Epsilon, Light & Darkness, Skywind 1 & 2, Emerald Ties
Today’s five reviews are a little more late than usual, and I apologize for that, but I had something I had to sort out today before I could get to them. But here they are now! So, read them.Sonic Epsilon
I’m not entirely sure what to make of Sonic Epsilon, really. It opens to an absolutely mystifying main menu sequence – a large collection of animated icons that do not really communicate their purpose at all. The first of the included levels looks oddly basic until you discover that there’s a monitor you can hit that switches between two different versions of the level – one full of hazardous lava, and the other where all the lava has been replaced with glass, or possibly ice. The change happens automatically, too, which is pretty impressive, but there’s no real reason why you wouldn’t just stay with the glass version of the stage, and once you switch to it, you’re never forced to switch back. Finishing that one whisks you off to an even stranger level: a NiGHTS homage, where you venture forward in to the stage collecting blue chips in order to acquire Chaos Emeralds, which must be returned to an altar at the beginning of the level. I found it impossible to complete, as there doesn’t seem to be a way to deposit all the emeralds. Upon collecting the 4th and final emerald, a chime plays and one of the four disappears. It’s all definitely weird, and not quite done yet. Sonic Light & Darkness
Ah, now here’s the kind of Game Maker game I remember: one that devours all of my system resources whole. Despite this, L&D still ran fairly well for me, though as I continued to play it, I began to experience increasingly frequent audio stuttering. Gameplay-wise, it reminds me of a game I myself once tried to make, blending RPG elements with Sonic the Hedgehog, and the results seem… pretty alright, actually. You earn EXP for doing well in stages, but instead of points, it adds up how much EXP you acquired in that stage and presumably your attributes raise as you gain levels. There’s an overworld map where you access stages and talk to NPCs. It’s not bad, just a little fast and loose. Sometimes Sonic moves way faster than it feels like he should, almost like I’m playing the game at double speed or something. And unfortunately, it’s actually a little too close to something I’d make, as I find myself on the receiving end of what it feels like to play one of these games that is functionally just a “demo” that gives you a taste of all the interworking systems outside of their natural context. I want to see this all functioning with the proper structure, but that’s just not here. I’d also like gamepad support if at all possible, too, but I did not see any option to use a controller in the time I played. This has a lot of potential, but whether it utilizes that potential remains to be seen. Sonic Skywind
Here’s a game that immediately commits several common newbie mistakes: For starters: nobody likes installers for fangames. I know it’s a great feeling to put your game in to an installer, because it makes it feel like an official product, but really, nobody wants a bunch of installers for games when it is easier to just extract a zip file. Second of all, this game is 173mb for the download, which installs to over 200mb. 80mb of that (almost half of the total file size) is an uncompressed video of the Sega logo that is only four seconds long. Third, you include installers for various audio codecs that your game uses, which could probably damage the systems of people who don’t know what they’re doing and install over existing codecs already on their system. Fourth, there’s an attempt to have a menu option that lets you turn on or off gamepad support, but I cannot for the life of me get it to stay turned on even for a moment, and using the default Multimedia Fusion control options does not work, either. Upon finally playing the game on a keyboard, I made maybe a full minute in to the included level before I was instantly killed by a level interaction gimmick that did not work as intended (it stole all of my rings and then killed me regardless of temporary invincibility). Which is a shame, because whatever I saw of it before that moment didn’t seem to terribly awful, it just needs a lot more work. Which brings us to… Sonic Skywind Episode 2
The paint isn’t even dry on the first game, and you’re already on to making the second one. Included with this one is a massive, very buggy test level with plenty of floors and walls to inexplicably fall through, not to mention long stretches of level with basically nothing in them. Combine this with heavy, slippery controls and a somersault move that can be used to break Sonic’s animation routines and you’ve got something that probably wasn’t worth showing at SAGE this year. Instead of rushing off to make Episode 2, more care should’ve been paid to appropriately polishing up the first episode, because it certainly needs it. Nobody benefits by you jumping the gun on making two sub-par games instead of just one really good one. Your eagerness is appreciated, but dude, just slow down a bit! Emerald Ties
Here’s a name I haven’t seen in a while. Emerald Ties was one of those games that was a mainstay at SAGE for many years, until it up and vanished one year. It’s back now, with a three-zone (nine level) demo. Emerald Ties certainly carries itself like a fangame that’s been around for a long time, but I can’t help shake the feeling that there’s something wrong with the controls. Sonic himself feels a little stiff – he skids to a stop a little too quickly, the gravity on his jumps is a bit heavy, and there’s something about the air control that feels more mechanical than natural. Not to mention Sonic seems to react to every little bump and divot in the floor, of which there are quite a few. It’s all small, usually insignificant stuff, but it adds up to impact the overall “feel” of the controls. Fortunately the rest of the game picks up the slack, with a wonderful soundtrack, nice artwork, and generally pretty good level design. As long as you can adjust to the controls (and really, that won’t take very long), you should be in good shape. Make sure to give this one a try.
There’s only seven games left for me to review – and I think I’ll try and do them all tomorrow. Stay tuned!