A couple weeks ago I talked about 10 Sonic the Hedgehog “rip-offs”, from the creative and cool to the crass and crummy. It was only the tip of the iceberg, however – plenty of others remain. So get ready to delve into 5 more games that owe more than just a little to the Hedgehog.
Mayhem in Monsterland
Mayhem in Monsterland (C64, 1993) stars a speedy, spiky Triceratops named Mayhem. When he runs at top speed across the hills of the chequered landscape, feet a spinning blur, he reminds me of someone…
(Sonic isn’t the only one being borrowed from, here. The title music also sounds eerily similar to the Tiny Toons theme song.)
Monsterland is one of the most impressive C64 games out there, and shows that some kind of Sonic experience could have been created on the system. I spent a few of my pre-teen years tinkering with a Commodore, trying to create Sonic games of some kind, but I was only a beginner at BASIC, and machine language was lightyears ahead of me. Having only learned of this game’s existence from the internet years later, I wonder what kind of encouraging effect it would have had on me had I known about it then, during my struggles to get a single sprite to move across the screen.
Rip-off or not, it’s a pretty cool little game.
Ball Bearing (Amstrad CPC, 1993) is hardly shy about being a rip-off. You play a blue ball that collects golden yellow rings in levels that are basically stolen and reworked Sonic graphics.
According to Sonic Retro, even the game’s source code is stolen from elsewhere. In sum, I guess you could say the game is balls. *shot*
Awesome Possum… Kick’s Dr. Machino’s Butt (Genesis, 1993) not only has an attitudinous animal mascot spin-jumping his way to victory, but it also lifts the theme of Sonic – save the natural world from a polluting, robot-crazy mad scientist.
(The folks at BigRedButton should have played this game before developing Sonic Boom – it would have taught them that constant annoying voice clips can be a game’s undoing.)
Ultimately, Awesome Possum is undermined by its own environmental message, because it teaches children to put trash where it belongs – in a trashcan, not your Sega Genesis.
You could argue that Snack Dash doesn’t belong on this list, because it’s barely a “real” game, at least by the standards of those of us who grew up with Sega and Nintendo consoles. It’s a Flash game by the Children’s Food Trust (formerly School Food Trust), a UK charity focused on healthy eating.
The game is a shameless rip-off. It even has full loops, straight out of Star Light Zone or Chemical Plant Zone. Possibly the most interesting feature, though, is the fattening game mechanic. If you collect candy or soda instead of healthy food, the character gets fat and slow, and you have to exercise to slim down and play normally again. This is exactly the same as the brilliant Sonic 2 XL hack by Ranger and Captain Bozo, although it appears to have been independently derived.
For a game about healthy habits, I’m not sure Snack Dash succeeds. Wildly fluctuating weight and cycles of gain and loss are hardly good for the human body!
Okay, so we all know Yoshi’s Island (SNES, 1995) – and if you don’t, well, shame on you! and you should fix that right away – but a Sonic rip-off? Bear with me here.
Just like last time I did a rundown of rip-offs, I want to end on a high note, and Yoshi’s Island is certainly that. I would probably cite it as my favourite game of all time, if I didn’t find making such distinctions to be difficult and somewhat pointless. But there are ways in which it seems to have reacted to Sonic, as the first Mario title developed in post-Sonic world, borrowing elements in order to strengthen the Mario formula.
First, Yoshi doesn’t have a “run” button – he just accelerates to his top speed like Sonic does. Second, he’s a far more expressive and cartoony character than the Mario of Super Mario World, whose merely adequate animations were run circles around by Sonic in 1991. Third, the game enlists the power of the Super FX chip to focus on great, smooth physics, something that Mario obviously pioneered but Sonic raised the bar on.
But it’s more than just that. Yoshi has a new health system – being hit only causes him to drop Baby Mario, and reclaiming the wailing infant will set things right once more. This process can be repeated indefinitely, just like Sonic losing Rings, and it’s a far cry from the Mario series (and platformers in general) staple of “a couple hits and you’re dead”.
When Baby Mario gets a star power-up, he can run super-fast and go all the way around 360° terrain. Indeed, the entirety of Yoshi’s Island has more shaped and sloped terrain than any previous Mario, with many sequences dedicated to rolling snowballs or the trusty Chomp Rock over hills.
Some have even suggested that the “Cave of Harry Hedgehog” level pokes fun at Sonic, with its jittery blue hedgehog enemies, and that certainly may be true – but the cute indigo insectivores made an appearance in Super Mario Bros. 2 before Sonic made his debut.
So of course I don’t consider Yoshi’s Island to be an actual Sonic rip-off, but I would bet that Miyamoto, Tezuka and the rest of the gang were challenged to push Mario harder than ever before by the existence of Sonic, and probably drew a lot of inspiration from its gameplay.
Now, if only Sega would get on the ball and return the favour, making a Sonic with the charm, depth, variety, and sheer fun of Yoshi’s Island.