The Sonic Second: More Sonic “Rip-offs”

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
image from zetaboards.com

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

Ball Bearing
image from info.sonicretro.org

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

Awesome Possum_003

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.

Snack Dash

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!

Yoshi’s Island

Yoshi's Island
image from en.wikipedia.org

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.

Porcupo
image from mariowiki.com

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.


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The Sonic Second: Sonic de Amiga

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:

ComputerandVideoGamesJune1991_2
image from info.sonicretro.org

SONIC SPECTRUMS?
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:

TheGamesMachineItalian_Issue34_September1991_03full
image from info.sonicretro.org

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?!!).
Bye, bye.
Gabriele Pasquali.

(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.

TheGamesMachineItalian_Issue34_September1991_Title
image from info.sonicretro.org
Sonic1AmigaGHZ
image from info.sonicretro.org

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.


h/t Sonic Retro

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