SAGE 10: Review Slew #5

SAGE 10: Review Slew #5

by August 16, 2010

SAGE 2010
Grab some World Rings to Be the Bullet for the Ultimate Battle + Vampire! What?

Yesterday would have been the final day of the Sonic Amateur Games Expo, but just like last year, it would appear that the festivities may have been extended. At least, I think. Nobody will ever give me a straight answer, and neither InstantSonic or KatzuNiku are ever active when I think to ask. Whether it is or not, we have what our seven final fangame reviews right here, right now. So, without further adieu…

Now you're playing with powerSonic: World Rings
I admire what this fangame is trying to accomplish: it is the most immediately direct attempt at mimicking the Sonic Rush games that I think I’ve ever seen at SAGE or otherwise. From the double-height screen (a nod to the Nintendo DS) to the cel-shaded 3D character model for Sonic, this undeniably wants to capture the look and feel of Sonic Rush. It would almost succeed, if it did not fumble with a few key things. For starters, the trick system: Sonic Rush had a very simple, three button trick system (one for regular tricks, another for movement-related tricks, and one for a “finisher” trick). Tricks played in to the risk/reward system of the game, because doing tricks left you vulnerable to enemies and distracted the player from advancing in the level (when the goal is to always keep moving forward as fast as possible). Here, tricks are relegated to a single button. There’s no limit on how many tricks you can do before you touch the ground again, nor is there strict limitation of how many tricks you can do per-second. Tricks in World Rings also make Sonic curl back in to a ball to execute, which actually removes risk and shifts the action exclusively to be a “reward” – though a reward for what, exactly, is never explained. This was most likely done as a means of cutting corners – Sonic in this game is, after all, an original sprite (a pre-rendered 3D model), and animating all of the trick animations would probably be pretty tedious. The other major fault is that a level gimmick simply does not work – what I assume is some kind of bungee cord object. Every single time I encountered one in the entire demo, Sonic jerked around a little bit before falling to his death. There’s also the remarkably lazy homing attack (which simply teleports Sonic to his target). This is also a very keyboard centric game. I always always always push people to think more about gamepad users when they make their fangames, and this is no different. You’re making a game designed for a gamepad on the computer; I don’t care if you have to play it with a keyboard, because you’re not supposed to. I have a gamepad, these games should be intended for play with a gamepad, and telling the player to push keyboard keys just mucks the whole thing up. The final nail in the coffin for me was when Sonic got stuck in a specific frame of animation, and shortly afterward, a piece of level design lead to a grind rail that wasn’t solid and I fell to my death until I got a game over. This demo is very reminiscent of my own SAGE 2002 demo for Sonic: The Fated Hour – I really like a lot of the presentation at play here, but having to sit through a lengthy intro and tutorial sequence just to get to gameplay that doesn’t even work right is beyond frustrating. I know SAGE is a big deal, but if your game isn’t ready, please don’t rush it out the door.

Well, at least Sonic has ears this time.Sonic Run 3
Is it wrong that I can’t tell if Sonic Run 3 is supposed to be a joke or not? Memories of the original Sonic Robo-Blast come flooding back to me. People making fangames like this is what initially got me in to making fangames, in some sort of shallow bid of “I can do better than that”. That’s why this has to be a joke, right? Am I doing this wrong, by not playing along? Imagine how bad I’m going to feel when it’s revealed that this was a serious attempt at a fangame. I’m going to get chewed out, because somebody out there did their best to make a Sonic fangame in Game Maker, where they made all the graphics themselves, wrote the game engine themselves, and some jerkoid at a Sonic news blog tears him a new one because it’s the best this little kid could do. Now I feel guilty, and you should feel guilty for me. I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to write! I’m going out of my mind! Is this what you wanted, Liam? I am a broken man before your wizardry. I’ve written myself in to a corner, and it’s all your fault. This is on your head! Look, okay. Okay. I’ve got this. Sonic Run 3 is 2mb. It’s one file. It takes less than five minutes to play and beat. If you want to take a step back in time to see what fangames used to be like, run – don’t walk – to Sonic Run 3.

You may not realize it, but the ventriloquist is on the right and the dummy is on the left.Rosario + Vampire
Rosario + Vampire is, as far as I can tell, an anime and manga series about your typical Japanese teenage boy who gets in to all sorts of wacky adventures when he discovers he has been accidentally enrolled in a school reserved for mythological creatures of legend. He falls in love with a vampire named Moka, and struggles to hide his human identity from those who would most likely kill him if they found out. It all sounds like something you would expect from Japanese anime, but to be quite honest with you, this is the first I’ve ever heard of it. Arguably, however, my knowledge of anime isn’t what it used to be back when I was 15, and the only series I keep up with on a regular basis these days is Echirou Oda’s One Piece. Regardless, the creator(s) of this game seem to like the source material enough to transfer its story line in to a traditional Japanese RPG, provided to us through the magic of RPGmaker. Probably, anyway. Clocking in at a whopping 95mb, Rosario + Vampire packs an incredible, thrilling, completely engaging… two screens. Five whole minutes worth of gameplay. Correction: five whole minutes of what is largely taken up by dialog that seems like it was written by somebody who has English as a second language. After a single battle with two bats (that nearly killed me until I chose to flee the battle), I am informed that this is an “alpha” and that I shouldn’t be disappointed that it’s so short. Well, sorry to say, but I’m pretty disappointed. This is not something that is worth releasing to the public.

"The Ultimate Battle of Ultimate Destiny" this is not.Sonic Ultimate Battle
Does this even count as a booth? It’s a link to mediafire. That’s it. In a way, I almost appreciate how straight forward that is – there are definitely some booths here at SAGE that are so empty that they might as well be just a download link. The game in question, on the other hand, is an 85mb Mugen mod to feature Sonic characters. There are 4 characters in all: Sonic, Shadow, Silver, and Gemerl. I was way in to Mugen a few years ago, so I can imagine what it took to do something like this – unfortunately, what’s here just… isn’t very good. Fighting doesn’t feel intuitive, characters seem to randomly “disappear” a lot (only to re-appear when they punch you or you punch them), and in general it’s just not very fun as a fighting game. It probably doesn’t help that the menu seems extremely confusing – largely dominated by “you have to have a second dude sitting next to you” two-player modes, the singleplayer options (“History” and “Train”) all seem to involve infinite life bars with no actual way to win the game. Then again, upon setting up a match for CPU players to fight amongst themselves (pictured), it would appear that most attacks simply do very little damage. To the guy (or guys) who made this, I’m sure it’s the easiest game in the world to play, but as somebody coming in to it cold turkey like I am, I have literally no idea what’s going on half the time.

Remember when boasting about the number of parallax layers was a selling point for game consoles?E02: Sonic Mettrix, Mega Man: Triple Threat
I really wish more people would use Stealth’s E02 engine. So many fangamers are so entrenched in their Sonic Worlds knowledge in Multimedia Fusion and GameMaker that they don’t seem to be willing to give E02 a try. Which is a shame, because E02 offers so many more benefits over Multimedia Fusion and GameMaker. Tell me: Can you play your Sonic Worlds fangame on your PSP, on your Wii, or even on an operating system other than Windows? Not likely. Sure, E02 is a little more complex than games made with MMF or GM, but pay off is ultimately more rewarding. Then again, one could argue that with the way I’m shilling for E02 right now, I should also be using it to make a game with – and I’m not. Which is why I’m asking you, the reader, to be the bigger man in all of this. Anyway, somewhere in all of this are a couple of games, I guess. New to this version of E02 is the ability for the program to check with the website and download updates as necessary – which means that the unassuming 550kb RAR file actually contains no game data at all; once you run e02win.exe, you select a game and download it through the software itself. Mettrix seems relatively unaltered, but Triple Threat continues to evolve, now with the addition of the Zaiku Man robot master, a stage select screen, and more. Triple Threat continues to be a very solid Mega Man fangame; if I didn’t know it was a fangame, it would be hard to distinguish from an official Capcom product – more or less, anyway. Zaiku Man’s stage goes on a little too long for my tastes, and the protracted introductory sequence in the old style Japanese village could have been made way, way shorter. Still, I had quite a bit of fun playing it, even if Zaiku Man himself made short work of my health meter several times over. Check it out.

If I'm the bullet, where's the gun?Be the Bullet: Sonic’em’up
I am not entirely sure what Be the Bullet is, but whatever it is, it’s one of the most original concepts at SAGE this year. Near as I can tell, it’s a Gradius style game, but instead of the spaceship Vic Viper, you are Sonic the Hedgehog. You have no guns to shoot with, no plane to fly, you just run through a black void, with your only method of attack being a spindash that takes you off the right side of the screen and back again from the left – as if Sonic ran around the entire circumference of the earth. And that’s how it goes. You collect rings, and much like a Sonic game, if you get hit, you lose your rings and must collect them again. Whenever you destroy an enemy, any bullets that were currently on screen immediately turn in to rings and magnetize to the player. There are gaps in the level to cross, spike bridges to avoid, and so on. Because of just how new and dare I say weird this idea is (and maybe I don’t mean that in a bad way), I’m sort of at a loss on how to critique Be The Bullet. This is nothing even close to what you would consider your “average fangame”. If I may be so bold, I’d even say that the Sonic motif may actually hurt the game – this is something that could probably survive with original art assets, original music, and so on – but keep the concepts that are already here. If there was one complaint I would feel comfortable lodging against the game, it’s that clearing gaps feels a little awkward, and when I die, it’s usually because I didn’t go the correct distance. If you’re looking for something very different this SAGE, be sure to grab Be The Bullet.

ax·i·om; a proposition that is assumed without proof for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from it. Sonic Axiom
Certainly a crowd favorite at this SAGE, Sonic Axiom packs perhaps the most content of any fangame on the show floor. Offering 5 levels out of a total of 8, the best way to describe Sonic Axiom is “Sonic CD minus the time travel mechanic”. The game seems to almost go out of its way to reference level design philosophies, musical styles, and environment themes from Sonic CD, and considering the universal love for that game, that’s probably not a bad thing. Unfortunately, Axiom borrowed perhaps a little too much from Sonic CD. You see, I consider Sonic CD to be… the best way to describe it, would be with a word that’s gotten a lot of use these days: “Janky“. Though Sonic Axiom avoids a lot of the “jank” present in Sonic CD, it brings to the table it’s own quirks and oddities. Simply put, the game is lacking polish. Levels often borderline on being almost too colorful, while simultaneously feeling very dark and muddy – even on environments with blue skies. A lot of animations simply look weird, specifically that odd falling animation Sonic does after using a spring. The score tally never seems to work right – the music doesn’t play until after my time/ring bonuses have been added up, and after beating a boss, the score counter will actually start counting to infinity after a while. The creator of the game clearly has an eye for detail, and there are tons of great ideas at play here – but the game really needs a lot more polish, both visually and mechanically. There’s so much potential here it hurts, and I really hope the creator can turn his eye for detail towards smoothing over the game’s rough edges – if he can, I have no doubt in my mind that this might be one of THE Sonic fangames people compare themselves to for years to come. Download it and see for yourself.

And that’s it for SAGE 2010 from me. 33 games reviewed in roughly a week’s time. It’s been a great show this year, as always, and a hearty pat on the back goes out to InstantSonic and KatzuNiku for organizing this for their second year in a row. With as good a job as they’ve done these last two years, I wouldn’t be opposed to them doing it every year. Of course, there are those out there who are “waiting their turn”, so to speak, and I wish nothing but the best of luck to whoever this torch gets passed to. I’ll see you guys next year!

…Well, not literally, because like, I’ll still write regular reviews and news and stuff, but you get the point. Have a great remainder of SAGE!