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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