non si sbagliavano!
SONIC è stato creato per contrastare il ré delle piattaforme, che come sapete è (era NdP) MARIO, e secondo me non dovrebbe avere problemi in proposito! Ultimamente la SEGA ha deciso di riprodurre SONIC in versione arcade (non capita spesso di vedere un gioco da casa convertito poi in coin-op!), e di concedere la licenza alla US GOLD Per la ricreazione del gioco nei vari formati per computer; Non credo che su computer (ad eccezione del PC) si potranno raggiungere gli stessi livelli di velocità che potete vedere su console, comunque sia dalle foto che ci sono giunte in redazione della versione per Amiga in programmazione, sembra che ce la stiano mettendo tutta! Speriamo… In attesa di ulteriori notizie su queste attesissime conversioni cuccatevi la recensione di SONIC per sua eccellenza il Megadrive in questo stesso numero; e non svenitemi davanti le foto!
Curiosità: Chi fosse interessato può procurarsi le magliette con su il faccione di SONIC: purtroppo sono molto costose! (Particolare che non poteva sfuggire a un Gabibbone come il nostro Gabriele NdP) (Paolo, cosa vorresti insinuare?!!).
(I’ve reproduced the text so that it can be copied into Google Translate easily.) They discuss Sonic’s success, mention the U.S. Gold deal, express doubt that home computers could handle Sonic’s speed, but go on to say that the Amiga screens they received show promise.
It’s not known whether these are merely mock-ups or if U.S. Gold actually had something running; if the latter is the case, it would be amazing if the ROM could be found someday. The graphics appear to be completely redrawn, and one can only guess as what the music would have sounded like converted to Amiga chiptunes.
It’s also not known why it never saw the light of day. U.S. Gold seemed to manage lots of other Sega ports in 1991, such as Shadow Dancer, Bonanza Bros, and Alien Storm, so why not Sonic? Was the engine too hard to recreate, or did Yuji Naka perhaps put the kibosh on it like when he grew uncomfortable with his code being used for Sonic X-treme? We may never know.
As it turned out, when Sonic finally did make his way to home computers with Sonic CD and the Sonic & Knuckles Collection, they could pretty much handle the games as they already existed and only needed minimal changes. It would be very interesting to see a PC Sonic from an earlier era, especially for me as I grew up around Commodore computers and the Atari ST and always wondered what one would be like.
It’s no secret that Sonic the Hedgehog directly lifted from the playbook of Super Mario Bros. in order to recapture the latter’s success. But it’s all part of a greater cycle of games emulating those that came before. Sonic itself has inspired countless other games, influencing the design of such timeless favourites as Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country, Spyro the Dragon, and Crash Bandicoot. Unfortunately, it inspired far more low quality rehashes, precipitating a cavalcade of attitudinous animal mascot wannabes from Aero the Acrobat to Gex.
Some of these games went beyond just having a happenin’ hotfoot hero and shamelessly ripped off Sonic physics and gameplay to an embarrassing degree. From the obscure to the infamous to the surprisingly great, this week The Sonic Second will look at ten of these games.
The “Caveman” trope had a stint of inexplicable popularity in the 8 and 16 bit era of gaming, with titles like Bonk, Joe & Mac, Chuck Rock, and The Humans. Kid Chaos (Amiga, 1994) puts a twist on the trope with the titular hero “transported from the Stone Age by evil scientists from the future”.
The word “chaos” is not the only thing about this game that might remind you of Sonic. From the very first level – called “The Green Hilltops” – the similarities stick out like a sore thumb. A spinning jump that rebounds off enemies; log bridges that sag when you run across them; posts topped with lights that act as checkpoints; power-ups liberated from screens that display TV snow; springs that act exactly like those in Sonic; giant yellow flowers. There’s even a 10:00 minute time limit. There’s no doubt that this is every inch a deliberate and shameless rip-off.
Of course the most important part of any Sonic rip-off is the physics, and this game actually gets them almost spot-on. Kid Chaos runs across grass-topped hills and half-pipes, leaping from the apex of slopes to take advantage of his momentum. It’s all intimately familiar to any Sonic player.
Unfortunately the game also happens to be frustrating and brutally unfair, with enemies and hazards taking huge bites out of Kid Chaos’s health points. The game is not nearly as forgiving and fun as the material it cops from.
I will admit that most of the graphics are downright beautiful though, main character excepted. If the level art were appropriated for a Sonic hack, most of it would feel right at home.
Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure
Though it may not be as much of a direct copy as Kid Chaos, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure (Genesis, 1993) has more Sonic elements than your average platformer.
There’s something distinctly familiar about those springs and spikes, and it doesn’t help that Buster is running at high speeds – with his feet becoming a circular blur – through the grassy hills of a lakeshore paradise. And the denouement has him braving the metallic confines of the evil scientist Gene Splicer’s laboratory.
The physics for curves and half-pipes here are not nearly as advanced as those from Sonic; Buster’s sprite doesn’t rotate to match the angle of the terrain and there isn’t the profusion of 360° loop-de-loops that a hedgehog might be used to. But the addition of many other gameplay elements, such as helper characters, swimming, and a wall jump help make it entertaining in its own right.
Radical Rex (SNES/Genesis/Sega CD, 1994) is a mediocre platformer with a dinosaur theme. Its colours are so muddy and its “attitude” so hackneyed that spending more than a few moments looking at it is enough to make anyone long for extinction.
Aside from Rex’s forced “cool” attitude, the Sonic rip-off part begins when he gets the skateboard power-up and starts slammin’ and jammin’ through sloped and curved terrain, shouting “Radical!” like it’s going out of style – which I guess it was, thanks in no small part to things like this.
With Jazz Jackrabbit (PC, 1994) we return to shameless rip-off territory. Graphically, the geometric patterns in the terrain from the rocks to the grass all scream Sonic, and some objects like the springs and power-up monitors are practically identical. Jazz motors through levels, collecting super speed and invincibility power-ups, and changes a sign from his enemy’s face to his own at the end of levels. As has been noted before, it’s little more than “Sonic with a gun”. There’s even a 3D special stage.
There are plenty of Sonic zone tropes that appear in the game. The “Tubelectric” world is full of tubes that recall Chemical Plant Zone, and I mean… just look at this one:
At least the developers seem to have a healthy sense of humour about the whole situation, with this little gem appearing in the instruction booklet:
No list of Sonic rip-offs could possibly be complete without Bubsy the Bobcat. Starting his downward spiral with Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind (SNES/Genesis, 1993) and ending it spectacularly with Bubsy 3D (PlayStation, 1996), Bubsy is famously maligned as the worst excrescence of the ’90s mascot fad.
An unstable camera, overlarge and flailing character sprite, and cloying cartoon atmosphere leave Bubsy’s first game with all the charm of a maze from the back of a breakfast cereal carton. How any of the developers managed to produce sequels instead of seeking the penance and solitude of life as a silent monk is beyond me.
Admittedly Bubsy is less like Sonic in particular than other platformers in general, but there are some minor aspects like sloped terrain that come close. The main thing is just that Bubsy himself is like a distorted version of Sonic, as though the very idea of having a character sprite that shows personality was intentionally pushed to its worst extreme with disastrous results. Just the way Bubsy smirks at the player every time he comes to a stop is so infuriating it’s little wonder that he’s becomes the punching bag he is. His stupid one-liners are terrible as well, and don’t even come close to the quality of those spouted by Dana Gould in Gex, which – though hit and miss – were sometimes genuinely worth a smile the first few times you heard them.
As a bit of bonus trivia, Bubsy was voiced by Rob Paulsen in the second and third games in the series, and Lani Minella in Bubsy 3D, both of whom have voiced characters in the Sonic franchise (Antoine and Rouge, respectively).
The eponymous hero of Zool (Amiga/many others, 1992) is described as an “intergalactic gremlin ninja of the Nth dimension” (credulity was already strained at “intergalactic”, but I digress). In addition to all that, he has a thing for Chupa Chups brand lollipops, in one of the weirdest video game marketing deals ever.
Zool, himself looking like an alien Sonic character, not only runs through whimsical vaguely Sonic-like zones with curved terrain, but he can also climb walls like Knuckles – two years before Knuckles’ own debut. This could be an example of a reverse rip-off – does Knuckles owe a space gremlin his powers, or is it just coincidence? Eh, I’m gonna go with the latter.
According to Wikipedia (in an unfortunately unsourced section), Zool nearly outsold Sonic 2. If that’s true… well, there’s no accounting for taste.
Socket (Genesis, 1993) is so much like Sonic that one could be forgiven for thinking it ran on the same engine. In it, Socket the time travelling duck fights robotic enemies in high-speed, 3-act zones that graphically and musically would pass muster in any Sonic game given only 10% more polish.
The developers must have spent an inordinate amount of time studying the Sonic engine, to degrees that might even be considered “reverse engineering”. I think the only reason they got away with it is because it’s also on the Sega Genesis.
It’s actually way cooler overall than you would expect for a “clone” like this. It’s inventive and fun enough that it’s worth playing, despite some bizarre gameplay decisions like combining the time limit and Socket’s health into one “energy” system. The music, I think, is the real star of the show, easily worth it for any fan of that Genesis sound.
Socket is pretty well known in the Sonic hacking and fan game community by now, deservedly recognised due to the combination of its similarities and its overall quality.
High Seas Havoc
High Seas Havoc (Genesis, 1993) stars a pirate seal named Havoc, for the one of the more interesting characters in the Sonic rip-off category. The game itself is very likable and has polished, colourful graphics. While it’s not as close to Sonic as Socket, it comes in at a close second.
The evil pirate bad guy that Havoc has to defeat is even in search of “Emeralda”, a green crystal of immense power. Hmm…
Speedy Gonzales: Los Gatos Bandidos
I suppose it’s hardly surprising that the turbo-charged rodent Speedy Gonzales would play similarly to Sonic. In Speedy Gonzales: Los Gatos Bandidos (SNES, 1995), right out of the gate we see Speedy running on grassy hills topped with palm trees and large yellow flowers, through tubular tunnels, and over sagging bridges that span waterfalls. Also, when Speedy runs along at his top speed down the sloped terrain, his whirling feet are drawn the most similar to Sonic’s out of any of the games in this bunch.
Though one could probably find a bunch more rip-offs in the vein of the nine I just went over, I want to end on a positive note with an absolutely great game. Ripple Dot Zero (Browsers, 2013) isn’t from the ’90s, the heyday of mascot platformers. Instead, it’s a modern love letter to the form that is simultaneously believably an artefact of the times while still feeling like an indie game of today.
The best part is you can play the whole thing free in your browser. Have fun, and see if you can’t spot the homages to Sonic scattered throughout.