10 Years on, We Have the Last Build before SRB2’s Launch.
I must have been…12 or maybe even 11 when I first played the Klik N’ Play edition of Sonic Robo Blast, the brain child of Johnny Wallbank (who has contributed to TSSZ News frequently over the years.) I do remember that the game, archaic as it may seem today (and even back then,) almost immediately became the base necessary to create a solid foundation of Sonic fan gaming. From playing to developing, SRB was the one to start it all.
Sonic Robo Blast 2 almost immediately commenced development after SRB was released in response to the great fanfare Wallbank had received. Together with AJ Freda, a 2D SRB2 was in the works. But in fooling with the Doom engine, the same year new demos and concepts were being built, in a 3D environment. For ten years this process continued, with constant revisions, new concepts, and some exciting ideas thrown in. Sonic Robo Blast 2 was developed with the intent of being the standard by which all other fan games are judged.
But in 2008, in the era of multiple CPUs, multiple GPUs, and a visual evolution that has stretched far beyond Doom (or Quake for that matter)…why should we care? Given the current trend of fan gaming leaning toward a “back to basics” approach in trying to get 2D levels and physics correct (not to mention the current distaste toward Sega’s own 3D offerings of late) SRB2 could be doomed to a fate so many years of refining do not deserve.
The effort in the latest build (and last demo build) we received clearly indicates effort and innovation on such a simple engine that ought to be envied, as no one else in the community has even come close to such execution in a 3D environment. If players can get over the notion of repeating textures that don’t try to be anything other than what they are, the experience can be fun, with expansive environments covering the bases of what should be expected in a classic Sonic game–a couple lush green stages at the start that increasingly become more dilapidated and dangerous along the way. Areas from castles to volcanoes and an underwater adventure are all included. All three main characters–Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles–are also at your disposal, each with different abilities and disadvantages.
Each stage that’s completed thus far, as promised, also has multiple routes to choose from–some harder to find than others. In some areas, it can be a chore to explore and take your time to complete the level. Even on the Easy setting you need to have a bit of skill…just like the original Sonic titles. Imagine that.
Chaos Emeralds also appear to play a pivotal role in SRB2. Collect them all, and you’ll get the “true” ending. It’s as simple as that. Even though the game’s big innovation is true 3D, there isn’t much more to it than basic platforming–no big gimmicks or anything to detract from getting from point A to point B aside from a classic challenge. There are secrets to uncover, and they are numerous, enough to keep you playing. I don’t discuss what they are exactly, but the shot here, taken directly from SRB2.org, ought to give you a clue.
If that doesn’t keep you playing, perhaps the multiplayer options and expandability from user-generated content will. It’s pretty easy to challenge a friend online or even host a room on your own. From there you can duke it out in a variety of gameplay modes. In addition, since the whole game is based on a years-old engine known inside out, if you’re inclined you can make your own custom levels, or spice up what’s already there with your own tweaks. The entire thing is customizable–not that you’d want to ditch an amazing original soundtrack, created by a consortium of the best and brightest composer in Sonic fandom. Without question, the music, though MIDI, is still one of this game’s strong points so far.
However, the big Achilles Heel with SRB2 are the primitive tools on which this has been continually developed on the past decade. Quite frankly, the developers didn’t keep up with the times. In terms of gameplay, that’s not always a bad thing, and graphics shouldn’t be of total concern with SRB2. Still, visually some environments can cause you to lose sight of where you are more than a few times, leaving players confused and wondering what to do next at best. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you may end up in lava or a bottomless pit.
Control mechanics, despite their differences per character, also feel a bit too loose. They were loose years ago in the demos, but I expected at least some refinement (and still do.) If you just jam forward on the keyboard, many times you’ll be sent flying. For Sonic, that does convey a true sense of speed, but it can also send you head first into a pit of death, even if you try to brake in time.
We don’t have a launch date for Sonic Robo Blast 2 yet. The game is very close to completion from what was played, however, and given what’s still to be completed and what we already know is there to unlock, some of these qualms may be forgivable and only amount to minor annoyances. And hey, if you don’t like it, you can always change it! The true beauty of what’s to come out of SRB2 is its open nature, both in gameplay and content.
It may not be the prettiest thing out there, but it was never meant to be. Getting a Sonic game right in three dimensions is something even Sega has had difficulty with since Sonic Adventure 2. That was seven years ago. If it takes ten years to get something right, so be it. Sonic Robo Blast 2 is approaching right, if not revolutionary for a fan game. With its basic approach that made the hedgehog a gaming icon in the first place pared with excitement of Sonic fans playing in and even developing 3D worlds, this shouldn’t be overlooked once a final release is made. This should, pardon the pun, change the game for all of us. We can’t wait.